I Am That
Jagadguru Shankaracharya put forth the true essence of Atman in a one-shloka composition. Only when we dig deeper and contemplate on this shloka, can we begin to understand it. Whenever an ardent seeker approached him, Acharya would have a conversation and in the subtlest of ways, show the way to self-realization.
On one occasion, a seeker approached Acharya. After paying obeisance, he asked, “Acharya, please show me the way to realizing the Self. Who am I? What am I? I don’t know.”
Acharya asked the seeker, “Dear child, tell me how you gain knowledge of your surroundings?”
The seeker answered, “Gurudev, it’s the sunlight.”
Acharya asked, “During the day it’s sunlight. How do you gain knowledge at night?”
The seeker answered, “Gurudev, at night, the moon and a lamp guide me.”
Acharya asked, “So your knowledge is illuminated by the light from the sun, or the moon or a lamp. How do you gain knowledge of these sources of light?”
The seeker answered, “Gurudev, my eyes help me gain this knowledge.”
Acharya asked, “If someone were to blindfold you, close your ears and tie up your hands and legs, how then would you gain knowledge?”
The seeker answered, “Gurudev, its my intellect that helps me.”
Now Acharya asked the seeker an introspective question, “What is it that perceives the intellect?”
The seeker answered, “Acharya, I am the one who perceives the intellect.”
Acharya explains further, “ato bhvAn paramakm jyotih | You are the Supreme light. You are self-illuminating and hence only you can perceive everything around you. Without you, this Supreme light, everything is non-existent. Hence you are the one who is that knowledge. Dear child, does this answer your questions?”
The seeker, completely content and pleased prostrated in front of Acharya.
Acharya said, “The meaning behind this shloka can be easily experienced by a small study.” He then asked the seeker to ‘sit calmly, slowly close the eyes and focus the attention on the natural inhalation-exhalation breath.’
The seeker did as he was advised and experienced ‘I am That’.