Friday, 18 April 2014

Why is ātma-vicāra necessary?

A friend recently wrote to me saying that he felt that in my article Does the practice of ātma-vicāra work? I did not really answer the question in a direct manner, and he tried to explain why he felt this. The gist of what he wrote was as follows: after many years of practising self-attention, he had arrived at a firm conviction that there is only one self, not one self in search of another self, and that ‘I am the Self’; there is only the Self, so the striving, the searching and the attaining of the Self is only an illusion created by the mind, and Ramana said that the mind doesn’t exist; therefore he is firmly convinced that ‘I am the Self’ and that he only has to abide in the Self; although the illusion of the world is still there, with the mind and thoughts, it doesn’t change the fact that there is only the Self; whether or not the mind is destroyed now, it doesn’t really matter, because it is only an image on the screen and has no reality; so is ‘realisation’ necessary? Won’t jñāna [self-knowledge] occur when the body dies? Therefore he concluded that until the body and mind are destroyed by death, what is important is to have the conviction that ‘There is only the Self and nothing else’, and that ‘I am That’.

In some subsequent emails he also asked about ‘progress’ (with reference to an example that Bhagavan gave of detonating a canon: preparing it for detonation takes time, but once prepared, it is detonated in an instant) and about fear that arises during the practice of ātma-vicāra, and also asked whether certain experiences could be explained in terms of kuṇḍalinī. The following is adapted and compiled from the replies I wrote to him:

Yes, there is only self, and self is what we always experience as ‘I am’. However, so long as we experience ourself as a person (an entity consisting of body and mind), we experience not only ‘I’ but also many other things, and this creates the illusion that ‘I’ is something limited: one thing among many other things.

We experience other things because we experience ourself as a body, and we experience ourself as a body because we do not clearly experience ourself as we really are. Therefore, in order to destroy the illusion of otherness, we must experience what we actually are.

The death of our body will not enable us to experience ourself as we really are, because this body is no more real than any body that we experience as ‘I’ in a dream. When we leave a dream body by waking up or subsiding into sleep, we do not thereby experience what we really are. Why then should we suppose that when we leave this body due to death we will thereby experience what we really are? We leave this body every night when we fall asleep, but we do not thereby experience what we really are.

Moreover, we will never actually experience our own death, because as soon as we leave this body, we either fall asleep or begin to experience another dream. What appears to be death in the view of others will be just like the ending of a dream for the person who dies. Therefore the death of our body is not a solution to our present problem of self-ignorance.

Nor is the thought ‘I am the self’, because like all other thoughts it comes and goes. Since we do not think ‘I am the self’ in sleep, or even throughout our waking and dream states, it is alien to us: that is, it is something other than what we really are.

That which thinks ‘I am the self’ is only the mind, because self itself need not and cannot think ‘I am the self’. Our real self — that is, what we really are — is completely devoid of thought, and also of any experience of anything other than ‘I am’. It just is, and does not experience anything other than its own ‘is’-ness or being: ‘I am’.

As Bhagavan Ramana repeatedly emphasised, the only means by which we can experience ourself as we really are is self-investigation (ātma-vicāra): that is, investigating what this ‘I’ actually is by trying to focus our entire attention upon it to the complete exclusion of all else. That is, we cannot experience what this ‘I’ actually is by attending to anything other than it — not even by attending to a thought such as ‘I am the self’. As Sri Ramana says in verse 27 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu:
நானுதியா துள்ளநிலை நாமதுவா யுள்ளநிலை
நானுதிக்குந் தானமதை நாடாம — னானுதியாத்
தன்னிழப்பைச் சார்வதெவன் சாராமற் றானதுவாந்
தன்னிலையி னிற்பதெவன் சாற்று.

nāṉudiyā duḷḷanilai nāmaduvā yuḷḷanilai
nāṉudikkun tāṉamadai nāḍāma — ṉāṉudiyāt
taṉṉiṙappaic cārvadevaṉ sārāmaṯ ṟāṉaduvān
taṉṉilaiyi ṉiṯpadevaṉ sāṯṟu.


