thathva thrayam - chith - Who am I?

srimathE rAmAnujAya nama:
srimadh varavaramunayE nama:
sri vAnAchala mahAmunayE nama:

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Understanding the chith (Athma) thathvam through the teachings of the wise men

  • Everyone is curious to understand the true nature of the soul, matter and God.
  • Across many civilizations, the quest to understand these three entities is seen as the common thread amongst the intellectuals.
  • sanAthana dharmam, which is based on vEdham, vEdhAntham, smruthis, purANams and ithihAsams, beautifully explains the true knowledge about jIvAthmA (the soul), prakruthi (matter) and ISwara (God).
  • SrIman nArAyaNan (as gIthAchAryan), nammAzhwAr, emperumAnAr, piLLai lOkAchAryar and maNavALa mAmunigaL have all explained the nature of these three entities through their divine words in various granthams.
  • Specifically, piLLai lOkAchAryar's thathva thrayam and mAmunigaL's excellent commentary for that is a crystal clear exposition of all the three thathvams namely chith (soul), achith (matter) and Ishwara (God).
  • Without understanding the true nature of the Soul/Self, one's spiritual progress will be very limited.
  • Let us start with having a deep understanding of the Soul first.

bhagavAn's direct instructions to arjunan

True nature of soul (AthmA)
  • The soul is different from body, senses, mind, vital air and intellect.
  • By nature, the soul is 
    • animate/luminous - one that realises its own existence and self-effulgent
    • blissful - naturally joyful
    • eternal - neither created nor destroyed
    • unmanifest - invisible to external eyes
    • atomic - most miniscule
    • incomprehensible - beyond the comprehension of our senses
    • indivisible - not consisting of any parts
    • unchangeable - does not undergo any change
    • abode of knowledge
    • controlled by bhagavAn up-held by bhagavAn
    • subservient to bhagavAn

Differences between the soul and body, senses, mind, vital air etc.
  • body etc are seen different as "my body", "my senses", "my mind", etc., indicating "my" as the soul. The soul is referred to as "I" while the body, mind, etc are referred to as "mine".
  • While soul is always perceived, body, etc., are sometimes perceived and other times not.
  • For example, when we are sleeping, the soul is still conscious but the body is not perceived in that state. And, when we wake up, being the consciousness, we fully realise who we are immediately, due to the continuous perception of the soul.
  • In an individual's case, the soul is one, but the combination of body, senses, mind etc. are many.
With the above, we can easily understand the difference between the soul and body, etc.
  • But even if there is any doubt in these logical explanations which can be understood by anyone, since SAsthram says that soul is different from body, etc., we have to accept that. Since SAsthram is eternal, not created by any individual and defectless, the principles established by SAsthram need to be accepted fully.
Differences between the soul and body - practical examples

Similarly, "I", the soul, has a body. The Soul and body are different from each other but are connected. When we clearly understand that we are the Soul, we can avoid acting on the bodily platform always.
The changing nature of body and the transmigration of the soul
  • bhagavAn explains the nature of soul and the body in the second chapter of bhagavath gIthA in great detail.
  • In the 13th slOkam, he says "Just like the embodied soul goes through the different stages of body like infanthood, childhood, manhood etc., at the time of death, the soul acquires another body. The one who has understood the nature of soul is not bewildered by this change".
  • In the 22nd slOkam, he says "Just like we get new clothes when the old clothes are worn out, the soul accepts a new body after the death of existing body".

Soul going through different stages of body and accepting another body at the end of that body.
Knower, Doer and Enjoyer
  • Being the abode of knowledge, soul is called the knower.
  • AthmA is not mere knowledge, he is knower, since SAsthram declares as such.
  • Knowledge automatically leads to action and enjoying the result of the action since doing and enjoying the results are different manifestations of knowledge.
  • The soul is influenced by the three modes of material nature (sathvam, rajas, thamas - goodness, passion, ignorance) in this material world and acts accordingly.
  • The soul is given independence by bhagavAn to choose its  own path.
  • But bhagavAn being the ultimate authority, without his approval nothing happens.
  • In every action, the soul is given the choice of selecting the course of action. bhagavAn first stays as witness, and then allows the particular choice of the soul.
  • Subsequently, depending on the choice (the action being in accordance with SAsthram or against SAsthram), bhagavAn assists the soul to proceed with the action. Thus bhagavAn is the ultimate authority of any action by the soul but lets the soul decide the course of action to ensure that each soul becomes responsible for its action.
  • There are special cases when bhagavAn fully takes control of the soul's life and actions for specific reasons.
Controlled, upheld by bhagavAn and being subservient to him

