‘I’ is a pronoun and it can stand by itself. This standalone ‘I’ does not need to be connected to anything internal (mind) or external (body), it is self sufficient and independent. This ‘I’ is your true Self. In Vedanta it is called Atma. The main role of the ‘I’ or Atma is to observe what happens in your mind and we know the mind is full of activity. This “I” is just a Observer and it never influences, neither it is affected by what is happening in the mind. It is like a witnessing a movie which is running in your mind. Though in real life a sad movie can make someone cry, but in this case the Atma is never affected by the movie running in the mind. The Atma is the Subject or Observer and everything which is happening in your mind is the Object or Observed.
According to the scriptures the nature of this Atma or ‘I’ is ‘Sat Chit Ananda’. In reality it is impossible to know the Atma. The Atma is not an object or thing to be known, it is the Subject which observes things or objects. If you think about it, it is only logical nothing can be known of the Observer. Therefore according to the scriptures ‘Sat Chit Ananda’ is not an adjective for Atma, but it only indicates or points towards the essential nature of the Atma. Let us now discuss what we mean by ‘Sat Chit Ananda’.
Sat: Sat means Real. If you look up any dictionary you will get a wide variety of meaning for ‘real’. This dictionary meaning is not good for understanding ‘Sat’. According to Vedanta, for anything to be Sat, it must exist and be present in all the 3 tenses – past, present and future. If you look into nature, you will not find anything which is Sat.
- This universe was born 13.7 billion years ago and therefore it did not exist before that, so it cannot be Sat, also we know if anything is born it must die. So Sat must be unborn and anything which is unborn must be uncreated (to make it existent forever).
- Everything which is born must have a cause. You were born because of your parents and they were born because of their parents. Since Sat is unborn it is also uncaused. No cause created it, it was, and it will be always present.
- If anything changes in anyway small, e.g. (atoms have been displaced) or big, e.g. (planetary positions are different), it is not the same as what it was before. Therefore it cannot be Sat, because Sat is unchanging.
Atma or ‘I” is Sat and it is uncreated, uncaused and unchanging.
Chit: Chit means Awareness. Many books will also translate this as Consciousness, but I feel this is not very accurate. When the mind comes into contact with this Chit or Awareness that mind becomes Conscious. The essential nature of Atma is Awareness. This Awareness has no edge or boundary, it is limitless. Basically it is everywhere and everything in the universe is Awareness, or full of awareness. There cannot be a single spot or area where this Awareness is not present. To visualize this, look at the sun’s rays, which is everywhere in the solar system.
If you look at Awareness more closely, you will realize Awareness must always have two elements.
- If you are aware, then there should be someone who is aware. Awareness needs a subject
- To be aware, there must be some type of object of which you are aware of. Awareness needs an object
Subject and object are needed to complete the Awareness process. Usually Subject and Object are separate, but in Chit there is no separate subject and object, Chit is always Self Aware, it is aware of its awareness (it is witnessing its awareness). It is both the subject and object rolled in one. Chit is therefore self sufficient and complete. Due to ignorance, the subject and object become separate. This is what it seems for an ignorant person.
Here is an appropriate quote from Nisargadatta Maharaj, an Indian sage who explains the difference between Awareness and Consciousness
“Awareness is primordial; it is the original state, beginningless, endless, uncaused, and unsupported, without parts, without change. Consciousness is on contact, a reflection against a surface, a state of duality. There can be no consciousness without awareness, but there can be awareness without consciousness, as in deep sleep. Awareness is absolute, consciousness is relative to its content; consciousness is always of something. Consciousness is partial and changeful; awareness is total, changeless, calm and silent. And it is the common matrix of every experience.” (from “I Am That”, chapter 11)
Like the sun which glows, the Chit also glows with Awareness and is present everywhere. Anything which comes in touch with Chit becomes Conscious. Because the objects become conscious, only then Atma or ‘I’ can witness these objects. Anything you witness in this world is because those objects become “conscious” – because of the light of Atma or your true nature.
Ananda: Your essential nature is Ananda or Bliss. This term can be confusing because we do get momentary bliss in our day to day lives and this is not the Ananda we are talking about. Basically there are two types of Ananda or bliss
- Vishesha Ananda This is the bliss or happiness we get from objects. We know and experience this bliss, it is momentary and it comes and goes. Vedanta has a complete explanation how this process works, but this is not the place to discuss this.
- Swarupa Ananda: Swarupa Ananda means your essential nature is Ananda or Bliss. We saw earlier that the Chit is both the Subject and Object. This means ‘I’ is complete and full; it is self sufficient and does not need anything else. This condition of completeness and fullness gives ‘I’ continuous and unbroken Ananda or Bliss. The reason we do not experience this type of bliss on a continuous basis is because we have forgotten who we are, due to our ignorance. This ignorance creates a separation between subject and object. This duality is source of our unhappiness.
The ‘I’ is the Observer to what is going on in our minds. This ‘I’ is our essential nature and it is Uncreated, Uncaused and Unchanging. It is also Self Aware, it is Limitless and Blissful.
For a complete analysis, please read the article ‘I Am ……..’