Brama-jnana or Atma-jnana can be attained in many ways. It can be attained by analyzing the three states of existence, the waking, dream, and the deep sleep states. This analyzes is called the ‘triavasta-viveka’. It can be attained by analyzing and differentiating the panca-kosas, and this analyzes is called the ‘panca-kosa viveka’. It can also be attained by analyzing our thoughts. It is called the ‘vritti-viveka‘ or ‘vritti-vichara’. Vedanta differentiates between the Atman and anatman. Atman is the supreme Self and anatman includes the three bodies (gross, subtle and causal) or the five kosas (five sheaths). The discrimination between and the Atman and the three bodies are very subtle. Vritti vichara is subtle than that.
Atman is Brahman, and it is all pervading. Atman is pure knowledge itself; it is termed ‘jnana swarupena‘. Even though it is all pervading, we perceive Brahman through our own thoughts. Atman is the witness of our thoughts. In the first place, we have to know that how we attain knowledge? Regardless of the subject, we attain knowledge through thoughts. In Sanskrit, it is said as ‘vritti dwara jnana’. Mind creates thoughts. Mind selects an action, and the sense organs (indriyas) follow the mind. The mind goes out through the organs in the form of thoughts and pervades the objects. The thoughts take the form of the objects that is to be known. The mind experiences only that thought, by this we say ‘I know that object’. When the knower (mind) using the sense organs, pervades the object to be known, then a thought is created. By this, a gross object becomes a subtle thought. After this the mind analyzes the image or thought of the object in the mind and not the object directly. When the thought of the object in the mind is exactly the same as the object, then the knowledge about that object is perfect. This process involves the mind, organs of knowledge (eyes, ears etc) and the object. If there is any defect in the organs of knowledge like being blind, being deaf and so on, or if there is any defect or error in the object like poor lighting etc, then the thought of the object differs with the exact object. This is termed ‘misunderstanding’. The rope-snake analogy clarifies this point. In the dim twilight, the rope is mistaken as the snake. The rope is not seen clearly due to poor lighting, the already existing thought of the snake is superimposed on the rope, and the rope is mistaken as snake. The mind repeatedly views the image of the snake and fails to perceive the rope. In the clear light, when the rope is seen as the rope itself, the misunderstanding of the snake in the mind vanishes. Thereafter the mind views only the rope. Therefore knowledge involves the knower, the organs of knowledge, and the object. The organs of knowledge are used as instruments to gain knowledge. If the mind decides to hear, the ears become active; if the mind decides to see, the eyes become active and so on. A thought is exactly like a photograph taken by the organs of knowledge (like a camera) for the perusal of the mind.
Vedanta says that though thought seems to have knowledge, in reality they are inert. The mind itself is created from the subtle concepts of the inert panca-bhutas. If the thoughts are inert by nature, then how is it possible for the thoughts to become active? Vedanta gives the answer as ‘Atman illumines the thoughts’. There must be some knowledgeable subject to make the inert thoughts knowledgeable. The body is inert, but the mind when it pervades the body, the body becomes active and knowledgeable. When the mind separates from the body, the body becomes inactive and that is death. Atman illumines the mind and the mind illumines the body.
Inert thought when it mingles with jnana (Atman) the result is knowledge about the thoughts. For example, when Atman illumines the thought of a pot, then we get the knowledge of a pot. When Atman illumines the thought of a book, we get the knowledge of the book. This is the manner in which one attains knowledge. Atman (jnana) mingles with each and every vritti (thought). If jnana does not illumine the vritti, the vritti will be inert. Vritti is anatman.
