Posted by: adbhutam | November 23, 2015


The status of ‘antaryāmī’ in Advaita

The concept of ‘antaryāmī’ is widely prevalent in the scriptures. In the prasthānatraya too one can find references to this entity. There is a famous section in the Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad called ‘anataryāmi-brāhmaṇam.’ There is also the word ‘antaryāmī’ occurring in the Māṇḍūkya upaniṣad 6th mantra. A comprehensive study is undertaken here to determine the true status of this entity in Advaita.

The Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad reference is found, for example, in 3.7.3:

यः पृथिव्यां तिष्ठन्पृथिव्या अन्तरो यं पृथिवी न वेद यस्य पृथिवी शरीरं यः पृथिवीमन्तरो यमयत्येष त आत्मान्तर्याम्यमृतः ॥ ३ ॥

[3· He who inhabits the earth but is within it, whom the earth does not know, whose body is the earth, and who controls the earth from within, is the Internal Ruler, your own immortal self.]

The bhāṣyam for the above mantra is:

यः पृथिव्यां तिष्ठन्भवति, सोऽन्तर्यामी । सर्वः पृथिव्यां तिष्ठतीति सर्वत्र प्रसङ्गो मा भूदिति विशिनष्टि — पृथिव्या अन्तरः अभ्यन्तरः । तत्रैतत्स्यात्, पृथिवी देवतैव अन्तर्यामीति — अत आह — यमन्तर्यामिणं पृथिवी देवतापि न वेद — मय्यन्यः कश्चिद्वर्तत इति । यस्य पृथिवी शरीरम् — यस्य च पृथिव्येव शरीरम्, नान्यत् — पृथिवीदेवताया यच्छरीरम्, तदेव शरीरं यस्य ; शरीरग्रहणं च उपलक्षणार्थम् ; करणं च पृथिव्याः तस्य ; स्वकर्मप्रयुक्तं हि कार्यं करणं च पृथिवीदेवतायाः ; तत् अस्य स्वकर्माभावात् अन्तर्यामिणो नित्यमुक्तत्वात्, परार्थकर्तव्यतास्वभावत्वात् परस्य यत्कार्यं करणं च — तदेवास्य, न स्वतः ; तदाह — यस्य पृथिवी शरीरमिति । देवताकार्यकरणस्य ईश्वरसाक्षिमात्रसान्निध्येन हि नियमेन प्रवृत्तिनिवृत्ती स्याताम् ; य ईदृगीश्वरो नारायणाख्यः, पृथिवीं पृथिवीदेवताम्, यमयति नियमयति स्वव्यापारे, अन्तरः अभ्यन्तरस्तिष्ठन्, एष त आत्मा, ते तव, मम च सर्वभूतानां च इत्युपलक्षणार्थमेतत्, अन्तर्यामी यस्त्वया पृष्टः, अमृतः सर्वसंसारधर्मवर्जित इत्येतत् ॥

Translation by Swami Mādhavānanda:

//He who inhabits the earth …. is the Internal Ruler. Now all people inhabit the earth; so there may be a presumption that the reference is to anyone of them. To preclude this, the text specifies Him by saying, ‘Who is within the earth.’ One may think that the deity identified with the earth is the Internal Ruler; hence the text says, ‘Whom even the deity identified with the earth does not know as a distinct entity dwelling within her.’ Whose body is the earth itself and none other- whose body is the same as that of the deity of the earth. The ‘body’ implies other things as well; i.e. the organs of this deity are also those of the Internal Ruler. The body and organs of the deity of the earth are the result of her own past actions ; they are the body and organs of the Internal Ruler as well, for He has no past actions, being ever-free. Since He is by nature given to doing things for others, the body and organs of the latter serve as His: He has no body and organs of His own. This is expressed as follows: ‘Whose body is the earth.’ The body and organs of the deity of the earth are by default made to work or stop work by the mere presence of the Lord as witness. Such an Iśvara, called ‘Nārāyaṇa’, who controls the deity of the earth, i.e. directs her to her particular work, from within, is the Internal Ruler about whom you have asked, your own immortal self, as also mine and that of all beings. ‘Your’ implies ‘others’ as well. ‘Immortal,’ that is to say, devoid of all relative attributes.//


