Sunday, 27 November 2016

When the ego seems to exist, other things seem to exist, and when it does not seem to exist, nothing else seems to exist

In several comments on one of my recent articles, The difference between vivarta vāda and ajāta vāda is not just semantic but substantive, a friend called Ken argued that the ego does not exist even in a relative sense, but that vāsanās and other phenomena do exist in a relative sense, though not in an absolute sense. However one of the fundamental principles of Bhagavan’s teaching is that since all phenomena seem to exist only in the view of this ego, they seem to exist only when it seems to exist (as in waking and dream), and when it does not seem to exist (as in sleep) nothing else seems to exist. Therefore in this article I will reply to some of Ken’s comments and try to explain this fundamental principle to him in more detail.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Why does Bhagavan sometimes say that the ātma-jñāni is aware of the body and world?

In the comments on several of my recent articles there has been an ongoing discussion regarding the question of whether or not the ātma-jñāni is aware of the world, because many friends are convinced by Bhagavan’s teachings that all phenomena (second and third persons) seem to exist only in the self-ignorant view of the ego (the first person), and that therefore when the ego is dissolved forever in the clear light of ātma-jñāna (pure self-awareness) no phenomena will seem to exist, whereas other friends seem to believe that even though the ātma-jñāni is nothing but brahman itself, it is still somehow operating through a body and mind and is therefore aware of that body and of the surrounding world. The latter group of friends often cite passages from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi and other records of his oral teachings that seem to support their point of view, and they have even found verses in Guru Vācaka Kōvai and passages in Sadhu Om’s writings that likewise seem to support it.

During the course of this discussion, a friend called Bob wrote a comment on one of my recent articles, The difference between vivarta vāda and ajāta vāda is not just semantic but substantive, in which he cited a passage from The Path of Sri Ramana that had been referred to several times by other friends and remarked ‘Hopefully Michael can shed some light on the deep meaning of this passage for us’, because he conceded that it seems to support the belief that ‘the jnani still experiences the world / multiplicity but experiences everything as itself’, even though his own belief is that ‘the jnani / myself as I really am does not experience the world / body or duality of any kind’, in support of which he cited a translation by Sadhu Om and me of the kaliveṇbā version of verse 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu and a note regarding it from pages 58-9 of Sri Ramanopadesa Noonmalai. Therefore the following is my reply to this comment.

Monday, 21 November 2016

What is the correct meaning of ajāta vāda?

In a comment on my previous article, The difference between vivarta vāda and ajāta vāda is not just semantic but substantive, a friend called Venkat questioned my understanding of the meaning of ajāta vāda, citing something that I wrote in the sixth section of that article, What is unborn (ajāta) is only pure self-awareness, and since it is the infinite whole, nothing else actually exists, namely ‘ajāta vāda is the contention that no creation has ever occurred even as an illusory appearance’, and then arguing:
Michael I think that you might be incorrect in your understanding of the advaitic meaning of ajata vada. I cannot argue with you on what Bhagavan Ramana meant by it.

Gaudapada’s famous ajata verse occurs in the second chapter of his karika. If this verse is taken in context of the verses that precede and follow it, it is clear that Gaudapada does indeed mean that there is no real creation of the world or the jiva, and that both are illusions.

30: This Atman, though non-separate from all these, appears as it were separate. One who knows this truly interprets the meaning of the Vedas without hesitation
31: As are dreams and illusions or a castle in the air seen in the sky, so is the universe viewed by the wise in the Vedanta
32: There is no dissolution, no birth, none in bondage, none aspiring for wisdom, no seeker of liberation and none liberated. This is the absolute truth.
33: This (the Atman) is imagined both as unreal objects that are perceived as the non-duality. The objects are imagined in the non-duality itself. Therefore non-duality alone is the highest bliss.

Sankara’s commentary on v32 is also worth reading, though quite long. Relevant extracts:

“This verse sums up the meaning of the chapter. When duality is perceived to be illusory and Atman alone is known as the sole Reality, then it is clearly established that all our experiences, ordinary or religious, verily pertain to the domain of ignorance.”

“Thus duality being non-different from mental imagination cannot have a beginning or an end . . . Therefore it is established that duality is a mere illusion of the mind. Hence it is well-said that the Ultimate Reality is the absence of destruction, etc, on account of the non-existence of duality (which exists only in the imagination of the mind”.

My understanding is that srsti-drsti vada says first the world is created and then jivas evolve from it thereafter. Then, vivartha vada takes a step back to say that actually the jiva’s perceiving creates the world. And ajata vada then takes a further step back to point out that the jiva itself is an illusion, a superimposition on the atman.
In this article, therefore, I will try to explain more clearly why the correct meaning of ajāta vāda is the contention that no vivarta (illusion or false appearance) has ever been born or come into existence at all.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The difference between vivarta vāda and ajāta vāda is not just semantic but substantive

I wrote my previous article, As we actually are, we do nothing and are aware of nothing other than ourself, in reply to various comments written by a friend called Ken, and in reply to it he wrote another comment in which he argued:
Thank you for your thorough research on these topics, they are a significant aid in understanding Ramana’s teaching.

[…]

Beyond that, it seems to me that we are getting into an area ruled by semantics.

For example, Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character. As such, he “is unreal and never existed”. However, his lack of existence is a semantic one. From our viewpoint, we certainly find a difference between our current world (with at least two different Sherlock Holmes series in production) and an alternative universe where Conan Doyle never invented the character Sherlock Holmes.

In a similar way, we go to sleep and have a dream. When we wake up, we realize that the events in the dream were unreal. “Nothing ever happened”. But we cannot say that our night was the same as a night where we did not dream at all.

And, if we go into the dark garage and mistake the coiled rope for a snake, we can certainly say “the snake is unreal and never existed”. However, there is a difference between going into the garage and immediately recognizing the rope, or else going into the garage and mistakenly seeing the snake. If there were no difference, then Ramana would not have advised, in Ulladu Narpadu 35:

“The subsided mind having subsided, knowing and being the Reality, which is (always) attained, is the (true) attainment (siddhi). [...] (Therefore) know and be (as) you (the Reality) are.”

