Who are you? Who am I? These are the core questions that we may remain with in life. Atma Bodha indicates the answer. Sri Adi Sankaracharya points out the three different layers of our personality—the gross, the subtle and the causal. The causal contains the seeds of desires and when these seeds germinate, it gives birth to the subtle and the gross bodies. However, he points out that the one who calls yourself ‘I’ and the one who calls myself ‘I’ is not this gross, subtle or causal which is manifest or unmanifest. You are something other than the three, the Acharya says. Yet how does this confusion happen that I am the body, I am the mind and I am the desire that caused these two?
To explain this, he gives a beautiful example, not an uncommon one. There is a beautiful crystal pyramid in your drawing room. You have spread a blue cloth over the table on which the transparent pyramid is kept. The crystal is placed on a small wooden mount with a circular hole beneath. Over the table and beneath the mount you insert a white light. This light hits the cloth beneath the crystal and shines through the crystal as a soft blue crystalline light. A little child that enters the room will exclaim, “Look at the blue crystal!”
The crystal is colourless and transparent. Yet the bright light passing through the blue cloth on which the crystal is kept makes it appear like a blue crystal. One who knows this secret will not say the crystal is blue, but will understand the blue cloth that gives the colour. In just the same way, consciousness which is you and I is colourless, shapeless, quality-less. Yet when the body passes through it, it takes the shape of the body and appears fair, dark, brown, fat, thin, tall and short.
When emotions appear in consciousness or I, the self, you say, I am happy, I am sad, I am excited or I am bored. When thoughts appear in consciousness you say brilliant thought, dull thought, confused thought or a clear thought. Thoughts appear and disappear just as a firecracker appears in the night sky, bursts forth into a rain of colours and completely disappears after that.
The pure consciousness joins with the physical body, the vital or the energy body, the mind, the intellect and the thought of “I don’t know who I am”, which is the last cause for future existence as a body, mind and intellect and expresses as I am the body, I flow as energy, I feel emotions, I think or I don’t know. All these are mere thoughts and an appearance like the crystal appearing blue because of the cloth.