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Ātman, the self, is defined as sat cit ānanda. In this three-word definition, sat is often translated as existence, cit as consciousness, ānanda as bliss. It is obvious that these three words are not adjectives to ātman, for ātman is revealed by the śāstra by these three words. If they are adjectives, there are many ātman-substantives among whom one is distinguished with the special attributes of sat cit ānanda. If we say, “Here is a blue, big, fragrant lily,” all three adjectives distinguish the lily from other lilies without those attributes.
That I am is self-evident, but is this existence of the self time-bound? If it is, ātman, the self, is like any other object: it has to become evident. Every object becomes evident to the self. The existence of the self is evident. To whom does it become evident? It has to be evident only to the self. When the existence of the self is evident to the self, it is understood as self-evident. In fact, the śāstra presents the ātman as satyam, self existence, and everything else (including the knowing subject) as one whose existence is drawn from the existence of ātman. This self-existent ātman has got to be self-evident, otherwise there is no way of recognising the existence of the self. So this self-evident nature is what is indicated by the second word cit, consciousness. Every evidence being knowledge, there is the presence of consciousness.
The self-existent ātman is in the form of consciousness revealing itself. The nature of sat is consciousness and the nature of consciousness is sat. The third word, ānanda, must have the same status as sat and cit since it is a word revealing the nature (svarūpa) of ātman. If sat cannot be displaced by a thought—and much less can cit be displaced—how can ānanda ever be displaced by a condition of the mind? If ānanda is translated as limitless (ananta) there is no possibility of it getting displaced at any time. If it is bliss, it has its opposite, unhappiness, displacing it.
This word ānanda has really caused a lot of confusion in the minds of seekers as well as teachers (ācaryas). Sukha (happiness) and duḥkha (sorrow) are opposites, and therefore are mutually opposed. When one is, the other is not. When I am happy I am not sad, and when I am sad I am not happy. But the truth is, the self that is sat and cit sustains every condition (vṛtti) of the mind, like the water every wave. Whether the condition of the mind is pleasant or unpleasant, it is sustained not only by sat cit, but also ānanda, because sat cit is ānanda.
The reason why there is so much insistence on the experience of the self is that that self is taken as a special experience of bliss. Even if there is a special experience of bliss, how will one recognise that it is the bliss of ātman? In fact, the śāstra is very clear that every experience of happiness is nothing but a condition of the mind (antaḥkaraṇa) which does not stand opposed to the limitlessness of ātman. The common experience of this happiness reveals that the subject-object situation does not oppose the limitlessness, the wholeness of ātman. The non-recognition of this fact commits a person to seeking such an experience [of happiness] as often and for as long as he or she can have it. The śāstra stops this pursuit by revealing that the ātman one is seeking is oneself. Ānanda is never displaced by any condition of the mind, because it is the nature (svarūpa) of ātman, like sat and cit. An unhappy condition of the mind is sustained by consciousness, which is sat. If this is true, it is ānanda that sustains the unhappy condition as well as the happy condition. [In which case, ānanda cannot mean bliss.]
‘Arsha Vidya Gurukulam 13th Anniversary Souvenir, 1999’ Swami Dayananda
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