Sunday, 28 September 2014

The perceiver and the perceived are both unreal

In a comment that he wrote on one of my earlier articles, What should we believe?, a friend called Venkat asked:
Bhagavan said that ajata vada was the ultimate truth, in his experience. He also said that eka jiva vada (drsti srsti vada) was the 'closest' to ajata vada.

How did Bhagavan see these two being different, given that eka jiva vada says there is no existent creation, it is just the perceiving of it (i.e. it is a dream)?
I replied to this in another comment:
Venkat, you should be able to understand the answer to your question by reading my latest article, Metaphysical solipsism, idealism and creation theories in the teachings of Sri Ramana, so I will give just a brief reply to it here.

According to ēka-jīva-vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda, there is one ego or jīva who perceives this world, which does not exist except in the view (the perception or experience) of that one ego. Therefore what causes the appearance of creation (sṛṣṭi) is only the perception (dṛṣṭi) of the ego.

The rising or appearance of this ego and consequently of the world is the jāta (birth or coming into existence) that is explicitly denied by ajāta-vāda. That is, ēka-jīva-vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda accept the appearance of the ego and world (though they deny that their appearance is real), whereas ajāta-vāda denies even their appearance.

What ēka-jīva-vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda on the one hand and ajāta-vāda on the other hand agree upon is that the ego and world do not actually exist, but whereas ēka-jīva-vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda accept that the ego and world do at least seem to exist and are therefore a false appearance (vivarta), ajāta-vāda denies that they even seem to exist. This is why Bhagavan distinguished dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda from ajāta-vāda.

What you have wrongly assumed in your question is that ēka-jīva-vāda implies that there is no creation but only perception, whereas in fact if anything is perceived it will seem to have come into existence or been created. Ēka-jīva-vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda are complementary theories, because each implies the other, and according to dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda creation does seem to exist but is just a false appearance. Therefore though there is ultimately no creation according to this pair of theories, they do accept that there seems to be a world that has come into existence, and they say that it has been created only by ego’s perception of it, just as the world we see in a dream is created only by our perception of it.
Venkat responded to this reply of mine in a comment on my previous article, Metaphysical solipsism, idealism and creation theories in the teachings of Sri Ramana, in which he wrote:
In your reply to my question, you said that eka jiva vada postulates the appearance of a creation, though it is unreal, and implying that in ajata vada there is not even the appearance of a creation.

The question that arises is that perception of myself and the world is clearly here. But I guess you would respond that if one seeks the source of the ‘I’ / ego, then that will disappear and with it the world. And it is ONLY THEN that it can be experienced that there is no perceived world either.
As Venkat observes, it does seem to us that ‘perception of myself and the world is clearly here’, but this does not mean that either myself (the ego) or the world actually exists, or that they actually are what they seem to be, because when we mistake a rope to be a snake, the snake seems to be clearly there, even though it does not actually exist and is therefore not what it seems to be. When we perceive ourself (the ego) and the world, what is actually certain is only that something exists, even though that something may not be the ego and world that seem to exist.

The something that certainly exists is only ‘I’, because if something called ‘I’ did not actually exist, it could not be aware of either itself or anything else. However, though this ‘I’ now seems to be an ego (a person called Venkat, Michael or whatever, who consists of a body and mind), it may not be what it seems to be, so we need to investigate it in order to ascertain what it really is — that is, to ascertain who am I.

What now perceives itself and the world is this ego, which seems to exist throughout its waking and dream states, but not in sleep, so it is something that temporarily rises into (seeming) existence in waking and dream and subsides again in sleep. Whenever it rises into existence, it perceives a world, and whenever it subsides its perception of the world also subsides and ceases.

So long as there seems to be a perceiver (the ego), there also seems to be a world that it perceives, so the perceiver and the perceived rise into being simultaneously and subside simultaneously. In the absence of the perceiver, nothing is ever perceived, and in the absence of anything perceived, there is a never a perceiver. The perceiver and the perceived are therefore mutually dependent.

As Sri Ramana says in verse 25 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu:
உருப்பற்றி யுண்டா முருப்பற்றி நிற்கு
முருப்பற்றி யுண்டுமிக வோங்கு — முருவிட்
டுருப்பற்றுந் தேடினா லோட்டம் பிடிக்கு
முருவற்ற பேயகந்தை யோர்.

uruppaṯṟi yuṇḍā muruppaṯṟi niṟku
muruppaṯṟi yuṇḍumiha vōṅgu — muruviṭ
ṭuruppaṯṟun tēḍiṉā lōṭṭam piḍikku
muruvaṯṟa pēyahandai yōr.


பதச்சேதம்: உரு பற்றி உண்டாம்; உரு பற்றி நிற்கும்; உரு பற்றி உண்டு மிக ஓங்கும்; உரு விட்டு, உரு பற்றும்; தேடினால் ஓட்டம் பிடிக்கும், உரு அற்ற பேய் அகந்தை. ஓர்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): uru paṯṟi uṇḍām; uru paṯṟi niṯkum; uru paṯṟi uṇḍu miha ōṅgum; uru viṭṭu, uru paṯṟum; tēḍiṉāl ōṭṭam piḍikkum, uru aṯṟa pēy ahandai. ōr.

அன்வயம்: உரு அற்ற பேய் அகந்தை உரு பற்றி உண்டாம்; உரு பற்றி நிற்கும்; உரு பற்றி உண்டு மிக ஓங்கும்; உரு விட்டு, உரு பற்றும்; தேடினால் ஓட்டம் பிடிக்கும். ஓர்.

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): uru aṯṟa pēy ahandai uru paṯṟi uṇḍām; uru paṯṟi niṯkum; uru paṯṟi uṇḍu miha ōṅgum; uru viṭṭu, uru paṯṟum; tēḍiṉāl ōṭṭam piḍikkum. ōr.

English translation:Grasping form, the formless phantom-ego rises into being; grasping form it stands; grasping and feeding on form it grows abundantly; leaving [one] form, it grasps [another] form. If sought [examined or investigated], it will take flight. Investigate [or know thus].
That is, the ego (the perceiver) rises into being, endures and is nourished only by clinging to forms (that is, to things that it perceives). However, according to Sri Ramana whatever it perceives does not exist in its absence, so before it rises there is no form for it to cling to, and hence when it rises it simultaneously projects the forms that it clings to.

Therefore the seeming existence of the perceived depends upon the seeming existence of the perceiver, so the perceived actually exists only if the perceiver actually exists. So does this perceiver, the ego, actually exist? It seems to rise into existence and to endure only by experiencing the perceived, so throughout the time of its seeming existence it never experiences itself alone, in complete isolation from everything else perceived by it.

Since it cannot rise or endure without experiencing some form or other (that is, something other than itself), if it tries to experience itself alone, in complete isolation from everything else, it will subside and lose its seeming existence. This is why Sri Ramana says in this verse: ‘தேடினால் ஓட்டம் பிடிக்கும்’ (tēḍiṉāl ōṭṭam piḍikkum), ‘If sought, it will take flight’. That is, the ego seems to exist only so long as it is experiencing anything other than ‘I’, so if it tries to experience only ‘I’ (itself), it ‘will take flight’ — that is, it will subside and cease to exist even seemingly.

As Sri Ramana says in verse 17 of Upadēśa Undiyār:
மனத்தி னுருவை மறவா துசாவ
மனமென வொன்றிலை யுந்தீபற
      மார்க்கநே ரார்க்குமி துந்தீபற.

maṉatti ṉuruvai maṟavā dusāva
maṉameṉa voṉḏṟilai yundīpaṟa
      mārgganē rārkkumi dundīpaṟa.


பதச்சேதம்: மனத்தின் உருவை மறவாது உசாவ, மனம் என ஒன்று இலை. மார்க்கம் நேர் ஆர்க்கும் இது.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): maṉattiṉ uruvai maṟavādu usāva, maṉam eṉa oṉḏṟu ilai. mārggam nēr ārkkum idu.

English translation: When [one] investigates the form of the mind without forgetting, anything called ‘mind’ does not exist. For everyone this is the direct [straight, proper, correct or true] path.
When we mistake a rope to be a snake, the snake does not actually exist, even though it seems to exist, and it seems to exist only as long as we do not look at it carefully to see what it actually is. Likewise, the ego (of which the mind is just an expanded form) does not actually exist, even though it seems to exist, and it seems to exist only as long as we do not look at it carefully to see what it actually is.

When we look carefully at the snake, we will see that what we were seeing all along was never actually a snake but always only a rope. The snake never actually existed even when it seemed to exist. Likewise, when we look carefully at the ego, we will see that what we were experiencing as ‘I’ all along was never actually an ego but always only our infinite real self. The ego never actually existed even when it seemed to exist.

Since the world is perceived only by the ego, its seeming existence depends entirely upon the seeming existence of the ego, so if the ego does not actually exist, whatever world it seems to perceive also does not actually exist. Therefore, since the ego seems to exist only when we mistake ourself to be a form (something other than the pure ‘I’ that we actually are), when we experience ourself as we really are, the ego will not seem to exist, and hence no world will seem to exist.

When we look carefully at an illusory snake and thereby recognise that it is actually only a rope, we can at least say that before we recognised what it really is, the snake did seem to exist, but in the case of the ego and world, we will not be able to say even this, because they seem to exist only in the view of the ego, which does not actually exist. That is, since according to Sri Ramana our real self (our pure adjunct-free ‘I’) never experiences anything other than itself, in its view the ego and world never even seemed to exist, so it would not be true to say that when we experience ourself as we really are, we will recognise that the ego and world just seemed to exist but were actually only false appearances.

This is why the ultimate truth (paramārtha) is not that the ego and world are just false appearances, but only that they never even seemed to exist. This ultimate truth is what is called ajāta: ‘non-born’, ‘non-engendered’, ‘non-arisen’, ‘non-originated’ or ‘non-happened’. Therefore according to ajāta vāda or ajāta siddhānta (the argument or conclusion that nothing has ever come into existence) the ego and world are absolutely non-existent and have never even seemed to exist.

Though Sri Ramana told us that is was his experience, he taught us that so long as we experience ourself as an ego and consequently perceive the world as if it were something other than ourself, the theories that are closest to the ultimate truth while still accommodating what we now seem to experience, and that will therefore be most helpful to us in our endeavour to experience what is real, are ēka-jīva-vāda (the argument that there is only one ego or jīva), vivarta vāda (the argument that the ego and world are false appearances) and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda (the argument the ego’s perception of the world is what creates its appearance or seeming existence).

This is why Sri Muruganar wrote in verse 83 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai (which I quoted towards the end of my previous article, Metaphysical solipsism, idealism and creation theories in the teachings of Sri Ramana) that Sri Ramana set aside or excluded all other theories and conclusions and taught that only vivarta vāda is true. The other theories that he set aside or excluded include both ajāta vāda and all the many forms of sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi-vāda (the theory that the creation of the world preceded the perception of it, or in other words, that the world exists independent of our experience of it). Since vivarta vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda are essentially the same theory described in two different ways, and since this theory entails ēka-jīva-vāda, when Sri Muruganar wrote that Sri Ramana taught that only vivarta vāda is true, he clearly implied that he taught that both ēka-jīva-vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda are also true.

If we accept that this set of theories, ēka-jīva-vāda, vivarta vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda, are true, it should be obvious to us that the only way we can experience what is actually real is not by investigating or doing any kind of research on the world or anything else that we experience, but only by investigating ‘I’ — that is, by trying to experience ‘I’ alone, in complete isolation from everything else (including not only everything that seems to be other than ‘I’ but also everything that we now mistake to be ‘I’, such as our body and mind).