பதச்சேதம்: ‘நான்’ உதியாது உள்ள நிலை நாம் அது ஆய் உள்ள நிலை. ‘நான்’ உதிக்கும் தானம் அதை நாடாமல், ‘நான்’ உதியா தன் இழப்பை சார்வது எவன்? சாராமல், தான் அது ஆம் தன் நிலையில் நிற்பது எவன்? சாற்று.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): ‘nāṉ’ udiyādu uḷḷa nilai nām adu-v-āy uḷḷa nilai. ‘nāṉ’ udikkum tāṉam-adai nāḍāmal, ‘nāṉ’ udiyā taṉ-ṉ-iṙappai sārvadu evaṉ? sārāmal, tāṉ adu ām taṉ-ṉilaiyil niṯpadu evaṉ? sāṯṟu.

English translation: The state in which ‘I’ exists without rising is the state in which we exist as that [self or brahman]. Without investigating the source from which ‘I’ rises, how to attain the annihilation of oneself, where ‘I’ does not rise? [And] without attaining [this ego-annihilation], say, how to abide in the state of self, in which one is that?
The source from which ‘I’ rises is only ourself — what we really are — so investigating the source from which ‘I’ rises means investigating what we actually are. Unless we investigate this, how can we experience what we actually are?

Therefore investigation or vicāra is essential, and if we believe what Ramana has taught us, it does work. However, merely believing his words is not going to solve our problems, because we can actually experience what we are (and thereby know from our own experience that vicāra does work) only by investigating ourself.

Vicāra is the effort that we make to experience only ‘I’, and when we succeed in this effort we will discover that we always experience only ‘I’. Therefore what is an illusion is not experiencing only ‘I’, but is only the effort that we make to experience it. This effort is necessary so long as we experience anything other than ‘I’, but eventually we will find that we never actually experienced anything other than ‘I’, so our present experience of other things is an illusion, as also is our effort to experience only ‘I’. Just as we can use one thorn to remove another thorn from our foot, we must use the illusion of making this effort to remove the illusion of experiencing other things.

Therefore, though it will all eventually turn out to be an illusion, so long as we are experiencing this illusion we must make effort to experience only ‘I’. As Sri Ramana says in the first two sentences of the eleventh paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?):
மனத்தின்கண் எதுவரையில் விஷயவாசனைக ளிருக்கின்றனவோ, அதுவரையில் நானா ரென்னும் விசாரணையும் வேண்டும். நினைவுகள் தோன்றத் தோன்ற அப்போதைக்கப்போதே அவைகளையெல்லாம் உற்பத்திஸ்தானத்திலேயே விசாரணையால் நசிப்பிக்க வேண்டும். […]

maṉattiṉgaṇ edu-varaiyil viṣaya-vāsaṉaigaḷ irukkiṉḏṟaṉavō, adu-varaiyil nāṉ-ār eṉṉum vicāraṇai-y-um vēṇḍum. niṉaivugaḷ tōṉḏṟa-t tōṉḏṟa appōdaikkappōdē avaigaḷai-y-ellām uṯpatti-sthāṉattilēyē vicāraṇaiyāl naśippikka vēṇḍum. […]

As long as viṣaya-vāsanās exist in the mind, so long the investigation who am I is necessary. As and when thoughts arise, then and there it is necessary to annihilate them all by vicāraṇā [investigation or vigilant self-attentiveness] in the very place from which they arise. […]
Viṣaya-vāsanās are the desires or liking that we have to experience viṣayas: anything other than ‘I’. Only so long as such desires exist do we experience the appearance of anything other than ‘I’, and according to Sri Ramana such things seem to exist only because we like to experience them. That is, as in a dream, everything that we experience other than ‘I’ is a creation of our mind, or more precisely, of the viṣaya-vāsanās that constitute it. The mind seems to exist only because of its vāsanās: its inclinations or desires to experience anything other than ‘I’.