If there were no difference between seeing the snake and seeing the rope, then he would have said instead:

“The mind is unreal and does not exist, so do not practice self-attention, go home, watch cricket and stop bothering me.”

So, a universe where there was never any appearance of temporary phenomena, never any maya, never any mistaken identification, never any ego... just satchitananda.... is perhaps theologically, metaphysically, and/or philosophically identical to this universe.... but it is not entirely identical, otherwise Ramana would have never answered Pillai’s question of “Who Am I?”.

The Advaita Vedanta standard of “real” and “exists” is very meaningful — it tells us what is important. But if we use it in all contexts, we end up with “Neo-Advaita”, i.e. “Nothing ever happened, the ego never existed, so go home and watch T.V., that will be $50, thanks.”

In Path of Sri Ramana, Sadhu Om is careful to apply absolute metaphysical standards to theology and philosophy, but not otherwise. For example, he stated:

“The sole cause of all miseries is the mistake of veiling ourself by imagining these sheaths to be ourself, even though we are ever this existence-consciousness-bliss (sat-chit-ananda).”

This is similar to my statement quoted from 9 September 2016:

“Because there is nothing other than the Self, so there is nothing that can force the Self to do anything. The Self is alone, so it decides to “veil” itself and limit itself as a multitude of ‘individuals’. This is the Lila, the play.”

The Upanishads, Shankara and Ramana all agree that there is nothing other than the Self. So, there cannot be anything that forces the Self to do anything.

Sadhu Om characterizing veiling as a “mistake”, while I characterize it as a “decision”. Well, certainly those two things are compatible. Plenty of decisions are found to be mistakes (such as deciding to drive when you have drunk far too much alcohol).

Before the “veiling”, there was no ego, so Sadhu Om can only be referring to the Self as the one who veils.
Therefore in this article I will try to explain to Ken why these arguments of his do not adequately address the issue I was discussing in my previous article, namely the confusion that arises if we believe that our actual self veils itself and sees itself as numerous phenomena.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

As we actually are, we do nothing and are aware of nothing other than ourself

In several comments on one of my recent articles, What is the ‘self’ we are investigating when we try to be attentively self-aware?, a friend called Ken wrote:
Note that the Self is what is watching the movie [...] (4 September 2016 at 17:45)

[...] the ego is actually the Self in another form. (4 September 2016 at 23:27)

The Self is God [...] The Lila (play) of the Self (Brahman/Atman) is that it “veils” itself so it itself thinks it is limited. As “veiled”, it is watching the movie. When it decides to stop watching the movie, and the lights go on, it then sees it is actually the Self. Hence “Self-” “realisation”, i.e. realizing that it is the Self. (5 September 2016 at 04:16)

The ego stops giving attention to “2nd person and 3rd person”, i.e. sense perceptions and thoughts. The Self sees this and if it is convinced of complete sincerity, then it terminates the ego (this is the “action of Grace performed by the Self” according to Ramana — paraphrased). [...] since the Self IS your own basic awareness, then it is entirely aware of everything you have ever thought, said or done. (5 September 2016 at 04:26)

The Self (atman) is: The present moment [and] That which is looking. (7 September 2016 at 03:26)

This is what is called “The Play of Consciousness” (lila in Sanskrit). [...] The Self makes the “mistake” of identifying with a character in the world. (8 September 2016 at 02:09)

The Self definitely wants to see the movie, otherwise the movie would not even exist. (8 September 2016 at 17:49)

Because there is nothing other than the Self, so there is nothing that can force the Self to do anything. The Self is alone, so it decides to “veil” itself and limit itself as a multitude of “individuals”. This is the Lila, the play. (9 September 2016 at 00:04)
Ken, in these remarks you have attributed properties of our ego (and also properties of God) to ‘the Self’, which is ourself as we actually are, so in this article I will try to clarify that our actual self does not do anything and is neither aware of nor in any other way affected by the illusory appearance of our ego and all its projections, which seem to exist only in the self-ignorant view of ourself as this ego.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

An explanation of the first ten verses of Upadēśa Undiyār

For nearly five years I have been editing notes I made in 1977 and 78 of useful ideas and explanations that I heard Sadhu Om telling me or other friends, and since April 2012 these have been serialised in each issue of The Mountain Path under the title ‘The Paramount Importance of Self-Attention’. Since the notes I made at that time were intended just to remind myself of some of the explanations Sadhu Om gave, they are too sketchy to publish as they are, so I have had to edit and elaborate them in order to make them more understandable and to represent more faithfully and in more detail the type of explanations and clarifications he used to give, so while editing them I have freely drawn on my memory of what he would generally say about each subject. Therefore the final edited form in which my notes are published in The Mountain Path does not record the exact words of Sadhu Om, but it does convey reasonably faithfully ideas that I remember him frequently expressing.

Recently while preparing the next instalment for the January 2017 issue I came across the notes I had made on 19th August 1978 of an explanation that Sadhu Om had given about the first ten verses of Upadēśa Undiyār, but as usual my notes were not very detailed and I could see that in some respects I had not accurately recorded what he used to explain about each of those verses, so I had to edit and elaborate them in order to convey what I remember him explaining about them on various occasions. Since in its final edited form this portion of my notes conveys quite clearly what he often used to explain about these verses, I decided to reproduce it here:

Thursday, 6 October 2016

God is not actually the witness of anything but the real substance underlying and supporting the illusory appearance of the witness and of everything witnessed by it

A friend wrote to me recently and asked me whether ‘the witnessing or observing consciousness within’ is the same as the ultimate ‘I’, referring in particular to the clause ‘he [God] exists within us as the witness of all our thoughts’ in the following passage of one of my earlier articles, Dhyāna-p-Paṭṭu: The Song on Meditation:
In accordance with this important teaching of Sri Ramana in verse 8 of Upadēśa Undiyār, in this song Sri Sadhu Om gently weans the minds of those who may consider God to be other than what they experience as ‘I’ away from that idea, firstly by emphasising that his real form is suddha-mauna-cit or ‘pure silent consciousness’ (verse 3); secondly by implying that he is the ‘one blissful substance’ that exists within our heart and that we can experience by seeking it with love (verse 4); thirdly by saying that only after we experience him within ourself will we be able to experience that everything that exists is him (verse 5); and fourthly by saying that he exists within us as the witness of all our thoughts, and that he will appear clearly within us only where and when all our thoughts subside (verse 6).
The following is what I wrote in reply to her question:

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Why does the term ‘I am’ refer not just to our ego but to what we actually are?