Here, Shankara teaches that this antaryāmi is not an active doer of anything to execute the ‘controlling’ function; rather he is a passive witness, who is appearing to ‘control’ by his mere presence. This is because, the Nirguṇa Brahman of Advaita is niṣkriyam. This mantra is a mahāvākya mantra since it instructs the aspirant: You are That. So, the aspirant gains the experience/realization: I am Nārāyaṇa, the antaryāmi, the Pure Witness Consciousness. Shankara has specified that this ‘witness’ consciousness is the true self of the jīva in the preamble to the Brahmasūtra bhāṣya:


एवमहंप्रत्ययिनमशेषस्वप्रचारसाक्षिणि प्रत्यगात्मन्यध्यस्य तं च प्रत्यगात्मानं सर्वसाक्षिणं तद्विपर्ययेणान्तःकरणादिष्वध्यस्यति ।


//Thus one superimposes the ‘I’-thought on the All-Witness that is the innermost self and that self that is the All-witness in the mind, etc. //


Here Shankara confirms that the Witness self is the true self of every individual. This is the Pure Consciousness and never the saguṇa Brahman.  Thus the ‘nārāyaṇa’ that Shankara calls ‘Iśvara’ who is the antaryāmi as a mere witness is by no means a saguṇa Brahman.  What other reason is there to hold so? In Advaita, the entity that is spoken of in any juncture is to be decided whether saguṇa or nirguṇa Brahman based on whether the juncture is one teaching upāsana, meditation, or realization, knowledge. When this test is applied to the above Bṛ.up. bhāṣyam, we easily see that the Nārāyaṇa, taught as the ‘mahāvākya’, ‘You are That’, is the nirguṇa Brahman. In Advaita the realization-knowledge for liberation is the nirguṇa Brahman alone and never saguṇa Brahman.


What does ‘antaryāmī’ mean in Advaita?

As per the Bṛ.up. mantra cited above:

// The body and organs of the deity of the earth are regularly made to work or stop work by the mere presence of the Lord as witness. Such an Iśvara, called Narayana, who controls the deity of the earth, i.e. directs her to her particular work, from within, is the Internal Ruler about whom you have asked, your own immortal self, as also mine and that of all beings. ‘Your’ implies ‘others’ as well. ‘Immortal,’ that is to say, devoid of all relative attributes.//

The crux of the above explanation is: ‘antaryāmī’ is that Consciousness that lends power to the body and organs (of the jīva) to engage in any work, prescribed or prohibited. We see this ‘function’ explained in every other upaniṣad, the Kenopaniṣad being the most significant one. Apart from this ‘function’, there is nothing else that the antaryāmī does. Even this ‘function’ is not any active participation on the part of the antaryāmi but a mere passive presence.  This idea, unique to Advaita, is alien and reprehensible to non-advaitic schools that are theistic in nature. For them the proposal that the antaryāmi Brahman is a non-doer is anathema.  That is the reason why those who want the Advaitic ‘early’ Achārya Shankara to be branded a ‘vaiṣṇava’ hold this Bṛ.up.Bhāṣya reference to ‘nārāyaṇa’ as a desperate proof of Shankara’s ‘vaiṣṇavatva’!! That the bhāṣya never even remotely subscribes to such bigoted views is what is laid bare above.


Apart from the above-cited Bṛ Up. manatra/bhāṣya, we have another crucial evidence to show that the antaryāmi is none other than one’s true self, verily nirguṇa Brahman, in the Brahmasūtra bhāṣya:


‘एष त आत्मान्तर्याम्यमृतः’ इति चात्मत्वामृतत्वे मुख्ये परमात्मन उपपद्येते । BSB 1.2.18 [‘This is your Self, the antaryāmi, immortal’ – thus too, the epithet of being the self and being immortal are absolute ones that apply to the Supreme Self alone.]  Shankara is citing the above Bṛ.up. mantra here, in the BSB, as well.

In the BSB 1.2.18: यद्यप्यदृष्टत्वादिव्यपदेशः प्रधानस्य सम्भवति, तथापि न द्रष्टृत्वादिव्यपदेशः सम्भवति, प्रधानस्याचेतनत्वेन तैरभ्युपगमात् । ‘अदृष्टो द्रष्टाश्रुतः श्रोतामतो मन्ताविज्ञातो विज्ञाता’ (बृ. उ. ३-७-२३) इति हि वाक्यशेष इह भवति । [………the epithet  of being the witness (draṣṭā) taught in the Bṛ.up 3.7.23 (again antaryāmi brāhmaṇa) will be applicable to the sentient upaniṣadic self alone (and not the inert pradhāna of the Sānkhyas).]  Here too we see Shankara invoking the ‘witness’ reason to conclude that the antaryāmi is nirguṇa Brahman alone.


