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The Spirit Behind The Mask

‘The spirit behind the mask’ is an excerpt from the article title ‘You Are That’ by Swami Nityasthananda published in the January 2010 issue of Prabuddha Bharata magazine.

The real purport of the Upanishadic statement ‘you are That’ (tat-tvam-asi), as we all know, is spiritual integration through the identification of the individual self with the universal Self. One should not confine oneself only to the physical and mental levels. The oneness at these lower levels, however justifiable it is, is only materialistic, for even the mind is a product of matter, according to Vedanta.

Awareness belongs to the realm of consciousness; even the awareness of physical and mental oneness is essentially spiritual, as matter cannot be aware of its own oneness. If it is aware, it ceases to be matter. To the extent that we identify ourselves with the Spirit within, we become more and more aware of physical and mental oneness, and this enables us to empathize better with others. We then reach the state of one ‘who judges of pleasure or pain everywhere by the same standard as one applies to oneself ’. After realizing this same spiritual principle behind both the object and the subject, one will see everything throbbing with Spirit.

Gaudapada says: After knowing that the spirit resides both within and without, and being one with that Spirit, and finding joy only in that Spirit, one will not swerve from that Spirit.

The word ‘That’ in the statement ‘you are That’ points to Ishvara, the Supreme Being behind the universe, and the word ‘you’ refers to jiva, the individual soul. Since it is illogical to say that this limited jiva is identical with Ishvara, we have to resort to the indirect meaning of the statement. Identity here refers to the Spirit behind both ‘That’ and ‘you’, which remains after such characteristics as lordship and creation on the one hand and the body and mind on the other are stripped off the denotations of the two terms.

We can illustrate this with an example of an actor, Devadatta by name, who acts in different roles — Rama, Krishna, and the like — in different plays. When all the makeup pertaining to different roles is removed, the same actor remains as his natural self. For one who is not acquainted with the actor, Rama and Krishna are certainly different personalities. But one who knows the actor well exclaims: he is the same Devadatta.’ He sees the different roles as well as the one person who plays them.