In a comment on my previous article, ‘I am’ is the reality, ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that’ is the ego, a friend called Mouna raised several objections to what I had written in it, so in this article I will try to reply to his objections.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

‘I am’ is the reality, ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that’ is the ego

In a comment on my previous article, What is the ‘self’ we are investigating when we try to be attentively self-aware?, a friend called Viveka Vairagya quoted an extract from chapter 99 of I am That in which it is recorded that Nisargadatta Maharaj said, ‘Relax and watch the ‘I am’. Reality is just behind it’, which prompted another friend who wrote under the pseudonym ‘Extremely Simple’ to ask, ‘But why should reality be “just behind the ‘I am’”?’

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

What is the ‘self’ we are investigating when we try to be attentively self-aware?

In a comment that he wrote today on my previous article, Is it incorrect to say that ātma-vicāra is the only direct means by which we can eradicate our ego?, a friend called Viveka Vairagya wrote:
You say self-enquiry is nothing but “attentive self-awareness”. I get the “attentive” and “awareness” parts. I don’t get the “self” part coz all I am aware of now is my body and thoughts, including the “I-thought”. So, do you mean I should be attending to the awareness of “I-thought”? That could make sense coz it is kinda attending to the snake (I-thought) and finding lo and behold that it is a rope (self). So, why then don’t you say self-enquiry is “attentive I-thought-awareness”? I hope my doubt makes sense.
The following is my answer to this:

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Is it incorrect to say that ātma-vicāra is the only direct means by which we can eradicate our ego?

I began to write this article this morning as a comment in reply to one written by a friend called Roger on my previous article, Why is it so necessary for us to accept without reservation the fundamental principles of Bhagavan’s teachings?, but since my reply ran to more than two thousand words, I decided to post it as this article instead. The comment that I reply to here is the latest of many in which Roger argued that it is wrong for me and others to say that ātma-vicāra is the only direct means by which we can eradicate our ego, because he believes that making such a claim is egotistical and competitive, so my aim here is to explain why I believe that we are justified in making this claim on the basis of the fundamental principles of Bhagavan’s teachings.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Why is it so necessary for us to accept without reservation the fundamental principles of Bhagavan’s teachings?

In a comment on my previous article, The observer is the observed only when we observe ourself alone, a friend called Sivanarul wrote: ‘Only in things pertaining to phenomenal world, one can say there is a direct or indirect method that applies to everyone (For example, reaching from point A from point B). In the spiritual journey, there is no direct or indirect method that applies to everyone. The very usage of direct or indirect is simply a play of the ego that has assumed a spiritual identity and to satisfy its need for superiority, it must label its method as the “direct” method. (Jnanis and/or saints saying that, is very different, since they are promoting the way they attained the goal in this life. Also when they promote it, they are very careful to tailor the promotion based on the seeker)’. This article is my answer to these contentious ideas.

Monday, 1 August 2016

The observer is the observed only when we observe ourself alone

In a recent comment on one of my earlier articles, ‘Observation without the observer’ and ‘choiceless awareness’: Why the teachings of J. Krishnamurti are diametrically opposed to those of Sri Ramana, a friend called Zubin wrote:
I read a lot of Krishnamurti when younger, and I do agree that his approach may have been unnecessarily complicated.

Krishnamurti focused on self-exploration of one’s mind. If you are angry, dissect it to find out what is deeper than it, etc. In effect, you would be looking at all the little adjuncts of the ego to see each one as false.

But ultimately, Krishnamurti’s main theme was “The Observer is the Observed”, which he repeated frequently.

So, in that sense, there is no difference in Krishnamurti’s ultimate teaching and Ramana’s. When you do self-enquiry you are Self looking at Self. When you are looking at the feeling of I AM, the looker is also that same I AM feeling, or, in other words, the observer is the observed.
The following is my reply to him:

Sunday, 17 July 2016

If we are able to be steadily self-attentive, where do we go from here?

A friend wrote to me explaining how he is practising self-investigation and asked, ‘Where do I go from here?’ The following is what I wrote in reply to him.

When you write, ‘I seem to be “witnessing” or aware of the I am thought all the time now’, what exactly do you mean by ‘the I am thought’? The reason I ask is that people tend to objectify everything, so some people assume that the I-thought is some sort of object that one can watch, but the term ‘I-thought’ is just another name for the ego, which is not an object but the subject, the one who is aware of all objects. Therefore what we need to watch or ‘witness’ is not any object but only ourself, the subject (the ego or thought called ‘I’).

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Asparśa yōga is the practice of not ‘touching’ or attending to anything other than oneself

In a comment on my previous article, Names and forms are all just thoughts, so we can free ourself from them only by investigating their root, our ego, a friend called Roger cited extracts from two verses of Māṇḍūkya Kārikā, namely 3.44 and 3.46, saying that the practice Gaudapada describes in them is similar to what he is practising, and after writing some reflections on this practice he invited me or anyone else to comment on what he had written, so this article is my response to his invitation and is therefore addressed to him.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Names and forms are all just thoughts, so we can free ourself from them only by investigating their root, our ego

A friend recently sent me a long email in which she began by saying, ‘The ego generates words in consciousness. The ego presents in consciousness as streams of words which form the so-called “stream of consciousness”’, and then went on to express her reflections on this idea, saying for example, ‘We all know how the mind races at times with endless streams of words which form thoughts of countless subjects, fears, hopes, memories, etc.’, and ‘Language forms words into thoughts, objects, events, time, space, memories, etc. creating the dream of a populated earth in a vast universe’, and she explained how she tries to apply such ideas in her practice of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra). The following article is my reply to her.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

When can there be total recognition that the world is unreal?

