Sat-Chit-Ananda: The True Self

It is said that yoga brings us to our “True Self,” which Sanskrit captures as “Sat-Chit-Ananda.” Since I started to take a serious look at meditation several months ago, I noticed that this particular triplet of words appear over and over in different texts and curiously, these words are translated so differently by various writers and schools.  For instance, Parahamsa Yogananda gives one set of translations and Sivananda texts provide another, Tibetan Buddhists texts provide one set of meanings, Theravada Buddhists another, and so forth.  This leads one to realize the limitations of language to transmit wisdom.  Given the undisputable process of how words evolve through time and cultures, we must accept that words contain multiple layers and levels of truths and that meaning is contextual.  With this awareness, one sees how the ancient teachings can become distorted and manipulated with language and re-interpretation and how this process of dilution and distortion extends each time the teachings are translated into other languages.  One has to accept that words are necessary for communication, and at the same time be aware how teachings can be mis-applied and misunderstood when one takes for granted that the words convey only one truth.

In order to understand the essential meaning of this triplet, I have captured the multiple English meanings which I have found associated with each word in a table below.  As one can see, some meanings support one another, while some seem inherently contradictory.  How do we extract the inner essence?

Sat Chit Ananda
Existence Knowledge Bliss
Beingness (I am) Consciousness Joyfulness
Now (Eternal Presentness) Unconsciousness Absolute Happiness
Truth Wisdom Samadhi
Root / Source Mind (Buddhism) Liberation
Purity Awareness Equanimity

What we learned in Yoga Philosophy is that this triplet contains the word for truth, “Sat”, and in it, is embedded the inner secret of meditation.  When a person achieves Pure Presence, that person gains Conscious Awareness in every moment of Now, and then that person automatically attains the state of Bliss, also referred to as Samadhi by Patanjali.  Samadhi is a state of no-mind, in which, the person automatically experiences the Absolute Happiness which comes from Liberation from the mind—freedom from ignorance and the cessation of suffering.

Meditation essentially involves training ourselves to live fully present in the moment and to increase our capacity for conscious awareness. There are many techniques for meditation. Each of them presents a methodology to streamline our thoughts and our thinking process so that we free-up capacity for our consciousness to observe the truth of what happens around us—the nature of how the way we think creates our reality. We become consciously aware of the stories and illusions projected by our mind, so we can see through them.  This is how through meditation, we see through our “false self” and become our “True Self.”

Ashtanga Yoga is a long established path to Sat-Chit-Ananda.  The asana limb enables us to experience our innate potential by pushing us beyond our physical and mental limits. As students we have seen in our progress with the asanas in just over a few weeks, the amazing potential for people to be surprised and amazed by what the human body can do. We see that we have been limited not by our bodies, but by our conception of our bodies.  With training, discipline, and knowledge, I see now that my body can rotate, twist, bend flex, and defy gravity, in ways I had not imagined possible.  The biggest discovery is that the potential is there in all of us, but so few of us strive and push ourselves for it.  Similarly, our consciousness is limited by our ignorance of what is possible and is usually pre-occupied by our obsessive compulsive fixation on the external world. When we clear the mind, meaning we free ourselves from obsessive compulsive thinking habits—which is also described as a state of no-mind, or of being beyond mind—then Sat and Chit can be experienced.  We begin to feel and become aware of a center of wisdom and intrinsic awareness within that is beyond everything we have learned through social conditioning.  In each experience of Sat and Chit, our capacity for bliss develops.

The obscuration and limitations of language demonstrate how the state of Sat-Chit-Ananda cannot be attained through intellectual studies and inquiry. The mind cannot take us there. It must be attained by direct visceral experience.  Without visceral experience, spiritual practice can feel intangible and disingenuous.  There are many schools with paths for achieving union with our “True Self”—some more esoteric than others: Ashtanga Yoga, Buddhism (in its myriad lineages and sects), Vedanticism, Kriya Yoga, Sufism, Agnostic Christianity, Kabbalah, etc.  What makes Ashtanga unique and powerful is its emphasis on delivering direct visceral experiences by using the body to tame the mind.  Specifically, the asanas systematically accelerate the cleansing, strengthening, and expansion of energy in the body.  During and after asana practice, many students can feel energy coursing through his or her body.   Nevertheless, asanas, done on a standalone basis without the other 7 limbs, will not necessarily promote spiritual advancement.  It is a system where all the 8 limbs work together in parallel. When one practices all the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, the visceral experiences of Sat and Chit become more powerful and inevitable. Eventually, then Ananda comes.

As the Buddha said: Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam (May all beings be blissfully happy).