Therefore to destroy the illusion that we are this mind, we must must gradually weaken and eventually destroy its viṣaya-vāsanās. And the only way to weaken and destroy its viṣaya-vāsanās is to cultivate the opposite liking: the liking to experience only ‘I’. As should be obvious, the only way to cultivate this liking is to practise trying to experience only ‘I’, because if we do not persistently try to experience only ‘I’, we cannot expect any liking to experience it to arise in us of its own accord.

We now have a liking to experience things other than ‘I’ because of a wrong choice that we made in the past, and that we have continued making ever since. Therefore it is up to us now to choose whether we want to continue allowing ourself to be dominated by this liking, or whether we now want to choose the opposite: to experience only ‘I’. If this is what we now choose, we must work hard at trying to replace our age-old liking to experience other things with our new liking to experience only ‘I’.

The practice of trying to experience only ‘I’ is what Sri Ramana calls ātma-vicāra or self-investigation, and this practice will continue to be necessary until not even the slightest liking to experience anything else remains undestroyed. Therefore in the tenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? he says:
தொன்றுதொட்டு வருகின்ற விஷயவாசனைகள் அளவற்றனவாய்க் கடலலைகள் போற் றோன்றினும் அவையாவும் சொரூபத்யானம் கிளம்பக் கிளம்ப அழிந்துவிடும். அத்தனை வாசனைகளு மொடுங்கி, சொரூபமாத்திரமா யிருக்க முடியுமா வென்னும் சந்தேக நினைவுக்கு மிடங்கொடாமல், சொரூபத்யானத்தை விடாப்பிடியாய்ப் பிடிக்க வேண்டும். […]

toṉḏṟutoṭṭu varugiṉḏṟa viṣaya-vāsaṉaigaḷ aḷavaṯṟaṉavāy-k kaḍal-alaigaḷ pōl tōṉḏṟiṉum avai-yāvum sorūpa-dhyāṉam kiḷamba-k kiḷamba aṙindu-viḍum. attaṉai vāsaṉaigaḷum oḍuṅgi, sorūpa-māttiramāy irukka muḍiyumā v-eṉṉum sandēha niṉaivukkum iḍam koḍāmal, sorūpa-dhyāṉattai viḍā-p-piḍiyāy-p piḍikka vēṇḍum. […]

Even though viṣaya-vāsanās, which come from time immemorial, rise [as thoughts] in countless numbers like ocean-waves, they will all be destroyed when svarūpa-dhyāna [self-attentiveness] increases and increases. Without giving room even to the doubting thought ‘Is it possible to dissolve so many vāsanās and be only as self?’ it is necessary to cling tenaciously to self-attentiveness. […]
Therefore it is necessary for us to continue practising ātma-vicāra or self-attentiveness — trying to experience nothing other than ‘I’ alone — so long as we experience any thought or anything other than ‘I’. We cannot reasonably expect self-knowledge (ātma-jñāna) to occur when the body dies or at any other time if we do not persist in trying to experience what we really are by practising ātma-vicāra: that is, by trying to cling tenaciously to self-attentiveness to the exclusion of all else.

Regarding progress, if we are trying to experience what this ‘I’ actually is, we will certainly be making progress, but we should not expect to see any obvious signs of progress. Sri Ramana used to say that perseverance is the only true sign of progress. After years of practice we may still feel that we can see no sign of any increased capacity to cling firmly to self-attentiveness, but so long as we keep on trying, we can be sure that we are progressing.

The example of preparing a canon for detonation is very apt. It takes time to prepare it, but when ready it will detonate in an instant. Practising vicāra is like patiently preparing the canon: eventually it will lead to perfect clarity of self-awareness, which will immediately destroy the mind forever, and this is like the instantaneous detonation of the carefully prepared canon.

As we get closer to that point of detonation, it is natural that fear may arise, because our mind is desperate to survive: to cling on to the illusion that it actually exists.

Regarding kuṇḍalinī, it is sometimes said that all that is described about the kuṇḍalinī in yōga śāstras is effected automatically and without our awareness when we practice vicāra. But such explanations are useful or interesting only for those whose minds still attach importance to such phenomena. For those of us who just want to know what this ‘I’ actually is, such explanations are of very little interest.

