If you are a student of Vedanta, SatChitAnanda and Brahman are the two terms which you will use often. Let us try and understand these two terms.
SatChitAnanda is our innermost core and is our true self. What does “Sat Chit Ananda” mean?
Sat: Sat means “Real.” According to Vedanta, for anything to be Sat, it must exist in all the three tenses—past, present, and future. If you investigate Nature, you will not find anything which is Sat. There is nothing which is unchanging. Everything is changing. Everything is born and, therefore, everything dies. Our inner core is the only Sat, which is uncreated, unborn, and unchanging.
Chit: Chit means “Awareness.” Many books also translate this as Consciousness. As we will discuss in this essay, Awareness is a better way to understand this.
Ananda: Our essential nature is Ananda or Bliss.
Brahman is another term which is meant to describe the same reality as SatChitAnanda. However, it takes a different approach. It does not talk about our inner core but, as the scriptures teach us, Brahman is the underlying reality of Nature. It is the substratum of the universe. It is the material cause for all the objects. The moment that terms like Nature or universe are used, the first instinct is to think that Brahman is something out there. We need to investigate the universe to find Brahman. Investigating Nature or the universe is the realm of science. Does that mean science is going to help us discover Brahman? No, Brahman is beyond science. Brahman is outside space and time. It existed even when there was no space and time. Science can never discover Brahman.
There is SatChitAnanda which is our inner core, and there is Brahman which is the underlying reality of Nature. From this, it does seem that there are two realities. It looks like you must discover two things—SatChitAnanda and Brahman; SatChitAnanda within us and Brahman out there. This does cause confusion. To resolve this confusion, the scriptures introduce the famous statement “Tat Tvam Asi” (“That You Are”). Vedanta makes a connection between our inner core SatChitAnanda and Brahman. That (Brahman) You (SatChitAnanda) Are. In this way, the underlying reality of the universe and the underlying reality of the self is the same. There is only one Reality. Vedanta explains that Brahman and SatChitAnanda are the same; there exists no dichotomy between the two, and they are identical.
Issues with SatChitAnanda or Brahman
- It is true, SatChitAnanda and Brahman are identical. Making the connection between SatChitAnanda and Brahman is not easy. It is not intuitive. We must first find SatChitAnanda within us and then try and locate Brahman within all the objects in the universe. This is not easy, but if you do manage to understand this, then you must find the common thread which connects them. What is that which makes SatChitAnanda and Brahman identical? There must be something which makes them identical, otherwise they would not be the same. Unfortunately, this is not very explicit in the scriptures.
- The scriptures teach us that our inner core is Sakshi (witness). It is the witness to everything which is happening in the mind. Since our inner core is SatChitAnanda, it does imply that SatChitAnanda plays the role of Sakshi. It is the Observer. As compared to SatChitAnanda, Brahman plays a different role. Brahman is the material cause for the objects in the universe. It is the substratum of all the objects. Can you see the difference between SatChitAnanda and Brahman? One is the witness and the other is the material cause for the objects. These differences are quite stark. Based on this, how does one understand that SatChitAnanda and Brahman are identical? It is not easy.
- The scriptures teach us that SatChitAnanda or Brahman is non-dual. Non-dual means there is no second thing. It is a single entity. Unfortunately, we do not experience non-duality, we always experience duality. We experience subjects “in here” and objects “out there.” This is our experience. For non-duality, it must mean that subject is equal to object and object is equal to subject. Both subject and object are one homogenous entity. It is not easy for the human mind to experience non-duality, but you can try and imagine some entity in which subject and object are the same. This unique structure of Subject = Object is not clear within SatChitAnanda or Brahman. Sometimes SatChitAnanda is referred to as Sakshi (witness) and sometimes it is referred to as creator with Maya Shakti. This unity of Subject and Object is not very explicit with SatChitAnanda.
- The source of any mind is SatChitAnanda. Everything comes only from SatChitAnanda, including the mind. We know the mind is powerful. All these powers in the mind are solely due to the grace of SatChitAnanda. According to Vedanta, you can break down the mind into the following structure.
- Manas (Mind)
- Buddhi (Intelligence)
- Sakshi (Witness)
- Ahamkara (Ego)
Unfortunately, there is no proper discussion in the scriptures on how SatChitAnanda, which is the source of everything, becomes the mind. How does a non-dual SatChitAnanda become manas, buddhi, sakshi, and ahamkara? Why not something else? What is the connection between SatChitAnanda and these four parts of the mind? How do these four parts interact with each other in the mind to create the universe out there? This lack of proper explanation does cause confusion. It makes the proper understanding of SatChitAnanda or Brahman more difficult and makes the subject matter more mysterious. This subject matter is discussed in the essay “Understanding the Mind.”
There must be a better way to understand our inner core and the substratum of the universe. If you are a follower of the great saint Ramana Maharshi, you will learn to focus on Self-Awareness. Understanding Self-Awareness is a better way to know your inner core or your true Self. If you get a proper understanding of Awareness and the inherent powers within Awareness, it will answer the objections mentioned here and bring clarity to understanding your inner core or Self.
To understand Self-Awareness, it is necessary to understand Awareness. As we have discussed in the essay “Understanding Self-Awareness,” Awareness is made up of Subject, Object, and Intelligence. Knower, Known, and Knowing are the three powers of Awareness.
- Awareness = Subject + Object + Intelligence
- Power of Awareness = Power of Knower + Power of Knowing + Power of Known
It must be understood that Subject, Object, Intelligence, and the three powers are not something outside in the world; they are within Awareness and make up Awareness. If any one of them is missing, the awareness will not work and will be incomplete. At this moment, you are aware you are reading this essay. This means that the three powers of Awareness are functioning to make the reading possible. The essay is the object, and the observer within you is the subject. The power of reading within Awareness connects the subject and object. Whenever you have any experience, all three powers are operational to make you aware of the experience.
These are awesome powers, and they are part of Awareness. For this essay, let us discuss the Power of Knower and Power of Known. Once these two powers are properly understood, you can make the connection between these two powers and SatChitAnanda and Brahman.
Power of Knower
To understand this, let us ask ourselves some questions.
- When we see the tree, who is seeing the tree?
- When we listen to music, who is listening to the music?
- When we taste the sweetness of chocolate, who is tasting this chocolate?
As we have discussed, there is an Observer within us that witnesses everything. This witness is the Subject. This Subject is part of Awareness. This Subject has the Power of the Knower. This power is built-in within the Subject. This power gives the Subject the ability to see, listen, and taste different objects. In fact, it is the knower of everything that is possible.
If you follow the Vedanta terminology, you can call Subject the Sakshi, the witness. Subject and Sakshi are synonymous. SatChitAnanda is the Sakshi; it is the Power of Knowing which enables the subject to witness the objects. See some examples below of how the Observer/Subject undertakes this task. The Subject is one, but it plays different roles.
- When it is the knower of seeing, the Observer/Subject is a Seer
- When it is the knower of hearing, the Observer/Subject is a Hearer
- When it is the knower of reading, the Observer/Subject is a Reader
- When it is the knower of running, the Observer/Subject is a Runner
SatChitAnanda is the power which allows the Subject to be the seer, hearer, reader, or runner. Mind is limited by the five senses, but the power of knowing is much broader and wider. It is the observer of everything.
We have seen earlier that Awareness has three powers—Power of Knower, Power of Knowing, and Power of Known. Of these three powers, SatChitAnanda is Power of the Knower. With this power, the Observer can witness everything which happens in the mind.
Power of Known or Objects
Power of the Known is another power within Awareness. It has the power to become any object. It can take any form that we experience in the mind. A good metaphor to understand this is that it is like a lump of Play-Doh. You can manipulate the Play-Doh to any shape. You can make a car, a tree, a house. The Play-Doh can become any shape. It is important to understand that, whatever shape is given, the content is always Play-Doh. Make a car, the content is Play-Doh. Make a tree, the content is still Play-Doh.
In the same way, the content of all the objects in the universe is Awareness. How does one understand this? If you see a circle, then awareness cannot take the shape of a square. If it does, you will never experience the (round) circle. Awareness must also be a circle with exactly the same dimensions. If you see a tree, then awareness must also take the shape of the tree. This tree must be filled up with Awareness. If the tree is half-filled with Awareness, you will experience a half tree only.
It is, therefore, correct to conclude that the content of the object must be Awareness. Awareness by itself is formless, but it has the potential to become any object. The power which manipulates Awareness to become any object is Power of the Known. If the incoming input from the senses is that of a car, Power of the Known will modify Awareness to take the shape of a car. If the input is that of music, Power of the Known will manipulate Awareness to that music. This Awareness allows you to be aware of these objects out there.
Brahman is this Power of the Known. In this way, Brahman modifies itself to become any object. Brahman is the material cause for all the objects. Brahman, which is part of Awareness, is the substratum of everything in this universe.
So, we have seen that SatChitAnanda is Power of the Knower within Awareness, and Brahman is Power of the Known within Awareness. Awareness is much wider; it contains all the three powers. Awareness is the underlying reality of both SatChitAnanda and Brahman.
That may be true, but how are SatChitAnanda and Brahman identical? From our discussion, it does not seem they are identical. Awareness is the common element between them, but they wield different powers. SatChitAnanda wields Power of the Knower and Brahman, Power of the Known. They are not the same. However, the scriptures teach us that SatChitAnanda and Brahman are identical. How do we understand this? As we have discussed in the essay “Understanding Self-Awareness,” Self-Awareness is non-dual. In this non-duality, Subject is equal to Object and Object is equal to Subject. Even the three powers of Awareness are non-dual. In Self-Awareness, Power of the Knower is equal to Power of the Known, and Power of the Known is equal to Power of the Knower.
In Self-Awareness, Subject = Object
In Self-Awareness, Power of Knower = Power of Known
Since Power of the Knower is identical to Power of the Known, it would mean that SatChitAnanda is identical to Brahman. Within Self-Awareness, both Brahman and SatChitAnanda are identical.
So, we can see that Awareness is the root for SatChitAnanda and Brahman. Understanding Self-Awareness is much easier than understanding SatChitAnanda and Brahman. Self-Awareness gives a much clearer picture and a deeper insight into our core and into the substratum of the universe. There is no separate SatChitAnanda for our inner core and Brahman as the material cause of the universe. Awareness covers both these aspects. Therefore, there is less confusion. It is one entity, and it encompasses all the three powers. It is for this reason we will use the terms Self-Awareness and Awareness more often in these essays.
Having said this, the scriptures use SatChitAnanda and Brahman more often. To follow the scriptures, we have used the terms SatChitAnanda and Brahman at many different places. But they really mean Self-Awareness. Self-Awareness is the more accurate term. In the essays you will find all the three terms being used interchangeably.