The atman, self, consciousness, or in more clearer, closer and shorter terms, I—while functioning in the world outside through the sense organs—seems to be active like a trader selling goods and getting cash in return to the person who is ignorant of their real nature.
Sri Adi Sankaracharya in the Atma Bodha says that for the aviveki, or an ignorant person, the consciousness—which sees through the eyes, hears through the ears, smells through the nose, tastes through the tongue and feels through the skin, speaks through the mouth, grasps through the hands and walks through the feet—seems like ‘I’m seeing, tasting, smelling, hearing and touching, talking, grasping or walking.’ The action is happening only because of the power of the life force or consciousness. Without this life, no movement is possible. None of these activities are carried out.
An aviveki or an ignorant person means one who does not know to distinguish between what is life and body, life and mind, and life and intellect. They do not understand that life or consciousness is different from body, mind and intellect.
This confusion in an ordinary mind is brought out by a beautiful simile by the Acharya. We have seen ourselves as children or we see many a wondering child looking up into the sky and shout, “See the moon is running!” How much ever you may try to explain that the moon is far, far away and is not running, it is the clouds that are moving fast, the child will say you are wrong and don’t know.
Yet you know the truth. Through this very example, the Acharya conveys a major truth in life. Just as the onlooker who is on the earth and his vision is identified with the clouds which are comparatively close to the earth’s surface and does not realise this and says the moon is running, when actually it is the clouds that are moving fast, we often identify ourselves with the body, the mind and the feelings and say everything is changing fast: I am thin, I am sad or I am brilliant. The ‘I’ is like the moon. It is consciousness and far away in existence like the moon is far away from the earth.
Just as we see the clouds by the help of the moonlight, we see our body, mind and intellect with the help of consciousness. Not knowing this difference, we are confused. A confused mind produces confused thoughts. We identify with those thoughts and say we are confused. In fact, you are that clear consciousness which is casting its light of understanding on the confusion or clarity.