When we observe ten different objects, we will have ten different vrittis. These ten vrittis are inert. When jnana illumines the ten vrittis, it will result as ten jnana and they become active. The same jnana when it illumines the different vrittis, it is understood as different jnana. This is a wrong notion. In reality, the jnana is same, only the vrittis are different. This is an important point of clarification regarding the perception of thoughts. There are many kinds of vrittis like vrittis of anger (krodha vritti), vrittis of compassion (karunya vritti), vrittis about the external objects (vishaya vritti) and so on. Since the vrittis are different, it is called ‘savishesham’. Jnana is same and it is called ‘nirvishesham’. The basic mistake one does is, we mistake different vrittis as jnana, and we mistake the same jnana as different vrittis. As a result we think that we have many jnana as to sing, to dance, to draw etc. Singing, dancing, drawing are all vrittis, which is inert anataman. If the Atman does not illumine them, they are inert. One is more than a mere vritti. One is Atman swarupa, pure knowledge itself; it does not need anything extra to shine. It is same in all the beings; it does not differ. Because of ignorance we fail to grasp our true nature. Once this basic misconception is understood, he attains Atma-jnana and it will be the end of samsara. This misunderstanding leads to jealousy, pride and all sorts of negative traits related to it, because one assumes themselves as a vritti. When one understand the basic concept as ‘I am not the nature of vritti, I am the sakshi that illumines the different vrittis’, then it is the liberation or freedom from samsara. The sakshi is one and not different. When one understands both the Atman and the nature of vritti, then it will be able to understand the difference clearly.
Each and every experience is a thought (vritti). The thoughts are created and destroyed. When a new thought enters the mind, the old thought is pushed aside. Sometimes some thoughts are forgotten, in that way it is destroyed. Thoughts are not permanent. We may have different thoughts about a same object and even those thoughts may change from time to time. Thoughts are numerous. It is said that as much as 45 thoughts may appear and disappear per second. The thoughts are differentiated as pure and impure thoughts.
Atman is pure knowledge. It is nitya, present in the three periods of time. Atman does not change; it is the witness of the thoughts. It is because of the presence of the Atman one is enable to witness the change in thoughts and hence Atman is ‘nirvikara’. Atman is non-dual. Atman does not affect the thoughts. The sun illumines both the gutter and the holy Ganga. Similarly Atman (jnana) illumines all the thoughts regardless of its quality and purity. Whatever thoughts it may be, whether it is an emotional thought, thoughts about an object, divine thought, or even our own talent, they are all categorized as mere vrittis. It is not jnana. Vrittis are anatman. We may attain vrittis by practice, hard work, keen observation and so on. If there are vrittis, jnana will automatically illumine the vrittis. The difference is, one has to know that ‘I am not the vritti which is anatman, I am the sakshi of the vrittis, and I am the Atman’. We normally superimpose the vritti on jnana and imagine that ‘ I am talented’. Actually talent is a vritti; I am Atman. Atman is pure, it does not have varieties and it is the silent conscious witness.
In the jagrad avasta (waking state), when we analyze the thoughts, Atman is revealed.
“Pratibodha-viditam madam amrutatvam hi vindate
Atmana vindate viryam vidyaya vindate amurutatvam” (kenopanisad, verse 2,4)
“The chaitanya emerging out of each thought know it to be me, the Atman, and I am not the thoughts, one attains immortality by this knowledge, through one’s own Self is acquired strength, through knowledge is attained immortality”
The mother of pearl is usually mistaken as a silver ball by the ignorant. The silver is superimposed on the mother of pearls, so that the reality remains unknown. Similarly vrittis are superimposed on jnana. The pure jnana remains unknown. Only vittis are known in the light of jnana. By this analysis one gains the knowledge that ‘I am the witness and I exist equally in all, I am not a mere witness in a single body. Difference, origination, death etc do not inhere in the witness. Witness has non-duality and eternity’.
“Like the thread in a string of pearls, consciousness (Atman) is present in all cognitions. Thread, hidden within the pearls can be seen between the two pearls, so too (consciousness, hidden) by mental activities can be seen between two cognitions. When the prior cognition has subsided and another has not yet arisen, cognition-free consciousness shines clearly” (Laghu-vakya vritti verses 9,10,11).
Vritti-vichara is an advanced analysis in Vedanta. This analyzes help us to differentiate the inert anatman from our true nature Atman. Thoughts are the subtlest form of anatman. This viveka helps us to lead life in a detached and peaceful way. This vichara helps us to solve problems in life concerning with ego and prevents one from misunderstanding the world.
1. Classes on Kenopanisad by Swami Guruparananda – www.poornalayam.org
3. Laghu-vakya vritti