Even the tiny presence of the illusory sense of ‘I’ will be an obstacle on the path of freedom, says Sri Adi Shankaracharya in the Vivekachoodamani. Since the ego is an impediment, it is imperative to realise one’s true self.
Why does the acharya say this? Everything we see in this world is not as it is, but as it appears to us. The mind is constantly projecting images, thoughts and emotions that it identifies as ‘I’.
We fret about the story in a film we are watching only as long as we are completely involved in it. We even forget we’re watching a film. When somebody looks at us crying during a movie and nudges us asking what’s wrong, we wipe our tears immediately and remind ourselves that it’s just a fictional narrative, not a real experience. That awareness brings a smile on our face. Discarding this identification becomes easy when I know who I am. This is a sacred theme that keeps repeating in all scriptures, particularly the Vivekachoodamani, which has devoted itself entirely to the subtle discrimination of what’s the ‘self’ and what is not the ‘self’. Repetition is the key to learning something deeply.
Building logic for this flow of thought is important. The acharya says that body identification is responsible for the numerous mental waves of ‘mine,’ thoughts. When these thoughts are observed and controlled, the ‘I,’ loses its relevance and withdraws. At that moment, when the consciousness or the true self is realised, the essence that ‘I am that consciousness,’ is reached.
Citing an example of the amount of damage this ‘I am the body,’ thought causes to human beings, the master asks his students: “Even if a tiny quantity of poison is found in the body, how can that person even think of experiencing good health, tell me?”
Does that bring us to how this can be practised daily? In the ‘I’ thought, give up the identity that I am the doer. Should I take some time to give it up? No, says the teacher. Give it up immediately as if you’ve just discovered that you’re holding hot coals in your hand. Just like when you stand in front of the mirror, it reflects your image but that ‘image’ is not ‘you’. The steady mirror of consciousness alone is you. But this notion causes disturbance and prevents you from finding comfort in yourself.
All that you’ll achieve from birth to death is identification with the notion of doership. This is despite knowing the reality that you are the consciousness, which is the very essence of existence, knowledge and bliss.
You are caught in the whirlpool of change, pain, joy and sorrow if you don’t know this. Acharya concludes: “Therefore, may you conquer your enemy called the ahamkara which sticks out like a thorn in your throat. Cut it off with the sharp sword of discrimination and enjoy life to the fullest.”