thathva thrayam – chith – Who am I?

srimathE rAmAnujAya nama:
srimadh varavaramunayE nama:
sri vAnAchala mahAmunayE nama:

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Understanding the chith (Athma) thathvam through the teachings of the wise men

  • Everyone is curious to understand the true
    nature of the soul, matter and
  • Across many civilizations, the quest to
    understand these three entities is seen as the common thread amongst the
  • sanAthana dharmam, which is based on vEdham,
    vEdhAntham, smruthis, purANams and ithihAsams, beautifully explains the
    true knowledge about jIvAthmA (the soul), prakruthi (matter) and ISwara
  • SrIman nArAyaNan (as gIthAchAryan), nammAzhwAr, emperumAnAr, piLLai lOkAchAryar and maNavALa mAmunigaL have all explained the nature of these three entities through
    their divine words in various granthams.
  • Specifically, piLLai lOkAchAryar‘s thathva thrayam and mAmunigaL‘s excellent commentary for that is a crystal clear exposition of
    all the three thathvams namely chith (soul), achith (matter) and Ishwara
  • Without understanding the true nature of the
    Soul/Self, one’s spiritual progress will be very limited.
  • Let us start with having a deep understanding
    of the Soul first.

bhagavAn‘s direct instructions to arjunan

nature of soul (AthmA)
  • The soul is different from body, senses, mind,
    vital air and intellect.
  • By nature, the soul is 
    • animate/luminous – one that realises its own
      existence and self-effulgent
    • blissful – naturally joyful
    • eternal – neither created nor destroyed
    • unmanifest – invisible to external eyes
    • atomic – most miniscule
    • incomprehensible – beyond the comprehension
      of our senses
    • indivisible – not consisting of any parts
    • unchangeable – does not undergo any change
    • abode of knowledge
    • controlled by bhagavAn up-held by bhagavAn
    • subservient to bhagavAn
between the soul and body, senses, mind, vital air etc.
  • body etc are seen different as “my
    body”, “my senses”, “my mind”, etc., indicating
    “my” as the soul. The soul is referred to as “I” while
    the body, mind, etc are referred to as “mine”.
  • While soul is always perceived, body, etc.,
    are sometimes perceived and other times not.
  • For example, when we are sleeping, the soul is
    still conscious but the body is not perceived in that state. And, when we
    wake up, being the consciousness, we fully realise who we are immediately,
    due to the continuous perception of the soul.
  • In an individual’s case, the soul is one, but
    the combination of body, senses, mind etc. are many.
With the
above, we can easily understand the difference between the soul and body, etc.
  • But even if there is any doubt in these
    logical explanations which can be understood by anyone, since SAsthram
    says that soul is different from body, etc., we have to accept that. Since
    SAsthram is eternal, not created by any individual and defectless, the
    principles established by SAsthram need to be accepted fully.
between the soul and body – practical examples

Similarly, “I”, the soul, has a body. The Soul and body are different
from each other but are connected. When we clearly understand that we are the
Soul, we can avoid acting on the bodily platform always.
changing nature of body and the transmigration of the soul
  • bhagavAn explains the nature of soul and the body in the second chapter of
    bhagavath gIthA in great detail.
  • In the 13th slOkam, he says “Just like
    the embodied soul goes through the different stages of body like
    infanthood, childhood, manhood etc., at the time of death, the soul
    acquires another body. The one who has understood the nature of soul is
    not bewildered by this change”.
  • In the 22nd slOkam, he says “Just like we
    get new clothes when the old clothes are worn out, the soul accepts a new
    body after the death of existing body”.

going through different stages of body and accepting another body at the end of
that body.

Doer and Enjoyer
  • Being the abode of knowledge, soul is called
    the knower.
  • AthmA is not mere knowledge, he is knower,
    since SAsthram declares as such.
  • Knowledge automatically leads to action and
    enjoying the result of the action since doing and enjoying the results are
    different manifestations of knowledge.
  • The soul is influenced by the three modes of
    material nature (sathvam, rajas, thamas – goodness, passion, ignorance) in
    this material world and acts accordingly.
  • The soul is given independence by bhagavAn to choose its  own path.
  • But bhagavAn being the ultimate authority,
    without his approval nothing happens.
  • In every action, the soul is given the choice
    of selecting the course of action. bhagavAn first stays as witness, and
    then allows the particular choice of the soul.
  • Subsequently, depending on the choice (the
    action being in accordance with SAsthram or against SAsthram), bhagavAn
    assists the soul to proceed with the action. Thus bhagavAn is the ultimate
    authority of any action by the soul but lets the soul decide the course of
    action to ensure that each soul becomes responsible for its action.
  • There are special cases when bhagavAn fully
    takes control of the soul’s life and actions for specific reasons.
upheld by bhagavAn and being subservient to him

