Śaṅkarācārya: ‘True Self’

Here is a popular Folk-Tale more telling than any dissertation stored in a University Library.

A skeptical prince who was a pupil of Śaṅkarācārya decided to test his teacher. Once when the illustrious scholar was walking up the royal pathway to the palace, the prince unleashed an elephant from the army stables directly onto Śaṅkarā’s path.

The Brahmin, not known for valor of this sort, proceeded to climb up the nearest tree. The prince approached the teacher, bowed respectfully and inquired as to why he had climbed the tree, since according to his own teaching all, including the approaching elephant, was illusion.

‘Indeed’ said Śaṅkarā, ‘the elephant was unreal, but so was your presumption that there was a me, climbing a tree.’

Like Immanuel Kant later, Śaṅkarācārya was clearly alert to the Self-Loop and it’s remorseless drive past all conventional sensibility. But he was unwilling to confront it head-on.


Śaṅkarācārya‘s Vedantha is the unity of two mystic terms, Atman and Brahman, an idea that likely originates as far back as the Chandogya, it’s: ‘Subtle Inner Essence’. And repeatedly expanded upon over the centuries with numerous attributes all the way through Gaudapada, finally fixing itself as ‘True Self’, which is the way it is taught today.

The intuition is irresistible. Get rid of the Modeled-Self and awake to ‘True Self’.

The problem is that the very notion of ‘ True Self’ is a residual binary, the tail-end of Modeled Views. This terminus of ‘True Self’ doesn’t exit you, as does ‘True Nothing’, from the ‘Subject-Object’ Divide. It simply sends you up into stratospheric abstractions and reifications.


The Vedanthic ‘True Self’ was an exalted, deified extension of the Modeled-Self. ‘True Self’ was ‘lost’ and had to be ‘Found’; the World was ‘illusory’, even inherently ‘Deceitful’ and so on. Man is already Fallen and must find his fulfillment in Release [Moksha].

Yājñavalkya’s Rule has been kept linear. The self-scuttling disconnects before the final, fatal thrust. ‘True Nothing’ has once again been reified and conceptualized.

All this is the unburnt remains of a modeled-world inadequately put to flame. The self-negation is incomplete. And the placement of ‘Being’, a steel spine, is needed to hold up the entire structure.

I wince when I  visit a Śaṅkarā Monastery, 1,500 years after its founding, and find bright, earnest Brahmin boys, whose role is the arrival and articulation of Brahman, perfecting instead the rounding of the rolled rice-ball.


See my later Posts on Shri Ramana Maharishi and Shri Nisargadatta Maharaj, two of the finest contemporary exponents of traditional Vedantha. My early writings are too long and need extensive trimming. I’ll get around to it.