Understanding the Distinction Between Self and Not-Self


There was a change of perception some time ago due to decent assimilation of self-knowledge.

Now need confirmation for reassurance.

When one knows oneself to be Awareness (Brahman) — one also “sees” the manifest-world as Awareness (Brahman) also?

In other words, what does a jnani who has assimilated “aham brahman asmi“, directly understand?


Reality is non-dual (advaita). Meaning it doesn't have a second. In other words, “I” cannot be two Truths at the same time, otherwise I would experience an eternal-unresolvable conflict, and there would be no moksha/freedom.

Furthermore, the nature of the One non-dual reality is, limitless-conscious-existence (sat-cit-ananda). 

Both the manifest and the unmanifest are dependently real. That is, their existence depends on Awareness. In the absence of Awareness, they would not exist.

Awareness is independently existent, or self-existent.

Awareness depends on nothing other than itself, for Awareness and Existence are synonymous in the sense that nothing can be said to Exist unless it obtains within a “field” of Awareness, and anything that is Aware obviously Exists and, thus, Existence and Awareness are inseparable.


So how can one utter “I am pure awareness” when it's the manifest that says those words and knows that?


Complete knowledge encompasses both the real (atma) and the apparent (anatma).

The apparent individual (jiva) is nothing but pure Awareness (atma), so in that sense the jiva can say “I am pure Awareness” (aham brahman asmi) – if one does so with the understanding that one is referring to the adhiṣṭhāna (substrate), that is the fundamental reality of all, which is limitless-conscious-existence.

However, limitless-conscious-existence is not a personal entity — that is, cannot be comprehensively defined or delineated as any limited being — and, thus, cannot speak to its own nature.

Only the jiva can speak of its essential identity as limitless-conscious-existence (once the mind has apprehended this fact as a result of mental negation of all limited objective phenomena by means of self-knowledge).


“Not-self” is not a word that can be used either. Since what is other then Self?


All objects are Self, but none comprehensively describe or delineate that which is Limitless.

Thus, when we refer to objective phenomena as being “not-self” — we mean that no particular object or even the collective of all objects (all manifestations) can comprehensively represent Self.


What is the advantage by using terms “Satya” and “Mithya“?


Satya indicates that which is self-dependent, unborn, unchanging, and cannot be negated. The only principle that is sat is Self, which is of the nature of limitless-conscious-existence.

Mithya indicates that which is dependently real (depends on Awareness for its existence), is born (has a beginning), changes, and will eventually die or can be negated. All objective phenomena are mithya.

Since all objective phenomena are nothing other than Awareness, we could say that there is only sat.

However, experience bears out the fact that objective phenomena do appear within Awareness, and thus we have apparent objects with limited qualities and characteristics.

And because they are limited, none can adequately/comprehensively represent pure Awareness.

Thus, in order to account for this fact, we make a distinction between satya and mithya.

In short: The ever-present, unchanging Awareness (satya) is aware-ing the modifications of itself (mithya).

What does this mean practicality (throughout day-to-day living)?

One needs to see the Truth in both its pure unadulterated nature (satya) and the way it appears due to Maya’s influence (mithya).

We still need to be able to function within the context of the apparent reality (vyavaharika), which is actually the only level of reality in which we can function or understand the nature of Self — given that non-dual Awareness is inherently actionless.

We need to be able to make judgments based on the relative nature of objects in order to survive, accomplish tasks, etc.

Moreover, we need to be able to communicate with others who don’t see everything as the same singular Awareness.


What is “God”?


God (Ishvara) is as much pure Awareness as any other objective phenomenon. But God is all of the objective phenomena — thus the entire manifestation is only apparent. So God, too, is apparent.

God is the personification of the laws that govern the operation of the manifestations, and produce the results that ensue from actions consequent to the cause-effect relationships.

Technically, God/Ishvara is: Brahman in association with maya's sattva-guna (before it is tainted by raja/tama guna).

Which is why God (a) doesn't have personal desires or likes/dislikes (product of raja-guna), and (b) is NOT ignorant of One's nature as Brahman (ignorance is caused by tama-guna).

Finally, a wise person will NEVER dismiss God, or act is if one is above God. Because mumuksu (Truth seeker) needed God to realize one's nature as Brahman, and one still needs God until last breath to live a relatively healthy life and continue with their nididhyasanam


I have begun to see that “this is NOT REAL”, is for sole purpose to discover what is REAL.

And upon discovery of what is REAL, one then recognizes the not-real is also real, just in manifest form.

Is this right?



Discernment of self and not-self or real and apparently-real, is final effortful step taken before effortless and permanent understanding (otherwise called moksha or aparokṣa-jñānam) takes place.

Therefore moksha is recognizing even mithya is satya. Recognition is effortless, spontaneous, automatic. The jnani isn't doing any deliberate or conscious process in their mind.

Even in their dream (at night), the knowledge of Self is clear and effortless.


What is the correct use of Atman and Brahman?


Atman (Self) is the term used to indicate limitless-conscious-existence in its association with the body-mind-sense complex.

Brahman indicates pure limitless-conscious-existence without association to anything.

The Awareness indicated by both is one and the same.

Analogy: Just as the air inside a particular house is not any different than the air that constitutes the atmosphere of the entire world, so atman, which is pure Awareness associated with a body-mind-sense complex, is not different than Brahman, which is Awareness in its unmodified essential nature.


So atman and Brahman are the same essentially.


Yes, both atman and Brahman are satya.

Furthermore, Atman is NOT a modified form of Brahman. Rather, atman is the portion of Awareness that informs the modification of the body-mind-sense complex.


The air in the house is not a modification of the air that surrounds the entire world.

Air is air.

Only the house (body-mind-sense complex) is the modification.

However this analogy breaks down because the house is different from air, whereas the body-mind-sense is not  different from pure Awareness.

Still, the body-mind-sense complex is a form within Awareness — and in that sense is different from the unmodified limitless Awareness.


Earlier in the Bhagavad Gita course — words Isvara 1 and Isvara 2 were used. Revise this.


In first four chapters of Bhagavad Gita course — James S. selection of words were used. They were taken out, being in non-accordance with traditional Adi Shankara based Advaita terminology.  NOTE: This only refers to terms “Isvara1/2”. All other terminology James mentions is 100% in line with traditional.

Isvara 1: Brahman, or pure unmodified limitless-conscious-existence — is satya.

Isvara 2: Brahman-obtaining-in-Mayaupadhi, or limitless-conscious-existence made by its own inherent power of Maya to appear as though it is objective phenomena, which in its universal aspect is referred to as Īśvara (God-the-creator-sustainer-resolver of the universe) — is mithya.

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