So long as we experience the ego and world, it would be absurd to pretend to ourself that we believe that these things do not even seem to exist. We can believe that they do not actually exist, and that their seeming existence is therefore a false appearance, but how can we believe that they do not even seem exist when their seeming existence is so obvious to us? Therefore if we are serious in our desire to experience what is actually real, we must for the time being set aside ajāta vāda, even though it is the ultimate truth, and must instead accept that for all practical purposes ēka-jīva-vāda, vivarta vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda alone are true.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Metaphysical solipsism, idealism and creation theories in the teachings of Sri Ramana

In a comment that he wrote on one of my recent articles, What should we believe?, Sankarraman referred to an article on David Godman’s blog, Swami Siddheswarananda’s views on Bhagavan’s Teachings on Creation, in which David discussed some opinions that Swami Siddheswarananda (former president of the Mysore branch of the Ramakrishna Math and founder of the Centre Védantique Ramakrichna in France) expressed about Sri Ramana’s views on solipsism and the idealistic theory of creation known as dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda in the third section of an article that he wrote in 1946 for the Golden Jubilee Souvenir, in which he claimed:
The philosophical outlook of Maharshi tends very often to be confused with that of solipsism or its Indian equivalent, drishti-srishti-vada, which is a sort of degenerated idealism. That Maharshi never subscribes to that view can be known if we study his works in the light of orthodox Vedanta or observe his behaviour in life. [...] (Golden Jubilee Souvenir, third edition, 1995, p. 69)
In his article David explains in his own way why Swami Siddheswarananda was wrong to believe that Sri Ramana did not teach dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda, and in his comment Sankarraman expressed his own views on this subject and asked me to explain my understanding in this regard, so the following is my reply to him:

Swami Siddheswarananda had genuine love and respect for Sri Ramana, but from what he wrote in the Golden Jubilee Souvenir it is clear that his understanding of some crucial aspects of Sri Ramana’s teachings (and also of what he called ‘orthodox Vedanta’) was seriously confused. Dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda (or drishti-srishti-vada, as he spelt it) is the argument (vāda) that creation (sṛṣṭi) is a result of perception or ‘seeing’ (dṛṣṭi), as opposed to sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi-vāda, which is any theory (whether philosophical, scientific or religious) that proposes that creation precedes perception (in other words, that the world exists prior to and hence independent of our experience of it). The classic example of dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi is our experience in dream: the dream world seems to exist only when we experience it, so its seeming existence is entirely dependent on our experience of it. Since Sri Ramana taught us that our present so-called waking state is actually just a dream, and that there is no significant difference between waking and dream, it is obvious that he did teach dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda.

To support his belief that Sri Ramana did not teach dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda, Swami Siddheswarananda gave an extremely weak and implausible argument, claiming that when Sri Ramana says that the mind has projected this universe, he is using the term ‘mind’ in some special ‘Vedantic sense’. Quoting several passages from the writings of Gaudapada and Sankara, he then tried to argue that when it is said that the world is a creation of the mind, in the special Vedantic sense in which he claims the term ‘mind’ is used it is ‘equated with Atman’ (p. 70) and ‘an equivalent of Atman’ (p. 71). However, from the passages he quotes it does not seem at all obvious that either Gaudapada or Sankara actually implied that the world is created or projected by ātman (our real self) rather than by the mind as we know it.

In fact Sankara implies quite the contrary in one passage that Siddheswarananda quotes from his commentary on Māṇḍukya Kārikā 4.54: ‘[…] the knowers of Brahman declare the absence of causality with regard to Atman’ (p. 71). Presumably this means that ātman is neither a cause nor an effect of anything, in which case it cannot be the efficient cause (nimitta kāraṇa) or creator of the world. This is also the view of Sri Ramana, as expressed in verse 85 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai:
நானா விதமான நாமரூ பங்களொடு
தானே யுலகாச் சமைவதலாற் — றானோர்
நிமித்தனா யத்தை நிருமித் தளித்துச்
சமித்தல் புரிவா னலன்.

nāṉā vidamāṉa nāmarū paṅgaḷoḍu
tāṉē yulahāc camaivadalāṯ — ṟāṉōr
nimittaṉā yattai nirumit taḷittuc
camittal purivā ṉalaṉ.

பதச்சேதம்: நானா விதமான நாம ரூபங்களோடு தானே உலகா சமைவது அலால், தான் ஓர் நிமித்தனா அத்தை நிருமித்து அளித்து சமித்தல் புரிவான் அலன்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): nāṉā vidamāṉa nāma rūpaṅgaḷōḍu tāṉē ulahā samaivadu alāl, tāṉ ōr nimittaṉā attai nirumittu aḷittu samittal purivāṉ alaṉ.

English translation: Self itself is only what appears as the world with many kinds of names and forms, but it is not one who as a nimitta [an efficient cause] does [any actions such as] creating, sustaining and destroying that [the world].
The intensifying suffix ஏ (ē) in தானே (tāṉē) implies ‘only’ or ‘alone’ in the sense that self alone is what appears as the world, but I have translated it here as ‘itself’ because in English the force of ‘alone’ in this context is lost when the word ‘only’ also occurs in the same clause: ‘self alone is only what appears as the world’. அலால் (alāl) is a poetic abbreviation of அல்லால் (allāl), which is an adversative conjunction that conveys a strong contrast between the two words, phrases or clauses that it links, affirming or accepting an idea in the preceding word, phrase or clause while denying, rejecting or excluding an idea in the subsequent word, phrase or clause. Like equivalent conjunctions such as அல்லாமல் (allāmal), அன்றி (aṉḏṟi) and தவிர (tavira), it can in some contexts be translated as ‘besides’, ‘except’ or ‘unless’, but coming before a negative clause as in this case it means ‘but only’ as in the English constructions ‘not that, but only this’ or ‘only this, but not that’, so to retain the clauses in the order in which they occur in Tamil I have translated it here as ‘only … but …’. Thus the central idea in this verse is that self is only what appears as the world but not the efficient cause (nimitta kāraṇa) that creates, sustains or destroys it.

When causation is analysed in Indian philosophy, three causal factors are generally identified, namely a material or substantial cause (called upādāna kāraṇa in Sanskrit and mudal-kāraṇam in Tamil), an active or efficient cause (nimitta kāraṇa) and in some cases an auxiliary or instrumental cause (sahakāri kāraṇa in Sanskrit or tuṇai-k-kāraṇam in Tamil). For example, wood is the material cause of a table, a carpenter is its efficient cause, and his tools are its auxiliary or instrumental cause; light and a screen are the material causes of a cinema picture, the projector is its efficient cause, and the film and background darkness that is required to produce a picture on the screen are its auxiliary causes; a rope is the material cause of an illusory snake, a person who mistakes it to be a snake is its efficient cause, and the semi-darkness that conceals what it actually is is its auxiliary cause.

The material or substantial cause does not play any active role in the process of causation, but is that on which the efficient cause (with the aid of one or more auxiliary causes if necessary) either acts or seems to act, and that from which the effect is thereby produced. The active causal role is played by the efficient cause, whereas any auxiliary cause is either an instrument used by the efficient cause to produce the effect or a condition that enables it to do so. Though the substance that constitutes the material cause remains essentially unchanged, its form may be altered in some way by the efficient and auxiliary causes, in which case the effect will be a transformation of the material cause (as for example a table is a transformation of the wood of which it is made, or a pot is a transformation of the clay of which it is made), but in some cases not even its form is changed, in which case the effect is merely a false appearance that seems to exist only in the view of a deluded observer (as for example an illusory snake is just a false appearance, being nothing but a rope that remains unchanged even though a deluded observer mistakes it to be a snake).

Since Sri Ramana says in the above verse that self (tāṉ or ātman) alone appears as the world, it is the essential substance or ‘material’ of which the world is made, so it is its ‘material cause’ (upādāna kāraṇa or mudal-kāraṇam), but it does not actually play any active role in the creation of the world, as he explains in the second half of the above verse, in which he explicitly denies that it is in any way a nimitta or efficient cause. Therefore when Sankara wrote in his commentary on Māṇḍukya Kārikā 4.54 that ‘the knowers of Brahman declare the absence of causality with regard to Atman’ (as quoted by Siddheswarananda), what he was denying was not that ātman is the sole substance (or ‘material cause’) of which everything is made, but only that it is the nimitta kāraṇa (efficient cause) of anything such as the mind that perceives or the world that is perceived.

Though ātman is the ultimate substance of the world, it is not its substance in the same way that mud is the substance of a pot or gold is the substance of a necklace, but is instead its substance in the same way that a rope is the substance of an illusory snake, because like the rope but unlike the mud or gold, ātman is not transformed, modified or affected in any way whatsoever by the illusory appearance of this world and the mind that perceives it. Just as the efficient cause of the illusory snake is not the rope but only the person who mistakes it to be a snake, so the efficient cause (nimitta kāraṇa) of the world is not ātman but only the mind that mistakes it to be a world consisting of numerous names and forms. Likewise, just as the auxiliary cause of the illusory snake is the semi-darkness that enables a person to see a rope without seeing what it actually is, so the auxiliary cause of the world is the semi-darkness of self-ignorance that enables the mind to be aware of ātman without being aware of it as it actually is. Thus according to Sri Ramana (and also both Gaudapada and Sankara) it is not ātman but only the mind with the aid of its self-ignorance that creates the world.

Siddheswarananda also quotes Sankara’s commentary on Māṇḍukya Kārikā 3.29: ‘How is it possible for Reality to pass into birth through Maya? It is thus replied; as the snake imagined in the rope is identical with the being of the rope when seen as the rope, so also the mind from the standpoint of knowledge of the ultimate reality is seen to be identical with Atman. […]’ (p. 70). However, this does not imply it is the mind as ātman that has created the world, because from ‘the standpoint of knowledge of the ultimate reality’ in which the mind is seen to be nothing other than ātman, there is no world.

The rope causes fear only when it is mistaken to be a snake and not when it is recognised to be only a rope, so what causes fear is not actually the rope itself but only the illusion that it is a snake. Likewise, the world is not created or projected by ātman itself, but only by the illusion that we (ātman) are this mind. In other words, when (in a state of self-ignorance) we experience ourself as a mind, we thereby create the illusory appearance of this world, but when (in the state of true self-knowledge) we experience ourself as we really are, we experience nothing other than ourself, so there is then no world or anything else other than ourself (ātman).

When the mind rises from ourself (ātman) the world appears, and when it subsides back into ourself the world disappears, so the world seems to exist only so long as the mind is active, and according to Sri Ramana it does not exist at all in the absence of the mind. Therefore the appearance of the world is created only by the mind that perceives it. The mind projects the world from within itself as soon as it rises, and it withdraws it back into itself when it subsides, as he says in the fourth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?):
[...] சிலந்திப்பூச்சி எப்படித் தன்னிடமிருந்து வெளியில் நூலை நூற்று மறுபடியும் தன்னுள் இழுத்துக் கொள்ளுகிறதோ, அப்படியே மனமும் தன்னிடத்திலிருந்து ஜகத்தைத் தோற்றுவித்து மறுபடியும் தன்னிடமே ஒடுக்கிக்கொள்ளுகிறது. மனம் ஆத்ம சொரூபத்தினின்று வெளிப்படும்போது ஜகம் தோன்றும். ஆகையால், ஜகம் தோன்றும்போது சொரூபம் தோன்றாது; சொரூபம் தோன்றும் (பிரகாசிக்கும்) போது ஜகம் தோன்றாது. [...]

[...] silandi-p-pūcci eppaḍi-t taṉṉiḍamirundu veḷiyil nūlai nūṯṟu maṟupaḍiyum taṉṉuḷ iṙuttu-k-koḷḷugiṟadō, appaḍiyē maṉam-um taṉṉiḍattilirundu jagattai-t tōṯṟuvittu maṟupaḍiyum taṉṉiḍamē oḍukki-k-koḷḷugiṟadu. maṉam ātma sorūpattiṉiṉḏṟu veḷippaḍum-pōdu jagam tōṉḏṟum. āhaiyāl, jagam tōṉḏṟum-pōdu sorūpam tōṉḏṟādu; sorūpam tōṉḏṟum (pirakāśikkum) pōdu jagam tōṉḏṟādu. [...]

