• 24 Jun, 2024

Vedanta, the End of Knowing

Vedanta, the End of Knowing

Vedanta is the end, or culmination, of knowledge in the Knower. Knowing the Knower, nothing remains to be known — Glimpses into the mysticism of Vedanta.


The word vedanta is made up of two components—veda, which means knowing and knowledge, and anta, which means end, consummation or completion. Thus, vedanta implies the completion, the pinnacle, of all forms of knowing and knowledge. This completion does not imply an exhaustion of knowledge—for can knowledge be exhausted?—but a realization of something by which all else is known and attained, and no further need for any kind of knowledge or attainment remains. That is what completion implies. There is a Sanskrit phrase that describes this perfectly: yasmin vijnate sarvam evam vijnatam bhavati; yasmin prapte sarvam idam praptam bhavati—by knowing that, all is known; by attaining that, all here is attained.

But what is this ‘knowing’ by which all is known and attained?

The seers, the self-illumined ones, who have attained to this knowing refer to it as the knowing of the atman. He who comes to know the atman, they declare, attains moksha, and rests eternally in that blessed, unsurpassed state. And what is moksha? The seers go on to declare that moksha is that state where one knows oneself as the eternal and immortal atman, and by that knowing, attains to the deathless state.

This deathless state does not mean that the body does not die, for the body, being constituted of the elements and atoms, will inevitably disintegrate following the laws of entropy, and nor does it mean that you will survive death and live forever as an abstract mental personality, for the mind too—except in the rarest of rare instances—will inevitably disintegrate into the cosmic void. What it means is that knowing yourself as atman will break your organic identification with body, mind and personality. You will know yourself as the formless, nameless, impersonal and universal consciousness that permeates all existence, and runs through all life and being. And this you will know directly, immediately and as surely as you know your own existence. All doubt and confusion will disappear, and you will be liberated or uplifted into a vast calm of absolute knowing.

And with this knowing will come understanding, realization. Truth after truth will open up in your being and to your inner vision, and you will see as you will know. You will know, as surely as you know that you are, that you have always been and always shall be; that there is no beginning or ending of being, that being is infinite, eternal. You will know that you are that one pure consciousness running through all life and all lifeforms, that you are everywhere and in everyone,—sarvavyapi, sarvatra, sarvam—and that there are no boundaries of person or personality, everyone you look at is you yourself, saint or sinner, friend or foe, man or woman, low or high, god or beast, all is you and there are no others. All sense of division and separation will forever disappear.

You will know that you were never the body or mind but the subtle prana animating the body, making it alive and conscious, and the subtle intelligence shining through the mind, the impersonal witness behind the thinker and its thoughts; you will know that you were never the doer, the actor, the personality, nor even the agents or gunas of prakriti, but the pure consciousness behind it all, formless and immutable—nirakara, nirvikalpa.

You will know that this material universe, this spacetime fabric, is something you are wearing to make yourself visible, tangible, manifest. But once you take off the fabric, you are bodiless, formless, nameless. And once you know that, you are forever free of the idea of duality. You know that you can wear as many bodies as you wish, as many spacetime fabrics as you want, but you will always remain beyond it all, at once transcendent and immanent.

The deathless state is therefore the state of perfect knowledge. It is finally ignorance alone that dies, everything else remains in one form or another. Nothing is ever lost or destroyed.

This then is the knowing that ends all knowing, the very pinnacle of human attainment, and beyond this, there is nothing to know or attain. This is the vedanta we speak of, the pinnacle of veda, or sacred knowledge. This vedanta is atmabodh or self-realization. Or atmajnana, knowledge of the Self. And this Self or atman is also brahman, the divine. This is the essence of the knowing. That which is the supreme infinite divine is also the atman. Ayam atma brahman, as the seers declared. This Self that you are is the Divine.  In other words, when you discover what you truly are, you realize that you are the Divine. Not a portion of the Divine but the Divine itself, in its fullness. There are no portions. You cannot divide the sea in so many parts, even a drop of it is the sea in its fullness. The difference is only of scale, of measurement.

Thus, knowing the atman, one knows brahman. And knowing brahman, one becomes brahman. For brahman, being everything, can only be known by identity. You cannot know brahman objectively, for to know brahman objectively, you have to be outside of it, separate from it, which is impossible. You can only know brahman by becoming brahman. But then, you already are brahman, you always were  brahman. So how can you become what you are and always were?

So, you have to realize that which you are. And to do that, you have to first cease identifying with what you are not. Be still, say the seers, and realize what you are. And that’s the master key. Be still. Be quiet. It will all come.


Partho Sanyal

Writer and poet, Partho is an exponent of integral Vedanta, and is a follower of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. He writes and speaks on Vedanta, Sanatan Dharma and Sri Aurobindo's integral Yoga.

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