A friend recently wrote to me, ‘Could you tell me whether realisation would be like deep sleep with no world present or would there still be a world but with total recognition that it is unreal. I feel driven to understand but seem to be going round in circles’, to which I replied:

Sunday, 19 June 2016

What is ‘the I-feeling’, and do we need to be ‘off the movement of thought’ to be aware of it?

In a comment on one of my recent articles, How to attend to ourself?, a friend called Viveka Vairagya wrote, ‘I think I have finally been able to figure out the I-feeling or “I am” feeling. It seems to be nothing but the inner sense of awareness (or consciousness or being)/self-awareness one has when one is off the movement of thought, correct?’ There are several points in this statement that need to be clarified, so this article is addressed to Viveka Vairagya and will seek to provide more clarity on this subject.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Can our mind be too strong for our actual self to dissolve it completely?

In a comment on one of my recent articles, We can separate ourself permanently from whatever is not ourself only by attending to ourself alone, a friend called Viswanathan cited an extract from an interview in which David Godman said, “This is a key part of Bhagavan’s teachings: the Self can only destroy the mind when the mind no longer has any tendency to move outwards. While those outward-moving tendencies are still present, even in a latent form, the mind will always be too strong for the Self to dissolve it completely”. Citing the final sentence from this statement an anonymous friend wrote another comment in which he asked: “David Godman, did you say ‘mind stronger than the Self’? I can’t get this. Is ‘the Self’ (our essential self) waiting for the mind to grow weaker so that it can dissolve it completely? How then was the partial dissolution taking place till then? Further, why did not the mind, while strong, dissolve ‘the Self’, if it all boils down to strong dissolving weak?” Since I doubt whether David would have read these questions, in this article I will reply on his behalf, though I may do so in somewhat different terms than he would.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Why should we rely on Bhagavan to carry all our burdens, both material and spiritual?

In a comment on my previous article, What is the logic for believing that happiness is what we actually are?, a friend called Sandhya wrote, “I remember reading in some book, where Bhagavan said, ‘don’t take all the burden on yourself, but transform all that to God’ using train/luggage carried by us analogy. If all the burden was created by the ego and if God is aware of not the ego nor the burden, how can one rely on God to carry the burden?”, so this article is my reply to her.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

What is the logic for believing that happiness is what we actually are?

In a comment on my previous article, How to attend to ourself?, a friend called Sundar referred to my reply to his previous comment and wrote, ‘You have not explained the logic by which you say that we can get infinite peace and happiness when we manage to be attentively aware of ourself alone’, and regarding Bhagavan’s argument that we can understand that happiness is our real nature because in sleep we are perfectly happy just being aware of nothing other than ourself, he objected, ‘I can only be certain of having had a sleep with dreams. Because I can recall some of these dreams in the morning. But, I can not be sure of even having had a dreamless sleep. Hence, I can not speak of a ‘perfectly happy’ time during the dreamless sleep’. This article is therefore addressed to him in reply to this comment of his.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

How to attend to ourself?

In a comment on my previous article, We can separate ourself permanently from whatever is not ourself only by attending to ourself alone, a friend called Chinmay Shah wrote, ‘I just wanted to know some practical methods/techniques by which one can attend to the self. I have read the 7th & 8th chapter of Path of Ramana - part 1, & understood that self attention is indeed the only way towards being SELF. But it would be really helpful, if some simple practical methods/techniques are given wherein any one who reads all this can really pay attention to the SELF practically’, so this article is addressed to him in reply to this.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

We can separate ourself permanently from whatever is not ourself only by attending to ourself alone

In a recent comment on one of my old articles, Ātma-vicāra and the ‘practice’ of nēti nēti, a friend called Roger tried to explain why he considers that ātma-vicāra (self-investigation) and nēti nēti (which literally means ‘not thus, not thus’, ‘not so, not so’ or ‘not like this, not like this’, and which is generally considered to be the practice of meditating on the idea that the body, mind and other adjuncts that we mistake to be ourself are not ourself) are both ‘entirely valid and have the same potential’, and that nēti nēti is ‘one method of keeping attention fixed on “I”’, one among ‘multiple other such methods’, so this article is my reply to him.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

The ego is the thinker, not the act of thinking

In a comment on my previous article, The person we seem to be is a form composed of five sheaths, a friend called Ann Onymous wrote, ‘Ego is the very thinking that there is, or even seems to be an ego’, but this is confusing an action with the actor, mistaking the former (the thinking) to be the latter (the thinker). Thinking that there is an ego or that there is no ego, that it actually exists or just seems to exist, or thinking any other thought about it or about anything else cannot be the ego, because thinking is an action, whereas the ego is the thinker, the one who does that action.

If the ego were the act of thinking, we could investigate it simply by observing our thinking, which is obviously not the case. To investigate this ego we must ignore all thinking and observe only the thinker, the one who is aware of thinking and of the thoughts produced by thinking. Therefore it is necessary for us to clearly distinguish the thinker from its thinking, and also from whatever it thinks.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

The person we seem to be is a form composed of five sheaths

In a pair of comments that I wrote in reply to some other comments on my previous article, Self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) entails nothing more than just being persistently and tenaciously self-attentive, I explained:
What is a person? It is a set of phenomena centred around a particular body, and it has both physical and mental features. Though its physical and mental features change over time, however extreme those changes may be we identify it as the same person because it is the same body that displays those changing features. It starts its life as a baby, and it may end it as an old man or woman, but throughout its life and in spite of all its changes it is the same person. As we all know, there seem to be many people in this world, and each of them seem to be sentient, but what makes them seem to be so?