[...] Just as a spider spins out thread from within itself and again draws it back into itself, so the mind projects the world from within itself and again dissolves it back into itself. When the mind comes out from ātma-svarūpa [our ‘own form’ or essential self], the world appears. Therefore when the world appears, svarūpa does not appear [as it really is]; when svarūpa appears (shines) [as it really is], the world does not appear. [...]
The world seems to exist only when we experience ourself as the mind, so when it seems to exist we do not experience ourself (ātma-svarūpa) as we really are, and when we experience ourself as we really are it does not seem to exist. Therefore we cannot experience ourself as we really are so long as we perceive the world, as Sri Ramana says in the third paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?):
சர்வ அறிவிற்கும் சர்வ தொழிற்குங் காரண மாகிய மன மடங்கினால் ஜகதிருஷ்டி நீங்கும். கற்பித ஸர்ப்ப ஞானம் போனா லொழிய அதிஷ்டான ரஜ்ஜு ஞானம் உண்டாகாதது போல, கற்பிதமான ஜகதிருஷ்டி நீங்கினா லொழிய அதிஷ்டான சொரூப தர்சன முண்டாகாது.

sarva aṟiviṯkum sarva toṙiṯkuṅ kāraṇam āhiya maṉam aḍaṅgiṉāl jaga-diruṣṭi nīṅgum. kaṯpita sarppa-jñāṉam pōṉāl oṙiya adhiṣṭhāṉa rajju-jñāṉam uṇḍāhādadu pōla, kaṯpitamāṉa jaga-diruṣṭi nīṅgiṉāl oṙiya adhiṣṭhāṉa sorūpa darśaṉam uṇḍāhādu.

If the mind, which is the cause of all [objective] knowledge and of all activity, subsides, jagad-dṛṣṭi [perception of the world] will cease. Just as knowledge of the rope, which is the base [that underlies and supports the imaginary appearance of a snake], will not arise unless knowledge of the imaginary snake ceases, svarūpa-darśana [experiential knowledge of our own real self], which is the base [that underlies and supports the imaginary appearance of this world], will not arise unless perception of the world, which is an imagination [or fabrication], ceases.
If the world were projected by our real self (ātman), as Siddheswarananda claims, there would be no reason why it should not be perceived when we experience our real self. The reason why we cannot experience our real self unless we cease to perceive the world is that the world is a projection of our mind and hence we perceive the world only when we rise as the mind by mistaking it to be ourself. As Sri Ramana says in the extract from the fourth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? cited above, the world appears only when the mind comes out from ourself (ātma-svarūpa), so when it appears the real nature of ourself is concealed, just as the real nature of the rope is concealed when it appears as a snake.

Siddheswarananda concludes his argument by quoting Sankara’s commentary on Māṇḍukya Kārikā 3.35: ‘When the mind becomes free from all ideas of the perceiver and the perceived[,] the dual evils caused by ignorance, it verily becomes one with the Supreme and non-dual Brahman’ (p. 71), and he takes this to be evidence that ‘Sankara and Gaudapada use in many places the term ‘mind’ thus as an equivalent of Atman’. When Sankara says here that the mind becomes one with brahman or ātman, it is like saying that the snake becomes one with the rope when it is seen clearly as it is. Since ātman alone actually exists, what seems to be a mind is in fact only ātman, so if we carefully examine the essential form of this mind (our ego or primal thought called ‘I’) we will find that what it actually is is only ātman.

However, when Sankara says that the mind will eventually ‘become’ (or be recognised to be) one with brahman or ātman, we should not interpret this to mean that when he, Gaudapada or Ramana say that the mind has created or projected the world, what they actually mean is that ātman has created or projected it. This would be a serious misinterpretation, because the world seems to exist only when ātman is mistaken to be the mind and not when it is experienced as it actually is, just as fear arises only when the rope is mistaken to be a snake and not when it is recognised to be what it actually is. Therefore Siddheswarananda’s understanding in this regard is obviously very confused, and his argument that Gaudapada, Sankara and Ramana do not mean that the universe has been projected by the mind as such but only by ātman does not stand up to careful scrutiny.

Therefore whenever Sri Ramana said that the world is a creation of the mind, he was not using the term ‘mind’ in the special ‘Vedantic sense’ of ātman, as Siddheswarananda claimed. The sense in which he actually used the term ‘mind’ is made clear by him in verse 18 of Upadēśa Undiyār, in which he explains that the mind is essentially just the ego, the thought called ‘I’, and in verse 24 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, in which he again explains that it is just the ego, the false ‘I’ that rises ‘as the extent of the body’ between the jaḍa (non-conscious) body, which does not experience itself as ‘I’, and sat-cit (the reality that actually exists and actually is conscious), which does not rise:
எண்ணங்க ளேமனம் யாவினு நானெனு
மெண்ணமே மூலமா முந்தீபற
      யானா மனமென லுந்தீபற.

eṇṇaṅga ḷēmaṉam yāviṉu nāṉeṉu
meṇṇamē mūlamā mundīpaṟa
      yāṉā maṉameṉa lundīpaṟa
.

பதச்சேதம்: எண்ணங்களே மனம். யாவினும் நான் எனும் எண்ணமே மூலம் ஆம். யான் ஆம் மனம் எனல்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): eṇṇaṅgaḷ-ē maṉam. yāviṉ-um nāṉ eṉum eṇṇam-ē mūlam ām. yāṉ ām maṉam eṉal.

English translation: Thoughts alone are mind [or the mind is only thoughts]. Of all [thoughts], the thought called ‘I’ alone is the mūla [the root, base, foundation, origin, source or cause]. [Therefore] what is called mind is [essentially just] ‘I’ [the ego or root thought called ‘I’].

சடவுடனா னென்னாது சச்சித் துதியா
துடலளவா நானொன் றுதிக்கு — மிடையிலிது
சிச்சடக்கி ரந்திபந்தஞ் சீவனுட்ப மெய்யகந்தை
யிச்சமு சாரமன மெண்.

jaḍavuḍaṉā ṉeṉṉādu saccit tudiyā
duḍalaḷavā nāṉoṉ ḏṟudikku — miḍaiyilitu
ciccaḍakki ranthibandhañ jīvaṉuṭpa meyyahandai
yiccamu sāramaṉa meṇ.


பதச்சேதம்: சட உடல் ‘நான்’ என்னாது; சத்சித் உதியாது; உடல் அளவா ‘நான்’ ஒன்று உதிக்கும் இடையில். இது சித்சடக்கிரந்தி, பந்தம், சீவன், நுட்ப மெய், அகந்தை, இச் சமுசாரம், மனம்; எண்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): jaḍa uḍal ‘nāṉ’ eṉṉādu; sat-cit udiyādu; uḍal aḷavā ‘nāṉ’ oṉḏṟu udikkum iḍaiyil. idu cit-jaḍa-giranthi, bandham, jīvaṉ, nuṭpa mey, ahandai, i-c-samusāram, maṉam; eṇ.

அன்வயம்: சட உடல் ‘நான்’ என்னாது; சத்சித் உதியாது; இடையில் உடல் அளவா ‘நான்’ ஒன்று உதிக்கும். இது சித்சடக்கிரந்தி, பந்தம், சீவன், நுட்ப மெய், அகந்தை, இச் சமுசாரம், மனம்; எண்.

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): jaḍa uḍal ‘nāṉ’ eṉṉādu; sat-cit udiyādu; iḍaiyil uḍal aḷavā ‘nāṉ’ oṉḏṟu udikkum. idu cit-jaḍa-giranthi, bandham, jīvaṉ, nuṭpa mey, ahandai, i-c-samusāram, maṉam; eṇ.

English translation: The jaḍa body does not say ‘I’; sat-cit does not rise; [but] in between [these two] one ‘I’ rises as the extent of the body. Know that this is cit-jaḍa-granthi [the knot that binds the conscious and the non-conscious together as if they were one], bandha [bondage], jīva [the soul or person], the subtle body, the ego, this saṁsāra [wandering, perpetual movement, restless activity, worldly existence or the cycle of birth and death] and manam [the mind].
The body is jaḍa (non-conscious), so it does not experience anything, and hence it does not experience itself as ‘I’. Therefore when Sri Ramana says that the body does not say ‘I’, that is a metaphorical way of saying that it does not experience itself as ‘I’. What experiences itself as ‘I’ is something that actually exists and is actually conscious of its own existence, so this is what he refers to here as sat-cit, which is a compound of two words, sat (which means ‘what exists’) and cit (which means ‘what is conscious’). The reason this compound word is used to refer to what experiences itself as ‘I’ is that it is both what exists and what is conscious of its existence, so its existence (sat) and its consciousness (cit) of its existence are not two separate things but one and the same. As he says in verse 23 of Upadēśa Undiyār, what exists (uḷḷadu) is what is aware (uṇarvu) that it exists, because the ‘I’ that is aware that ‘I am’ cannot be other than the ‘I’ that exists. When we say ‘I am’, we are expressing not only that we exist but also that we are aware that we exist. Therefore sat-cit denotes our real self, which is what we experience as ‘I am’, and Sri Ramana says that it does not rise or come into existence, because it always exists and is always aware of its existence.

This body comes into existence in waking, when we are aware of it, and ceases to exist in sleep or dream, when we are not aware of it, so it cannot be ‘I’, because we are aware of ourself as ‘I am’ in all these three states: waking, dream and sleep. Thus the body rises and subsides and is not aware of itself as ‘I’, whereas sat-cit does not rise or subside but is always aware of itself as ‘I’. Therefore the body is not sat-cit, and sat-cit is not the body. However, between these two something rises as ‘I’ and experiences itself as the extent of the body. That is, it feels that it is confined within the spatial and temporal limits of the body, and thus it experiences itself as ‘I am this body’.

This spurious body-confined ‘I’ is what is called the ego, mind or soul (jīva), and it is also called cit-jaḍa-granthi because it functions as a knot (granthi) that binds the conscious (cit) and the non-conscious (jaḍa) together as if they were one. Because it rises by attaching itself to a body and other adjuncts, it is a conflated mixture of our pure ‘I’, which is not a thought, and various adjuncts, all of which are mere thoughts or ideas, so in verse 18 of Upadēśa Undiyār Sri Ramana describes it as the ‘thought called I’ and says that it is what the mind essentially is. Therefore when he says that the world is a creation or projection of the mind, what he means by ‘mind’ is only this spurious thought called ‘I’, the ego.

In verse 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu he then says that when this ego rises into existence, everything rises into existence, and when this ego does not exist, everything does not exist, so the ego alone is everything:
அகந்தையுண் டாயி னனைத்துமுண் டாகு
மகந்தையின் றேலின் றனைத்து — மகந்தையே
யாவுமா மாதலால் யாதிதென்று நாடலே
யோவுதல் யாவுமென வோர்.

ahandaiyuṇ ḍāyi ṉaṉaittumuṇ ḍāhu
mahandaiyiṉ ḏṟēliṉ ḏṟaṉaittu — mahandaiyē
yāvumā mādalāl yādideṉḏṟu nādalē
yōvudal yāvumeṉa vōr.


பதச்சேதம்: அகந்தை உண்டாயின், அனைத்தும் உண்டாகும்; அகந்தை இன்றேல், இன்று அனைத்தும். அகந்தையே யாவும் ஆம். ஆதலால், யாது இது என்று நாடலே ஓவுதல் யாவும் என ஓர்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): ahandai uṇḍāyiṉ, aṉaittum uṇḍāhum; ahandai iṉḏṟēl, iṉḏṟu aṉaittum. ahandai-y-ē yāvum ām. ādalāl, yādu idu eṉḏṟu nādal-ē ōvudal yāvum eṉa ōr.

