There’s an enormous treasure within us. It’s like an ocean, bigger than the biggest water body one can imagine. This ocean contains bliss or the spring of joy in our life. Leaving the side of this valuable treasure, we become beggars asking for tiny bits of joy.
In the Vivekachoodamani, Sri Adi Sankaracharya affirms that even this ocean of expansive joy is temporarily and apparently shrouded by a gory snake called ego. This illusory notion of limitation holds us back from any true enjoyment because its existence depends only on our ignorance regarding the ocean of bliss. When the true source of joy is discovered, all limitations are gone and the ego has no work to do. So it always puts a very strong fight for survival.
This ego is not an ordinary snake with just one head. Like the magic show snakes one sees on beaches, this one has got three heads. The three hoods represent the sattva guna (tranquillity, goodness, and many divine qualities), rajas (dynamism, restlessness, greed, hyperactivity, giving into the craving for objects), and tamas (sloth, laziness and procrastination).
This individual and limited notion of ‘I’ as the body is covered by this three-hooded snake made of gunas. It stands as a zealous guard for the ego. This ego protected by the snake of gunas cannot be shooed away. It cannot be beaten. In fact, it will not go away on its own and neither can it be killed. No instrument of destruction can ever touch it.
It is only through contemplative thinking and logic based on the Shastras that this snake can be allowed to leave. The three heads of the snake can be cut off only by using the sword called vignana or right and discriminative knowledge of what is truth and what is falsehood.
This is different from the worldly discrimination between different objects, people and situations that we know of. This is to distinguish between what is truth and what is untruth, the real and unreal, the eternal and the temporary. Once that is clear, the untruth, unreal and the temporary has to be discarded and the seeker must stand under the shade of reality.
That mind becomes like a sharp sword which alone can cut off the venomous heads of the three gunas.
Once the ego is destroyed, the sadhaka becomes fit to enjoy unalloyed bliss of existence. Otherwise, the joy will only be like trying to eat tasty chocolate along with the silver foil wrapper. Even if delicious chocolate oozes through it, the metallic taste of the wrapper will never allow us to enjoy it fully.
In a nutshell, we live in an ocean of bliss. The vicious serpent or ego expresses itself often and does not allow us to enjoy that bliss. To be able to experience it, the three-hooded snake must be destroyed with the sword of knowledge. That way, unparalleled joy is ours to experience.