Friday, 8 April 2016

Self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) entails nothing more than just being persistently and tenaciously self-attentive

In a comment on my previous article, Why is it necessary to make effort to practise self-investigation (ātma-vicāra)?, a friend called Pachaiamman referred to the first section of it, We must practise ātma-vicāra for as long as it takes to destroy all our viṣaya-vāsanās (in which I had cited extracts from the sixth, tenth and eleventh paragraphs of Nāṉ Yār?), and asked:
May I give a short description what happens in my poor experience of practising self-investigation in the following passage: The attentiveness with which one investigates what one is has to be accomplished by the ego. The ego is a bundle of thoughts. So attentiveness is also a thought. The attentive thought ‘who am I’ is entrusted to try to extinguish/erase other rising thoughts and simultaneously or after that to investigate to whom they have occurred. It is clear that it is to me. By further investigation ‘who am I’, I do not clearly recognize if the mind subsided or returned to its birthplace, that is myself. Because the same (my) attentiveness has to manage to refuse the spreading/developing of other thoughts (without giving room [place/field] to other thoughts) and rather eliminate them, other thoughts are on my mind well waiting for refusal of their completion. Thus I am far away from grabbing the opportunity that the thought ‘who am I’ itself is destroyed in the end (like the fire-stir-stick). What is wrong in my strategy or where I am on the wrong track?
The following is my reply to this:

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Why is it necessary to make effort to practise self-investigation (ātma-vicāra)?

In two comments on one of my recent articles, Why should we believe what Bhagavan taught us?, a friend who writes under the pseudonym ‘Viveka Vairagya’ quoted extracts from the teachings of HWL Poonja (who is referred to as ‘Papaji’ by his devotees) as recorded on the Satsang with Papaji website, in both of which he expressed ideas that directly contradict the teachings of Bhagavan. In one of these extracts Poonja said regarding sleep, ‘This is a dull state because there is no awareness at all so you may not recognize it. In deep sleep you forget yourself completely’, which contradicts what Bhagavan taught us about sleep, as I explained in the fourteenth and fifteenth sections of my previous article, We are aware of ourself while asleep, so pure self-awareness alone is what we actually are, and in both of these extracts he contradicted in several ways what Bhagavan taught us about the practice of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), as I will explain in this article.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

We are aware of ourself while asleep, so pure self-awareness alone is what we actually are

In many of my articles in this blog, including my most recent one, The role of logic in developing a clear, coherent and uncomplicated understanding of Bhagavan’s teachings (particularly in sections six and twelve), I have written about Bhagavan’s teaching that we are aware of ourself while asleep, but it is such a crucial aspect of his teachings that I do not hesitate to write about it repeatedly, because it is a concept that many people seem to have difficulty grasping, and because thinking about it deeply and understanding it clearly is an extremely valuable aid to us in our practice of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra). In fact, until we are able to recognise clearly that we are aware of ourself even when we are aware of nothing else whatsoever, as in sleep, while trying to investigate ourself we will not be able to distinguish our fundamental self-awareness from our awareness of all other things, including our body and mind.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

The role of logic in developing a clear, coherent and uncomplicated understanding of Bhagavan’s teachings

In my previous article, Why should we believe what Bhagavan taught us?, particularly in the first nine sections, I discussed the logic that he used in order to explain to us why we should believe the fundamental principles of his teachings, which prompted several friends to write comments asking for further clarification or expressing their own views about this subject. Therefore in this article I will start in the first five sections by reproducing and expanding upon the replies that I wrote to such comments written by a friend called Wittgenstein, and then in the next seven sections I will reply to two of the comments written by another friend called Venkat.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Why should we believe what Bhagavan taught us?

In a comment on my previous article, Why do I believe that ātma-vicāra is the only direct means by which we can eradicate the illusion that we are this ego?, a friend called Maya explained why he was not convinced by what I wrote in it, so this article started off as a reply to some of the ideas he expressed in that comment. However when I began to discuss the logical reasons that Bhagavan gave us to explain why we should believe the fundamental principles of his teachings, this led to a series of reflections on aspects of his teachings that Maya did not refer to, so this article has developed into being more than just a direct reply to what he wrote in his comment.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Thought of oneself will destroy all other thoughts

In a comment on my previous article, Is there more than one way in which we can investigate and know ourself?, a friend called Venkat wrote:
Given that the ego/mind is non-existent, and just a thought that pass across the screen of consciousness, what is it that choose to be attentively self-aware? Pure consciousness just is, and the body/mind/world are just thoughts/perceptions that flow across that screen. So the thought to be attentively self-aware is just another thought on that screen. I am struggling what is it that then directs attention. Apologies if I’m not being very clear.
When I read this comment, I noted it as one that I should reply to, but it soon led to a thread of more than thirty comments in which other friends responded to and discussed what he had written, so in this article (which has eventually grown into an extremely long one) I will reply both to this comment and to a few of the ideas expressed in other comments in that thread, and also to many later comments on that article that were not directly connected to what Venkat had written but that are nevertheless relevant to this crucial subject of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra).

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Is there more than one way in which we can investigate and know ourself?

A friend recently sent me an email in which he asked:
I had mentioned to you that in my view there appear to be three different approaches to self-investigation, i) self-enquiry, which involves asking who am I and going to the root of the I thought, ii) meditating on I am, excluding the arising of any thought, and concentrating on I am, and iii) trying to notice the gap between two thoughts, expanding the gap, and being without any thought, summa iru. You had replied that these are not three different approaches but constitute only one approach. Could you please elaborate your comment?
This article is adapted from the reply that I wrote to him.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Sleep is our natural state of pure self-awareness

In the first comment on my previous article, What happens to our mind in sleep?, an anonymous friend wrote: ‘It cannot be correct that we experience ourselves in sleep and mind is absent. If that were true, everyone is realized during sleep. And once realized, he does not come back to the world. That is why it is said that the mind is in the dormant state. The I thought exists in its primitive form’.

As this anonymous friend wrote, this seemingly common sense reasoning is why it is generally said that our mind or ego exists in sleep in a dormant condition (known as the kāraṇa śarīra or ānandamaya kōśa), but such reasoning oversimplifies the issue, failing to recognise not only some important nuances but also some fairly obvious flaws in its own arguments. Let us therefore consider this issue in greater depth in order to see whether we can understand Bhagavan’s teachings in this regard more clearly.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

What happens to our mind in sleep?