Sadhu Om used to explain that what is called kuṇḍalinī is nothing other than the consciousness ‘I’ spreading throughout the body. When we attend only to ‘I’, it begins to withdraw from the body, and this withdrawal is what is described as the rising of the kuṇḍalinī. However, in order to experience what this ‘I’ really is, we do not need to know anything about the kuṇḍalinī or its rising.

Ultimately the body, its nādis (the subtle nerves or channels through which the life-force is said to travel throughout the body and the kuṇḍalinī is said to rise up to the head) and the kuṇḍalinī are all just concepts, ideas or beliefs, and our aim should be to ignore all concepts and ideas in order to focus our entire attention only on ‘I’.

The experiences you describe could be explained in terms of kuṇḍalinī, but how useful would such an explanation be? At most it would satisfy the mind’s curiosity: its natural liking to find a satisfying explanation for everything.

But you are right to take no interest in that (either in the experiences or in any explanation for them), because such experiences are something other than ‘I’, so if we take interest in them they will distract our attention away from ‘I’. Whenever such an experience occurs, what we should be interested in is only trying to investigate the ‘I’ to whom they occur: to whom? to me; who am I?

Whatever can be described in words is not ‘I’ (and hence not real), because what we can describe is only features, whereas ‘I’ is that which is devoid of all features (and is therefore ineffable).

Friday, 11 April 2014

Ātma-vicāra and nirvikalpa samādhi
(Interview on Celibacy: Part 5)

This is the final of the following five instalments, which are a slightly modified reproduction of an interview in which I answered seven questions asked by the editor of the online Non-Duality Magazine for their current issue entitled The Celibacy Question:
  1. Self-investigation and sexual restraint
  2. Ātma-vicāra is the only means by which we can experience ourself as we really are
  3. No differences exist in the non-dual view of Sri Ramana
  4. Ahiṁsā and sexual morality
  5. Ātma-vicāra and nirvikalpa samādhi
Question 6: What about nirvikalpa samadhi as a way of quenching desires, as well as a means to realisation? Did Sri Ramana ever speak about this and attaining this through raja yoga? Also what is your view on this?

According to Sri Ramana our sole aim should be to know ourself: that is, to experience ourself as we really are. Since this is our goal, and since we cannot experience anything unless we attend to it, the only means by which we can achieve this goal is self-attentiveness.

He also taught us that we seem to experience other things only when we experience ourself as a body, as we do in waking and dream. Therefore, since experiencing anything other than ‘I’ entails experiencing a body (and hence also a mind) as ‘I’, by the very act of experiencing anything other than ‘I’ we are perpetuating our mistaken experience that we are a body. Hence we cannot experience ourself as we really are so long as we experience anything other than ‘I’.

Therefore our aim should be to experience nothing other than ‘I’, and trying to do this is the practice that he called ātma-vicāra or self-investigation. Thus, as he says in verse 579 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai (which I quoted and discussed above [in my answer to question 2 in Ātma-vicāra is the only means by which we can experience ourself as we really are]), there is no essential difference between the nature of our goal and the nature of the means by which we can achieve it: both entail only experiencing nothing other than ‘I’. The only difference between the means and the goal is that the means involves effort whereas the goal is effortless, because it is the state in which we have discovered that experiencing nothing other than ‘I’ is our real nature.

Until we discover this (that is, until it is natural and effortless for us to experience nothing other than ‘I’), we need to make effort to experience nothing other than ‘I’. The reason this effort seems necessary, even though experiencing nothing other than ‘I’ is our real nature, is that we now have strong desires or likings to experience many things other than just ‘I’, so effort is needed to counter the outward-driving influence of such desires. However, though effort is now needed, it is only an effort to experience the non-dual (otherless) self-awareness that is our real nature. And once we experience this, all desire to experience anything else will be destroyed, so this experience will become effortless.