  • The soul is fully controlled by bhagavAn. This means all actions of the soul are to be sanctioned by
  • Just like all actions of the body are
    controlled by the soul, all actions of the soul are controlled by the
    in-dwelling super-soul which is bhagavAn.
  • Still, bhagavAn gives independence to the soul
    to choose the course of action since soul has knowledge which can be used
    in decision making.
  • Otherwise, SAsthram will become meaningless.
  • Controlled, upheld by bhagavAn and being
    subservient to him
  • SAsthram is meant for the soul to learn,
    understand and distinguish between different actions and their merits and
    demerits and follow the best course of action.
  • So, for a soul’s actions, Bhagavan remains in
    the following states
    • Witness – Being passive when soul takes the
      first attempt in all actions
    • Allower – permits soul’s actions after the
      soul decides on a particular course
    • Inducer – Once soul starts an action,
      BhagavAn induces further actions based on this first attempt (in this
      particular action)
  • The soul is upheld by bhagavAn. Upheld by him means, the soul loses its identity/purpose of
    existence, when it lacks proper understanding of:
    • the connection between the self and bhagavAn
    • the divine nature of bhagavAn
    • the divine qualities of bhagavAn
  • The soul is always subservient to bhagavAn who
    is the focus of everything.
  • This means the soul is supposed to always look
    out to please bhagavAn without any personal interests similar to achith
    entities such as sandalwood, flowers etc which exist purely for the pleasure
    of the consumer.
  • Finally, AthmA (soul) is never separated from
types of souls
  • Souls are innumerable.
  • There are three types of souls namely
    • bhadhdha AthmAs
      • These are the bound souls who have been in
        samsAram (material world) since time immemorial
      • They are going through the cycle of birth
        and death due to ignorance which leads to virtues/vices.
      • All souls who have not realized their real
        nature come under this category.
      • They lack the understanding of soul and most
        often consider themselves to be the body, senses, etc. 
      • There are also the other badhdhas who
        consider the self as fully independent and act accordingly.
  • ·        
These are
the ones who were once in samsAram (material world) but are now in paramapadham
(spiritual world)
reach paramapadham either by their own efforts (karma, gyAna, bhakthi yOgams)
or by the causeless mercy of bhagavAn himself. 
being relieved from samsAram, the mukthAthmAs generally go through the
archirAdhi gathi, take a dip in the virajA river and come out with a divine
spiritual body.
They are
welcomed by the nithyasUris and existing mukthAtmAs, reach SrI vaikuntanAthan
and serve him eternally alongwith the others.

AzhwArs ascended to paramapadham by the causeless mercy of
SrIman nArAyaNan

These are
the ones who are never bound in samsAram.
They are
constantly engaged in serving
bhagavAn in paramapadham and wherever
bhagavAn is.
The most
commonly known nithyasUris who constantly serve bhagavAn are
§  AdhisEshan
§  garudAzhwAr
§  vishwaksEnar et al

paramapadhanAthan being
served by nithyasUris constantly in parampadham.

  • Just like water (which is naturally cool),
    when it comes into contact with a container which is heated by fire,
    becomes hot, bhadhdha AthmAs who are in contact with matter, are covered
    by ignorance, karma, etc.
  • When the attachment to matter is given up,
    ignorance etc are gone.
  • Each of the 3 types of souls namely bhadhdha,
    muktha and nithya, are innumerable in count.
  • Some (who misunderstand the principle of
    adhvaitham that is found in SAsthram) preach the concept of a single soul
    which confuses itself to be many due to being covered by ignorance. But
    this is against plain logic and SAsthram.
  • If there is only one soul, when one person is
    happy, another person should not be sad.
  • Since, both are opposite to each other and
    cannot exist in the same person at the same time.
  • Also, since SAsthram says that some have
    become mukthas and some are still samsAris, some are AchAryan and others
    are sishyas, there must be many AthmAs.
  • It will also contradict with the statements in
    SAsthram which discuss existence of many AthmAs.
  • Even in the state of mOksham, there are
    innumerable souls.
  • Now, we may have a doubt – if AthmAs in
    paramapadam will be different, since they do not have different levels
    like anger, jealousy etc, as we see in this material world.
  • Though qualitatively all AthmAs will be the
    same in that state, just like multiple pots which have the exact
    measurement and weight will still be different from each other, AthmAs
    that are qualitatively the same in paramapadham will still be different
    from each other.
  • Thus, it is understood clearly that, there
    exist innumerable souls both in this material world and the spiritual
gyAnam and dharma bhUtha gyAnam
  • Let us understand the two types of gyAnam
    • dharmi gyAnam – the consciousness
    • dharma bhUtha gyAnam – knowledge.
  • The true (unique) nature of an AthmA
    (irrespective of bhadhdha, muktha, nithya) is
    • SEshathvam – being the one who is secondary
      (subservient) to bhagavAn and
    • gyAthruthvam – being knowledgable.
  • Both are essential qualities.
  • Being knowledgable differentiates it from
    achith (matter).
  • Being subservient to bhagavAn differentiates
    it from bhagavAn (God).
  • While AthmA itself is a product of knowledge
    (dharmi gyAnam – svarUpam/nature), AthmA also has knowledge (dharma bhUtha
    gyAnam – guNam/attribute).
  • The difference is – the dharmi gyAnam is the
    consciousness that constantly indicates the existence to self (atomic –
    never changing).
  • The dharma bhUtha gyAnam is the one that
    enlightens the soul with external objects (all pervading – constantly
    changing due to contraction and expansion of knowledge).
  • For the nithyas, their knowledge is fully
  • For mukthas, their knowledge was once limited
    but now fully expanded.
  • For bhadhdhas who are in material world, their
    knowledge is limited.
  • Even though knowledge is eternal quality of
    the soul, the contraction and expansion of knowledge is due to the fact
    that knowledge is received through senses.
  • Senses are at times active and at times
  • So, dharma bhUtha gyAnam (knowledge) can
    increase or decrease accordingly.
  • The naturally blissful state of AthmA is
    discussed here.
  • When knowledge fully expands, that leads to
    the blissful state of AthmA.
  • When we are faced with poison or weapons
    (anything perceived as unfavourable to body, mind, etc), that leads to
  • But that is because
    • we are confusing the soul with the body – if
      we understand that the weapon can only affect the body, we will not feel
      any sorrow.
    • our own karma which leads us to be fearful
    • we do not have the full understanding that
      everything is pervaded by bhagavAn (even those weapons) – prahlAdhAzhwAn
      had fully realized that bhagavAn is every where and did not protest when
      he was threatened by snakes, elephant or fire. He was unaffected by any
      of them.
  • Since everything is pervaded by god,
    everything is favourable only.
  • The unfavourable nature is seen only because
    of our own misunderstandings.
  • If there is any other reason for something
    being favourable, for the same person, the same material will not be
    favourable at some point of time and unfavourable at some other time.
  • For example, hot water is favourable in cold
    weather but unfavourable in hot weather – so hot water is not
    naturally good or bad – it is the perception of the consumer and the
    environment which are all based on bodily thoughts.
  • Once we see everything in relationship with
    God, we will naturally feel blissful.

While this gives a good introduction to the chith prakaraNam (section) of the
divine grantham named thathva thrayam, it is highly recommended to the readers
to hear kAlakshEpam of this grantham under an AchAryan, which will be truly

srImathE ramyajAmAthru munIndhrAya mahAthmanE
srIrangavAsinE bhUyAth nithyasrI nithya mangaLAm

mangaLAsAsana parair madhAchArya purOgamai
sarvaischa pUrvair AchAryai satkruthAyAsthu mangaLam

Up next,  We will see in detail about achith thathvam (matter).

adiyen sarathy ramanuja dasan

Sources: thathva thrayam, bhagavath gIthA bhAshyam

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6 thoughts on “thathva thrayam – chith – Who am I?”

  1. good presentation …. what abt these doubts which ppl will have?
    1.Why are we born in the current place where we are now? If at all it is due to past karmas shd not one be enlightened abt their past mistakes/good deeds/bad ones etc, so that they can correct and improve themselves and go further forward? Shd not we be given a report card in each life as assessment of our behaviour?
    2.What is our main aim as human beings? Is it only to attain paramapadam/moksha? Surely bhagavan(god) didnt create man in this lovely Earth to just go on praising him?
    3.where is this moksha etc….which galaxy/star/planet? where is the proof?who has seen it?
    4.If bhagavan is one why so many different group/sects of ppl? lots of answers are needed?

  2. thanks for the feedback. This is exactly the objective of these articles, to kindle our interest in sAsthram and try to learn it from proper/authentic sources for our own welfare. Generally, we believe in our AchAryas who are most intelligent. analysed the sAsthram fully and have given us the essence. It is only because of them documenting these great principles, we are able to understand the same easily. See answers below:
    > Why are we born in the current place where we are now? …
    Yes, everything is based on past karma and our own choice. bhagavAn keeps helping us from within always and trying to guide us towards the path of mOksham. If we really know everything from previous janmas our life will be chaotic since there will be too much to handle emotionally – so, bhagavAn mercifully clears all the previous memories and just gives us the result and guides us for the future.
    > What is our main aim as human beings? Is it only to attain paramapadam/moksha? Surely bhagavan(god) didnt create man in this lovely Earth to just go on praising him?
    The main aim of every living being is to exist for the pleasure of bhagavAn. He is the master and we are his subservient counterparts – so, obviously we exist for his pleasure. It is not just praising him literally, even conducting our life in a civilized manner with humanity/concern towards all beings and serving other srivaishnavas lead to glorifying him. Our pUrvAchAryas have shown that a srIvaishNava lives his life in the most dignified and compassionate way.
    > where is this moksha etc….which galaxy/star/planet? where is the proof?who has seen it?
    there are two worlds – paramapadham (spiritual) and samsAaram (material) – we are in the material world and spiritual world is very far away from here. We will discuss about this in the next presentation in detail.
    > If bhagavan is one why so many different group/sects of ppl?
    lOko binnaruchi – everyone has different taste – so different manifestations. If every one is same with same taste then there is no variety. Some individuals create their own philosophy and people who have that taste start following that. But bhagavAn has shown the true path to mOksham directly in bhagavath gIthA and through AzhwArs and AchAryas which we follow.
    > lots of answers are needed?
    When we learn with open mind, bhagavAn reveals all answers to us. He wants us to learn the core principles and reach him – so he will provide the answers through the proper sources if we have the desire.


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