A couple of months ago a friend called Vilcomayo wrote a comment on one of my earlier articles, Our memory of ‘I’ in sleep, in which he or she asked, ‘what exactly means “absence of the mind” in sleep? In a state in which our mind is/was absent or subsided, does/did the mind “go” to any other place or does/did it rather subside in its source?’, and today he or she wrote another comment reminding me about this question.

Before replying to this question I would first like to apologise to Vilcomayo for not replying earlier. I receive so many questions by email and in comments on this blog that I am unfortunately not able to reply to all of them immediately, and if I cannot reply to any of them soon enough they tend to join the large backlog of hundreds of questions that I have not yet had time to reply to and may never have time to do so. Therefore, Vilcomayo, you are perfectly justified in reminding me about your question, and I apologise not only to you but also to all the other friends whose questions I have not been able to reply to yet.

What happens to our mind in sleep is not actually an easy question to answer, because it is a question asked from the perspective of waking or dream, the two states in which this mind seems to exist, about sleep, which is the state in which it does not seem to exist. According to Bhagavan the mind does not actually exist even when it seems to exist, so the correct answer is that nothing happens to the mind in sleep, because there is no mind to which anything could ever happen.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

The logic underlying the practice of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra)

In a comment on my previous article, Self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) is just the simple practice of trying to be attentively self-aware, an anonymous friend asked, ‘Does this practice work?’ and went on to explain why he or she asked this question, saying, ‘There are so many Gurus each offering a unique method — a method that might have worked for them. The real question is does it work for others? Michael, from your writings I gather you have been practicing this for more than two decades (?). What is your realization so far? Have you been able to achieve what Bhagavan describes? Honestly, if the answer is no, then I will be very skeptical of this method’.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) is just the simple practice of trying to be attentively self-aware

This article is adapted from the replies that I wrote to two emails written by a friend called Ladislav asking for advice on how to practise self-investigation (ātma-vicāra).

First reply

In his first email Ladislav wrote:
My issue: still I can’t feel ‘I’ or my self. I also tried to repeat in my mind the word ‘I’ or ‘I am’, but still I have not succeeded (i.e. I don’t feel anything other than before. I don’t feel myself). I don’t look for sensation but I seek sense of self. Please can you advise me, what do I do to know feeling self?
In reply to this I wrote:

When you say ‘I can’t feel I’, are there two ‘I’s, one of which cannot feel the other? Are you not always just one ‘I’? Are you not always self-aware? Are you not always aware that ‘I am’? There is nothing more to know than this.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Why is it necessary to be attentively self-aware, rather than just not aware of anything else?

A friend recently wrote to me asking:
I have a question if attention has to be drawn (intentionally) to the self, or is it enough if I just remain as I am, surrendering the filthy ego to God? No “fixing the mind into self”, nor “looking for the source” or “I-thought”, but just remaining?
I wrote a brief reply, and he replied asking some further questions, so this article is adapted from the two replies I wrote to him.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

We ourself are what we are looking for

A friend wrote to me recently:
I am still struggling with understanding the concept of ‘Who am I’. Am I looking for that which existed before my body and mind came into this existence, i.e. emptiness/fullness etc.? Do I explore the personal ‘I’ and from where it arose? I understand that I am that source from which the body came into the dream but when I explore it there is nothing there and I cannot feel the love that is supposed to be the real me. Also why is the dream of life so unpleasant when it has come from a source of love? What is the point of the dream? I find it frightening and I worry so much about the animals/the environment and I feel such pain. Why would the self create such a dream?
In reply I wrote:

Yes, we are looking for that which existed before our body and mind came into existence, but that exists not only then but also now and always, because it is what we actually are, so since we cannot go back in time we must find it here and now.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Self-knowledge is not a void (śūnya)

In a comment on one of my recent articles, The term nirviśēṣa or ‘featureless’ denotes an absolute experience but can be comprehended conceptually only in a relative sense, a friend called Bob asked several questions concerning the idea of a void, blank or nothingness and expressed his fear of such an idea. He started by asking why all we can now remember about what we experienced in deep sleep is a blank, or rather why we cannot remember anything at all except that we existed, and he suggested, ‘Is this because the illusory dualistic knowing consciousness [our mind or ego] cannot conceive the real non-dual being consciousness[?]’. He then went on to say, ‘I would be lying to you if I said that surrendering myself […] isn’t scary. It is very scary as I am scared of dissolving into the unknown. It is like letting go of the cliff and falling into nothingness, the complete unknown … the cold empty void’, but then asked, ‘is it more accurate to say that myself as I really am, the infinite non dual being consciousness that experiences everything as itself, is not a mere blank void or cold nothingness but is just a reality completely beyond the conceptualisation of my limited dualistic egoic mind[?]’, and added, ‘This seems to make letting go less scary as I am not falling into a cold empty void at all’.

To clarify what he was trying to express he also asked several other questions such as ‘is it right to say the non-dual infinite being consciousness is not a blank void of nothingness, it is just a reality beyond what the limited mind can understand so it appears a blank when tried to be recollected from the illusory dualistic waking state[?]’ and ‘is it right to say when I experience myself as I really am with perfect clarity of self-awareness this previous seeming blank empty nothingness / void I once linked to deep sleep will now be the one true reality as waking & dream would have dissolved into it and the deep sleep state will now be all there ever was / has been[?] The veil of lack of clarity would have been lifted for ever’, before finally expressing his hope that ‘this once seeming cold empty blank void perception of the deep sleep state will not be so but in contrast it will be a reality of pure bliss ... pure happiness of being where I experience everything as myself .. it won’t be cold empty void at all’.

This article is therefore an attempt to reassure Bob that the experience of true self-knowledge is not as scary as it may seem, and that it is something way beyond any idea that our finite mind may have of it.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

What is meditation on the heart?