In the BSB 1.2.20: तस्माच्छारीरादन्य ईश्वरोऽन्तर्यामीति सिद्धम् । कथं पुनरेकस्मिन्देहे द्वौ द्रष्टारावुपपद्येते — यश्चायमीश्वरोऽन्तर्यामी, यश्चायमितरः शारीरः? का पुनरिहानुपपत्तिः ? ‘नान्योऽतोऽस्ति द्रष्टा’ इत्यादिश्रुतिवचनं विरुध्येत । अत्र हि प्रकृतादन्तर्यामिणोऽन्यं द्रष्टारं श्रोतारं मन्तारं विज्ञातारं चात्मानं प्रतिषेधति । [Therefore it is certain that Īśvara, the one different/distinct from the jīva, is the antaryāmī. How then can there be two ‘witnesses’ in one body – one Īśvara the antaryāmī and the jīva who is also the seer? What is the problem here? The śruti itself teaches: the seer is none other than the Supreme. It is negating anyone other than the supreme consciousness, the antaryāmi, to be the seer, hearer, thinker, knower, self.]


Here too, Shankara invokes the antaryāmī-self-witness argument to settle the issue. This entity is the nirguṇa Brahman, which is the self of the jīva. One can note the word ‘Īśvara’ used by Shankara here too, just as in the Bṛ.up. bhāṣya where he used the word ‘nārāyaṇa’ along with the word ‘Iśvara’ and taught that entity to be the self of the jīva, through that mahāvākya of the upaniṣad itself.


There is yet another instance: the Kenopaniṣat 1.2:


श्रोत्रस्य श्रोत्रं मनसो मनो यद्वाचो ह वाचं स उ प्राणस्य प्राणः ।
चक्षुषश्चक्षुरतिमुच्य धीराः प्रेत्यास्माल्लोकादमृता भवन्ति ॥ २ ॥



शृणु यत् त्वं पृच्छसि, मनआदिकरणजातस्य को देवः स्वविषयं प्रति प्रेरयिता कथं वा प्रेरयतीति । श्रोत्रस्य श्रोत्रं शृणोत्यनेनेति श्रोत्रम्, शब्दस्य श्रवणं प्रति करणं शब्दाभिव्यञ्जकं श्रोत्रमिन्द्रियम्, तस्य श्रोत्रं सः यस्त्वया पृष्टः ‘चक्षुःश्रोत्रं क उ देवो युनक्ति’ (के. उ. १-१)इति ।….[Who is the impeller of the mind, etc. organs, to act in their fields and how does he impel? He is the ‘Ear’ of the ear, ..


श्रोत्राद्येव सर्वस्यात्मभूतं चेतनमिति प्रसिद्धम् ; तदिह निवर्त्यते । अस्ति किमपि विद्वद्बुद्धिगम्यं सर्वान्तरतमं कूटस्थमजमजरममृतमभयं श्रोत्रादेरपि श्रोत्रादि तत्सामर्थ्यनिमित्तम् इति प्रतिवचनं शब्दार्थश्चोपपद्यत एव । तथा मनसः अन्तःकरणस्य मनः । न ह्यन्तःकरणम् अन्तरेण चैतन्यज्योतिषो दीधितिं स्वविषयसङ्कल्पाध्यवसायादिसमर्थं स्यात् । तस्मान्मनसोऽपि मन इति । इह बुद्धिमनसी एकीकृत्य निर्देशो मनस इति । यद्वाचो ह वाचम् ; यच्छब्दो यस्मादर्थे श्रोत्रादिभिः सर्वैः सम्बध्यते — यस्माच्छ्रोत्रस्य श्रोत्रम्, यस्मान्मनसो मन इत्येवम् ।

[It is well known that the ear, etc. alone are the sentient self of all – such an erroneous thinking is dispelled here. There is an entity that is recognized/perceived by the Knowers, that is the innermost immutable birthless, devoid of old age, deathless, fearless, that is the Ear, etc. of even the ear, etc. which lends power to the ear, etc. It is the Mind of the mind.


