Sunday, 19 October 2014

We cannot experience ourself as we actually are so long as we experience anything other than ‘I’

In one of my earlier articles, Ātma-vicāra: stress and other related issues, I wrote:
You also ask: ‘when you are doing self-inquiry should your concentration be so good that you are not even aware of what’s going on around you, like the ceiling fan running, a baby crying etc. or is it OK if you are aware of the background noises like that?’ Yes, ideally you should not be aware of anything other than ‘I’. For example, if you were absorbed in reading a book that really interests you, you would not notice the sound of a fan or any other background noises, and if you did notice some sound such as a baby crying, that would mean that your attention had been distracted away from the book. Likewise, if you are absorbed in experiencing only ‘I’, you will not notice anything else, and if you do notice anything else, that means that your attention has been distracted away from ‘I’, so you should try to bring it back to ‘I’ alone.
Referring to this, a friend wrote to me in June saying:
In a recent post, you wrote that while doing Atma-vichara we should not be aware of any sounds or other sensations if we are fully immersed in the “I am.” However, I believe I’ve read that while Ramana said that there is no “world” as perceived by the ego-mind, all appearances are fundamentally manifestations of the Self. While no particular “thing” is the Self in a limited sense, the Self can’t be restricted to a state of nothing being seen or sensed.

Would you agree that the Self manifests It-Self when there is no subject-object duality? […] If this is true, why is it said that the practice of Atma-vichara should lead to a state in which nothing is perceived?
The following is adapted from the reply I wrote to him:

When you say, ‘all appearances are fundamentally manifestations of the Self’, in what sense are you using the term ‘manifestation’? When a rope is mistaken to be snake, would you say that the snake is a manifestation of the rope? Would it not be more correct to say it is a manifestation of our ignorance — our failure to recognise the rope as it actually is? Likewise, rather than describing all appearances as manifestations of our real self, would it not be more accurate to describe them as manifestations of our self-ignorance — our failure to recognise ourself as we really are?

It is true that the substance that appears as all this diverse multiplicity is ourself, just as the substance that appears as a snake is the rope, but just as the rope cannot seem to be a snake unless it is seen to be such by an ignorant observer, what we actually are cannot seem to be anything else unless we experience it through the ignorance-tainted lens of our mind. Our mind is tainted by ignorance because it is a mistaken experience of what we actually are, so in order to see clearly what actually exists (that is, what everything that seems to exist actually is), we must investigate who am I and thereby experience ourself as we actually are.

Since the appearance of otherness and multiplicity exists only in the view of this mind (and not in the view of our real self), so long as we experience anything other than ‘I’ we are experiencing ourself as this mind and not as what we actually are. Therefore, in order to experience ourself as we actually are, we must experience ourself in complete isolation from everything else — that is, we must experience nothing other than ‘I’ alone — and in order to experience ourself thus, we must attend to ‘I’ alone and thereby completely ignore and remain unaware of the seeming existence of any other things. This is all that the simple practice of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) entails.

Because we cannot experience ourself as we actually are so long as we are experiencing anything other than ‘I’, Sri Ramana wrote 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 knowledge [other than our fundamental knowledge ‘I am’] 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 illusory appearance of a snake], will not arise unless knowledge of the imaginary snake ceases, svarūpa-darśana [true experiential knowledge of our own essential 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.
When you say, ‘While no particular “thing” is the Self in a limited sense, the Self can’t be restricted to a state of nothing being seen or sensed’, this is true in a certain sense, but it is like saying that the rope cannot be restricted to the state in which it is not seen as a snake. Even when it is seen as a snake, it is actually only a rope, so the appearance of the snake does not limit or in any way affect the rope itself. Likewise, even when our real self (that is, what we really are) is experienced as all this multiplicity that we call the world, it is actually only our real self, so the appearance of this multiplicity does not limit or affect our real self in any way whatsoever.

However, just as the appearance of the snake creates fear in us, even though it is actually only a harmless rope, so the appearance of this world creates many problems for us (such as desire, fear, pain and suffering), even though what seem to be this world is actually only ourself. This is why Sri Ramana ends the fourteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? by saying:
[…] ஜக மென்பது நினைவே. ஜகம் மறையும்போது அதாவது நினைவற்றபோது மனம் ஆனந்தத்தை யனுபவிக்கின்றது; ஜகம் தோன்றும்போது அது துக்கத்தை யனுபவிக்கின்றது.

[…] jagam eṉbadu niṉaivē. jagam maṟaiyum-pōdu adāvadu niṉaivaṯṟa-pōdu maṉam āṉandattai y-aṉubhavikkiṉḏṟadu; jagam tōṉḏṟum-pōdu adu duḥkhattai y-aṉubhavikkiṉḏṟadu.

[…] What is called the world is only thought. When the world disappears, that is, when thought ceases, the mind experiences happiness; when the world appears, it experiences duḥkha [affliction, pain, sorrow, distress, trouble or difficulty].
Like the ‘world’ that we experience in a dream, all that we experience as the ‘world’ in this waking state is nothing but a series of mental phenomena (impressions, images, ideas or thoughts) that we have formed or fabricated in our mind by our power of imagination, so here he says, ‘What is called the world is only thought’, and in the fourth paragraph he says:
[…] நினைவுகளைத் தவிர்த்து ஜகமென்றோர் பொருள் அன்னியமா யில்லை. தூக்கத்தில் நினைவுகளில்லை, ஜகமுமில்லை; ஜாக்ர சொப்பனங்களில் நினைவுகளுள, ஜகமும் உண்டு. 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. […]

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

[…] 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. 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, the world appears. Therefore when the world appears, svarūpa [our ‘own form’ or essential self] does not appear [as it really is]; when svarūpa appears (shines) [as it really is], the world does not appear. […]
The world that we experience consists of only sights, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations, all of which are impressions formed within the mind, and since they are therefore just mental phenomena, Sri Ramana says that the world is nothing but thoughts or ideas. Hence any sounds, sensations or anything else that we may experience other than ‘I’ are only thoughts or ideas, which are projected by our mind, and therefore we can experience the world (or anything else other than ‘I’) only when our mind has arisen from our real self (ātma-svarūpa). And since our mind arises only when we mistake ourself to be a body, we cannot experience ourself as we really are so long as we experience the world or anything other than ‘I’.

Everything other than ‘I’ is just a thought or mental phenomenon, and since thoughts are only an expansion of our mind or ego, everything is ultimately just the ego, as Sri Ramana says in verse 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu:
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.

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.
When we investigate what this ego is, we will eventually discover that it is nothing other than our infinite real self, and hence it will cease to exist as (or seem to be) an ego. And since everything else that seems to exist exists only in the deluded view of this ego (which itself does not actually exist but just seems to exist), when it ceases to exist even seemingly everything else will also cease to exist, and only our real self will remain as it always is, experiencing nothing other than itself, ‘I am’.

Regarding your question, ‘Would you agree that the Self manifests It-Self when there is no subject-object duality?’, yes, I would agree that (as Sri Ramana clearly implies in the third paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? quoted above) what we actually are will not manifest itself (that is, will not be experienced by us) so long as we experience any subject-object duality. However, since we do not experience any subject-object duality in sleep, not experiencing such duality is (though necessary) not sufficient to enable us to experience ourself as we really are. In order to experience ourself as we really are, we must not only experience no subject-object duality, but must also clearly experience what ‘I’ actually is (who am I) by focusing our entire attention upon ourself (‘I’) alone.

So long as we experience anything other than ‘I’, we are experiencing subject-object duality, so the only way to destroy subject-object duality is to experience only ‘I’, and the only way to experience only ‘I’ is to be exclusively self-attentive.

Regarding your final question, ‘If this is true [that the Self manifests It-Self when there is no subject-object duality], why is it said that the practice of Atma-vichara should lead to a state in which nothing is perceived?’, so long as anything other than ‘I’ is perceived, we are experiencing subject-object duality, which means that we are experiencing ourself as the perceiving subject, namely the ego or mind. Therefore, if we practise ātma-vicāra (that is, if we investigate who am I by trying to focus our entire attention on ‘I’ alone), this will eventually lead us to our natural state, in which we experience ourself as we really are, and when we experience ourself thus, the illusion that that we are this ego or mind will be destroyed, and in the absence of this illusion no perceiving subject will remain to perceive or experience anything other than itself.