அன்வயம்: அகந்தை உண்டாயின், அனைத்தும் உண்டாகும்; அகந்தை இன்றேல், அனைத்தும் இன்று. யாவும் அகந்தையே ஆம். ஆதலால், யாது இது என்று நாடலே யாவும் ஓவுதல் என ஓர்.

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): ahandai uṇḍāyiṉ, aṉaittum uṇḍāhum; ahandai iṉḏṟēl, aṉaittum iṉḏṟu. yāvum ahandai-y-ē ām. ādalāl, yādu idu eṉḏṟu nādal-ē yāvum ōvudal eṉa ōr.

English translation: If the ego comes into existence, everything comes into existence; if the ego does not exist, everything does not exist. [Hence] the ego itself is everything. Therefore, know that investigating what this [ego] is alone is giving up everything.
This verse is a very clear and emphatic statement of dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda. If the existence of everything is entirely dependent on the existence of the ego, as Sri Ramana asserts in this verse, there is no creation (sṛṣṭi) when there is no perception (dṛṣṭi), because there can be no perception unless there is an ego who perceives. Creation is therefore no more real than the ego who perceives things that seem to have been created or come into existence, and hence we can ascertain the reality of creation only by investigating and ascertaining the reality of this ego.

According to the experience of Sri Ramana, if we investigate this ego we will find that it is unreal — that is, that there is not and never has been any such thing as ego at all. Therefore he concludes this verse by saying, ‘யாது இது என்று நாடலே யாவும் ஓவுதல்’ (yādu idu eṉḏṟu nādal-ē ōvudal yāvum), ‘investigating what this [ego] is alone is giving up everything’, because if the ego is found to be non-existent everything else will also be found to be non-existent.

When he says, ‘அகந்தையே யாவும் ஆம்’ (ahandai-y-ē yāvum ām), ‘the ego itself is everything’ or ‘everything is only the ego’, what he implies is that everything is only an expansion of the ego. The ego is our primal thought called ‘I’, and as soon as it rises it expands as numerous other thoughts, all of which constitute our mind, as he says in verse 18 of Upadēśa Undiyār (which I quoted above). What he means in that verse by the word எண்ணம் (eṇṇam), which literally means ‘thought’ or ‘idea’, is any kind of mental phenomenon — that is, any perception, conception, idea, imagination, memory, belief, feeling, emotion, desire, hope, fear or such like. In other words, everything that we experience other than our pure adjunct-free ‘I’ is what he would call a ‘thought’ or ‘idea’, because it is just a mental phenomenon of one kind or another.

What we experience as the world is just a vast series of sensory impressions or perceptual experiences — sights, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations — all of which are mental phenomena, so he frequently said that the world is nothing but thoughts or ideas. For example, in the fourth and fourteenth paragraphs of Nāṉ Yār? he says:
[...] நினைவுகளைத் தவிர்த்து ஜகமென்றோர் பொருள் அன்னியமா யில்லை. தூக்கத்தில் நினைவுகளில்லை, ஜகமுமில்லை; ஜாக்ர சொப்பனங்களில் நினைவுகளுள, ஜகமும் உண்டு. [...]

[…] niṉaivugaḷai-t tavirttu jagam-eṉḏṟōr poruḷ aṉṉiyamāy illai. tūkkattil niṉaivugaḷ illai, jagam-um illai; jāgra soppaṉaṅgaḷil niṉaivugaḷ uḷa, jagam-um uṇḍu. […]

[...] Excluding thoughts [or ideas], there is not separately any such thing as ‘world’. In sleep there are no thoughts, and [consequently] there is also no world; in waking and dream there are thoughts, and [consequently] there is also a world. [...]

[...] ஜக மென்பது நினைவே. [...]

[...] jagam eṉbadu niṉaivē. [...]

[...] What is called world is only thoughts [or ideas]. [...]
The world (and everything else we experience) is only thoughts, and all thoughts are an expansion of our ego, our primal thought called ‘I’, so in verse 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Sri Ramana says, ‘அகந்தை உண்டாயின், அனைத்தும் உண்டாகும்; அகந்தை இன்றேல், இன்று அனைத்தும். அகந்தையே யாவும் ஆம்’ (ahandai uṇḍāyiṉ, aṉaittum uṇḍāhum; ahandai iṉḏṟēl, iṉḏṟu aṉaittum. ahandai-y-ē yāvum ām), ‘If the ego comes into existence, everything comes into existence; if the ego does not exist, everything does not exist. [Hence] the ego itself is everything [or everything is only the ego]’. Thus he made it abundantly clear that the theory of creation that he taught was only dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda and not any form of sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi-vāda.

Dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda is a form of metaphysical idealism, because it implies that the world and everything else we experience consists only of ideas or thoughts, but it is not ‘a sort of degenerated idealism’, as Siddheswarananda wrote, because there is nothing inherently degenerated about it, and hence by describing it as such he was only expressing his own distaste for it. To say that it is a ‘degenerated idealism’ implies that there is some other form of idealism from which it has degenerated, but it is not at all clear what form of idealism he had in mind when he wrote this. In fact it could be argued that it is the purest form of metaphysical idealism, because unlike many other forms of such idealism, it does not posit the existence of any minds other than one’s own, since it is not motivated by any desire to avoid accepting metaphysical solipsism, the idea that no mind other than one’s own exists.

As Siddheswarananda correctly observed when he wrote, ‘The philosophical outlook of Maharshi tends very often to be confused with that of solipsism or its Indian equivalent, drishti-srishti-vada’ (p. 69), dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda does imply solipsism, the idea that only one self (ego or mind) exists. However, there are different types of solipsism, the most basic distinction among them being between metaphysical solipsism (the idea that my mind is the only mind that actually exists) and epistemological solipsism (the idea that my mind is the only mind that I can actually know exists). Though the former entails that latter, the latter does not entail the former. Since there is no adequate means by which we could logically argue that metaphysical solipsism is actually the case, in western philosophy no major philosopher has tried to defend it. However it is relatively easy to argue that epistemological solipsism is the case, and if we accept this, we have to accept that metaphysical solipsism is a possibility that cannot be disproved.

Since most people do not like to accept that metaphysical solipsism is a possibility, in western philosophy epistemological solipsism is considered to be a major problem (which is often described as ‘the problem of other minds’, that is, the problem of finding adequate justification for our instinctive belief that other people have minds just as I have). Even most metaphysical idealists (that is, those who claim that what seems to be a physical world is actually just ideas) are wary of the implications of epistemological solipsism, so they assume that other minds do exist, even though we cannot actually know that they exist. For example, Bishop George Berkeley, the famous 18th century British empiricist and subjective idealist, believed that everything we perceive is an idea not only in our own mind but primarily in the mind of God. Like Berkeley, most subjective idealists believe in the existence of other minds, so subjective idealism cannot be equated with metaphysical solipsism.

Therefore Sri Ramana did not teach subjective idealism in this sense, because the variety of idealism that he taught was that whatever we experience other than ourself (that is, other than our pure adjunct-free ‘I’) is just an idea in our own mind, and even our own mind is just an idea — the primal idea or thought called ‘I’, the ego. As he says in verse 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, if this one ego comes into existence, everything comes into existence, and if it does not exist, everything does not exist, so it alone is everything. Thus he did teach metaphysical solipsism, which in Indian philosophy is called ēka-jīva-vāda, the argument that there is just one jīva (individual self or ego). As Sri Muruganar recorded in verse 534 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai, he said:
ஏகனே சீவ னெனக்கொண் டிதயத்துள்
ஊகமுள தீர னுறைத்திடுக — ஊகம்
மலராத மாந்தர் மனங்கொள்ளச் சீவர்
பலராவ ரென்னவுடன் பட்டு.

ēkaṉē jīva ṉeṉakkoṇ ḍidayattuḷ
ūkamuḷa dhīra ṉuṟaittiḍuka — ūkam
malarāda māndar maṉaṅgoḷḷac jīvar
palarāva reṉṉavuḍaṉ paṭṭu.

பதச்சேதம்: ஏகனே சீவன் என கொண்டு இதயத்து உள் ஊகம் உள தீரன் உறைந்திடுக. ஊகம் மலராத மாந்தர் மனம் கொள்ள சீவர் பலர் ஆவர் என்ன உடன்பட்டு.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): ēkaṉē jīvaṉ eṉa koṇḍu idayattu uḷ ūgam uḷa dhīraṉ uṟaindiḍuha. ūgam malarāda māndar maṉam koḷḷa jīvar palar āvar eṉṉa uḍaṉpaṭṭu.

English translation: Accepting that jīva is only one, may the courageous person who has discernment subside [penetrate or be firmly established] in the heart. [Only] to suit the mind of dull-witted people in whom such discernment has not blossomed [do sages and sacred texts speak as if] conceding that jīvas are many.
Therefore there is no scope for us to doubt the fact that Sri Ramana has clearly and emphatically taught ēka-jīva-vāda or metaphysical solipsism. However, though he taught this as a provisional theory in order to help us be single-minded in our practice of self-investigation, he also taught that when we investigate this one ego or mind, we will eventually discover that it is unreal as such, and that what really exists is only our one infinite and indivisible self, which experiences nothing other than ‘I am’. As he says in verse 17 of Upadēśa Undiyār:
மனத்தி னுருவை மறவா துசாவ
மனமென வொன்றிலை யுந்தீபற
      மார்க்கநே ரார்க்குமி துந்தீபற.

maṉatti ṉuruvai maṟavā dusāva
maṉameṉa voṉḏṟilai yundīpaṟa
      mārgganē rārkkumi dundīpaṟa.


பதச்சேதம்: மனத்தின் உருவை மறவாது உசாவ, மனம் என ஒன்று இலை. மார்க்கம் நேர் ஆர்க்கும் இது.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): maṉattiṉ uruvai maṟavādu usāva, maṉam eṉa oṉḏṟu ilai. mārggam nēr ārkkum idu.

English translation: When [one] investigates the form of the mind without forgetting, anything called ‘mind’ does not exist. For everyone this is the direct [straight, proper, correct or true] path.
Therefore, when we experience ourself as we really are, it will be clear to us that even ēka-jīva-vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda are not true, because the ego (the ēka jīva, the one finite self) is itself actually non-existent, and hence both its perception (dṛṣṭi) and the creation (sṛṣṭi) that seems to exist because of its perception are likewise non-existent. Thus the ultimate truth is that ‘I’ (our real self or ātman) alone exists and nothing else has ever come into existence, so neither the ego nor the world has ever really existed. This is what is known as ajāta, a term that literally mean ‘non-born’, ‘non-originated’ or ‘non-engendered’, and that therefore implies that no creation has ever occurred — that nothing has ever been created or come into existence.

The implication of ajāta is clearly expressed by Sri Ramana in verse 24 of Upadēśa Taṉippākkaḷ (which he composed as a condensation of verse 1227 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai, in which Sri Muruganar expressed the idea in a Sanskrit verse that Sri Ramana often used to quote, which occurs in various texts such as Amṛtabindōpaniṣad Verse 10, Ātmōpaniṣad 2.31, Māṇḍukya Kārikā 2.32 and Vivēkacūḍāmaṇi verse 574):
ஆதலழி வார்ப்பவிழ வாசைமுயல் வார்ந்தாரில்
ஈதுபர மார்த்தமென் றெண்.

ādalaṙi vārppaviṙa vāśaimuyal vārndāril
īdupara mārttameṉ ḏṟeṇ
.

பதச்சேதம்: ஆதல், அழிவு, ஆர்ப்பு, அவிழ ஆசை, முயல்வு, ஆர்ந்தார் இல்; ஈது பரமார்த்தம் என்று எண்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): ādal, aṙivu, ārppu, aviṙa āśai, muyalvu, ārndār il. īdu paramārttam eṉḏṟu eṇ.

