The Guru is slicing every word to its tiniest bit so that there is no scope for any doubt in the student’s mind. In Tatwabodha by Sri Adisankaracharya, the teacher tells the student that everyday one must distinguish between the two things—atma which is the truth and the only existing thing, and everything else other than that is an illusion or has only a temporary and apparent existence.
Having said that atma or the self is alone the truth, the student asks what is atma. Since atma or the collective ‘I’ is not something that can be explained by taking it out in a test tube and pointed to as an object and circulated among students to see—as atma is the very subject—the teacher begins by pointing out what all it is not.
The atma or I am beyond the gross body with all its sense organs, hands, legs and other different parts to it. Why is this description given? Whenever we ask someone or when someone asks us ‘Who are you?’, the immediate answer will be with reference to the body. I am this name. I am tall or short, fat or thin, brown, yellow or white. This reference of the I is of the gross physical body. The teacher tells the student here, you are not the physical body, but beyond.
Then we say, I am feeling happy or sad, chirpy or mad. We identify with a whole gamut of emotions and say, “I am feeling good,” or “I am feeling miserable”. That is not also the atma or I. It is only one of the components of the subtle body, which consists of thoughts of various categories. There is another body that is most subtle than the gross and the subtle body. It is called the causal body. It is also composed of thoughts in the form of desires that is core to our personality. It is called the Karana Shareera. It is the cause of the subtle and gross bodies. In this body we go to rest every night and there is only one thought of “I don’t know anything”.
Then when we wake up, we say, ‘I slept very well’. This identification with sleep and ignorance
too, I am not.
The I or atma is beyond the five sheaths that constitute our physical, emotional and intellectual framework. They are the physical body, the vital body of various energies that move about and circulate the forces within, the feelings, the intellectual ideas and the deep-seated desires within. I am not all these five too and beyond them.
I am the witness of the waking state experiences, the dreams and the deep sleep state. I am. I know I am. I am bliss. I am the atma. I am I. There is nothing else that can explain the atma, but itself, explains the teacher.