The Atman (Self)
(Notes from Ardor by Roberto Calloso)
“ From the Rg veda to the Bhagavad Gita a way of reasoning is developed that never acknowledges a single subject but rather presupposes a dual subject. This is because the constitution of the mind is dual: consisting of a gaze that perceives (eats) the world and of a gaze that contemplates the gaze directed at the world. The first expression of this idea appears with the two birds in hymn 1.164 of the Rgveda: “ Two birds, a couple of friends, are perched on the same tree. One of them eats the sweet berry of the pippal; the other, without eating, watches.” There is no more basic revelation than this….two birds dwell perpetually within each of us: the Self, atman, and the I, aham. Friends alike, sitting on the tree at the same level, one might seem the double of the other. Every moment becomes the superimposition of two perceptions that can add together, cancel each other out, multiply each other according to the mysterious formula 1 x 1, thought springs forth. Even if, from the outside, all remains the same. The answer still seems to be 1.
Atman, the Self, is a discovery. The Aham – I – intrusive yet insubstantial; the Atman – supreme and untarnishable, yet difficult to coax out form its habitual hiding place. To reach it requires constant work.
Relations between the Self, Atman and the I, aham, are tortuous, fragile, ambiguous. They look like identical twins. They have the same outline, the same sense of omnipotence and centrality.
The doctrine of I and Self, like all Vedic doctrines, can neither be proved nor disproved. It can only be experienced by each person. This doctrine may sound odd to those who think of their minds as clear-cut, solid objects, which at most are turned on and off. If, however, the mind is not one single block, varying in depth from moment to moment between the one who is looking and another being who gazes back at the one who is looking, then we begin to glimpse what lies behind the division between aham and atman. The consequences of this realization are incalculable….and could be the basis on which thought begins to develop.
The paradox of aham (I) and atman (Self)
The Vedic ritualists seemed perversely attached by paradoxes. In them, they saw the very substance of enigmas (and uncertainty). Paradoxes were different ways of describing the same unknown quantity, which they called brahman.
The aham, “ I” “ is below, it is above, it is to the west, to the ast, to the south to the north, the I is all of this”. An irony, the imaginary supremacy of the I is the strongest obstacle to perception simply because it is what most resembles the true final word; Atman.
The Atman is placed in all directions of space, in the same terms used for the “I”,
The final obstacle (of the paradox) emerges: The ”I”, aham has “ the characteristics of limitless expansion, which is central to every world, a self appointed sovereignty, an unlimited domain. And above all, it is the most insidious imitation of self, atman. The “I” superimposes itself so perfectly on the Self that it can conceal it. This, in fact, is what happened during the course of Western philosophy; (Western Philosophy) never worried about giving name to the Self, but always chose the I as the point of observation – Descartes cogito ergo sum. But for the Vedic ritualists, the “I” is the most daunting obstacle, for it is that which can forever deny access to the Self.”
How to overcome? “ It is not a question of driving away, rejecting the “I”. that would be pointless and contrary to the physiology of the psyche, It is a matter of following its movements and then adding others to it which the “I” could not pretend to be. This new being is no longer the “I” with its illusory supremacy.”
“The point of arrival is a dual subject who is irreducible, unbalanced, intermittent; the perception of the dual subject is not something right there from the start, but something to achieve, the hardest yet most efficacious achievement…to extend the uncertainty. (The Atman),is the supreme, unnamed figure “ who oversees this world from the highest point…the rishi leaves us in doubt – if he had claimed something with certainty about the atman, then he would be going beyond what he was permitted to know. And so he suggests only the possibility of a supreme being, greater than the gods, who nevertheless may not know. And this is said as part of the Veda, which means knowledge.”