English translation: There is no becoming [or coming into existence], destruction, bondage, desire to untie [bondage], effort [made for liberation], [or] those who have attained [liberation]. Know that this is paramārtha [the ultimate truth].
However, though ajāta is the ultimate truth, it is not the teaching that is most useful to us so long as we experience ourself as an ego living in a finite world, because believing that none of this actually exists does not help us to free ourself from the illusion that it does exist. Therefore, though Sri Ramana explained to us that this was his experience, to enable us to experience it he taught dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda, which concedes that the ego and world do seem to exist, but only as an illusion or false appearance. As Sri Muruganar recorded in verses 100 and 83 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai:
அநேகசித் தாந்த மவரவர்க் கேற்பச்
சொனாலுங் குருரமணத் தோன்றல் — தனாது
நிஜாநுபவ மாக நிகழ்த்தயாங் கேட்ட
தஜாதசித் தாந்த மறி.

anēkasid dhānta mavaravark kēṯpac
coṉāluṅ gururamaṇat tōṉḏṟal — taṉādu
nijānubhava māha nigaṙttayāṅ gēṭṭa
tajātasid dhānta maṟi.


பதச்சேதம்: அநேக சித்தாந்தம் அவர் அவர்க்கு ஏற்ப சொனாலும் குரு ரமண தோன்றல், தனாது நிஜ அநுபவம் ஆக நிகழ்த்த யாம் கேட்டது அஜாத சித்தாந்தம் அறி.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): anēka siddhāntam avar avarkku ēṯpa soṉālum guru ramaṇa tōṉḏṟal, taṉādu nija anubhavam āha nigaṙtta yām kēṭṭadu ajāta siddhāntam aṟi.

அன்வயம்: அவர் அவர்க்கு ஏற்ப குரு ரமண தோன்றல் அநேக சித்தாந்தம் சொனாலும், தனாது நிஜ அநுபவம் ஆக நிகழ்த்த யாம் கேட்டது அஜாத சித்தாந்தம் அறி.

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): avar avarkku ēṯpa guru ramaṇa tōṉḏṟal anēka siddhāntam soṉālum, taṉādu nija anubhavam āha nigaṙtta yām kēṭṭadu ajāta siddhāntam aṟi.

English translation: Although the exalted Guru Ramana expressed multifarious conclusions suited to [the beliefs, aspirations and needs of] each person, know that what we heard him explain to be his own actual experience was ajāta siddhānta [the conclusion that nothing has ever come into existence].

நாமுலக மென்ன நயந்துரைத்த தாலுயிர்கட்
காமுறுதி யோதுரம ணாசிரியர் — சேம
விவர்த்தசித் தாந்தமே மெய்யாக விண்டார்
தவிர்த்துப் பிறவற்றைத் தாம்.

nāmulaha meṉṉa nayanduraitta dāluyirgaṭ
kāmuṟudi yōdurama ṇāciriyar — ṣēma
vivarttasid dāntamē meyyāha viṇḍār
tavirttup piṟavaṯṟait tām.


பதச்சேதம்: ‘நாம் உலகம்’ என்ன நயந்து உரைத்ததால், உயிர்கட்கு ஆம் உறுதி ஓது ரமண ஆசிரியர் சேம விவர்த்த சித்தாந்தமே மெய் ஆக விண்டார், தவிர்த்து பிறவற்றை தாம்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): ‘nām ulaham’ eṉṉa nayandu uraittadāl, uyirgaṭku ām uṟudi ōdu ramaṇa āciriyar ṣēma vivartta siddhāntam-ē mey āha viṇḍār, tavirttu piṟavaṯṟai tām.

அன்வயம்: உயிர்கட்கு ஆம் உறுதி ஓது ரமண ஆசிரியர் தாம் பிறவற்றை தவிர்த்து, ‘நாம் உலகம்’ என்ன நயந்து உரைத்ததால் சேம விவர்த்த சித்தாந்தமே மெய் ஆக விண்டார்.

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): uyirgaṭku ām uṟudi ōdu ramaṇa āciriyar tām piṟavaṯṟai tavirttu, ‘nām ulaham’ eṉṉa nayandu uraittadāl ṣēma vivartta siddhāntam-ē mey āha viṇḍār.

English translation: By lovingly saying ‘nām ulaham’ [nām ulaham kāṇḍalāl, ‘because we see the world’, the opening words of the first verse of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu], Ramana-ācārya, who disseminates suitable beneficial teachings to people, taught as true only the protective vivarta siddhānta [the conclusion that everything is an illusory appearance], setting aside others [all other conclusions].
According to ajāta siddhānta nothing other than ‘I’ (our real self or ātman) actually exists or even seems to exist, whereas according to vivarta siddhānta nothing other than ‘I’ actually exists, but other things do at least seem to exist, and hence they are all illusions or false appearances.

Though ajāta siddhānta is the ultimate truth, it is of little use to us so long as we seem to be an ego who experiences itself bound within the limits of a body in a finite world, because according to ajāta siddhānta there is absolutely no ego or world and hence no bondage or anyone who could make any effort to escape bondage. Spiritual teachings and practice are possible only if it is accepted that the ego and world exist at least as an illusory appearance, which is what ajāta siddhānta explicitly denies. Therefore, though ajāta was his actual experience, Sri Ramana did not teach it except by way of intimating us that it is the ultimate truth.

What he taught instead was that though the ego and world do not actually exist, they do at least seem to exist, so they exist only as an illusion or false appearance. This teaching is therefore called vivarta vāda (the theory of false appearance) or vivarta siddhānta (the conclusion or doctrine of false appearance), the word vivarta meaning in this context an illusion or unreal appearance. The classic analogy that is used to illustrate vivarta vāda is the rope that seems to be a snake. The snake is an illusion or false appearance, so it does not actually exist as the snake that it seems to be, but it does exist as the rope that it really is. Likewise, the ego and world are an illusion or false appearance, so they do not actually exist as the finite, differentiated and ever-changing things that they seem to be, but they do exist as the one infinite, indivisible and immutable self or ātman that they really are.

The illusory snake does not exist even as a false appearance when no one sees it, so it is created only as a result of being seen. Likewise, the world does not exist even as a false appearance when the ego does not perceive it, so it is created only by the ego’s perception of it. Thus vivarta vāda is what is also called dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda, the theory that perception (dṛṣṭi) is the cause of creation (sṛṣṭi).

How the terms dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda and vivarta-vāda are two alternative descriptions of the same theory is also illustrated by our experience in dream. The world that we experience in a dream is not real but just an illusory appearance (vivarta), and hence it was created by our perception (dṛṣṭi) of it. Therefore, since Sri Ramana taught that what we take to be a waking state is actually just another dream, it is clear that he thereby taught the view that is called both dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda and vivarta-vāda.

If our present waking state is actually a dream, the obvious and unavoidable implication of this is not only that it is a false appearance and a production of our perception of it, but also that it is perceived by only one ego. Therefore, when Sri Ramana says that this state that seems to be waking is actually just a dream, and that the world we now perceive is therefore no more real than any world that we perceive in a dream, he clearly and unambiguously implies that he is teaching vivarta-vāda, dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda and ēka-jīva-vāda.

Why then did a learned person such as Swami Siddheswarananda, who was undoubtedly a sincere devotee and spiritual aspirant, and who as a senior monk in the Ramakrishna Mission had dedicated his life to teaching and propagating the philosophy of advaita vēdānta, not only fail to recognise but even go so far as to explicitly deny that ēka-jīva-vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda are both an integral part of Sri Ramana’s principal teachings (and are also clearly implied in the writings of Gaudapada and Sankara, which he quotes)? Presumably it was because he was unable to accept the implications of these theories. Like the vast majority of people, he could not bring himself to believe that there is only one ego who experiences this world, and that the world does not exist except when that ego experiences it, and even then it is just an illusory appearance like a dream.

His inability to accept ēka-jīva-vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda is actually typical of most scholars of advaita vēdānta, including many saṃnyasis (renunciates) who either taught advaita vēdānta in past centuries or teach it now. This is particularly true of those who nowadays teach what they claim to be ‘traditional vēdānta’ (by which they mean ‘traditional advaita vēdānta’, but which could be described more accurately as ‘scholastic advaita vēdānta’), because traditionally scholars of advaita vēdānta have had difficulty accepting all the profound and radical implications of advaita vēdānta as it was expounded in the writings of Gaudapada and Sankara, and hence they have turned a blind eye towards, circumvented or argued around any implications that they do not relish.

To accept (from a metaphysical perspective) that I am the only ego or jīva, that this entire world is just a dream that is experienced by no one other than me, and that all my friends, relatives and other people I see in this world are no more real than the people I meet in a dream, or even to accept (from an epistemological perspective) that all these are a possibility that I have no adequate evidence or logical reason to disprove, requires a certain courage and whole-hearted commitment to ascertaining what is actually true or real. As Sri Ramana indicated in verse 534 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai (which I quoted above), we need to be a courageous person (dhīraṉ) to accept that there is only one ego or jīva (which seems to exist only so long as our attention is turned out towards anything other than ourself) and therefore to turn within and to subside into the innermost depth of oneself in order to ascertain that even this one ego does not actually exist.

Therefore, when we study and try to understand the teachings of Sri Ramana, we each have to ask ourself whether we have the courage and singleness of purpose to accept (at least as a tentative theory or working hypothesis to be tested by self-investigation) that we are the only ego and that this entire world and all the other people we see in it are just our own mental creation, like the world we experience in a dream. For many of us it is not easy to accept this even tentatively, but if we are to succeed in our endeavour to turn our attention within and to sink into the uttermost depth of ourself in order to experience ourself as we really are, in complete isolation from everything else, we need to pluck up the necessary inner courage to accept the full implications of what Sri Ramana has taught us.

The difficulty that Swami Siddheswarananda had in accepting that the entire world is a creation of our own individual mind or ego, and that our own mind is the only mind there is, was also experienced by other sincere devotees of Sri Ramana. For example, in section 556 of Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi it is recorded that in October 1938 Alan Chadwick asked him, ‘The world is said to become manifest after the mind becomes manifest. There is no mind when I sleep. Is the world not existent to others at that time? Does it not show that the world is the product of a universal mind? How then shall we say that the world is not material but only dream-like?’ to which he replied:
The world does not tell you that it is of the individual mind or of the universal mind. It is only the individual mind that sees the world. When this mind disappears the world also disappears. [...] when we see our Self there is no world, and when we lose sight of the Self we get ourselves bound in the world.
Because Chadwick was sincerely trying to understand his teachings, when replying to him Sri Ramana maintained his usual stance of ēka-jīva-vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda by insisting that it is only our own individual mind that causes the appearance of the world. However, when replying to others who were obviously not able or willing to accept ēka-jīva-vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda he would often talk as if he accepted that there are many jīvas or that the world was created not by our own mind but by God (which is a form of sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi-vāda, the theory that the world exists independent of our perception of it).

This is why Sri Muruganar wrote in verse 100 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai: ‘அநேக சித்தாந்தம் அவர் அவர்க்கு ஏற்ப சொனாலும் குரு ரமண தோன்றல் […]’ (anēka siddhāntam avar avarkku ēṯpa soṉālum guru ramaṇa tōṉḏṟal […]), ‘Although the exalted Guru Ramana expressed multifarious conclusions suited to each person […]’. Here the words அவர் அவர்க்கு ஏற்ப (avar avarkku ēṯpa), which literally mean ‘suited to them them’ and which in Tamil is a way of saying ‘suited to each person’, imply that the reason why he expressed or spoke as if he accepted so many different conclusions or doctrines was to suit the beliefs, aspirations, intellectual ability, spiritual maturity, mental state and individual needs of each person.

If we read Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi and other such books that record (more or less accurately) conversations with Sri Ramana, it is clear that he expressed and discussed a wide diversity of philosophical views or doctrines, but we should not mistake everything that he said to be an expression of his real teachings, because as Sri Muruganar indicated in verse 100 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai many of the ideas he expressed were only intended to suit the particular beliefs, aspirations and needs of whichever person he was then speaking to. Therefore to understand what his real teachings are, we need to think carefully and critically (that is, with keen intellectual discrimination and discernment) about everything that he wrote and is recorded to have said, and should not blindly accept that whatever he said is his actual teaching.

