Ayam aham asmīti: Self-consciousness and identity in the eighth chapter of the Chāndogya Upanişad vs. Śankara's Bhāşya

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Abstract

The article offers a close reading of the famous upanişadic story of Indra, Virocana and Prajāpati from the eighth chapter of the Chāndogya-Upanişad versus Śankara's bhāşya, with special reference to the notions of suşupti and turīya. That Śankara is not always loyal to the Upanişadic texts is a well-known fact. That the Upanişads are (too) often read through Śan-kara's Advaitic eyes is also known. The following lines will not merely illustrate the gap between text and commentary but will also reveal an unexpected Upanişadic depiction of 'dreamless sleep' and 'transcendental consciousness'. Suşupti is described here as 'one step too far', as a 'break' or discontinuity in one's consciousness; whereas turīya is depicted positively, and surprisingly even in wordly terms. Unlike the third state of consciousness in which there is no 'world' nor 'me', and which is described through Indra's character as 'total destruction' (vināśa) ; in turīya, the world 'comes back', or rather the 'renouncer' returns to the world. Sankara's position, as far as the story under discussion is concerned, is radically different. For him, the Upanişadic story illustrates the continuity of consciousness in all its states. For him, the identification with merely one of the consciousness-states is an error (adhyāsa) which causes suffering. Consciousness prevails even in suşupti, and turīya has nothing to do with 'coming back to the world', since there is nowhere to come back from or to. Turīya, as seen by the Advaitin, consists of all the other states of consciousness together, or as K. C. Bhattacharyya puts it, 'It is not only a stage among stages; it is the truth of the other stages'.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-333
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Indian Philosophy
Volume36
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2008

Keywords

  • Advaita
  • Ayam aham asm̄ti
  • Chāndogya Upanişad
  • Dreamless sleep
  • Indra
  • K. C. Bhattacharyya
  • Prajāpati
  • Suşupti
  • Tat tvam asi
  • Tur?̄ya
  • Virocana
  • Śankara

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