Therefore, since we can experience ourself as we really are only when we experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from the appearance of any other thing, the only means by which we can experience ourself as we really are is the practice of ātma-vicāra, in which we try to experience ourself alone by attending keenly and vigilantly to nothing other than ‘I’.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The essential teachings of Sri Ramana

A friend wrote to me recently saying, ‘My humble opinion with total respect: far far too many words. Can you indicate where in your web page is your essential succinct truth’, to which I replied trying to give a simple summary of the essential teachings of Sri Ramana as follows:

You are probably right: far too many words.

Sri Ramana’s teachings are actually very simple, and can therefore be expressed in just a few words, but our minds are complicated, so sometimes many words are necessary in order to unravel all our complex beliefs and ideas and to arrive at the simple core: ‘I am’.

‘I’ is the core of our experience (since whatever we experience is experienced only by ‘I’), and is also the core of his teachings. Everything that we experience could be an illusion, and everything that we believe could be mistaken, so it is necessary for us to doubt everything, but the only thing we cannot reasonably doubt is ‘I am’, because in order to experience anything, to believe anything or to doubt anything I must exist.

However, though it is clear and certain that I am, it is not at all clear or certain what I am, because we now experience a body and mind as ‘I’, yet we have good reason to doubt whether either this body or this mind is actually ‘I’.

Though we now experience this body as ‘I’, in dream we experience some other (mind-created) body as ‘I’. Therefore in dream we experience ‘I’ but we do not experience our waking body, so this body and ‘I’ cannot be identical. If this body was actually ‘I’, we could not experience ‘I’ when we do not experience this body.

In both waking and dream we experience our thinking mind as ‘I’, but in dreamless sleep we do not experience this mind at all. But though the mind disappears in sleep, we are able to experience its absence then, so we must exist and be aware of our existence in sleep in order to experience the absence of the mind or anything else in that state.

Though we generally believe that we are not aware of anything in sleep, it would be more accurate to say that we are aware of nothing. The difference between what I mean here by ‘not being aware of anything’ and ‘being aware of nothing’ can be illustrated by the following analogy: if a totally blind person and a normally sighted person were both in a completely dark room, the blind person would not see anything, and hence he or she would not be able to recognise that there is no light there. The normally sighted person, on the other hand, would see nothing, and hence he or she would be able to recognise the absence of light. The fact that we are able to recognise the absence of any experience of anything other than ‘I’ in sleep clearly indicates that we exist in sleep to experience that absence or void.

The fact that we do actually experience sleep can also be demonstrated in other ways. For example, if we did not experience sleep, we would be aware of experiencing only two states, waking and dream, and we would not be aware of any gap between each successive state of waking or dream. But we are aware that sometimes there is a gap that we call sleep, in which we experience neither waking nor dream. We do not merely infer the existence of this third state, sleep, but actually experience it, and that is why we are able to say after waking from a period of deep sleep: ‘I slept peacefully and had no dreams’.

Why it is important to understand that we do actually experience sleep, even though sleep is a state that is completely devoid of any knowledge of multiplicity or otherness, is that our experience of sleep illustrates the fact that we do experience ‘I’ in the absence of the mind. Therefore the mind cannot be what I actually am.

The only experience that exists in all these three states is ‘I am’. It is I who am now experiencing this waking state; it was I who experienced dream; and it was I who experienced the absence of both waking and dream in deep sleep. Therefore ‘I’ is distinct from anything else that we experience in any of these three states.

Once we have understood this, it should be clear to us that our present experience of ‘I’ is confused and unclear, because we now experience this transitory body and mind as ‘I’. Therefore though we know for certain that I am, we do not know for certain what I am, and hence it is necessary for us to investigate this ‘I’ in order to ascertain what it actually is.

In order to experience ‘I’ as it actually is, we need to experience it clearly in complete isolation from everything else. And the only way to isolate ‘I’ is to focus our entire attention on it, thereby withdrawing our attention from everything else. This is the practice of ātma-vicāra (self-investigation), which Sri Ramana taught us as being the only means by which we can experience what this ‘I’ actually is (which is why he also called this practice ‘investigating who am I’).

This is the sum and substance of Sri Ramana’s teachings, and is all that we need to understand in order to start investigating what we actually are. However, people approach this teaching from different standpoints, and each person has their own pre-conceived ideas, beliefs and values, and they ask a wide variety of different questions, so this same teaching can be expressed in different ways to suit the needs of each person.

This is why so many words have been written and spoken by me and others on the teachings of Sri Ramana, but whatever may be written or said about them (provided of course that it does accurately represent what he actually taught), it should all focus on, lead back to and boil down to the simple and compelling need for each of us to investigate and experience what ‘I’ actually is.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

We can believe vivarta vāda directly but not ajāta vāda

In a comment on my previous article, The perceiver and the perceived are both unreal a friend called Sanjay asked whether advaita vāda is a synonym of vivarta vāda, to which I replied in another comment:
Sanjay, advaita means ‘non-two-ness’ (a-dvi-tā), so advaita-vāda is the argument or theory that there is absolutely no twoness or duality. The most complete and radical expression of advaita-vāda is therefore ajāta-vāda, because according to ajāta-vāda not only does twoness not actually exist but it does not even seem to exist.

However, vivarta vāda is also compatible with advaita-vāda, because according to vivarta vāda twoness does not actually exist even though it seems to exist. That is, vivarta vāda accepts that distinctions (dualities or twonesses) such as the perceiver and the perceived (the ego and the world) seem to exist, but it argues that their seeming existence is just a false appearance (vivarta) and hence unreal.

Because we now experience duality, we cannot apply ajāta-vāda in practice, so though ajāta was his actual experience, in his teachings Bhagavan (like Sankara and other advaitic sages) set aside ajāta-vāda and taught that vivarta vāda alone is true.
In his second comment Sanjay referred to ajāta as ‘pure-advaita’ and wrote that ‘we can take vivarta-vada to be true relative to our experience of ego, mind or body’ and that ‘if we believe in vivarta we are automatically believing in ajata (to a small or large extent), because after all all illusory dualities and triputis can only be experienced on the real, permanent, unborn and uncreated substratum of ajata’, to which I replied in another comment:
Yes, Sanjay, ajāta vāda is pure advaita, and we can say that vivarta vāda is a relative or diluted form of advaita, because it is only true relative to our experience of ourself as an ego who perceives the world.

However, it is not quite true to say, ‘if we believe in vivarta we are automatically believing in ajata’, because strictly speaking we cannot believe in both vivarta vāda and ajāta vāda, since vivarta vāda acknowledges that the ego and world seem to exist (though only as false appearances), whereas ajāta vāda denies that they even seem to exist. So long as we experience ourself as an ego and therefore perceive the world, we cannot but believe that they do at least seem to exist, so we cannot truly believe in ajāta.

Since ajāta is the state in which the ego and mind do not even seem to exist, it is beyond the range of belief or mental conception. Therefore when we say that we believe in ajāta vāda, what we actually believe in is just the ideas that ajāta is the ultimate truth, that it is Bhagavan’s actual experience and that it will be our experience when we experience ourself as we really are, whereas ajāta vāda denies the existence or even the seeming existence of the one who believes these ideas.

Incidentally, when I wrote in my previous comment that Bhagavan set aside ajāta-vāda and taught that vivarta vāda alone is true, I was paraphrasing Sri Muruganar’s words in verse 83 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai, ‘விவர்த்த சித்தாந்தமே மெய் ஆக விண்டார்’ (vivartta siddhāntam-ē mey āha viṇḍār), ‘[he] taught as true only vivarta siddhānta’, but to express the idea more clearly and to avoid ambiguity I should perhaps have written that he set aside ajāta-vāda and taught that vivarta vāda alone is true for all practical purposes.
In reply to this Sanjay wrote a third comment, in which he said:
[...] is there much difference between our belief in vivarta-vada and our belief in ajata-vada? I think both are only mental beliefs or ideas or concepts till we transcend our mind. Like self-knowledge is also a concept till [we] attain it.

We may believe in vivarta-vada or that everything is an illusory dream, but can we ever fully experience vivarta till we transcend our mind? We may momentarily think while we are dreaming that what we are experiencing then is an illusory dream, but the very next moment we may take our dream to be real. Similarly I feel ajata-vada is also a belief, though it is a much more subtle belief.

Till our ego is intact we can never fully believe or be convinced of either vivarta-vada or ajata-vada. Of course as our ego gets more and more undermined we may start having stronger and stronger conviction in vivarta-vada. Similarly we may also start getting a taste of a relative ajata as our ego is close to destruction.

We can never fully believe or experience vivarta, we can only transcend it or wake up from the dream of self-ignorance by experiencing ourself as we really are, thereby we will become established in ajata.

Please clarify my understanding.
The following is my reply to this:

As Sanjay says, it is true that vivarta vāda and ajāta vāda are both ‘only mental beliefs or ideas or concepts’, because vāda means ‘argument’ or ‘theory’, so any vāda is just an idea. A theory or vāda is an idea or set of ideas by which we attempt to explain what we experience, so it is not something that we have to experience but something that we have to understand in terms of other ideas that we believe and thereby judge whether or not we can believe it. Generally we believe theories that seem plausible and do not clash with any of our other beliefs, and do not believe those that seem to be implausible or that clash with other beliefs that we hold. In other words, we believe a theory only if it is compatible with our entire system of beliefs.

Therefore it is not very clear to me what Sanjay means when he asks, ‘can we ever fully experience vivarta till we transcend our mind?’ If what he means by vivarta is vivarta vāda (the argument or theory that everything is a false appearance), then it is not something to be experienced but only an idea that is intended to explain what we experience. But if what he means by vivarta is only vivarta, which means an illusion or false appearance, then according to vivarta vāda what we are now experiencing (namely the ego and the world that it perceives) are only vivarta, an illusion or false appearance. If this is the case, then we will continue to experience only vivarta till we transcend our mind (the ego that experiences this illusion), and we will cease experiencing it only when we experience ourself as we really are and thereby destroy forever the illusion that we are this mind or ego.

Regarding Sanjay’s first question, ‘is there much difference between our belief in vivarta-vada and our belief in ajata-vada?’ there is a huge difference between believing vivarta vāda and believing ajāta vāda, because vivarta vāda is a conceivable idea and therefore very easy to believe, whereas ajāta vāda is an inconceivable idea and therefore impossible to believe directly.

How can we believe that what seems to exist does not seem to exist? The very idea that X is not X is inconceivable and incomprehensible, but believing this inconceivable and incomprehensible idea is what directly believing ajāta vāda entails. Our present experience is that ‘it is true that the ego and world seem to exist’, so if we take this experience to be ‘X’, ajāta vāda says ‘not X’, which means ‘it is not true that the ego and world seem to exist’, so to believe ajāta vāda we must believe that ‘X’ = ‘not X’, which is logically impossible. When our experience is that the ego and world seem to exist, how can we believe that they do not seem to exist? Obviously we cannot.

Thus as a vāda (an argument or theory) ajāta seems to be self-contradictory and hence absurd, which is perhaps why in verse 100 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai (which I quoted and discussed in another recent article, Metaphysical solipsism, idealism and creation theories in the teachings of Sri Ramana) Sri Muruganar referred to it as a siddhānta (a conclusion) rather than a vāda, because according to Sri Ramana it is the ultimate conclusion that we can reach only when the arguing and theorising ego merges in its source, our essential self, which is the unborn (ajāta) reality and which alone actually exists.

The idea that the ego and world that seem to exist do not seem to exist is inconceivable, incomprehensible and hence unbelievable because what tries to conceive, comprehend and believe it is only the ego, which according to ajāta vāda does not even seem to exist. Therefore it is futile for this ego to try to conceive, comprehend or believe this idea, and it is also unnecessary, because it is quite sufficient for our purposes (that is, for trying to experience ourself as we really are) that we simply believe that the ego and world are just an illusion or false appearance (vivarta).

Unlike ajāta vāda, vivarta vāda is perfectly conceivable, comprehensible and believable, because it does not postulate the self-contradictory idea that what seems to exist does not seem to exist (as ajāta vāda does), but only the perfectly reasonable idea that what seems to exist does not actually exist. We are familiar with so many examples in our day to day life of things that seem to exist but do not actually exist (because what they actually are is something other than what they seem to be), such as the illusion of a snake, which is not actually a snake but only a rope. Therefore it is conceivable and hence easy to believe that though the ego and world seem to exist, they may not actually exist, because what they actually are may be something other than what they seem to be.

Because vivarta vāda is thus a perfectly conceivable, comprehensible and believable idea, for the practical purpose of trying to experience what is real it is the most suitable theory to believe, and hence Sri Ramana taught that it is true, even though he knew from his own experience that we will eventually discover thereby that the ultimate truth is only ajāta.

Though we cannot directly believe that ajāta vāda is true (that is, that it is true that what seems to exist does not seem to exist), we can in a rather indirect way understand how it must be the ultimate truth, as I tried to explain when I wrote in my previous article, The perceiver and the perceived are both unreal:
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: [...]
That is, since the ego and world seem to exist only in the view of the ego, if the ego does not actually exist, they do not seem to exist at all, because there is nothing in whose experience they could seem to exist. Thus we can logically understand why ajāta must be the ultimate truth even though we (the ego) cannot directly comprehend or believe the idea that the ego and world do not even seem to exist. Therefore we can believe ajāta vāda only in a rather indirect and roundabout way, whereas we can believe vivarta vāda in a direct and straightforward way.

That is, whereas vivarta vāda is compatible with our experience of ourself as an ego who perceives the world, ajāta vāda is incompatible with it, because it denies the very existence of this experience. Though we can believe that what we are experiencing is just an illusion of false appearance, we cannot realistically believe that we are not experiencing it at all, as ajāta vāda maintains. Therefore until we experience ourself as we really are, we have to satisfy ourself with believing only vivarta vāda and not ajāta vāda, since ajāta vāda directly contradicts our belief that we are now experiencing an ego and world.

As Sri Ramana said in verse 31 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu about those whose ego has been destroyed: ‘[…] தன்னை அலாது அன்னியம் ஒன்றும் அறியார்; அவர் நிலைமை இன்னது என்று உன்னல் எவன்?’ (taṉṉai alādu aṉṉiyam oṉḏṟum aṟiyār; avar nilaimai iṉṉadu eṉḏṟu uṉṉal evaṉ?), ‘They do not know anything other than self, [so] who can [or how to] conceive their state as ‘it is such’?’ So long as we experience ourself as an ego, we cannot in any way conceive or comprehend the state of ajāta that we will experience only when we experience nothing other than self, our pure adjunct-free ‘I’.

In a comment that he seems to have written in reply to Sanjay’s comments, another friend called Steve wrote, ‘Silence is not an idea or a concept. It’s not an illusion, it doesn’t require belief. It is here, now, always’, and he added a quotation that is presumably something that Sri Ramana was recorded to have said: ‘That which should be adhered to is only the experience of silence’. Absolute silence is only the experience of ajāta, because ajāta is the state of infinite and eternal silence that has never been disturbed by even the slightest appearance of any noise in the form of ego or world.

As Steve says, such silence is not an idea or concept, nor is it an illusion or something that requires belief, because ideas, concepts, beliefs and illusions exist only for the ego, which does not exist in silence. Therefore ajāta or absolute silence is not something that we can conceive or believe, but only something that we can experience by merging in it, thereby dissolving the illusion that we are this ego.

But even to speak of merging in it and dissolving the illusion that we are this ego is meaningful only so long as we have not yet experienced it. Once we do experience it, no merging, dissolving or anything else will ever even seem to have happened. This alone is the state of ajāta: ‘non-born’, ‘non-arisen’ or ‘non-happened’.

Until we experience ourself as we really are, ajāta is (from our perspective) just an idea that directly contradicts all that we now experience, so it is not an idea that we can really believe so long as we experience ourself as an ego. Therefore ajāta is not an idea that we should try to believe, but an experience that we can achieve only by investigating the ‘I’ who experiences the seeming existence of itself as an ego who perceives a world in which it is living as a person. If we persevere in investigating this ‘I’ until we experience what it really is, Sri Ramana assures us that we will then experience the ultimate truth, which is only ajāta. Until then, to explain the seeming existence of the ego and world he teaches that the most suitable theory for us to believe is only vivarta vāda.

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.