In other words, we should do not only śravaṇa (hearing, reading or studying) but should also manana (deep thinking, pondering or reflection) upon his teachings. However, even śravaṇa and manana are not sufficient on their own, because to have the required clarity of mind and heart to understand correctly what we study and reflect upon we must also practise what he taught us — that is, we must do nididhyāsana, deep inward contemplation on ourself, which is what is otherwise known as ātma-vicāra or self-investigation.

If we study his teachings thoroughly, reflect upon them carefully and deeply, and practise ātma-vicāra as deeply and frequently as we can, we will understand clearly and be left in no doubt at all that ēka-jīva-vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda are theories that are fundamental and essential to the entire conceptual framework of his actual teachings.

However, we should also understand that whether or not we are ready to accept ēka-jīva-vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda, we cannot know for certain whether either of them is true unless and until we investigate ourself and thereby experience ourself as we really are. When we do experience ourself as we really are, we will discover that neither of these two theories is actually true, because there is no jīva (ego or finite self) and hence no dṛṣṭi (seeing or perception) or sṛṣṭi (creation or coming into existence of anything), but so long as we mistakenly experience ourself as an ego, these are the theories that are closest to the truth and that will be most helpful to us in our practise of self-investigation.

Friday, 19 September 2014

How to avoid doing āgāmya and experiencing prārabdha?

In a comment on one of my recent article, The karma theory as taught by Sri Ramana, Sanjay wrote:
Sir, if I my ego subsides completely for some length or duration of time by attending only to ‘I’ alone, obviously my free-will or agamya will become inactive, but during such subsidence, will my destiny of fate (prarabdha) will also remain inactive, or my mind, speech and body will continue to act as per prarabdha? If it continues to act, who experiences these actions and the resulting experiences of my prarabdha, which I was supposed to experience then?

Secondly, I believe, you have said in this article that as long as our ego is intact, we will continue to act as per our prarabdha, and simultaneously our mind, speech and body will also be able to do actions creating agamya, by exercising its free will, if it does not contradict our prarabdha. I remember a recorded conversation with Bhagavan somewhat to the effect:

Devotee: I can understand that all the major events in my life are predestined, like say, my marriage, my job, any major accidents, etc., but suppose if I pick up this hand-fan now, is it also predestined? Bhagavan: Yes, everything is predestined.

If this is accurately recorded, it means that what Bhagavan is saying is that we have no free-will of our bodily actions (and by implication of actions by speech). Do we understand that though our mind has a free-will to desire against or something instead of our predestined prarabdha, but our speech and body are completely pre-programmed, and bound by a pre-existing script, like a cinema show?

What are your views on these two doubts of mine?
So long as our mind, speech and body seem to exist, they will be made to act in whatever way is required for their destiny (prārabdha) to be experienced, irrespective of the extent to which our ego has subsided. However, we will experience those actions and experiences as our actions and experiences only to the extent that we attend to them, so to the extent that we are able to attend only to ‘I’ we will not experience them.

Even when we are not attending to ‘I’, if our mind is engaged in some other thoughts, we hardly notice the actions of our body, such as walking or even driving a car. Likewise, if we attend only to ‘I’ instead of thinking other unnecessary thoughts, our mind, speech and body will continue to act in accordance with our prārabdha, but we will hardly notice them. To the extent that we attend only to ‘I’ we will not notice whatever our mind, speech and body are destined to experience.

Regarding the question who would experience whatever is destined to be experienced if our ego is subsided: if it is entirely subsided, no one will experience what is destined, and if it is partially subsided, we will experience what is destined only to the extent that our ego is not subsided (in other words, only to the extent that we attend to anything other than ‘I’).

Though it is said that our mind, speech and body will be made to act in accordance with prārabdha even if our ego has completely subsided, this is said only as a concession to our ignorant belief that the world and everything in it continues to exist even when we are not experiencing it, as for example in sleep. However, according to the testimony of Sri Ramana, the world does not actually exist but only seems to exist, and it does not even seem to exist when we are not experiencing it. Therefore if we attend only to ‘I’ and thereby avoid experiencing anything else, there is no world and no mind, speech or body to do any action. Hence by attending only to ‘I’ we avoid doing any action (karma) at all, either actions impelled by fate (prārabdha) or actions impelled by our free will (āgāmya).

When we ask questions about prārabdha and āgāmya, such as the ones that Sanjay asked, or about the karma theory in general, we should ask ourself why we are curious to have answers to such questions. We want to know about such things only because we are still interested in the life of this ego (that is, we are still interested in ourself as a person and consequently in the life of this person), because prārabdha and āgāmya are just elements in the life of the ego and would not exist in its absence. So long as we are still at all interested in our ego and its karmas (whether āgāmya or prārabdha), our mind is turned outwards, so we will continue to be driven by two forces, fate and free will, and we will not be able to distinguish to what extent each of our actions done by mind, speech or body is impelled by each of these forces. Therefore we should consider our interest in questions related to karma to be a distraction that diverts our attention away from investigating the reality of the ‘I’ that seems to do karma and to experience its fruit.

Regarding the conversation that Sanjay refers to, this was recorded by Devaraja Mudaliar in My Recollections of Bhagavan Sri Ramana, and it is often interpreted by people to mean that Bhagavan implied that we have no freedom to do any action that is not destined. If this were the case, we could not do any āgāmya (that is, any karma impelled by our free will), so no fruit would be generated to be stored in our sañcita and later to be selected from there to be experienced by us as the prārabdha of any future life, and hence even our present prārabdha would not be the fruit of any past āgāmya. In other words, the entire karma theory as taught by Bhagavan would fall apart, because he taught that prārabdha is the fruit of āgāmya that we have done in past lives.

Since our fate (prārabdha) is the fruit of actions that we have done in the past, if all the actions we had done in the past were done only according to fate and not according to our free will, we would be experiencing the fruit of actions that we had not done of our own free will. If anyone were to claim that this is the case, that would in effect be a denial of the entire karma theory. Therefore if we believe the karma theory as taught by Sri Ramana we must accept that while experiencing prārabdha (fate or destiny) we are able to do āgāmya (actions impelled by our free will).

Contrary to what some people believe, the karma theory is not mere fatalism, because it presupposes not only that we have free will but also that whatever we experience is a result of something that we had previously done by our free will. Though whatever actions we now do by our own free will cannot alter what we are destined to experience in this present life, such actions can affect what we are to experience in future lives, just as what we now experience is a result of actions that we did by our free will in past lives.

The conversation that Sanjay refers to was recorded by Devaraja Mudaliar as follows at the beginning of chapter four of My Recollections of Bhagavan Sri Ramana:
One summer afternoon I was sitting opposite Bhagavan in the old hall, with a fan in my hand and said to him: “I can understand that the outstanding events in a man’s life, such as his country, nationality, family, career or profession, marriage, death, etc. are all predestined by his karma, but can it be that all the details of his life, down to the minutest, have already been determined? Now, for instance, I put this fan that is in my hand down on the floor here. Can it be that it was already decided that on such and such a day, at such and a such an hour, I shall move the fan like this and put it down here?”

Bhagavan replied “Certainly”. He continued: “Whatever this body is to do and whatever experiences it is to pass through was already decided when it came into existence”.

Thereupon I naturally exclaimed: “What becomes then of man’s freedom and responsibility for his actions?”

Bhagavan explained: “The only freedom man has is to strive for and acquire the jnana which will enable him not to identify himself with the body. The body will go through the actions rendered inevitable by prarabdha (destiny based on the balance sheet of past lives) and a man is free either to identify himself with the body and be attached to the fruits of its actions, or to be detached from it and be a mere witness of its activities”.
I do not know how accurately Devaraja Mudaliar recorded this conversation he had with Bhagavan, but I doubt if it is perfectly accurate, because when we record any conversation by memory, we will only record what we understood rather than what was actually said. However, whether his recording was accurate or not so accurate, we should not interpret it to mean that Bhagavan intended to deny that we can do āgāmya while experiencing our prārabdha. All he intended to emphasise was that whatever we experience is predetermined by whatever prārabdha has been allotted to us for the life of our present body.

When Bhagavan said that we have the freedom to turn our mind within to experience ourself as we really are, thereby destroying the ego that now experiences itself as the body and mind that do karma, the obvious implication is that if we are free to turn our attention within to experience only ‘I’, we must also be free not to do so — in other words, we must be free to turn our attention outwards to experience other things. This is how we do āgāmya by misusing our free will.

Whenever we experience anything other than ‘I’, we are experiencing ourself as the ego, the adjunct-mixed ‘I’ that experiences itself as the body and mind that do karma, so we experience whatever karmas are done by that body and mind as if they were done by us, either intentionally or unintentionally. Therefore, actions that are impelled by our prārabdha may seem to us to be actions that we are doing by our free will. To use Devaraja Mudaliar’s example, if it is my prārabdha that I should pick up a fan and fan myself, it will seem to me that I decided to do so of my own free will because I was feeling hot. Thus the doership and volition with which I did that action will mean that it was impelled by not only by my fate but also by my free will, and thus while experiencing that particular piece of prārabdha I will also have done an āgāmya.

However this would apply only to some of the actions that we are impelled to do by our prārabdha, because we experience some such actions as accidents or as things that we did not do intentionally. For example, if it were my prārabdha that I should be asked to carry a valuable antique vase and if I unintentionally dropped it, causing it to shatter, I would experience that action as an accident, in which case while experiencing that particular piece of prārabdha I might not have done an āgāmya.

However, though we can give such hypothetical examples to illustrate the possibility that actions that we do according to our prārabdha may either be also impelled by our free will and thus constitute an āgāmya, or may not be so, we should bear in mind that such examples are intended to be just illustrations of possibilities, and not to imply that we actually have any sure means by which we can ascertain whether or not any particular action that we do is an āgāmya. We cannot and need not ascertain this, and if we try to do so, we will thereby be distracting ourself from our real aim, which is only to ascertain who am I. Trying to ascertain who am I is ātma-vicāra (self-investigation), whereas trying to ascertain anything about the karmas we do is anātma-vicāra (investigation of something that is not ourself).

All we need to understand is that so long as we rise as an ego and thereby experience ourself as a body and mind, we will be constantly driven by our free will (in the form of our likes, dislikes, desires, fears, hopes, aspirations, preferences and so on) to do āgāmya while experiencing our prārabdha, and that therefore the only way to avoid doing any āgāmya and experiencing any prārabdha is to make our ego subside by vigilantly watching it — that is, by being vigilantly self-attentive, trying to experience nothing other than ‘I’ alone.

Regarding Sanjay’s final question about whether perhaps all the actions of our body and speech are entirely predetermined and only our mind is able to act according to its free will, this may seem to be a very neat and convenient way to distinguish actions impelled by our free will from actions impelled by our fate, but there is actually no simple way — in fact no way at all — by which we can distinguish these. The workings of karma are far too complex and subtle to be explicable in term of such a simplistic formula.

The actions of our mind, speech and body are intimately intertwined, and we experience them all as action done by a single ‘I’, our ego. Any volitional action that we do by body or speech is initiated by an action that we do by mind, so our mind is the instrument through which our ego manipulates these other two instruments. Moreover, our ego’s manipulation of our mind and thereby of our speech and body happens seamlessly. When we decide to do any action by body or speech, such as raising our hand or speaking a sentence, we do not experience our mind first deciding to do that action, then telling these instruments to do it, and finally them doing it as a sequential series of actions, but as a single action, as if our mind itself were raising our hand or speaking that sentence by its mere wish to do so.