प्रष्टुः पृष्टस्यार्थस्य ज्ञातुमिष्टत्वात् श्रोत्रादेः श्रोत्रादिलक्षणं यथोक्तं ब्रह्म ‘ज्ञात्वा’ इत्यध्याह्रियते ; अमृता भवन्ति इति फलश्रुतेश्च । ज्ञानाद्ध्यमृतत्वं प्राप्यते । ज्ञात्वा अतिमुच्य इति सामर्थ्यात् श्रोत्रादिकरणकलापमुज्झित्वा — श्रोत्रादौ ह्यात्मभावं कृत्वा, तदुपाधिः सन्, तदात्मना जायते म्रियते संसरति च । अतः श्रोत्रादेः श्रोत्रादिलक्षणं ब्रह्मात्मेति विदित्वा, अतिमुच्य श्रोत्राद्यात्मभावं परित्यज्य — ये श्रोत्राद्यात्मभावं परित्यजन्ति, ते धीराः धीमन्तः ।


The aspirant ‘knows’ this Ear of the ear, etc. and thereby becomes liberated. This fruit is stated in the veda. By knowledge alone indeed one attains immortality. Before knowing this, one identified with the ear, etc. organs and was subject to death and birth. Now, knowing that He himself is Brahman, the Ear of the ear, etc. gives up the false identification with the ear etc.


In the above bhāṣya quotes it is clear that the ‘impeller’, antaryāmi, is Brahman, which is none other than the Self of the jīva-aspirant. That shows that the terms ‘īśvara and nārāyaṇa’ of the Bṛ.up. bhāṣya 3.7.3 is none other than nirguṇa brahman.


Here is yet another instance, from the Bṛ.up. itself, where the impelling entity is none other than nirguṇa Brahman:

Br.up. 3.4.1:


अथ हैनमुषस्तश्चाक्रायणः पप्रच्छ याज्ञवल्क्येति होवाच यत्साक्षादपरोक्षाद्ब्रह्म य आत्मा सर्वान्तरस्तं मे व्याचक्ष्वेत्येष त आत्मा सर्वान्तरः कतमो याज्ञवल्क्य सर्वान्तरो यः प्राणेन प्राणिति स त आत्मा सर्वान्तरो योऽपानेनापानीति स त आत्मा सर्वान्तरो यो व्यानेन व्यानीति स त आत्मा सर्वान्तरो य उदानेनोदानिति स त आत्मा सर्वान्तर एष त आत्मा सर्वान्तरः ॥ १ ॥


  1. Then Uṣasta, the son of Cakra, asked him. ‘Yajñavalkya,’ said he, ‘Explain to me the Brahman that is immediate and direct-the self that is within all.’ 1 This is your self that is within all.’ 1 Which is within all, Yājñavalkya?’ ‘That which breathes through the Prāṇa is your self that is within all. That which moves downwards through the Apāna is your self that is within all. That which pervades through the Vyāna is your self that is within all. That which goes out through the Udana is your self that is within all. This is your self that is within all.’