  • The soul is fully controlled by bhagavAn. This means all actions of the soul are to be sanctioned by bhagavAn.
  • Just like all actions of the body are controlled by the soul, all actions of the soul are controlled by the in-dwelling super-soul which is bhagavAn.
  • Still, bhagavAn gives independence to the soul to choose the course of action since soul has knowledge which can be used in decision making.
  • Otherwise, SAsthram will become meaningless.
  • Controlled, upheld by bhagavAn and being subservient to him
  • SAsthram is meant for the soul to learn, understand and distinguish between different actions and their merits and demerits and follow the best course of action.
  • So, for a soul's actions, Bhagavan remains in the following states
    • Witness - Being passive when soul takes the first attempt in all actions
    • Allower - permits soul's actions after the soul decides on a particular course
    • Inducer - Once soul starts an action, BhagavAn induces further actions based on this first attempt (in this particular action)
  • The soul is upheld by bhagavAn. Upheld by him means, the soul loses its identity/purpose of existence, when it lacks proper understanding of:
    • the connection between the self and bhagavAn
    • the divine nature of bhagavAn
    • the divine qualities of bhagavAn
  • The soul is always subservient to bhagavAn who is the focus of everything.
  • This means the soul is supposed to always look out to please bhagavAn without any personal interests similar to achith entities such as sandalwood, flowers etc which exist purely for the pleasure of the consumer.
  • Finally, AthmA (soul) is never separated from bhagavAn.
 Three types of souls
  • Souls are innumerable.
  • There are three types of souls namely
    • bhadhdha AthmAs
      • These are the bound souls who have been in samsAram (material world) since time immemorial
      • They are going through the cycle of birth and death due to ignorance which leads to virtues/vices.
      • All souls who have not realized their real nature come under this category.
      • They lack the understanding of soul and most often consider themselves to be the body, senses, etc. 
      • There are also the other badhdhas who consider the self as fully independent and act accordingly.
  • ·         muktha AthmAs
o    These are the ones who were once in samsAram (material world) but are now in paramapadham (spiritual world)
o    They reach paramapadham either by their own efforts (karma, gyAna, bhakthi yOgams) or by the causeless mercy of bhagavAn himself. 
o    After being relieved from samsAram, the mukthAthmAs generally go through the archirAdhi gathi, take a dip in the virajA river and come out with a divine spiritual body.
o    They are welcomed by the nithyasUris and existing mukthAtmAs, reach SrI vaikuntanAthan and serve him eternally alongwith the others.

AzhwArs ascended to paramapadham by the causeless mercy of SrIman nArAyaNan
·         nithya AthmAs
o    These are the ones who are never bound in samsAram.
o    They are constantly engaged in serving bhagavAn in paramapadham and wherever bhagavAn is.
o    The most commonly known nithyasUris who constantly serve bhagavAn are
§  AdhisEshan
§  garudAzhwAr
§  vishwaksEnar et al

paramapadhanAthan being served by nithyasUris constantly in parampadham.
Innumerable souls
  • Just like water (which is naturally cool), when it comes into contact with a container which is heated by fire, becomes hot, bhadhdha AthmAs who are in contact with matter, are covered by ignorance, karma, etc.
  • When the attachment to matter is given up, ignorance etc are gone.
  • Each of the 3 types of souls namely bhadhdha, muktha and nithya, are innumerable in count.
  • Some (who misunderstand the principle of adhvaitham that is found in SAsthram) preach the concept of a single soul which confuses itself to be many due to being covered by ignorance. But this is against plain logic and SAsthram.
  • If there is only one soul, when one person is happy, another person should not be sad.
  • Since, both are opposite to each other and cannot exist in the same person at the same time.
  • Also, since SAsthram says that some have become mukthas and some are still samsAris, some are AchAryan and others are sishyas, there must be many AthmAs.
  • It will also contradict with the statements in SAsthram which discuss existence of many AthmAs.
  • Even in the state of mOksham, there are innumerable souls.
  • Now, we may have a doubt - if AthmAs in paramapadam will be different, since they do not have different levels like anger, jealousy etc, as we see in this material world.
  • Though qualitatively all AthmAs will be the same in that state, just like multiple pots which have the exact measurement and weight will still be different from each other, AthmAs that are qualitatively the same in paramapadham will still be different from each other.
  • Thus, it is understood clearly that, there exist innumerable souls both in this material world and the spiritual world.
dharmi gyAnam and dharma bhUtha gyAnam
  • Let us understand the two types of gyAnam
    • dharmi gyAnam - the consciousness
    • dharma bhUtha gyAnam - knowledge.
  • The true (unique) nature of an AthmA (irrespective of bhadhdha, muktha, nithya) is
    • SEshathvam - being the one who is secondary (subservient) to bhagavAn and
    • gyAthruthvam - being knowledgable.
  • Both are essential qualities.
  • Being knowledgable differentiates it from achith (matter).
  • Being subservient to bhagavAn differentiates it from bhagavAn (God).
  • While AthmA itself is a product of knowledge (dharmi gyAnam - svarUpam/nature), AthmA also has knowledge (dharma bhUtha gyAnam - guNam/attribute).
  • The difference is - the dharmi gyAnam is the consciousness that constantly indicates the existence to self (atomic - never changing).
  • The dharma bhUtha gyAnam is the one that enlightens the soul with external objects (all pervading - constantly changing due to contraction and expansion of knowledge).
  • For the nithyas, their knowledge is fully expanded.
  • For mukthas, their knowledge was once limited but now fully expanded.
  • For bhadhdhas who are in material world, their knowledge is limited.
  • Even though knowledge is eternal quality of the soul, the contraction and expansion of knowledge is due to the fact that knowledge is received through senses.
  • Senses are at times active and at times inactive.
  • So, dharma bhUtha gyAnam (knowledge) can increase or decrease accordingly.
  • The naturally blissful state of AthmA is discussed here.
  • When knowledge fully expands, that leads to the blissful state of AthmA.
  • When we are faced with poison or weapons (anything perceived as unfavourable to body, mind, etc), that leads to sorrow.
  • But that is because
    • we are confusing the soul with the body - if we understand that the weapon can only affect the body, we will not feel any sorrow.
    • our own karma which leads us to be fearful
    • we do not have the full understanding that everything is pervaded by bhagavAn (even those weapons) - prahlAdhAzhwAn had fully realized that bhagavAn is every where and did not protest when he was threatened by snakes, elephant or fire. He was unaffected by any of them.
  • Since everything is pervaded by god, everything is favourable only.
  • The unfavourable nature is seen only because of our own misunderstandings.
  • If there is any other reason for something being favourable, for the same person, the same material will not be favourable at some point of time and unfavourable at some other time.
  • For example, hot water is favourable in cold weather but unfavourable in hot weather - so hot water is not naturally good or bad - it is the perception of the consumer and the environment which are all based on bodily thoughts.
  • Once we see everything in relationship with God, we will naturally feel blissful.