As Sri Ramana indicated in the note that he wrote for his mother (which I quoted and discussed in The karma theory as taught by Sri Ramana), we are able to make effort either to experience what we are not destined to experience or to avoid experiencing what we are destined to experience. When we make any such effort, our effort does not stop at some imaginary boundary between our mind and our body or speech. If we want to climb a mountain or to pass an exam, we do not suppose that we can do so just by thinking about it: we try by mind, speech and body to do whatever actions may be necessary in order for us experience whatever we want to experience. Our efforts will not succeed if that experience is not part of our prārabdha, but our prārabdha will not restrict our efforts to being made only by our mind and not by our body or speech. The efforts made by our mind to achieve any outward experience are naturally expressed as physical and verbal actions, so āgāmya (action impelled by free will) is done by our ego through all these three instruments: mind, speech and body.

So long as our ego is not entirely subsided, its free will will be active, so it will be constantly driven by its likes, dislikes, hopes, fears, preferences, feelings of obligation and so on, which will impel it to do actions by mind, speech and body, and since those actions are impelled by our free will, they are āgāmya. By such āgāmya we will not be able to change our prārabdha in any way, but since our actions are being driven simultaneously by both fate and free will, we will not be able to distinguish between our prārabdha and our āgāmya.

Since we will inevitably be driven by our free will to do āgāmya so long as our ego is not entirely subsided (and to the extent it is not subsided), the only way to surrender our free will entirely and thereby avoid doing any āgāmya is to make our ego subside, and the only way to make it subside is to attend only to ‘I’. Therefore, to the extent we attend to anything other than ‘I’, our ego will rise and be driven by its free will, thereby doing āgāmya, and to the extent we attend only to ‘I’, our ego will subside and thereby refrain from doing any āgāmya.

Therefore attending to nothing other than ‘I’ is the only means to avoid both doing āgāmya and experiencing prārabdha.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Why did Sri Ramana teach a karma theory?

This article is the second half of my explanation of the first verse of Upadēśa Undiyār, the first half of which I posted in my previous article: The karma theory as taught by Sri Ramana.

According to Sri Ramana, what we should be concerned with is only being and not doing. We need be concerned with karma — that is, with what we do — only to the extent that we should try as far as possible to avoid doing any action that will cause harm (hiṁsā) to any sentient being, but our primary concern should be not with what we do but only with what we are. Therefore we need not investigate karma in any great depth or detail, but should focus all our effort and attention only on investigating the ‘I’ that feels ‘I am doing karma’ or ‘I am experiencing the fruit of karma’. As he says in verse 38 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu:
வினைமுதனா மாயின் விளைபயன் றுய்ப்போம்
வினைமுதலா ரென்று வினவித் — தனையறியக்
கர்த்தத் துவம்போய்க் கருமமூன் றுங்கழலு
நித்தமா முத்தி நிலை.

viṉaimudaṉā māyiṉ viḷaipayaṉ ḏṟuyppōm
viṉaimudalā reṉḏṟu viṉavit — taṉaiyaṟiyak
karttat tuvampōyk karumamūṉ ḏṟuṅkaṙalu
nittamā mutti nilai
.

பதச்சேதம்: வினைமுதல் நாம் ஆயின், விளை பயன் துய்ப்போம். வினைமுதல் ஆர் என்று வினவி தனை அறிய, கர்த்தத்துவம் போய், கருமம் மூன்றும் கழலும். நித்தமாம் முத்தி நிலை.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): viṉaimudal nām āyiṉ, viḷai payaṉ tuyppōm. viṉaimudal ār eṉḏṟu viṉavi taṉai aṟiya, karttattuvam pōy, karumam mūṉḏṟum kaṙalum. nittam-ām mutti nilai.

English translation: If we are the doer of actions, we will experience the resulting fruit. [However] when we know ourself by investigating who is the doer of action, doership will depart and all the three karmas will slip off. [This is] the state of liberation, which is eternal.
The karma theory is conditional, and the condition on which it depends is that we experience ourself as ‘I am doing actions’ and ‘I am experiencing the consequences of my actions’. So long as we experience ourself as an ego, a finite ‘I’ that does actions through mind, speech and body, we will also experience ourself as the experiencer of the fruit of our actions. Without such a sense of doership and experiencership, we could not do any āgāmya or experience any prārabdha, and hence there would be no sañcita. Hence all these three karmas seem to exist only so long as we seem to be an ego — a doer and an experiencer of things other than ourself. Therefore Sri Ramana says that if we know ourself by investigating who am I, this ego who seems to do action, our sense of doership (and experiencership) will cease to exist, and hence along with it all the three karmas (āgāmya, sañcita and prārabdha) will also cease to exist.

That is, the sense of doership and experiencership is integral feature of our ego, because our ego is the illusory adjunct-mixed self-awareness ‘I am this body and mind’, and the nature the body and mind is to do action and experience its fruit. Therefore so long as we experience ourself as an ego, we seem to be bound by the three karmas, but if we experience ourself as we really are by investigating what is this ‘I’ that experiences itself as if it were a body and mind, the illusion that we are bound or affected in any way at all by any karma will be destroyed forever.

Karma is only as real as the ego that does it and experiences its fruit, but if we investigate this ego we will find it to be non-existent (just as we would find an illusory snake to be non-existent if we looked at it carefully and thereby recognised that it was actually only a rope), because what seems to be this ego is actually only the one pure, adjunct-free and hence infinite ‘I’. Therefore, since this ego is just an unreal appearance, all its karma is likewise just an unreal appearance.

Thus according to Sri Ramana karma is not real, and it seems to be real only because we mistake ourself to be an ego, a finite ‘I’ that experiences itself as a body and mind. Karma is therefore not a central concern in his teachings, so the only reason why he discussed karma in the initial verses of Upadēśa Undiyār is that, as I explained in the introduction (which I will post on my website after completing my translation and explanation of this entire text), he wrote it as the essence of the upadēśa that Lord Siva gave to the ritualists in the Daruka forest after subduing their pride. Because they believed that karma alone is paramount, and that there is therefore no God except karma, it was necessary for Lord Siva to teach them that karma does not give fruit except by the ordainment of God, and that (as he says in the next verse of Upadēśa Undiyār) it cannot give liberation.

Therefore, just because Sri Ramana began Upadēśa Undiyār by discussing karma, we should not conclude that the concept of karma is an important part of his teachings. The degree of importance that he gave to karma can be better understood from Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, in which he discusses it only towards the end, namely in verse 38, where he teaches that it is only conditionally real, and that it will cease to appear real if we know ourself by investigating who am I, who seem to do karma.

The reason why he taught the particular karma theory that he did, which he summarised most clearly and emphatically in the note that he wrote for his mother, was to support us in our practice of self-investigation or self-surrender (which in practice is the same as self-investigation, because we can give up our ego only by investigating it). That is, as he clearly indicated in the concluding sentence of that note, ‘ஆகலின் மௌனமாய் இருக்கை நன்று’ (āhaliṉ mauṉamāy irukkai naṉḏṟu), ‘Therefore silently being is good’, the inference we should draw from the karma theory that he taught is that the only correct use we can make of our free will is to try just to be silent, and as he repeatedly emphasised, the only means to be inwardly silent is to attend only to ‘I’.

If we believe that we can by our volitional actions change what we are to experience outwardly, our motivation to try to do so will be reinforced, and hence we will feel less inclined to try to turn our attention within to experience ourself alone and thereby to be silent, whereas if we believe that we cannot by any means change what we are to experience outwardly, our motivation to try to do so will be weakened, and hence we will feel more strongly inclined to try to turn our attention within to experience ourself alone. Therefore the benefit we will derive from accepting the karma theory as taught by Sri Ramana is that it will weaken our outward-going drive and thereby make it easier for us to turn our attention towards ourself, away from all external things (that is, from everything other than ‘I’ alone).

Moreover, since what we are destined to experience is ordained by God, it is not just the fruits of our past actions but a selection of such fruits chosen by him for our own benefit, and hence it is his will. If we believe this, it will be easier for us to accept calmly whatever difficulties or sufferings may occur in our life, trusting that they are according to his all-loving will and hence for our own ultimate benefit. In other words, it will be easier for us to surrender our individual will to his will, and the more we thus surrender our will, the less our ego will be driven to rise and engage itself in volitional actions, and the easier it will therefore be for us to focus our attention on ‘I’ alone.

That is, in ordaining the fruits of our karmas, God is not merely operating a system of reward and punishment, because his ultimate aim is that we should give up the illusion that we are doing karma and experiencing its fruit, which we can do only by experiencing ourself as we really are, thereby merging in him, who is both our source and substance. Though God seems to be something other than ourself so long as we mistakenly experience ourself to be a finite being, he is actually what we really are, so he loves us as his own self, and accordingly wants us to experience the infinite happiness that is our real nature. Therefore he ordains the fruits of our past karmas in whatever way will be most conducive to our spiritual development and to our eventually merging in our source, our real self, which is the ocean of infinite happiness.

For reasons that we considered earlier, the karma theory as taught by Sri Ramana would not work if there were no God to ordain which fruit each karma is to give and when and in what circumstances that fruit is to be experienced. But who or what is this God? As Sri Ramana teaches us in verses 24 and 25 of Upadēśa Undiyār, God is nothing other than our own real self. In other words, he is what we actually are, even though we now experience ourself as if we were a finite ego. However, the nature of our real self is not to do anything but just to be, and not to experience anything other than itself, ‘I am’. How then can God — as our real self — be the ordainer of the fruits of our karmas?

There are two ways in which this question can be answered. One of these two ways is indicated by Sri Ramana in the fifteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:
இச்சா ஸங்கல்ப யத்நமின்றி யெழுந்த ஆதித்தன் சன்னிதி மாத்திரத்தில் காந்தக்கல் அக்கினியைக் கக்குவதும், தாமரை மலர்வதும், நீர் வற்றுவதும், உலகோர் தத்தங் காரியங்களிற் பிரவிருத்தித்து இயற்றி யடங்குவதும், காந்தத்தின் முன் ஊசி சேஷ்டிப்பதும் போல ஸங்கல்ப ரகிதராயிருக்கும் ஈசன் சன்னிதான விசேஷ மாத்திரத்தால் நடக்கும் முத்தொழில் அல்லது பஞ்சகிருத்தியங்கட் குட்பட்ட ஜீவர்கள் தத்தம் கர்மானுசாரம் சேஷ்டித் தடங்குகின்றனர். அன்றி, அவர் ஸங்கல்ப ஸஹித ரல்லர்; ஒரு கருமமு மவரை யொட்டாது. அது லோககருமங்கள் சூரியனை யொட்டாததும், ஏனைய சதுர்பூதங்களின் குணாகுணங்கள் வியாபகமான ஆகாயத்தை யொட்டாததும் போலும்.

icchā-saṅkalpa-yatnam-iṉḏṟi y-eṙunda ādittaṉ saṉṉidhi-māttirattil kānta-k-kal aggiṉiyai-k kakkuvadum, tāmarai malarvadum, nīr vaṯṟuvadum, ulahōr tattaṅ kāriyaṅgaḷil piraviruttittu iyaṯṟi y-aḍaṅguvadum, kāntattiṉ muṉ ūsi cēṣṭippadum pōla saṅkalpa-rahitar-āy-irukkum īśaṉ saṉṉidhāṉa-viśēṣa-māttirattāl naḍakkum muttoṙil alladu pañcakiruttiyaṅgaṭ kutpaṭṭa jīvargaḷ tattam karmāṉucāram cēṣṭit taḍaṅgugiṉḏṟaṉar. aṉḏṟi, avar saṅkalpa-sahitar allar; oru karumam-um avarai y-oṭṭādu. adu lōka-karumaṅgaḷ sūriyaṉai y-oṭṭādadum, ēṉaiya catur-bhūtaṅgaḷiṉ guṇāguṇaṅgaḷ viyāpakam-āṉa ākāyattai y-oṭṭādadum pōlum.

