Advaitins say that Turiya is not a separate state that is found in isolation of three states (awake, dream, deep sleep) but it is the reality that is underlying all those. But this only caters to a living person. When he gets videha moksha, the three states are not there only atman as turiya remains.

Does it not prove that turiya can exist not only as the underlying reality with states but also as a separate state in itself?

And here is my question, in that exclusive state does atman know itself through some extremely subtle cognition? If it doesn't know itself or is aware of itself as nirguna then the swa-prakash of atman will be violated, as then it means that atman can know itself or is aware of itself only when the mind is there.

Mandukya mantra 7 clearly says that it is neither conscious nor devoid of consciousness.

I am using subtle cognition to mean a cognition state outside the range of human intellect so that it doesn't introduce knower-know-known triputi, yet it still knows itself strangely/mysteriously.

Is such an understanding possible in advaita metaphysics?

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    'To understand' means that you are immediately limiting to human consciousness - which is limited. How is the limited to understand the unlimited? It cannot. That is why it is referred to as Neti,neti - not this, not this. All we can understand of the the unlimited is we cannot understand it. The Atman does not 'know Itself' as you state, to 'think' requires a brain, the Atman has no brain, It does not think. It is Knowledge; It is Awareness Itself, It is Pure Existence. It 'is'. Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 9:41
  • The main difference between an alive and a dead person is of Atman/soul. The very basic meaning of Atman is 'awareness' which is of itself and all around, while a dead body is inert and unconscious. Nirguna Brahman is unbound immortal Atman which can exist without body and called Sagun Brahman or avatar when in body. While common earthly humans and animals are also atman,but bound in a mortal body under their individual ego and hence are not self-aware in Turiya.Atman or Brahman itself is the cause of awareness in any being's body, just like any electrical equipment requires basic electricity.
    – user21800
    Commented Oct 2, 2020 at 10:17
  • Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.8.11. "This Immutable, O Gārgī, is never seen but is the Witness; It is never heard, but is the Hearer; It is never thought, but is the Thinker; It is never known, but is the Knower. There is no other witness but This, no other hearer but This, no other thinker but This, no other knower but This. By this Immutable, O Gārgī, is the (unmanifested) ether pervaded."
    – user21800
    Commented Oct 2, 2020 at 10:23
  • @SwamiVishwananda i agree yet, i thought about this a lot. i never said that human mind has to know it as an object. i found something related to it in kena bhasya on verse 12. "It is clear that the unconditioned Atman, being one, is not capable of being known either by itself or by others. Being itself the knowing principle, it cannot stand in need of another knowing principle; just as one light cannot possibly require another light.". Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 21:28

1 Answer 1


This point of confusion is discussed in Brhadaranyaka Upanishad. In the conversation between Yajnavalkya and his wife Maitreyi (2.4.12-14):

स यथा सैन्धवखिल्य उदके प्रास्त उदकमेवानुविलीयेत न हास्योद्ग्रहणायेव स्याद्यतो यतस्त्वाददीत लवणमेवैवं वा अर इदं महद्भूतमनन्तमपारं विज्ञानघन एवैतेभ्यो भूतेभ्यः समुत्थाय तान्येवानुविनश्यति न प्रेत्य संज्ञास्तीत्यरे ब्रवीमीति होवाच याज्ञवल्क्यः । सा होवाच मैत्रेय्यत्रैव मा भगवानमूमुहन्न प्रेत्य संज्ञास्तीति स होवाच याज्ञवल्क्यो न वा अरेऽहं मोहं ब्रवीम्यलं वा अर इदं विज्ञानाय । यत्र हि द्वैतमिव भवति तदितर इतरं जिघ्रति तदितर इतरं पश्यति तदितर इतरं शृणोति तदितर इतरमभिवदति तदितर इतरं मनुते तदितर इतरं विजानाति यत्र वा अस्य सर्वमात्मैवाभूत्तत्केन कं जिघ्रेत्तत्केन कं पश्येत्तत्केन कं शृणुयात्तत्केन कमभिवदेत्तत्केन कं मन्वीत तत्केन कं विजानीयात् येनेदं सर्वं विजानाति तं केन विजानीयाद्विज्ञातारमरे केन विजानीयात् ।

Just as a lump of salt when put into water becomes dissolved and cannot be taken out separately, but the water tastes salty throughout. Similarly this Great Existence, which is infinite and unbounded is a lump of consciousness. It arises from these creatures and gets dissolved when the creatures get dissolved (i.e. die). There is no consciousness after death.

Here Maitreyi said that she is confused by his statement that there is no consciousness after death.

To which, Yajnavalkya replies that he did not say anything confusing. This Brahman is indeed well-capable of cognition.

Where there is duality, there one smells, sees, hears, speaks with, thinks of, and knows another.

Where everything has become the Brahman or Atman, then whom and by what means should one smell, see, hear, speak with, think of, and know?

So the answer is that absolute consciousness/awareness/knowledge is the ultimate nature of Brahman. But in the "turiya" state, there is nothing but Brahman, so there is no second separate entity for it to know.

However, when the Brahman manifests as a mode in individuals, it can be differentiated by the contrast between the three states of consciousness, and hence recognized and realized.

This same paradox of the ultimate state of Brahman in-and-of-itself (i.e. "turiya") is also expressed in the Rig Veda's Nasadiya Suktam (RV 10.129.7):

यो अस्याध्यक्षः परमे व्योमन्त्सो अङ्ग वेद यदि वा न वेद

The Observer of all this, in the ultimate existence, even He may or may not know

This apparent (but not real) ambiguity is because we are describing both the dual and non-dual experience from the dual frame of reference. In the non-dual frame, there is nothing else to know, so Brahman does not know. But Brahman is knowledge itself.

Here's another perspective on this dichotomy:

  • Thanks for your reponse. i fully agree with you then in, dual framework its difficult to postulate the tenets of non dual reality. even then, saying that brahman is undifferentiated knowledge itself is again using dualistic baggage . Doesadvaita solves this by saying that brahman know itslef in absolute plane im some mystical non dual-ways without introducing any duality. or they are strict that brahman cant know itself in the absolute plane. Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 19:19
  • 1st option though have a seemingly duality, but 2nd one reduces swa prakash atman to only have figurative meaning and reduces turiya to be an inferred analysis by help of shruti during three states, as turiya in itself can't acknowledge itself . what's the view of traditional advaita acharyas? Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 19:19

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