Neither is this [ātman] born, nor does it die ever,
Nor having been, will it again come not to be,
Unborn, eternal, perpetual, primaeval,
It is not slain when the body is slain.
On this point, I actually prefer Ādi Śankarācārya’s निर्वाण षटकम्. It has six ślokas. This is Vedānta. But I am not on the Vedānta part right now. Therefore, those who know the original will realize that I have knocked out the last line of each śloka. That will come later. Some people may know that Swami Vivekānanda translated this. I could have given my own translation. But since Swami Vivekānanda translated it, one might as well stick to his translation. With that last line of each śloka knocked out, here goes:
मनोबुद्धयहंकार चित्तानि नाहं,
I am neither sin nor virtue, neither pleasure nor pain; Nor temple nor worship, nor pilgrimage nor scriptures, Neither the act of enjoying, the enjoyable nor the enjoyer;
I have neither death nor fear of death, nor caste; Nor was I ever born, nor had I parents, friends, and relations; I have neither Guru, nor disciple; I am untouched by the senses, I am neither Mukti nor knowable; I am without form, without limit, beyond space, beyond time; I am in everything; I am the basis of the universe; everywhere am I. I am Existence Absolute, Knowledge Absolute.”
I said that I am going to excise Vedānta, for the moment. The purist will say that despite eliminating that last line, I haven’t quite been able to do that. But let that pass for the moment. Independent of Vedānta, I think most people comprehend that the ātman is not the body, nor the five organs of sense (sight, taste, smell, touch, hearing) or the five organs of action (feet, hands, anus, genitals, mouth). Therefore, when the body dies, the ātman does not die.
Students are poverty-stricken, everywhere in the world. When we were students in Cambridge, there was a professor of Physics there. He had already received the equivalent of tenure, so he could “research” whatever he wished. And he asked for student volunteers as guinea pigs, promising them small sums of money if they volunteered. I was one of those who volunteered and the experiment was the following. We went to sleep, hooked on to all kinds of gadgets and measuring instruments. The idea was that when people slept, the soul (obviously he didn’t call it the ātman) would leave the body and roam around. These sensitive measuring instruments were supposed to detect the departure and return of the soul, in these out-of-body experiences. As far as I know, the professor met with no success. Nothing registered.
There is a story about Catherine the Great of Russia (Catherine II) and the philosopher Diderot, who was a bit of an atheist. This bothered Catherine the Great and the other courtiers. Euler, the mathematician, was also around and was summoned to help. Diderot knew nothing about mathematics. Euler went up to him and said, “Sir, (a+bn)/n= x. Hence, God exists!” (Actually, he said it in French, but the English will suffice.) This embarrassed Diderot so much that he vanished from the court. Whether it is God, or the ātman, we tend to ask for odd kinds of proof.
Be logical. Do you believe in the concept of ½? Of course, you do. But have you ever actually seen ½? Of course, you haven’t. No matter how precise the measuring rod, when something is broken into two equal halves, will each part be exactly half? It won’t. Yet, we believe in the concept of half. If I give you an equation that says 1+1=11, you will say this is wrong. Yet, it is perfectly correct, if I am using the binary system. If I say, two parallel lines do not meet, that’s apparently correct, but only on a plane. On the earth’s surface, lines of longitude do meet. The point I am making is that scientific proofs can be axiomatic, or they can be empirical. At an axiomatic level, I see nothing that one can complain about vis-à-vis the concept of the ātman. As an axiomatic structure, it is perfectly coherent. Therefore, if the ātman is being questioned, it is on the level of the empirical.
We will continue with this line of reasoning next month.