Just as in the mere presence of the sun, which rose without icchā [wish, desire or liking], saṁkalpa [volition or intention] or yatna [effort or exertion], a crystal stone [or magnifying lens] will emit fire, a lotus will blossom, water will evaporate, and people of the world will engage in [or begin] their respective activities, do [those activities] and subside [or cease being active], and [just as] in front of a magnet a needle will move, [so] jīvas [sentient beings], who are caught in [the finite state governed by] muttoṙil [the threefold function commonly attributed to God, namely the creation, sustenance and dissolution of the world] or pañcakṛtyas [the five functions commonly attributed to God, namely creation, sustenance, dissolution, concealment and grace], which happen due to nothing but the special nature of the presence of God, who is saṁkalpa rahitar [one who is devoid of any volition or intention], move [exert or engage in activity] and subside [cease being active, become still or sleep] in accordance with their respective karmas [that is, in accordance not only with their prārabdha karma or destiny, which impels them to do whatever actions are necessary in order for them to experience all the pleasant and unpleasant things that they are destined to experience, but also with their karma-vāsanās, their inclinations or impulses to desire, think, speak and act in particular ways, which impel them to make effort to experience pleasant things and to avoid experiencing unpleasant things]. Nevertheless, he [God] is not saṁkalpa sahitar [one who is connected with or possesses any volition or intention]; even one karma does not adhere to him [that is, he is not bound or affected by any karma or action whatsoever]. That is like world-actions [the actions happening here on earth] not adhering to [or affecting] the sun, and [like] the qualities and defects of the other four elements [earth, water, air and fire] not adhering to the all-pervading space.
That is, since God is our real self, he has no saṁkalpa (volition or intention) and he does not actually do anything but just is, so whatever seems to happen does so in his mere presence and without his volition. Moreover, in his view nothing exists other than himself, so he does not experience or know anything other than ‘I am’, and hence whatever seems to happen in our view does so without his knowledge. Therefore the fruits of our karmas are ordained by the power of his mere presence — that is, by the power of his just being — without either his volition or even his knowledge. This is why Sri Ramana says here, ‘ஒரு கருமமு மவரை யொட்டாது’ (oru karumam-um avarai y-oṭṭādu), ‘even one karma does not adhere to him’. That is, he is not bound or affected by any karma whatsoever, because in his view no karmas exist at all.

Though this is the most accurate explanation of how he ordains the fruits of our karmas, from the perspective of our mind it is not an entirely satisfactory explanation, because we cannot adequately comprehend how by his mere presence and without his knowledge or choice the fruits of our karmas can be ordained in a way that is both morally just and most beneficial for our spiritual development. Moreover, though he is our real self, so long as we experience ourself as an ego, he seems to be something other than ourself, because whereas we seem to be finite and hence bound by numerous limitations, he is infinite and hence unbound by any limitation whatsoever. Not only is his existence infinite, but so also is his knowledge and love. Since he alone truly exists, he experiences and loves everything as himself. In his view ‘everything’ is himself, so it is one and not many, whereas in our view it is manifold, because it includes all the multiplicity and diversity of this world.

Hence, so long as we experience ourself as a finite person, and therefore experience many other finite things that constitute the world as we know it, it is not possible for us to adequately comprehend the absolute oneness, infinity and indivisibility of God, who is our real self. Therefore when we think of God in relation to ourself as a person and to this world of plurality, we cannot but think of him as something that is other than ourself and the world, and since he knows and loves everything as himself, and since in his view there is nothing — and hence no power — that is other than himself, he seems to us to be something that is not only omnipresent but also omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent. Therefore the other way to answer the question how God, being our real self, can be the ordainer of the fruits of our karmas is to explain that it is in his role as a seemingly other, omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent being that he does so.

Being omniscient, he knows what is the most appropriate fruit to ordain for each of our karmas; being omnibenevolent (all-loving), the time and circumstances in which he chooses us to experience each fruit is what is most beneficial for us in the long term (that is, it is what is most conducive to our spiritual development and our eventual liberation from the bonds of finite existence); and being omnipotent, there is no power other than himself that could prevent him from ordaining the fruits of our karmas in accordance with his all-knowing and all-loving will.

However, as a seemingly other, omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent being, God is not absolutely real. As our own essential self and as the one source and ultimate substance that appears as all this world of plurality, he is absolutely real, but so long as he seems to be other than ourself and to have a function to play in whatever we experience in this world (or in any other world, such as any world that we experience in a dream), he is only relatively real. As such, he is no more real than we are as an individual or than the world is as something other than ourself. Just as we as an ego or individual soul (jīva) are merely a kalpana (a fabrication or figment of our imagination), and just as the world is likewise a mere kalpana, so too is God when he is conceived to be a separate entity: an omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent Lord (īśvara) who governs this world and all that we experience in it. As Sri Ramana wrote in the seventh paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:
யதார்த்தமா யுள்ளது ஆத்மசொரூப மொன்றே. ஜக ஜீவ ஈச்வரர்கள், சிப்பியில் வெள்ளிபோல் அதிற் கற்பனைகள். இவை மூன்றும் ஏககாலத்தில் தோன்றி ஏககாலத்தில் மறைகின்றன. சொரூபமே ஜகம்; சொரூபமே நான்; சொரூபமே ஈச்வரன்; எல்லாம் சிவ சொரூபமாம்.

yathārtham-āy uḷḷadu ātma-sorūpam oṉḏṟē. jaga-jīva-īśvarargaḷ, śippiyil veḷḷi pōl adil kaṯpaṉaigaḷ. ivai mūṉḏṟum ēka-kālattil tōṉḏṟi ēka-kālattil maṟaigiṉḏṟaṉa. sorūpam-ē jagam; sorūpam-ē nāṉ; sorūpam-ē īśvaraṉ; ellām śiva sorūpam ām.

What actually exists is only ātma-svarūpa [our own essential self]. The world, soul and God are kalpanas [imaginations, fabrications, mental creations or illusory superimpositions] in it, like [the imaginary] silver [seen] in a shell. These three appear simultaneously and disappear simultaneously. Svarūpa [our ‘own form’ or essential self] alone is the world; svarūpa alone is ‘I’ [our ego, soul or individual self]; svarūpa alone is God; everything is śiva-svarūpa [our essential self, which is śiva, the absolute and only truly existing reality].
Therefore when Sri Ramana says that karmas give fruit according to the ordainment of God, we can conceive of this in either of two ways. Either we can understand that God is nothing other than our own real self, and that as such he does nothing and knows nothing other than himself, ‘I am’, but that since he experiences and loves everything as his own self, by his mere presence or existence within us as our pure adjunct-free ‘I’ our karmas are made to yield appropriate fruit in whatever way is most conducive to us achieving our ultimate goal of merging entirely in him by experiencing ourself as we really are, thereby liberating ourself from the bondage of finite existence. Or we can understand that so long as we experience ourself as a finite ego who does karmas that are either morally righteous or unrighteous, our own infinite real self seems to us to be an omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent God, who as such is other than ourself as an ego, and who knowingly and compassionately ordains our karmas to yield appropriate fruit in whatever way is most conducive to us achieving our ultimate goal of merging entirely in him.

For a spiritual aspirant these two alternative views are complementary, so we need not choose one in preference to the other. The former view accords more closely with what is actually the case, whereas the latter accords more closely with our present experience of ourself as a finite ego. If we view our practice primarily in terms of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), the former view is likely to appeal to us more and may be more conducive to our practice, whereas if we prefer to view our practice more in terms of self-surrender, the latter view may appeal to us more and be more conducive to our practice. But whichever view we prefer, we need not and should not set it against the other view, because karma is only relatively and not absolutely true, so any explanation of the workings of karma must also be only relatively true. In relative terms, the former view may seem to be closer to the absolute truth, but it is nevertheless still relative, because the absolute truth is that there is no karma or anything else other than the one infinite reality (brahman), which alone is what we actually are.

Though Sri Ramana always insisted that God is nothing other than our own real self, he recognised that for most devotees God seems to be something other than themself, and he acknowledged that cultivating love for God as if he were other than ourself can be an effective means to purify our mind and thereby make us fit to recognise that God is actually nothing other than our real self — the pure adjunct-free ‘I am’, which is the only real and essential element in the ego, which is adjunct-mixed and hence confused experience ‘I am this body’. This is why he never discouraged anyone who had dualistic faith in God (belief in God as if he were other than oneself), but at the same time he never insisted that belief in God is necessary. If the concept of God did not appeal to someone, or if anyone expressed any doubts about the existence of God or about the efficacy of his grace, he used to say: ‘Why should you concern yourself with questions about God? You know that you exist, so first investigate and find out what you actually are, and then if necessary you can investigate whether there is any God other than yourself’.

So long as God seems to us to be something other than ourself, he is as real as we are as an ego and as the world is. As Sri Ramana said, our ego, the world and God are all just kalpanas or imaginary fabrications. Therefore God as a seemingly separate entity is as real as our karmas, so as long as our karmas seem to be real, the fact that their fruits are ordained by God is equally real. None of this is absolutely real, but it is as real as the ego that seems to do karma and to experience its fruit. Therefore when Sri Ramana says that our karmas give fruit according to the ordainment of God, he does not intend to imply that the God who has such a function is absolutely real, but only that he is as real as our karmas, which are in turn only as real as our ego, which does them and experiences their fruit.

When he says that karma is jaḍa (non-conscious), we can infer that he means that it is also asat (non-existent), because according to him what really exists must be not only eternal and unchanging but also svayam-prakāśa (self-shining, self-luminous or self-illuminating) — that is, it must experience itself by its own light of consciousness. Anything that does not experience itself seems to exist only in the view of whatever experiences or imagines its existence, namely the ego (which is the subject that experiences, knows, imagines, infers, conceives or thinks of it), so its seeming existence is dependent upon the seeming existence of the ego. Though the ego does experience itself, it is not real as such, because it is a mixture of a self-experiencing (cit) element, namely ‘I’, and various non-experiencing (jaḍa) adjuncts such as the body that it mistakes to be itself (which is why it is described as cit-jaḍa-granthi: the knot that binds together what is conscious with what is not conscious as if they were one). Therefore according to Sri Ramana what is real is only the pure adjunct-free ‘I’, which is why he said in the seventh paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?: ‘யதார்த்தமா யுள்ளது ஆத்மசொரூப மொன்றே’ (yathārtham-āy uḷḷadu ātma-sorūpam oṉḏṟē), ‘What actually exists is only ātma-svarūpa [our own essential self or pure ‘I’]’.

Not only is karma both jaḍa (non-conscious) and asat (non-existent), but so also are the mind, speech and body that do karma, as Sri Ramana explicitly says in verse 22 of Upadēśa Undiyār, in which he lists all the principal adjuncts that we experience as ‘I’, namely the so-called ‘five sheaths’ or pañca-kōśas (the physical body, the life or prāṇa that animates this body, the mind, the intellect and the seeming ‘darkness’ or absence of knowledge that we experience in sleep), and asserts that they are all jaḍa and asat, and hence not ‘I’, because ‘I’ is what is conscious (cit) and what actually exists (sat).

Therefore according to Sri Ramana the ego, the karmas it seems to do, the instruments (the mind, speech and body) through which it seems to do them, and the God who seems to ordain their fruit are all unreal. However, so long as we experience ourself as this ego, it seems to be real, and hence all these other things also seem to be real, so the only means by which we can liberate ourself from the bondage that results from experiencing all such things as if they were real is to investigate ourself and thereby experience ourself as we really are. When we do so, we will destroy the illusion we are this ego, and thus we will destroy the illusion that we are engaged in doing karma and experiencing its fruit or consequences. Until then, karma and its consequences will seem to us to be real and to be a self-perpetuating cycle from which we can never be liberated by doing any karma, as Sri Ramana says in the next verse of Upadēśa Undiyār.