In a comment on one of my recent articles, By attending to our ego we are attending to ourself, a friend called Viswanathan quoted the following passage from chapter 13 of Reflections on Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi by S. S. Cohen:
Now we turn to the positive side of the question, whether meditation on the Heart is possible. Bhagavan declares it to be possible, but not in the form of investigation, as it is done when the ‘I’ is the subject. Meditation on the Heart must be a special meditation, provided the meditator takes the Heart to be pure consciousness and has at least, an intuitive knowledge of what pure consciousness is. Only that meditation succeeds which has this intuitive knowledge, and is conducted with the greatest alertness, so that the moment thoughts cease, the mind perceives itself in its own home — the Heart itself. This is certainly more difficult to do than to investigate into the source of the ‘I’, because it is a direct assault on, rather direct contact with, the very source itself. It is no doubt the quickest method, but it exacts the greatest alertness and the most concentrated attention, denoting a greater adhikara (maturity).
This passage is the later half of Cohen’s commentary on the following passage from section 131 of Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi (2006 edition, page 119):
D.: There are said to be six organs of different colours in the chest, of which the heart is said to be two finger-breadths to the right of the middle line. But the Heart is also formless. Should we then imagine it to have a shape and meditate on it?

M.: No. Only the quest “Who am I?” is necessary. What remains all through deep sleep and waking is the same. But in waking there is unhappiness and the effort to remove it. Asked who wakes up from sleep you say ‘I’. Now you are told to hold fast to this ‘I’. If it is done the eternal Being will reveal Itself. Investigation of ‘I’ is the point and not meditation on the heart-centre. There is nothing like within or without. Both mean either the same thing or nothing.

Of course there is also the practice of meditation on the heart-centre. It is only a practice and not investigation. Only the one who meditates on the heart can remain aware when the mind ceases to be active and remains still; whereas those who meditate on other centres cannot be so aware but infer that the mind was still only after it becomes again active.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

‘That alone is tapas’: the first teachings that Sri Ramana gave to Kavyakantha Ganapati Sastri

In the comments on one of my recent articles, Can we experience what we actually are by following the path of devotion (bhakti mārga)?, a friend argued that self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) is a two-stage process, and though I tried to explain in my latest article, Trying to distinguish ourself from our ego is what is called self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), that it is actually a single seamless process with no distinct stages, various friends have continued discussing this idea, and at one point this discussion branched off into a discussion about the reliability of what is recorded in the ‘Talks’ section of Sat-Darshana Bhashya, which prompted me to explain (here, here and here) why I generally do not consider anything written or recorded by Kavyakantha Ganapati Sastri or Kapali Sastri to be reliable.

Since discussion of these two separate subjects continued side by side for a while, in one comment a friend called Wittgenstein suggested that it would be useful to consider the first teaching that Bhagavan gave to Kavyakantha in order to see whether he gave any indication at that time that ātma-vicāra is a two-stage process. Wittgenstein concluded that there was no such indication, but asked me to correct him if he had drawn any wrong conclusions from that teaching, so this article is written in reply to him.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Trying to distinguish ourself from our ego is what is called self-investigation (ātma-vicāra)

In a comment on one of my earlier articles, Can we experience what we actually are by following the path of devotion (bhakti mārga)?, a friend called Shiba wrote about the practice of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) as if it consists of two distinct stages, saying that to ‘concentrate on I-thought is preliminary stage’ and that the next stage is ‘real atma-vichara’, which begins ‘when our minds are fixed in Self’. In reply to this I wrote a comment in which I said:
Shiba, when you write in your first comment, “Atma is true Self. To fix attention on I-thought leads to Atma. Real atma-vichara begin when our minds are fixed in Self. I-thought is best clue to reach Atma and begin real atma-vichara. To concentrate on I-thought is preliminary stage and when other thoughts disappear and I-thought go back to the source (Atma), the next stage, real atma-vichara begin. I think those who can graduate from the preliminary stage are rare. I don’t know when I can graduate from the preliminary stage...”, you imply that ātma-vicāra consists of two distinct stages, and that only the second of these is ‘real atma-vichara’, but this is not actually the case.

Ātma-vicāra does not consist of any distinct stages, because it is a single process in which our self-attentiveness is progressively refined until we experience nothing other than ourself alone. Moreover ātman is ourself as we really are, whereas our ego or ‘I-thought’ is ourself as we now seem to be, so these are not two distinct things, but only one thing appearing differently. Since what we now experience as ourself is only our ego or ‘I-thought’ (which is a confused mixture of ourself and adjuncts), when we investigate ourself we are investigating ourself in the form of this ego, but as we focus our attention or awareness more and more keenly and exclusively on ourself, our ego subsides more and more, until eventually it will vanish in pure self-awareness, which is ourself as we really are (our real ātman).

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

What is cidābhāsa, the reflection of self-awareness?

In a comment on one of my recent articles, Can we experience what we actually are by following the path of devotion (bhakti mārga)?, an anonymous friend quoted a translation of verses 8 and 9 from Ātma-Vicāra Patikam (a song of eleven verses composed by Sri Sadhu Om about self-investigation, which is the first appendix in Sādhanai Sāram). What he wrote in verse 9 is:
நானெதென் றாய வஃது நலிவதற் கேதே தென்றால்
நானெனு மக விருத்தி ஞானத்தின் கிரண மாகும்
நானெனுங் கிரணத் தோடே நாட்டமுட் செல்லச் செல்ல
நானெனுங் கிரண நீள நசித்துநான் ஞான மாமே.

nāṉedeṉ ḏṟāya vaḵdu nalivadaṟ kēdē deṉḏṟāl
nāṉeṉu maha virutti ñāṉattiṉ kiraṇa māhum
nāṉeṉuṅ kiraṇat tōḍē nāṭṭamuṭ cellac cella
nāṉeṉuṅ kiraṇa nīḷa naśittunāṉ ñāṉa māmē
.

பதச்சேதம்: நான் எது என்று ஆய அஃது நலிவதற்கு ஏது ஏது என்றால், நான் எனும் அக விருத்தி ஞானத்தின் கிரணம் ஆகும். நான் எனும் கிரணத்தோடே நாட்டம் உள் செல்ல செல்ல, நான் எனும் கிரண நீளம் நசித்து நான் ஞானம் ஆமே.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): nāṉ edu eṉḏṟu āya aḵdu nalivadaṟku ēdu ēdu eṉḏṟāl, nāṉ eṉum aha-virutti ñāṉattiṉ kiraṇam āhum. nāṉ eṉum kiraṇattōḍē nāṭṭam uḷ sella sella, nāṉ eṉum kiraṇa nīḷam naśittu nāṉ ñāṉam āmē.

