According to Hindu scriptures even thousands of years of rituals and penance are useless until and unless Brahman is known.

"About the importance of knowing Brahman, Yajnavalkya said-"In this world, one without knowing the imperishable, may offer oblations into fire, perform sacrifices, practice austerities for thousands of years (but still) find all such acts unproductive (of result). Also, whoever departs from this world (meets death) without knowing the imperishable, is miserable, but he who departs after knowing, that as a knower of Brahman (Brahmavit), attains to Brahman.” "

"An inquiry into the nature of Brahman

Brahma Sutra starts with the aphorism- "Athato Brahma Jijnasa" (an inquiry into the nature of Brahman). The implication being that a knowledge culminating in direct realization (of Brahman) is possible. Although unmanifested, it is associated with traits as being eternal, imperishable, ever-pure, without attributes (of Guna), indivisible, full, perfect, all-knowing, ever free, considered vast (being all- pervasive), self-effulgent, beyond all imagination (associated with name and form), unthinkable, meaning its features cannot be thought of (the concept of truth, standing distinguished from mere imagination).”It is subtler than the subtlest, greater than the greatest, farther than the farthest (when one looks outside), yet it is near (within the body) considered to be confined to the 'cavity of heart' of every creature. It is beyond the grasp of sight or other organs of perception, not expressible by speech nor attained by observing austerity, offering sacrifice, performing Punya Karma etc. Also, 'the Supreme Self' whose attainment is the highest human goal, is not attained by study (of Vedas and other scriptures) nor through power of comprehension (of purport of the text) nor by much listening to discourses (Mund. Up. III. 2. 3). One may then wonder as to what is it? Sruti has stated that when all perceptible attributes have been negated as"not this, not this (Neti-Neti)," what remains is Brahman—-there is no other more appropriate description than this (Brihad. Up. III. 2. 6).

While negating various attributes of the imperishable, anticipating that it might be considered as void or non-existent, Sruti has indicated its unique existence as "Ekam Eva Advaitim Brahma" (Brahman is one without a second) and by inferential evidence, e.g., the orderliness of creation of Universe which is not a haphazard ideal dream but an intelligent scheme supervised by a dynamic power, executed strictly following established laws. It is said—-"Out of His fear, the wind blows, the sun rises and out of His fear (gods as) Fire, Indra and Death (meaning Yama, the lord of death), proceed to do their duties" (Taitt. Up. II. 8.1). In somewhat similar context Yajnavalkya told Gargi—-"Under the mighty rule of His, the sun and the moon keep their positions, days, nights, seasons maintain sequence. Also, rivers flow from (snowy) mountains keeping their course" (Brihad. Up. III. 8. 9).
Notwithstanding the above, positive attributes are also indicated by verses as—- "Satyam Jananam Anantam Brahma" (Brahman is truth, knowledge and infinite—-without being confined to limits (Taitt. Up. II. 1. 1). It is described as Sat-Cit-Ananda (meaning Truth that is real, Consciousness and Bliss unblemished with misery)," Prajnanam Brahma" (the wisdom/consciousness is Brahman) (Aitt. Up. III. 1.3) etc. Also, Brahman is none other than one's own self (the self of the cognizing individual). In Bhagavadgita, the Lord said—-"The intrinsic nature (Swabhava of Brahman is to appear as multitude of conscious beings in individual bodies as Jivaatma," A fragment of Myself having become the eternal individual soul of living beings"; fragment, meaning limited within the body, as adjunct albeit out of ignorance. It would be like considering air confined in a balloon as a fragment, which is not different from the cosmic air. Also, Brahman is neither male nor female nor neuter (asexual); whatever body it takes to, with that it gets united. The embodied soul as a result of desire, attachment, delusion assumes successively diverse forms, in different places, according to deeds (Karma) to be gone through (Svet. Up. V. 1 0- 1 1).

The self reveals itself—-

About the importance of knowing Brahman, Yajnavalkya said—-"In this world, one without knowing the imperishable, may offer oblations into fire, perform sacrifices, practice austerities for thousands of years (but still) find all such acts unproductive (of result). Also, whoever departs from this world (meets death) without knowing the imperishable, is miserable, but he who departs after knowing, that as a knower of Brahman (Brahmavit), attains to Brahman.”

But how does one know, if It exists? It is said that just as"Oil exists in sesame seeds, butter in milk, water in (underground) rivers, fire in (Arani) woods, yet is not apparent. But one can obtain oil by compressing the sesame seeds, butter by converting the milk into curd and churning, water by digging the wells and fire by rubbing together two pieces of dry wood. Likewise, Self is realized as the Self (within) when one looks for it by truthfulness, observing austerity" (Svet. Up. I. 15-16).

It is emphasized that only the purified Antahkarana of a being is capable of 'revealing' the self by reflection (Abhasa) like the sun reflected in a (clean) mirror or in (still and clean) water. But if polluted by blemishes as attachment arising from contact of senses with respective objects and possessed of desire, anger, pride, greed, envy etc., it becomes non-transparent like a stained mirror or disturbed/polluted water in a lake and does not enable reality of the Self to be revealed even though it is so near.

Also, Supreme Self is not attained by (revealed to) one bereft of vigor (weak spirit), to one possessed of ignorance (from constant adherence to body as Self ), delusion (caused by attachment to mundane things) or from improper practice of austerities etc. The self of the enlightened (possessed of knowledge) who strives with diligence and possessed of proper means attains to union with (enters the abode that is) Brahman (Mund. Up. III. 2.4). In yet another context, Lord Yama told Nachiketa—-"One who has not desisted from activities prohibited (not sanctioned by scriptures), whose senses are not under control, whose mind may not be concentrated and is not free from anxiety (about the result of concentration) cannot attain to the Self (even) through knowledge" (Kath. Up. 1. 2. 24).

The favorable condition for the intellect is purity and transparency like a cleaned mirror or clean and still water. Thus, possessed of purified intellect (Antahkarana) freed from all desires and by prolonged and uninterrupted practices that lead to divine traits (also, subjugating non-divine traits), with control of mind and senses, one realizes the individual self through meditation (thinking of it alone) with concentrated mind, by a control of Prana repeating 'So' while inhaling and 'ham' while exhaling; Soham (I am He) being a reminder of oneness of the self with Brahman (Brihad. Up. I. 4. 1). Also it is emphasized that 'self' alone should be realized (Brihad. Up. I. 4.7). In the purified intellect, Self is said to reveal its true nature. About the necessity of freeing one's self from desires it was said—-"When all desires clinging to one's heart fall off, then a mortal becomes immortal and he attains to Brahman here (meaning in this life) (Kath. Up. II. 3.14). The cessation of bondage from desires is like blowing out a lamp. He attains to Brahman.

Realization of Self is facilitated by association with and the guidance of a qualified teacher (Guru), who besides being a knower of Brahman (Brahmavit), should have realized Brahman. The realization is accomplished in several stages by understanding the true significance of Sruti Mahavakya as 'yam Atma Brahma' (this individual self is the Supreme Self, Brahman) (Brihad. Up. II. 5. 19), 'Tattawamasi' (Thou art That, Brahman), (Ch. Up. VI. 8.7), culminating in 'ham Brahmasmi' (I am Brahman) (Brihad. Up. I. 4.10). The man without desire, has no Karma and therefore no cause to go through yet another birth, his organs such as of speech etc., do not depart (with the subtle body). He is undifferentiated from the Supreme Self. It is said—-"Any one who knows the supreme Brahman becomes Brahman indeed" (Mund. Up. III. 2. 9). It is clarified that if the difference was real, Jiva could not become Brahman Itself. Knowledge. may destroy ignorance but not what is real. Because Jiva becomes Brahman, its identity was real, the ignorance having been destroyed by knowledge leaving only Brahman.
When one awakens up from deep (dreamless) sleep (Sushupti), he says he was not conscious of anything, meaning he did not know or was ignorant, but he did experience the bliss with no worries or pain. This is a momentary experience of oneness of individual self with the Supreme Self, albeit in ignorance. In present day medical practices, this bliss (freedom from pain) is artificially created when the body is unable to bear pain as during and after surgery. By administering anesthetic agents with sedative influence, the patient is induced to deep-sleep and unconsciousness, oblivious of the pain the body is undergoing. Realization of the Supreme Self is the attainment of that bliss while one is conscious (as in Samadhi) and without the adjunct of ignorance. This is realization of the Supreme Self by the self.”

Nature of Brahman The Supreme Self
By Prof. Harish C. Gaur

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