When Krishna (in Bhagwad Gita) told Arjun about how his “Atman” will survive the death and is unborn and never hurt, he made a very bold statement. So bold that most of the people could not even fathom its significance. And thus, if it hadn’t already, a new industry was born where Atman – most often characterized as “Impure consciousness” (Advaitists) or “conscious entity but separate from God” (Dualists) – was “to be purified”. And both the positions, in my view, make a complete mockery of Krishna’s bold statement. It is a great example of how, when mediocrity approaches brilliance, it brings it down so many notches.
Atman as Krishna characterized it was no different from Him (Krishna) and He was no different from the Brahman (Universal Consciousness). There was no difference. If Atman was an inferior form of Parmatma then it cannot be eternal and unborn (as many dualists claim)! That would be a complete mockery of a creator, if there was one! Why, and more importantly HOW would the infinite and the perfect be running parallel to the imperfect and therefore the finite? For one that is not infinite has to be finite of existence.
The very problem that Krishna was trying to solve was of a human being assessing himself as someone inferior than the infinite and so due to “fear” born out of such inadequacy, creating a whole new world of make-believe morals and systems. If one could imagine and experience oneself as the Universal Consciousness, then would there be any need for actions cloaked and defined by morals? Morality is the altar at which the fearful (because they have a higher power – King/Master/God – to please) and those who live limited existences, reside.
The fearless, because they are free, have no such needs or pretentions. Their actions do not bind them because their actions are done without an eye to the consequences. That is left to the natural flow of the Universal Consciousness. They very well realize that it is foolish and useless to speculate on which action produces which result – for in “Good Action”, good the adjective does not qualify the action, but the result! When I say “I will do Good” I am essentially saying that MY action will produce a “Good” result! The free and fearless recognize that ACTION of itself has NO adjective. It is colorless. And further that the cause and effect has very little meaning at the cosmic (or even the atomic) level, hence the action-to-result relationship cannot be predicted and if predicted is at best meaningless. Only those afflicted with speculative mindsets in cosmic journey venture to define and distribute moralistic codes and edicts.
This is a very subtle but critical distinction in understanding what Krishna said. So, if there is no color to action (or karmas), but karmas are what bind you, then isn’t it somehow contradictory? But, this is the very distinction that is critical and at the heart of Krishna’s philosophy! Overlay of a color on the colorless Karma is where the entire misery of mankind begins. This color is what we (as in, the world and individual) are. This color is our mind. It is also our bounds and our burden. It is the I. Action – the colorless karma has no “I”. It is what it is. There is no distinction between the Action of a Butcher and the Action of a Saint. It is just Action. The values and the colors that are added to different “actions” create the moral and religious web.. and leads to the this strong but temporary element called Ego/Mind.
This colorless Action is also the Universal Consciousness, the “God”, if you will. It is the same in everyone/everything. The color that is created by the mind and ego makes it seem as if this color is a property of the Action. It is NOT. It comes off of that Mind, and it dies with it… but the neutrality of “Action” or the Karma, in itself cannot be affected by the color of our mind (and its imagined moral/religious values).
Now, when you look at the entire definition of Atman – the infallible, the one that is not affected, the one that cannot be harmed and one that is neutral, then you realize that Krishna was trying desperately to extricate the Atman that had been “brought down” to the levels of an impure entity to its pristine (and infallible) glory! We needed to differentiate between Atman and the Individual. That is what Krishna desperately tried to do. Atman is the Universal Consciousness and Individual is the mind/ego/color of the Karma etc. There is no such thing as a combination of characteristics. This grey area was created by us lesser minds for our convenience. And this is what Krishna tried to salvage the Timeless from. At the structural level, the color was the same as the Action, but characteristically they were different.
The Atman that we still believe as impure, therefore, really did NOT exist. If colorless and pure Karma (or the Consciousness) was the Sky; and color of mind was the yellow camera filter, then if you moved the filter across the sky from East to West, there would be two ways to describe that action:
1. The Yellow filter moved across the Blue sky from East to West.
2. Yellow Sky moved from East to West against the Blue Sky.
Given enough poetic license, both the descriptions are correct and similar. But are they? It is a truth that at the most basic sub-atomic level there is no difference between the filter and the sky, but while the filter is limited, the sky is not. And that is what Krishna was at pains to tell the mankind.
But the inherent structual one-ness despite the characteristic differentiation was rolled into one by the lesser minds of subsequent analysts of Gita to say that there was a Yellow Sky that really moved from East to West (Atman was to be purified to become the Parmatman).
So, when a person dies, what remains distinctly and identifiably and that which carries on the journey as the proverbial soul is NOT the Atman but the mind. And this mind is NOT eternal. It also does not have a set path to take until it extinguishes itself. Also it cannot be but hurt and wallow in its own pain. That is its characteristic. The stronger the mind, the longer is its existence.
Krishnamurti has explained it the best while condoling his friend on his brother’s death (in the words of his friend):
He greeted me most affectionately. At the dining table I came right to the point: “Has John survived his bodily death in a subtler form? Yes or no?” There was a moment’s silence. “My gut feeling,” I went on, “is that he is here beside me, right now.”
“Of course he is, right here beside you,” said Krishnaji. “He’s very close to you, and will continue being close for some time.” Two hours later we were still deep into the subject of death and the hereafter. He referred to that part of the personality that survives bodily death as an echo, instead of an astral body, as the Theosophists call it, the echo of the person who lived on earth, the duration of its life on the other side depending on the strength of the individual’s earthly personality. “Dr. Besant’s echo, for instance,” he said, “will go on for a long time, for she had a very strong personality.”
“Your viewpoint here is very similar to that of the Theosophists,” I said.
“With one important difference,” he replied. “There is no permanent substance that survives the death of the body. Whether the ego lasts one year, ten thousand, or a million years, it must finally come to an end.”
What survives on death is, therefore, of temporal existence and programmed to come to an end. It is a manifestation. It will meet its end. Just like Krishna the preacher.
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