How Could the Body be the Self?

The Aparokṣānubhūti or “Immediate Awareness” is often taught as a classic primer of Advaita (non-dual) Vedānta philosophy. Although it is attributed to the early eighth century philosopher and teacher Śaṅkarācārya, it was more likely written in the fourteenth or fifteenth century, partly in response to the growth of haṭha yoga. Its first ninety-nine verses teach a traditional Advaitic method, which the commentator explains is for the superior or what I will call the A student, while the remaining forty-five verses incorporate a unique version of rāja yoga, including a fifteen-part system, for the mediocre or B student. The text focuses on the fundamental misunderstanding of mistaking the body for the self, just as in the classical example, one might mistake a rope in the road for a snake at night and act out of fear, because one’s vision is clouded by darkness. In other words, it explores the ways in which we get caught up in a false perception of reality, and how we can correct that by recognizing the self as formless, changeless, and eternal. This is done with the help of practices that teach us to see through illusion, which are eventually let go of when we attain pure awareness.

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