English translation: If anyone asks what the reason is for it [the ego] being destroyed when one investigates what am I, [it is because] the aham-vṛtti [ego-awareness] called ‘I’ is a [reflected] ray of jñāṉa [pure self-awareness]. When together with the ray called ‘I’ the investigation [attention or scrutinising gaze] goes more and more within, the extent [or length] of the ray called ‘I’ being reduced [and eventually destroyed], [what will then remain as] ‘I’ will indeed be jñāṉa [pure self-awareness].

Friday, 31 July 2015

By attending to our ego we are attending to ourself

In certain contexts it is of course necessary for us to distinguish our ego from ourself as we actually are, because our ego is not what we actually are, but drawing this distinction is not necessary or helpful in every context, because what seems to be our ego is nothing other than ourself as we actually are. This seeming paradox can be reconciled by considering the analogy of a rope that seems to be a snake. The snake is not what the rope actually is, but what seems to be the snake is nothing other than the rope as it actually is.

If we were walking along a narrow path in semi-darkness and were to see what seems to be a snake lying on the path ahead of us, we would be afraid to proceed any further and would wait till the snake had moved away. However, if after waiting for a while we see that the snake does not move, we may begin to suspect that it is not actually a snake, in which case we would cautiously move forwards to look at it more closely and carefully. If it were not actually a snake but only a rope, our investigation or close inspection of it would reveal to us that what we had been looking at and afraid of all along was only a rope, so our fear of it would dissolve, and with a sigh of relief we would continue our walk along the path.

Our investigation or close inspection of the seeming snake would begin only after we have begun to suspect that it may actually not be a snake but only something else, such as a rope, so once this suspicion has arisen, we would stop insisting to ourself that it is a snake that we are looking at, but would instead consider it to be a seeming snake and perhaps a rope. This is similar to our position when we begin to investigate ourself, this ego. We investigate ourself or look closely at ourself only because we suspect that we may actually not be the ego that we now seem to be, but may instead be something else altogether. Now that this suspicion has arisen in us, we need not continue insisting to ourself that we are only an ego, but can with an open mind begin investigating ourself in order to find out whether we are this ego or something else.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Can we experience what we actually are by following the path of devotion (bhakti mārga)?

In a comment on one of my recent articles, In order to understand the essence of Sri Ramana’s teachings, we need to carefully study his original writings, a friend called Sanjay wrote, ‘I have also noticed that many of the current devotees of Bhagavan somehow are not able to reconcile to the advaitic standpoint of Bhagavan, Shankara and others, but are more comfortable to accept and believe in all their own dualistic ideas’, and this triggered a long discussion, with some other friends defending the path of dualistic devotion against what was perceived to be criticism of it by those who are more attracted to Bhagavan’s non-dualistic path of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra). This article is written partly in response to that discussion.

However, I actually began to write this article before that discussion started, and I did so in response to a comment on one of my earlier articles, What is unique about the teachings of Sri Ramana?, in which a friend called Viswanathan wrote:
[...] I feel that if one continues with total faith in whatever path one goes in, be it Bakthi Margam or Jnana Margam, the destination will be the same — realization of self. [...] it appears to me that it might be just an illusory divide in one’s mind that the two paths are different or that one path is circuitous and the other path is shorter.
Though there is some truth in what he wrote, we cannot simply say that the path of devotion (bhakti mārga) and the path of knowledge (jñāna mārga) are not different without analysing what is meant by the term bhakti mārga or ‘the path of devotion’, because bhakti mārga encompasses a wide range of practices, of which only the ultimate one is the same as self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), which is the practice of jñāna mārga.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

The term nirviśēṣa or ‘featureless’ denotes an absolute experience but can be comprehended conceptually only in a relative sense

In a comment on one of my recent articles, The ego is essentially a formless and hence featureless phantom, a friend called ‘Sleepwalker’ quoted a sentence from its thirteenth section, Can self-awareness be considered to be a feature of the ego? (which I had quoted from We are aware of ourself even though we are featureless, the second section in one of my earlier articles, Being attentively self-aware does not entail any subject-object relationship), namely “When we say, ‘I slept peacefully last night’, we are expressing our experience of having been in a state in which we experienced no features”, and asked whether the peacefulness of sleep is not just a feature.

Since the concept of nirviśēṣatva (featurelessness or absence of any distinguishing features) is a significant and useful idea in advaita philosophy, and since it is very relevant to the practice of self-investigation, I decided to write the following detailed answer to this question:

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Prāṇāyāma is just an aid to restrain the mind but will not bring about its annihilation

In a comment on one of my earlier articles, The fundamental law of experience or consciousness discovered by Sri Ramana, a friend called Chimborazo wrote:
Michael, sometimes it is said that the source of the ego (all thoughts, ‘I’-thought) is the heart. And the same heart is said to be the source of the breath. Therefore thoughts and breath have the same source. So if one holds one’s breath no thoughts would rise.

I cannot confirm that and I did not learn it in my experience of meditation. Please could you comment on this or clarify.
In reply to this I wrote a comment in which I explained:

Friday, 5 June 2015

Attending to our ego is attending to its source, ourself

A friend recently wrote to me referring to one of my recent articles, The ego is essentially a formless and hence featureless phantom, and asked:
In your most recent post there appears to be two subtly different forms of Self-Inquiry. On the one hand, there is a section in which we are told to turn the attention directly at the ego-I, investigating it. Doing so, it will disappear and be known to be a phantom. On the other hand, in another section, we are told to investigate the source, or “place” from which the ego-I rises in order to annihilate it.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

How is karma destroyed only by self-investigation?

A new friend recently wrote to me asking, ‘When we do meditation on I or atma-vichara will all the previous karma be destroyed? How is that?’ The following is what I replied to him: