There are two ways by which we can understand something. One way is to negate what something is not and the other way is to point out what it exactly is. Adi Sankaracharya in the Vivekachoodamani first takes up the task of negation. After removing all that needs to be removed, he goes on to explain in detail what is the nature of the supreme self. Why should we know what is the self? The question may genuinely arise in the seeker’s mind as the training from childhood that everyone gets is to pursue something if it is going to give some beneficial result. Not maintaining the suspense too long, the teacher says, knowing the self, the human gets released from the bondages of his personality and attains the state of oneness called kaivalya.
There is something which exists by itself, is eternal and is the support and substratum of the thought called I. This something is the seer of the three states of being —waking, dream and deep sleep. It is different from the five sheaths of the physical body, the vital energy, mind, intellect and the covering of bliss. This consciousness which is the source is aware of everything in the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep. It is ever aware of the movements of the intellect, the existence of something and its absence too. If the thought and feeling of I is squeezed completely, what you get out of it is this juice of light called consciousness.
Try as you may, you cannot see the awareness that sees the seeing eyes or that which is aware of the hearing ears or the one who is aware of the thoughts thought in the mind or even the one who is aware of the experiences of the experience. This is the self that is within all. Everything else in the world is a perishable commodity except the self.
This consciousness alone sees everything yet none can see it. It is the support of the thinking intellect, yet none can even try to think about this consciousness. Searching for consciousness is like the torchlight
seeking to see the battery that powers it!
This consciousness covers the whole world, yet nothing in the world can ever cover it. Everything in the world is only a reflection of this consciousness. It shines by itself and makes every other object too shine in its light. In its mere presence, the body, senses, mind and intellect go after their particular objects of concentration as if they have been prodded by someone.