Saturday, 29 August 2015

What is meditation on the heart?

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

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

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

Saturday, 22 August 2015

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

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

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

Saturday, 15 August 2015

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

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

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

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

What is cidābhāsa, the reflection of self-awareness?

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 31 July 2015

By attending to our ego we are attending to ourself

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

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

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

Saturday, 18 July 2015

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

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

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

Thursday, 25 June 2015

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

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

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

Thursday, 18 June 2015

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

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

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

Friday, 5 June 2015

Attending to our ego is attending to its source, ourself

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

Sunday, 31 May 2015

How is karma destroyed only by self-investigation?

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

Saturday, 30 May 2015

In order to understand the essence of Sri Ramana’s teachings, we need to carefully study his original writings

In various comments that he wrote on one of my recent articles, Dṛg-dṛśya-vivēka: distinguishing the seer from the seen, a friend called Joshua Jonathan expressed certain ideas that other friends disagreed with, so the comments on that article include some lively discussions about his ideas. I will not quote all of his comments here, but anyone who is interested in understanding more about the context in which this article is written can read them here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. The following is my reply to some of the ideas he expressed in those comments:

Thursday, 28 May 2015

The ego is essentially a formless and hence featureless phantom

In the fourth section of one of my recent articles, ‘Observation without the observer’ and ‘choiceless awareness’: Why the teachings of J. Krishnamurti are diametrically opposed to those of Sri Ramana, I wrote:
The important principle that he [Sri Ramana] teaches us in verse 25 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu is that this ego is only a formless and insubstantial phantom that seemingly comes into existence, endures and is nourished and strengthened only by grasping form (that is, by attending to and experiencing anything other than itself), so we can never free ourself from this ego so long as we persist in attending to anything other than ourself (that is, anything that has any features that distinguish it from this essentially featureless ego). Therefore the only way to free ourself from this ego is to investigate it — that is, to try to grasp it alone in our awareness. Since this ego itself is featureless and therefore formless, and since it can stand and masquerade as ourself only by grasping forms in its awareness, if we try to grasp this ego alone, it ‘will take flight’ and disappear, just as an illusory snake would disappear if we were to look at it carefully and thereby recognise that it is not actually a snake but only a rope.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Dṛg-dṛśya-vivēka: distinguishing the seer from the seen

In a comment that he wrote on my previous article, ‘Observation without the observer’ and ‘choiceless awareness’: Why the teachings of J. Krishnamurti are diametrically opposed to those of Sri Ramana, a friend called Venkat quoted two passages that record what Bhagavan replied on two occasions, first in response to a question that he was asked about the teachings of J. Krishnamurti and second in response to a comment about them.

Monday, 11 May 2015

‘Observation without the observer’ and ‘choiceless awareness’: Why the teachings of J. Krishnamurti are diametrically opposed to those of Sri Ramana

In a comment on one of my recent articles, What is meant by the term sākṣi or ‘witness’?, a friend called Sankarraman wrote:
I wouldn’t say that JK advocated witnessing of thoughts, since he has said that the witness being the ego is tied to thoughts. So that position extenuates him from that charge. But he speaks of the observation without the observer, which is similar to Patanjali’s extinction of thoughts as paving the way for liberation, which is called transcendental aloneness. There are a lot of parallels one can find in the two teachings except that they don’t constitute the flight of the Ajada.
In reply to this I wrote the following comment:

Thursday, 7 May 2015

What is unique about the teachings of Sri Ramana?

Last Sunday I talked via Skype with a friend in Argentina about the teachings of Sri Ramana, and at the end of our discussion he asked me to write a summary of the main ideas that I had explained to him, because English is a foreign language to him, so he wanted to be sure that he had correctly understood and grasped all that I had said. This article is the summary that I wrote for him, so some of the ideas that I express in it were what I said in reference to what he had told me. For example, what I say about our inability to meditate on ourself continuously for five hours, or even five minutes, was with reference to what he told about how in the past when he was practising other forms of meditation he was able to meditate continuously for five hours, but that now when he tries to practise self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) he finds that he is unable to do so for even five minutes.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Being attentively self-aware does not entail any subject-object relationship

In a comment on my previous article, Trying to see the seer, a friend called Diogenes wrote:
Is it at all possible to be attentively self-aware, that is, paying close direct high concentrated undivided attention and looking intensely-carefully to anything featureless? To try to keep our entire mind or attention fixed firmly and unshakenly on that which sees, i.e. our ego, is surely a reflective activity of the subject, i.e. ourself. You say that we ourself are not an object. But to gently see, attend to or observe ourself seems to be just an objective process to which the subject is involved.
The following is my reply to this:

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Trying to see the seer

A friend recently wrote to me a series of emails asking about the practice of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), so this article is compiled and adapted from our correspondence.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Witnessing or being aware of anything other than ourself nourishes our ego and thereby reinforces our attachments

After reading my previous article, What is meant by the term sākṣi or ‘witness’?, a friend wrote to me expressing some thoughts that he had after reading it cursorily for the first time, so this article is adapted from the reply that I wrote to some of his ideas.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

What is meant by the term sākṣi or ‘witness’?

When I attended a meeting of the Ramana Maharshi Foundation UK in London earlier this month, one of the questions I was asked was about the concept or practice of sākṣi-bhāva or ‘being a witness’. I do not remember exactly what I replied at the time, but after seeing the video that was made of that meeting, a friend wrote to me saying that he agreed that the term sākṣi or ‘witness’ as it is often used is a misnomer, and he recalled that Bhagavan said in certain contexts that we should take this term to mean just ‘presence’ (as in the presence of our real self) rather than ‘witness’. He also added his own reflections on this subject, saying:

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Do we need to try to ignore all thoughts, and if so how?

A friend recently wrote to me saying:
When you say to experience “I” in total isolation, I try to ignore thoughts, and other perceptions. But the “ignoring act” seems to involve some sort of force. Otherwise its duration will be so short, the thoughts are pounding at the door quite soon. The somewhat forceful rejection of thoughts maybe is the wrong way to do it? To ignore thoughts sounds like a soft and tender way, but I feel it to be a bit harsh. I do not see any other way though.
This article is adapted from the reply I wrote to him.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

What is the difference between meditation and self-investigation?

A friend recently asked me several questions about meditation and self-investigation, such as what difference there is between them, so this article is adapted (and the third and fourth sections are considerably expanded) from the reply that I wrote to him.

Monday, 6 April 2015

How we can confidently dismiss the conclusions of materialist metaphysics

In one of my recent articles, All phenomena are just a dream, and the only way to wake up is to investigate who is dreaming, I wrote:
Moreover, since we experience ourself existing in sleep, when we do not experience anything else, the fact that we exist independent of whatever else we may experience in waking or dream is self-evident. Therefore we need not doubt this fact, or suppose that our existence could depend upon the existence of our body or any other thing, as is wrongly supposed by most present-day philosophers and scientists.
Quoting this passage, a friend called Sivanarul wrote a comment in which he said:

Friday, 3 April 2015

Any experience we can describe is something other than the experience of pure self-attentiveness

Last month a friend wrote to me describing what he experiences when he tries to practise self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) and asking whether his description indicates that his practice is on the right track. This article is adapted from the reply I wrote to him.

The experience of self-attentiveness or self-awareness cannot be expressed in words, because it is featureless, so any words we use to describe what we experience when we are trying to be self-attentive are only a description of something other than pure self-attentiveness.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

All phenomena are just a dream, and the only way to wake up is to investigate who is dreaming

In the seventeenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?) Sri Ramana advises us that if we wish to know what we really are, we should completely ignore and reject everything else:
குப்பையைக் கூட்டித் தள்ளவேண்டிய ஒருவன் அதை யாராய்வதா லெப்படிப் பயனில்லையோ அப்படியே தன்னை யறியவேண்டிய ஒருவன் தன்னை மறைத்துகொண்டிருக்கும் தத்துவங்க ளனைத்தையும் சேர்த்துத் தள்ளிவிடாமல் அவை இத்தனையென்று கணக்கிடுவதாலும், அவற்றின் குணங்களை ஆராய்வதாலும் பயனில்லை. பிரபஞ்சத்தை ஒரு சொப்பனத்தைப்போ லெண்ணிக்கொள்ள வேண்டும்.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Is there any real difference between waking and dream?

A couple of months ago a friend wrote to me asking:
You often say that there is, in essence, very little difference between the dream and waking states. Upon reflection it indeed does seem to be so.

However, there does seem to be one substantial difference. There is continuity in the waking state both of location and body. When we enter the waking state we always find ourselves in the same place we left it at. We also find ourselves with the same body that went to sleep.

The dream state, on the other hand, is not like that at all. When we enter the dream state we often find ourselves in completely different places. One time we may find ourselves in the UK, another time in America or some place of our youth, etc. We may even find ourselves travelling somewhere in the outer space.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Self-attentiveness and self-awareness

A friend recently wrote to me three emails in which he asked a series of questions about the practice of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), and the following is adapted and expanded from the replies I wrote to each of his questions:

Friday, 6 March 2015

Intensity, frequency and duration of self-attentiveness

A friend recently sent me an email in which he wrote, ‘I now clearly see that it is bhakti alone that can make me better and stronger at atma-vicara’, to which I replied:

Yes, Sri Ramana used to say that bhakti (love or devotion) is the mother of jñāna (knowledge or true self-experience), and what he meant by bhakti in this context was only the love to experience nothing other than ourself alone, as he clearly implied in verses 8 and 9 of Upadēśa Undiyār:

Monday, 2 March 2015

Investigating ourself is the only way to solve all the problems we see in this world

More than a year ago a friend wrote to me asking some questions about Sri Ramana’s teaching that what we now believe to be our waking state is actually just another dream, and last month he followed this up with a series of three more emails asking various questions, most of which were concerning the same subject. This article is adapted from the replies that I wrote to these four emails.

First reply:

In his first email my friend asked how we got ourself into this state of dream or forgetfulness if our real state is consciousness or spirit, and how it is possible for us to remain all the time in the state of self-abidance or self-awareness if we are at work, and finally: ‘Can you be in the state [of self-awareness] and yet optimally perform in the dream state (in the world) or do you forgo one when doing the other?’ In reply to this I wrote:

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Just being (summā irukkai) is not an activity but a state of perfect stillness

A friend wrote to me recently asking, ‘Is there any way to ascertain whether the feeling of “I” is being attended to? Is it enough if the mind’s “power of attention” is brought to a standstill?’ He also quoted the following (inaccurate) translation of question 4 and Sri Ramana’s reply in the second chapter of Upadēśa Mañjari (‘A Bouquet of Teachings’, or ‘Spiritual Instructions’ as this English translation in The Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi is called), and asked ‘How can remaining still be considered as intense activity? Is being still a state of effort or effortlessness? I am slightly confused’:
4. Is the state of ‘being still’ a state involving effort or effortlessness?

It is not an effortless state of indolence. All mundane activities which are ordinarily called effort are performed with the aid of a portion of the mind and with frequent breaks. But the act of communion with the Self (atma vyavahara) or remaining still inwardly is intense activity which is performed with the entire mind and without break.

Maya (delusion or ignorance) which cannot be destroyed by any other act is completely destroyed by this intense activity which is called ‘silence’ (mauna).
The following is adapted from the reply I wrote to him:

Friday, 20 February 2015

Self-investigation and body-consciousness

A friend recently sent me a PDF copy of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, and referring to the sixth chapter of it, ‘The Inner Body’, he wrote:
The chapter that talks on the inner body is quite remarkable, by taking the attention away from thoughts/body/sense perceptions and into the energy field of the body, there is the clear and vibrantly alive feeling “I Am” and nothing else. Going deeper into it, the feeling of inside and out dissolves, subject and object dissolve, and there is this sense of unlimited, unbound (by the limits of the body) and unchanging beingness or I Amness. Can this be likened to self-attention? Or more clearly, is this the same practice? Because in both we are removing attention from everything except the feeling “I Am” and focussing it on the feeling. Could it be that only the description is different? Where you describe it as focussing the attention on the consciousness “I Am” Eckhart describes it as focussing the attention on the aliveness/consciousness that pervades the physical body to the exclusion of all thoughts. He goes on to describe the state of pure being when the attention goes more deep.
This article is adapted from the replies I wrote to this and to two subsequent emails.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Why is it necessary to consider the world unreal?

In several comments on some of my recent articles various friends have tried to argue that we need not be concerned about whether or not the world is real or exists independent of our experience of it. For example, in his first comment on Science and self-investigation Periya Eri wrote:
What is wrong in our deep-rooted “but unfounded” belief that the world exists independent of our experience of it? The statement saying that the world is unreal does not in the least change the fact that we have to master all difficulties in our life. The same evaluation goes for the conclusion that the world does not exist at all independent of our mind that experiences it. And the same is true of the statement that even the mind that experiences this world is itself unreal. Also the account that the mind does not actually exist at all and that after its investigation it will disappear, and that along with it the entire appearance of this world will also cease to exist. […]
In reply to this I wrote a comment in which I said:

Monday, 9 February 2015

Self-attentiveness is not an action, because we ourself are not two but only one

In the final paragraph of one of my recent articles, The connection between consciousness and body, I wrote:
So long as we allow ourself to attend to anything other than ourself, our body and all the other extraneous things that we thus experience seem to be real, so Sri Ramana advises us to try to attend only to ourself, the ‘I’ who is conscious of both ourself and all those other things. Therefore if we wish to follow his path and thereby to experience what this ‘I’ really is, we should not be concerned with our body or any connection we may seem to have with it, but should focus all our interest and attention only on ourself, the one absolute consciousness or pure self-awareness ‘I am’.
Referring to this, a friend wrote to me asking:

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The terms ‘I’ or ‘we’ refer only to ourself, whether we experience ourself as we actually are or as the ego that we now seem to be

In a comment on one of my recent articles, The fundamental law of experience or consciousness discovered by Sri Ramana, Palaniappan Chidambaram asked, ‘If the whole sadhana [spiritual practice] is in just being one self […] then why do we use the term vichara or investigation? When thoughts come we don’t investigate but just ignore and turn attention to ourselves. So ideally there is no investigation or enquiry?’, to which I replied in a comment:
Since pure self-awareness is our essential nature, being ourself entails being clearly aware of ourself alone. Therefore trying to be aware of ourself alone is the only means by which we can succeed in being what we really are.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

The connection between consciousness and body

A friend wrote to me recently saying that in a German book on Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu called Über das Selbst (‘About the Self’) the author has written that the absolute consciousness is connected through our navel, and asked me to comment on this. The following is adapted from the reply I wrote:

I assume that what is meant here by the term ‘consciousness’ is what is conscious, which is the sense in which it is generally used in the context of the teachings of Sri Ramana or any other form of advaita philosophy. It is important to clarify this, because ‘consciousness’ is used in a variety of different senses, so its exact meaning is generally determined by the context in which it happens to be used.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Why are compassion and ahiṁsā necessary in a dream?

Last June, a few weeks after I posted on my YouTube channel the May 2014 video of me answering questions at a meeting of the Ramana Maharshi Foundation UK, a friend called Jim wrote to me asking:
In your latest YouTube upload you talk about being vegetarian, and sweatshops, and signing petitions. I’m confused in this point. So much is said about this waking state being exactly like our dream state, what does it matter what we eat, or wear, or where our clothes are made? If in a dream I’m eating a chicken, a carrot or a car bumper none of it matters. Upon waking I realize it’s just a dream all created by my mind. There is no boy toiling in a sweatshop upon my waking right? So why is the waking state different?
The following is adapted from the long reply I wrote to him, and also from shorter replies that I wrote to two of his subsequent emails:

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The fundamental law of experience or consciousness discovered by Sri Ramana

My previous article, Our aim should be to experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from everything else, was adapted from an email I wrote to a friend in reply to some questions he asked me about the practice of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), which led to an exchange of further emails on the same subject. Therefore this article is adapted from the subsequent replies that I wrote to him.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Our aim should be to experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from everything else

A few months ago a friend wrote to me asking about the practice of ātma-vicāra (self-investigation or self-enquiry) and whether his description of his practice indicated that he was practising it correctly, and he ended his email saying:
I have tried the technique of diving into the heart exhaling your breath, explained in the small book The Technique of Maha Yoga published by Ramanashramam, [...] but this does not seem to work in my case.
The following is adapted from the reply I wrote to him:

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Science and self-investigation

A friend recently asked me to comment on an article entitled The Universe as a Hologram by Michael Talbot, saying that ‘it brings the scientific viewpoint very close to the mystic vision of reality’, and after I replied to him he sent a second email in which he tried to explain why he believed that science is relevant to Sri Ramana’s teachings, saying:
Before physics delved deeply into the nature of matter, conviction about the unreality of the perceived world could only be based on complete faith in the teaching. In the modern world however, beliefs are founded upon rational and scientific grounds. Particle physics has provided us with scientific grounds for such faith i.e. belief in the unreality and illusoriness of the perceived world, since it has shown that what we regard as solid matter is actually non-substance.
The following is adapted from the replies I wrote to these two emails:

Friday, 19 December 2014

Does the world exist independent of our experience of it?

A friend wrote to me a few months ago quoting a passage from section 616 of Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi (2006 edition, p. 598) in which Sri Ramana says: ‘ahankara (ego) shoots up like a rocket and instantaneously spreads out as the Universe’ (which paraphrases the teaching that he gave still more clearly and emphatically in verse 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu: ‘அகந்தை உண்டாயின், அனைத்தும் உண்டாகும்; அகந்தை இன்றேல், இன்று அனைத்தும். அகந்தையே யாவும் ஆம். […]’ (ahandai uṇḍāyiṉ, aṉaittum uṇḍāhum; ahandai iṉḏṟēl, iṉḏṟu aṉaittum. ahandai-y-ē yāvum ām), which means ‘If the ego comes into existence, everything comes into existence. If the ego does not exist, everything does not exist. The ego itself is everything. […]’). It seems my friend has difficulty accepting this teaching, because after quoting this passage from Talks he wrote:
What is he talking about??? ... Is all the hard won knowledge of physics and the evolution of the universe so much nonsense?

This is consistent, certainly, if you believe everything is a dream and you’ve just woken up from a good sleep and created the universe.

I am afraid such mysticism is beyond me...and I mean no disrespect to Bhagavan Ramana.
The following is adapted from the reply I wrote to him:

Saturday, 13 December 2014

The need for manana and vivēka: reflection, critical thinking, discrimination and judgement

In many recent comments on this blog, particularly on articles such as Our memory of ‘I’ in sleep, Why should we believe that ‘the Self’ is as we believe it to be?, Is there any such thing as a ‘self-realised’ person? and Other than ourself, there are no signs or milestones on the path of self-discovery, various friends have shown a tendency and willingness to accept uncritically whatever certain other people have written or said. Believing uncritically whatever we may read or hear is dangerous, even if we believe that whoever wrote or said it is an authority, because if we do not use our powers of critical thinking and discrimination (vivēka) we are liable to be misled into believing many mistaken ideas and interpretations, which would cloud and confuse our understanding and could divert us away from the straight and narrow path of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra).

Sunday, 30 November 2014

How to experience the clarity of self-awareness that appears between sleep and waking?

A friend wrote to me recently saying that she had been following various spiritual paths since childhood and that finally last year Sri Ramana had appeared in her life as the ultimate teacher, but that eight years ago she had had an experience while waking from sleep that she later identified with what Sri Ramana said about the clarity of self-awareness that can be experienced immediately after we wake from sleep and before it becomes mixed with awareness of a body and world. She tried her best to describe what she had experienced, but if it was indeed the adjunct-free clarity of self-awareness that Sri Ramana referred to, it would be impossible to describe it in words or even to conceive it by thoughts, because it would have been (and could only ever be) experienced in the complete absence of any thoughts or words, and hence it is beyond their reach.

Therefore from her description of her experience I cannot say for certain that it was that adjunct-free clarity of self-awareness, or if not, exactly what it was, but it may well have been such a clarity. However, whenever we do experience such an intense clarity of self-awareness, we lose it as soon as our mind becomes active, and if we then remember or think about it, whatever we remember or think is something other than what we actually experienced, because what we experienced was ‘I’ without any mental activity such as thinking or remembering. Therefore, though we may think that we can ‘relive’ such an experience by remembering it, we cannot actually relive it except by persistently trying to experience perfect clarity of self-awareness here and now.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Other than ourself, there are no signs or milestones on the path of self-discovery

A few months ago a friend wrote to me asking in Tamil:
ஆத்ம விசாரம் என்பது ‘தன்மையுணர்வை நாடுதல்’ எனப் புத்தகங்கள் கூறுகின்றன. இதையே நானும் நேரம் கிடைக்கும்போதெல்லாம் பயின்றும் வருகிறேன். இவையெல்லாம் மிகச் சுலபமாக தோன்றினாலும் உண்மையில் இது ஓரு சூட்சுமமான பாதையாகவே இருக்கிறது. நான் சாதனையைச் சரியாகத்தான் செய்துக்கொண்டிருக்கிறேனா, பகவானின் வாக்குகளை சரியாகப் புரிந்துக்கொண்டிருக்கிறேனா என்ற சந்தேகம் எப்போதும் என்னை வாட்டி வதைக்கிறது. இந்தப் பாதையில் சரியாகப் போய்க்கொண்டிருக்கிறேன் என்று அறிந்துக் கொள்ள ஏதேனும் அறிகுறிகள் அல்லது மைல்கற்கள் உள்ளனவா?
which means:
Books say that self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) is ‘investigating the first person awareness’. I too am practising only this whenever time is available. Though all these appear to be very easy, in truth this is such a subtle path. The doubt ‘Am I doing sādhana correctly? Am I understanding Bhagavan’s words correctly?’ is always vexing and tormenting me. Are there any signs or milestones [to enable me] to know that I am proceeding correctly on this path.
The following is adapted from the reply I wrote (in English):

Sri Ramana’s path is a path of vicāra — investigation or exploration — so we can follow it only by trying to investigate what this ‘I’ is and thereby learning from our own experience what following it correctly actually entails.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Is there any such thing as a ‘self-realised’ person?

In the comments on my previous two articles, Our memory of ‘I’ in sleep and Why should we believe that ‘the Self’ is as we believe it to be?, there has been some discussion about the subject of being a ‘self-realised’ person, with one friend claiming ‘I have realised who I am’ and others expressing doubts about that, so in this article I will examine this concept of being a ‘self-realised’ person and consider whether it accurately represents anything that truly exists.

Firstly I will consider the common use of the term ‘self-realisation’ as a translation of the Sanskrit terms ātma-jñāna or ātmānubhava, which respectively mean self-knowledge and self-experience in the sense of experiencing or being clearly aware of ourself as we really are. Though ‘realise’ can mean to recognise, understand, ascertain or become clearly aware of something, it is a rather vague and ambiguous term to use in this context, because it has various other meanings such as to accomplish, achieve, fulfil, actualise, effect, bring about, acquire or cause to happen, so ‘self-realisation’ is not the most appropriate term to use as a translation of ātma-jñāna or ātmānubhava, particularly since in psychology the term ‘self-realisation’ means self-actualisation or self-fulfilment in the sense of achieving one’s full personal potential.

Though he did not speak much English, Sri Ramana understood it enough to recognise that ‘self-realisation’ is not a particularly appropriate term to use in the context of his teachings. He therefore used to joke about it saying that ourself is always real, so there is no need for it to be realised, and that the problem is that we have realised what is unreal (that is, we have made the unreal seem to be real), so what we now need to do is not to realise our ever-real self but only to unrealise everything that is unreal, particularly our seemingly real ego, which is the root cause of the seeming reality of everything else.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Why should we believe that ‘the Self’ is as we believe it to be?

In a comment on my previous article, Our memory of ‘I’ in sleep, a friend called Joel wrote:
Why do you talk of the Self remembering itself? It IS itself, so what is there to remember? The notion of the Self ‘remembering’ the Self during deep sleep when now awake is merely a creation of the mind to justify a continuity through the three states that actually is not in need of justification, because apart from the mind there are no three states.
The following is my reply to this comment:

One of the mistakes you are making here, Joel, is that you are taking an argument, assuming its conclusion to be true, and claiming that the argument is therefore unnecessary. But without the argument, what reason do you have for believing its conclusion to be true? If we believe a certain proposition to be true, but have no reason for believing it, our belief in it is unjustified. An argument is simply a reason or a set of reasons for believing a certain proposition or idea to be true, so when we consider whether or not a certain belief is true or justified, we need to consider whether the arguments or reasons for believing it are sound.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Our memory of ‘I’ in sleep

In one of my recent articles, The essential teachings of Sri Ramana, I wrote:
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’.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

There is only one ‘I’, and investigation will reveal that it is not a finite ego but the infinite self

A friend wrote to me a few months ago saying that after reading the teachings of Sri Ramana and Nisargadatta he was confused about whether the ‘I’ we should investigate in ātma-vicāra (self-investigation) is the ego (the jīvātman or finite individual self) or our real self (the ātman or infinite self), and he asked whether there is any difference between their respective teachings, and whether perhaps Sri Ramana refers to the jīvātman whereas Nisargadatta refers to the ātman. The following is adapted from the reply I wrote to him:

Your comment that you are a little confused about the ‘I’ referred to in ātma-vicāra suggests that there could be more than one ‘I’, which is obviously not the case. As we each know from our own experience, and as Sri Ramana repeatedly emphasised (for example, in verses 21 and 33 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu: ‘தான் ஒன்றால்’ (tāṉ oṉḏṟāl), ‘since oneself is one’, and ‘தனை விடயம் ஆக்க இரு தான் உண்டோ? ஒன்று ஆய் அனைவர் அனுபூதி உண்மை ஆல்’ (taṉai viḍayam ākka iru tāṉ uṇḍō? oṉḏṟu āy aṉaivar aṉubhūti uṇmai āl), ‘To make oneself an object known, are there two selves? Because being one is the truth of everyone’s experience’), there is only one ‘I’. When this one ‘I’ experiences itself as it really is, it is called self or ātman, whereas when it experiences itself as something else it is called ego, jīva or jīvātman.

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.

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.

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.

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.