In Vedanta the Self or Atman is commonly defined as space (kham, akasha). That space (akasha) is further defined as bliss (Ananda). What is the nature of this space that is the Self?
Our inner Self holds the entire universe in the small space within the spiritual heart (Hridaya). This is a space of Consciousness (Chidakasha) behind all manifestation in the time-space world.
Levels of Space and Consciousness
Vedanta recognizes the existence of several types and levels of space. First is the material space of our physical world that is the matrix of the other elements of earth, water, fire and air. It is the external measurable space in which we determine location and distance. Yet space itself has no form or location of its own. Objects are located in space but space surrounds and permeates all objects. We locate objects in space relative to space as distance.
Yet all objects consist of various stages of densification or crystallization of the energies of space. Such material space is not empty but is composed of particles or atoms, out of which the other denser elements are formed. Beyond this is an additional Pranic space, the space of energy and the life-force, more subtle than the material space, which makes the entire universe alive, including our physical bodies.
Beyond this pranic space is the space of the mind both at individual and cosmic levels. The individual mind like space is formless and holds thoughts like various objects or energies in space. We all need space in the mind to comprehend things and to observe things properly. We can observe the space between our thoughts.
Beyond this mind space is the space of pure consciousness (Chidakasha) that unlike the mind space has no thoughts. The space of the Atman is pure, immutable, empty as it were, sometimes called the Void, Shunya. It holds the entire universe but is not changed by the names and forms that appear within it. This Atmic space has a vibration from which OM as the creative cosmic vibration arises. This Atmic space is of the nature of light (Jyoti). It is self-illuminating and reveals all, with the mind reflecting a portion of its light.
Our True Nature as Space
We do not ordinarily experience ourselves as space but as form, starting with our physical body that has a precise location and function in time and space. We also experience ourselves as mind or as a set of ideas, concepts, beliefs, opinions, emotions and memories. These are also form based and connected to the body. We then have a social identity framed by our physical and mental activities and identity.
Yet we do have an inner sense of our Self as space. We want to be free. We don’t want to be limited or confined, controlled or dominated by another, or constricted in a barrier. Our inner sense of Self persists behind and beyond the ongoing changes in body and mind between birth and death, waking, dream and deep sleep.
If our true nature is like space in this higher sense, then truly we are neither body or mind. Then we are everything and nothing, sizeless and all-pervasive. We are the space of Being (Sat), the ground existence itself, which is Brahman as the Transcendent reality. Space is indivisible, indestructible and formless, beyond all limitations. This is the Self of Yoga and Vedanta whose nature is the space of Consciousness.
Once we can detach ourselves from our bodies and minds, we can experience ourselves as boundless Space, which is also the space of Seeing and Being. This takes us beyond all dualities and identifications to our connection with all beings and with the universe as a whole which is the space of our own inner being.
How do we discover our inner Space as consciousness and bliss? This is the essence of Self-inquiry and meditation, observing our bodies and mind from a place of inner awareness. Moving into the small space within the heart, hridaya akasha, is the key. At the core of our being we hold the entire universe as our own Self-manifestation, in which all sorrow is released.
Our true Self that is the space of consciousness is beyond birth and death, location and history, quantity, measurement or any type of category. That is the space of Ananda in which there is peace, happiness, contentment and delight without end and without any division. Once we are willing to let go of our outer identifications we can return to our true nature as Infinite Space and experience all that we observe as a reflection of our own inner light and presence.
Dr. David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri)