To an ordinary man, life constitutes actions, perceptions, thoughts and feelings – one of these alone being experienced at any given time. In other words, you stand detached from all activities, excepting the one in which you seem engaged at the given time.
To this list of four categories (actions, perceptions, thoughts and feelings), the spiritual man adds just one more, which indeed is the most important one: ‘Consciousness’. This last one is doubly important; because, over and above its importance as a separate entity, it shines in and through the four categories already mentioned.
You are simply asked to direct to the consciousness aspect the attention legitimately due to it. This is all.
When you are engaged in thought, you are not engaged in action, perception or feeling. When engaged in action, you are not engaged in thought, feeling or perception. So also, when you are engaged in knowing, you cannot be engaged in any other kind of activity.
The presence and recognition of subjective Consciousness, your real centre, is the one thing needed to make your life possible and connected. Make it so, by knowing that knowing principle to be your real centre. You never go outside it, and you can never leave it, even if you will. This does not deny or negate your worldly life, as is ordinarily supposed, but makes it richer, firmer, truer and more successful.
To have deep peace and not to be disturbed from it, even for a moment, is the ardent desire of everyone. For this, you have necessarily to be at a centre which does not change. That is the real ‘I’-principle or Consciousness. To be it and to establish oneself there is the end and aim of life. This alone makes real life possible.
The word ‘I’ has the advantage of taking you direct to the core of your self. But you must be doubly sure that you will no longer return to identification with the body.
By reducing objects into Consciousness or happiness, you come only to the brink of experience. Reduce them further into the ‘I’-principle; and then ‘it’, the object, and ‘you’, the subject, both merge into experience itself. Thus, when you find that what you see is only yourself, the ‘seeing’ and ‘objects’ become mere empty words.
In making the gross world mental, the Advaitin is an idealist. But he does not stop there. He goes further, examining the ‘idea’ also and proves it to be nothing but Consciousness. Thus he goes beyond even the idealist’s stand.
The realist holds that matter is real and mind is unreal, but the idealist says that mind is real and matter is unreal. Of the two, the idealist’s position is better; for when the mind is taken away from the world, the world is not. Therefore, it can easily be seen that the world is a thought form.
It is difficult to prove the truth of the realist’s stand; for dead matter cannot decide anything. The Advaitin goes even further. Though he takes up the stand of the idealist when examining the world, he goes beyond the idealist’s position and proves that the world and the mind, as such, are nothing but appearances and the Reality is Consciousness.
Perception proves only the existence of knowledge and not the existence of the object. Thus the gross object is proved to be non-existent. Therefore, it is meaningless to explain subtle perceptions as a reflection of gross perceptions. Thus all perceptions are reduced to the ultimate ‘I’-principle, through knowledge.
When a Jnyanin takes to activities of life, he ‘comes out’ with body, sense organs or mind whenever he needs them; and he acts, to all appearances, like an ordinary man, but knowing full well, all the while, that he is the Reality itself.
Atmananda (Krishna Menon)