While this gives a good introduction to the chith prakaraNam (section) of the divine grantham named thathva thrayam, it is highly recommended to the readers to hear kAlakshEpam of this grantham under an AchAryan, which will be truly enlightening.

srImathE ramyajAmAthru munIndhrAya mahAthmanE
srIrangavAsinE bhUyAth nithyasrI nithya mangaLAm

mangaLAsAsana parair madhAchArya purOgamai
sarvaischa pUrvair AchAryai satkruthAyAsthu mangaLam

Up next,  We will see in detail about achith thathvam (matter).

adiyen sarathy ramanuja dasan

Sources: thathva thrayam, bhagavath gIthA bhAshyam

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  1. good presentation .... what abt these doubts which ppl will have?
    1.Why are we born in the current place where we are now? If at all it is due to past karmas shd not one be enlightened abt their past mistakes/good deeds/bad ones etc, so that they can correct and improve themselves and go further forward? Shd not we be given a report card in each life as assessment of our behaviour?
    2.What is our main aim as human beings? Is it only to attain paramapadam/moksha? Surely bhagavan(god) didnt create man in this lovely Earth to just go on praising him?
    3.where is this moksha etc....which galaxy/star/planet? where is the proof?who has seen it?
    4.If bhagavan is one why so many different group/sects of ppl? lots of answers are needed?

    1. thanks for the feedback. This is exactly the objective of these articles, to kindle our interest in sAsthram and try to learn it from proper/authentic sources for our own welfare. Generally, we believe in our AchAryas who are most intelligent. analysed the sAsthram fully and have given us the essence. It is only because of them documenting these great principles, we are able to understand the same easily. See answers below:
      > Why are we born in the current place where we are now? ...
      Yes, everything is based on past karma and our own choice. bhagavAn keeps helping us from within always and trying to guide us towards the path of mOksham. If we really know everything from previous janmas our life will be chaotic since there will be too much to handle emotionally - so, bhagavAn mercifully clears all the previous memories and just gives us the result and guides us for the future.
      > What is our main aim as human beings? Is it only to attain paramapadam/moksha? Surely bhagavan(god) didnt create man in this lovely Earth to just go on praising him?
      The main aim of every living being is to exist for the pleasure of bhagavAn. He is the master and we are his subservient counterparts - so, obviously we exist for his pleasure. It is not just praising him literally, even conducting our life in a civilized manner with humanity/concern towards all beings and serving other srivaishnavas lead to glorifying him. Our pUrvAchAryas have shown that a srIvaishNava lives his life in the most dignified and compassionate way.
      > where is this moksha etc....which galaxy/star/planet? where is the proof?who has seen it?
      there are two worlds - paramapadham (spiritual) and samsAaram (material) - we are in the material world and spiritual world is very far away from here. We will discuss about this in the next presentation in detail.
      > If bhagavan is one why so many different group/sects of ppl?
      lOko binnaruchi - everyone has different taste - so different manifestations. If every one is same with same taste then there is no variety. Some individuals create their own philosophy and people who have that taste start following that. But bhagavAn has shown the true path to mOksham directly in bhagavath gIthA and through AzhwArs and AchAryas which we follow.
      > lots of answers are needed?
      When we learn with open mind, bhagavAn reveals all answers to us. He wants us to learn the core principles and reach him - so he will provide the answers through the proper sources if we have the desire.