अथ ह एनं प्रकृतं याज्ञवल्क्यम्, उषस्तो नामतः, चक्रस्यापत्यं चाक्रायणः, पप्रच्छ । यत् ब्रह्म साक्षात् अव्यवहितं केनचित् द्रष्टुः अपरोक्षात् — अगौणम् — न श्रोत्रब्रह्मादिवत् — किं तत् ? य आत्मा — आत्मशब्देन प्रत्यगात्मोच्यते, तत्र आत्मशब्दस्य प्रसिद्धत्वात् ; सर्वस्याभ्यन्तरः सर्वान्तरः ; यद्यःशब्दाभ्यां प्रसिद्ध आत्मा ब्रह्मेति — तम् आत्मानम्, मे मह्यम्, व्याचक्ष्वेति — विस्पष्टं शृङ्गे गृहीत्वा यथा गां दर्शयति तथा आचक्ष्व, सोऽयमित्येवं कथयस्वेत्यर्थः । एवमुक्तः प्रत्याह याज्ञवल्क्यः — एषः ते तव आत्मा सर्वान्तरः सर्वस्याभ्यन्तरः ; सर्वविशेषणोपलक्षणार्थं सर्वान्तरग्रहणम् ; यत् साक्षात् अव्यवहितम् अपरोक्षात् अगौणम् ब्रह्म बृहत्तमम् आत्मा सर्वस्य सर्वस्याभ्यन्तरः, एतैर्गुणैः समस्तैर्युक्तः एषः, कोऽसौ तवात्मा ? योऽयं कार्यकरणसङ्घातः तव सः येनात्मना आत्मवान् स एष तव आत्मा — तव कार्यकरणसङ्घातस्येत्यर्थः । तत्र पिण्डः, तस्याभ्यन्तरे लिङ्गात्मा करणसङ्घातः, तृतीयो यश्च सन्दिह्यमानः — तेषु कतमो मम आत्मा सर्वान्तरः त्वया विवक्षित इत्युक्ते इतर आह — यः प्राणेन मुखनासिकासञ्चारिणा प्राणिति प्राणचेष्टां करोति, येन प्राणः प्रणीयत इत्यर्थः — सः ते तव कार्यकरणसङ्घातस्य आत्मा विज्ञानमयः ; समानमन्यत् ; योऽपानेनापानीति यो व्यानेन व्यानीतीति — छान्दसं दैर्घ्यम् । सर्वाः कार्यकरणसङ्घातगताः प्राणनादिचेष्टा दारुयन्त्रस्येव येन क्रियन्ते — न हि चेतनावदनधिष्ठितस्य दारुयन्त्रस्येव प्राणनादिचेष्टा विद्यन्ते ; तस्मात् विज्ञानमयेनाधिष्ठितं विलक्षणेन दारुयन्त्रवत् प्राणनादिचेष्टां प्रतिपद्यते — तस्मात् सोऽस्ति कार्यकरणसङ्घातविलक्षणः, यश्चेष्टयति ॥

Translation by Swami Mādhavānanda:

//Then Uṣasta, the son of Cakra. asked him, Yājñavalkya, who has already been introduced. The

Brahman that is immediate, not obstructed from the seer or subject by anything, and direct, not used in

a figurative sense, like the ear and so forth, which are considered to be Brahman. What is that? The self

that is within all. The word ‘self’ refers to the inner (individual) self, that being the accepted meaning of

the term. The words ‘Yat’ and ‘Yaḥ’ indicate that the self familiar to all is identical with Brahman.

Explain that self to me, tell about it clearly, as one shows a cow by taking hold of its horns, as much as

to say, ~This is it.’ Thus addressed, Yajñavalkya replied, ‘This is your self that is within all.’ The qualification ‘that is within all’ is suggestive of all qualifications whatsoever. That which is ‘immediate’ or unobstructed and ‘direct’ or used in its primary sense, and which is ‘Brahman’ or the vastest, the self of all and within all – all these specifications refer to the self. ‘What is this self of yours?’ ‘That by which your body and organs are ensouled is your self, i.e. the self of the body and organs.’ ‘There is first the body ; within it is the subtle body consisting of the organs ; and the third is that whose existence is being doubted. Which of these do you mean as my self that is within all?’ Thus spoken to, Yājñavalkya said, ‘That which breathes (lit. does the function of the Prāṇa through the Prāṇa which operates in the mouth and nose, in other words, “which makes the Prāṇa breathe” (Ke.I. 9), is your self, i.e. the individual self of the body and organs.’ The rest is similar in meaning. That which moves downwards through the Apāna, Which pervades through the Vyāna- the long in the two verbs is a Vedic licence – by which the body and

organs are made to breathe and do other functions, like a wooden puppet. Unless they are operated by

an intelligent principle, they cannot do any function such as breathing, as is the case with the wooden

puppet. Therefore it is by being operated by the individual self, which is distinct from them, that they

breathe and do other functions, as does the puppet. Hence that principle distinct from the body and organs exists which makes them function.//


The above is also a statement of nirguṇa Brahman, where Shankara even cites the Kenopaniṣat. This is the ‘function’ of the antaryāmi, to enable the organs to function.


The Mundakopanishat 3.1.2: anyam īśam….


समाने वृक्षे पुरुषो निमग्नोऽनीशया शोचति मुह्यमानः ।
जुष्टं यदा पश्यत्यन्यमीशमस्य महिमानमिति वीतशोकः ॥ २ ॥


[In the same body-tree the jīva-bird, is bewildered, deluded and miserable owing to its incapacities. When it comes to meditate and behold the Īśvara-bird, it realizes itself to be exalted and is freed of misery.]


The mantra itself uses the word ‘Iśa’ (Īśvara) as the ‘object’ of realization by the jīva. Surely such ‘īśvara’ is no saguṇa Brahman.


यदा यस्मिन्काले पश्यति ध्यायमानः अन्यं वृक्षोपाधिलक्षणाद्विलक्षणम् ईशम् असंसारिणमशनायापिपासाशोकमोहजरामृत्य्वतीतमीशं सर्वस्य जगतोऽयमहमस्म्यात्मा सर्वस्य समः सर्वभूतस्थो नेतरोऽविद्याजनितोपाधिपरिच्छिन्नो मायात्मेति महिमानं विभूतिं च जगद्रूपमस्यैव मम परमेश्वरस्य इति यदैवं द्रष्टा, तदा वीतशोकः भवति सर्वस्माच्छोकसागराद्विप्रमुच्यते, कृतकृत्यो भवतीत्यर्थः ॥

[When the jīva, engaged in nididhyāsanam, beholds the ‘other’, ‘Iśa’, (that is distinct from the body-upādhi entity) that transcends samsāra, hunger, thirst, old age, death, etc. he (the jīva) realizes himself as ‘I am this (Īśa) that is the self of the entire creation, one, equal, with all, everything, the one residing in every being. I am not anyone (different from That (Īśa)) that is identified with the limiting upādhis created by ignorance, false entity. This vibhūti, mahimā, splendor, of ‘being of the form of the world’ is mine alone, that am the Parameśvara.’ When such a realization arises, he, the jīva, is freed of all misery and becomes liberated. ]

We can see here that Shankara uses the terms ‘Īśa’ and ‘Parameśvara’ to identify the jīva who realizes his true self. Surely, this is not a context of upāsana and the terms ‘Īśa’ and ‘Parameśvara’ are therefore not any reference to a saguṇa Brahman. This context is ‘jñānam’, realization, for liberation, here and now. The Bṛ.up. antaryāmī context where too Shankara has used the terms ‘Īśvara and Nārāyaṇa’ as adjectives for the antaryāmī that is ‘controlling’ by its ‘mere’ presence as the witness, is also the one exactly similar to the above Muṇḍaka instance where the mahāvākya instruction/realization is present.

Only those who have long exposure to the study of the Advaita śāstra under a competent Āchārya can know and realize that there are two such contexts across the bhāṣya: upāsanā and jñāna, and clearly tell the one from the other.  Others who have no such exposure but have to depend on mere translations and dictionaries to ‘study’ the Shānkara Bhāṣyas can never come to such an understanding as the above. They cannot think beyond a saguṇa entity, with form and location, whenever they encounter terms like ‘Viṣṇu, Nārāyaṇa, Vāsudeva, etc.’ in the Bhāṣya.

Here is another instance from the Bhagavadgītā:


BG 18.61: ईश्वरः सर्वभूतानां and bhāṣya  dāruyantra:

ईश्वरः सर्वभूतानां हृद्देशेऽर्जुन तिष्ठति ।
भ्रामयन्सर्वभूतानि यन्त्रारूढानि मायया ॥ ६१ ॥


Shankara’s commentary:

।।18.61।। — ईश्वरः ईशनशीलः नारायणः सर्वभूतानां सर्वप्राणिनां हृद्देशे हृदयदेशेअर्जुन शुक्लान्तरात्मस्वभावः विशुद्धान्तःकरणः — अहश्च कृष्णमहरर्जुनं च (ऋ. सं. 6।9।1) इति दर्शनात् — तिष्ठति स्थितिं लभते। तेषु सः कथं तिष्ठतीति? आह — भ्रामयन् भ्रमणं कारयन् सर्वभूतानि यन्त्रारूढानि यन्त्राणि आरूढानि अधिष्ठितानि इव — इति इवशब्दः अत्र द्रष्टव्यः — यथा दारुकृतपुरुषादीनि यन्त्रारूढानि। मायया च्छद्मना भ्रामयन् तिष्ठति इति संबन्धः।।


18.61 Arjuna, O Arjuna-one whose self is naturally white (pure), i.e. one possessing a pure internal organ. This follows from the Vedic text, ‘The day is dark and the day is arjuna (white) (Rg. 6.9.1). Isvarah, the Lord , Narayana the Ruler; tisthati, resides, remains seated; hrd-deśe, in the region of the heart; sarva-bhūtānām, of all creatures, of all living beings. How does He reside? In answer the Lord says: bhramayan, revolving; mayaya, through Maya, through delusion; sarva-bhutani, all the creatures; as though yantra-arudhani, mounted on a machine-like man’ etc., made of wood, mounted on a machine. The word iva (as though) has to be thus understood here. Bhrāmayan, revolving, is to be connected with tisthati, resides (conveying the idea, ‘resides’ while revolving’).


One can notice here that Shankara uses the terms ‘Īśvara’ ‘nārāyaṇa’ to denote that entity which ‘revolves’ the jīvas by remaining unseen inside. And the jīvas are likened to puppets, icons made of wood. This example Shankara uses in the above cited Bṛ.up. antaryāmi mantra too, even as he uses the words ‘Īśvara’ ‘nārāyaṇa’ there as well. So, this BG verse, too, like the Bṛ.up. mantra on antaryāmi, is not any upāsana instance but clearly one for realization of that ‘revolver’ nārāyaṇa, as oneself.


Āntaryāmī in Māṇḍūkya upaniṣat: 6th mantra:


एष सर्वेश्वर एष सर्वज्ञ एषोऽन्तर्याम्येष योनिः सर्वस्य प्रभवाप्ययौ हि भूतानाम् ॥ ६ ॥

He (the jīva-consciousness, in the deep sleep state, that was described in the previous mantra) is the Lord-of-all, omniscient, the inner-controller, and the source of all creation and dissolution of all beings.


एषः हि स्वरूपावस्थः सर्वेश्वरः साधिदैविकस्य भेदजातस्य सर्वस्य ईश्वरः ईशिता ; नैतस्माज्जात्यन्तरभूतोऽन्येषामिव,‘प्राणबन्धनं हि सोम्य मनः’ (छा. उ. ६-८-२) इति श्रुतेः । अयमेव हि सर्वस्य सर्वभेदावस्थो ज्ञातेति एषः सर्वज्ञः । अत एव एषः अन्तर्यामी, अन्तरनुप्रविश्य सर्वेषां भूतानां यमयिता नियन्ताप्येष एव । अत एव यथोक्तं सभेदं जगत्प्रसूयत इति एषः योनिः सर्वस्य । यत एवम्, प्रभवश्चाप्ययश्च प्रभवाप्ययौ हि भूतानामेष एव ॥

Here as well, the antaryāmī is taught as non-different from the jīva, and the one that controls all from inside. The gloss by Ānandagiri too brings out this fact. However, here the antaryāmi is listed along with other epithets such as ‘sarvajña, sarveśvara, abode of origin and dissolution of all.’ It is this combination that marks the māṇḍūkya instance of ‘antaryāmi’ from the Bṛ.up. 3.7.3. In the former it is not singled out to be taught as a mahāvākya whereas in the latter it is. That makes the difference.

In any case, the ‘controlling’ epithet of antaryāmi too is not any real. What is to be understood by that? It is to be realized that Brahman (antaryāmī) is only the substratum on which the superimposition of the activity of the organs, mind, etc. happen. That is what Shankara conveys by the words: ‘mere presence, witness’.

To conclude:

  • The antaryāmī in Advaita is Pure Consciousness and not any personal god.
  • Its ‘function’ is to enable the body and organs to function.
  • Its ‘contribution’ is mere sentience, chaitanyam. Even this is not volitional on its part.
  • It does this by merely being present, as a witness consciousness
  • It is non-different from the jīva-consciousness
  • There are no two consciousnesses in the body. This is the argument that clinches the fact that the antaryāmī is none other than the jīva’s true nature and not any entity different from the true nature of the jīva. This is what Shankara has achieved in the ‘antaryāmi brāhmaṇam’ of the Bṛ.upaniṣad and the corresponding ‘antaryāmyadhikaraṇam’ of the Brahmasūtra.
  • One Consciousness alone appears as the controlling power and the controlled organs
  • The one that is controlled does not know that anyone other than themselves is controlling
  • The controller remains unseen
  • The example of puppet is apt, drawn from the BG 18.61 verse ‘yantrārūḍha’(mounted on a wooden contrivance).
  • Realizing that one is truly the ‘controller’ and not the one identified with the controlled inert organs constitutes liberating knowledge
  • It is to enable the jīva secure this knowledge that the concept of ‘antaryāmī’ is introduced, adhyāropa, by the scripture.
  • Actually there is no real control since Brahman is niṣkriya
  • This is because there are no organs like mind to Brahman, to resolve ‘let me control these’ and execute that resolution through any of Its organs like hand, etc.
  • The terms ‘Iśvara’ and ‘nārāyaṇa’ refer to this niṣkriya, bodiless, organs-less, Consciousness
  • The experience of the Advaitic jñāni is expressed sometimes as ‘aham nārāyaṇa’, for example, in the Vivekachūḍamaṇi. Those who think this work may not be that of Shankaracharya need not worry, for this expression can be directly, explicitly, derived from Shankara’s bhāṣya, cited above, for the antaryāmi brāhmaṇa of the Bṛ.upaniṣat where Shankara has named that niṣkriya Brahman, that is a mere witness, by its mere presence, enables, empowers, the body-mind complex of every jīva, as ‘nārāyaṇa.’ And to top it, has taught ‘you are that antaryāmī nārāyaṇa.’ Thus ‘nārāyaṇo’ham’ like ‘vāsudevo’ham’ of the BGB, is an expression of the nirguṇa jñānam realization of the jīva.
  • The mānḍūkya mantra containing ‘antaryāmī’ is a depiction of Brahman with other upādhis as well and hence is not a mahāvākya mantra
  • The Bṛ.up.3.7.3 is the depiction of Brahman as ‘antaryāmī’ without other upādhis and hence is an explicit teaching of the mahāvākya: एष त आत्मा अन्तर्याम्यमृतः [‘this antaryāmi is your immortal self’]
  • The Kenopaniṣad and the BG 18.61 with the bhāṣya help in understanding this concept
  • Shankara in fact cites the Kenopaniṣat in the Br.up. bhāṣya more than once


With these points for contemplation, on the basis of the śruti, smṛti, sūtra and their bhāṣyas and yukti one can appreciate that the antaryāmi, called by the epithets ‘īśvara, nārāyaṇa’ along with the other adjectives ‘mere presence, witness’, is nirguṇa Brahman, the self of the jiva-aspirant. In advaita the realization of the identity is never with the saguna Brahman.


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Om Tat Sat







  1. Dear Subramanian

    I want to bring your attention to a few things.

    Shankara, towards the end of his bhAshya on BSB 2.1.14, states that Gita 18.61 describes phenomenal word rulership of Ishwara, as opposed to denying distinctions. A look at the entire bhAshya is worthwhile. From the BSB 2.1.14 Shankara bhAshya, it is clear to me that BG 18.61 refers to Ishwara as the ruler of the world etc and not nirguNa brahman.

    Now I invite your attention to Madhusudhana Saraswati’s bhAshya on Gita 18.61 (gudartha dipika). He states precisely the same thing as Shankara (that this refers to Ishwara) and mentions a few things –

    1. This Narayana is the same as the one mentioned in BU 3.7.3 bhAshya. This Narayana is antaryAmi.

    2. He quotes Narayana suktam verses about Narayana pervading everything in this context.

    3. He mentions this Narayana taking incarnation as Rama, the ruler of Uttarakosala. (Ayodhya is capital of Uttara Kosala).

    • I take back point # 3. It seems to be more of an analogy between Rama and Narayana, rather than a suggestion of incarnation. However, other points stand. Thank you.

    • Yes. Antaryamin is the ruler of this universe.
      One who rules, One who controls, One who gives ‘Karmaphala’ for Jeeva-s.

  2. Considering Narayana as ruler of the world is wrong?

    • Not wrong, but it is not absolute, as per Advaita. I have explained it in the article: In any case, the ‘controlling’ epithet of antaryāmi too is not any real. What is to be understood by that? It is to be realized that Brahman (antaryāmī) is only the substratum on which the superimposition of the activity of the organs, mind, etc. happen. That is what Shankara conveys by the words: ‘mere presence, witness’.

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