There is thus a clear and logical connection between the path that Sri Ramana taught and the goal to which this path should lead: the goal is to experience nothing other than ‘I’, and the path or means to achieve this goal is to try to experience nothing other than ‘I’. It is also clear why this is the only means to achieve it, because trying to experience anything other than ‘I’ cannot enable us to experience nothing other than ‘I’ (or at least it cannot directly enable us to experience this, even if it can do so in a very roundabout way).

Whatever other means we may adopt in order to experience nothing other than ‘I’, we will sooner or later have to try to experience nothing other than ‘I’, because unless we try to do so we will never succeed in doing so. Therefore any other means can at best only prepare us to adopt this path of trying to experience nothing other than ‘I’, and cannot directly enable us to experience it.

Therefore, since it is obvious that we will sooner or later have to try to experience nothing other than ‘I’, which we can do only by trying to focus our entire attention on ‘I’ alone, why should we not try to do so from the outset? Why should we try to experience or attend to anything else when we know that ultimately we can achieve our goal only by trying to attend to and experience nothing other than ‘I’?

Therefore, when you ask whether nirvikalpa samādhi can be a means to ‘realisation’ or achievement of this goal, we first have to consider what this term ‘nirvikalpa samādhi’ actually means: if it denotes an experience of anything other than ‘I’, it cannot directly enable us to experience nothing other than ‘I’, whereas if it denotes a clear experience of nothing other than ‘I’, it is just another name for the practice that Sri Ramana called ātma-vicāra or self-investigation: the practice of trying to attend to and experience nothing other than ‘I’.

What then is the actual meaning of this term ‘nirvikalpa samādhi’? A convenient way of understanding the term samādhi is that it is the state in which dhi (the mind or buddhi) is sama (even, flat, level, same, equal or equanimous), though this is not the actual etymological meaning of this term. Etymologically samādhi is a noun form of the verb samādhā, which means to put or hold together, compose, settle, establish, set right, fix, repair, put in order, arrange or restore, and which by extension means to collect or compose one’s thoughts, concentrate or fix one’s mind upon. Thus samādhi means collecting, composing or concentrating one’s mind, and thus denotes any state in which the mind is concentrated on or absorbed in one thing.

Since there are numerous things on which the mind can be concentrated or in which it can be absorbed, the term samādhi is used to denote a wide variety of different states, and hence it is often qualified by various adjectives such as nirvikalpa (without vikalpa), savikalpa (with vikalpa), bāhya (outside or external) and āntara (inside or internal). Nirvikalpa means without any vikalpa, and vikalpa means change, alternation, variation, variety, diversity, multiplicity, difference, distinction, indecision, doubt, hesitation, false notion, fancy or imagination.

Any state that is truly nirvikalpa (devoid of any change, variation, diversity, difference, distinction or imagination) must be a state in which nothing other than ‘I’ is experienced, because everything other than ‘I’ changes, and an experience of anything other than ‘I’ entails the basic distinction between ‘I’ and other. However, even sleep is a nirvikalpa state, but though we do not experience anything other than ‘I’ in sleep, we do not clearly experience what this ‘I’ is, because we fall asleep only because we are too tired to attend to anything else, and not because we tried to focus our entire attention on ‘I’ alone.

Just as sleep is a nirvikalpa state that we enter by a means other than self-attentiveness, there are other nirvikalpa states that we can enter by means other than self-attentiveness. For example, by practising yōgic techniques of prāṇāyāma (breath-restraint) it is possible to make the mind subside temporarily in a nirvikalpa state, but because that state is not entered by self-attentiveness, it will lack the clarity of self-awareness that is required for us to experience ourself as we really are. Therefore, just as the mind wakes up from sleep, it will sooner or later wake up from such an artificially induced state of nirvikalpa samādhi.

Since vikalpa means difference or distinction, we might expect that there would be no difference between one nirvikalpa state and another, but paradoxically different types of nirvikalpa samādhi are described. For example, a distinction is sometimes made between bāhya nirvikalpa samādhi (external nirvikalpa samādhi) and āntara nirvikalpa samādhi (internal nirvikalpa samādhi). However a more important distinction made by Sri Ramana was between kāṣṭha nirvikalpa samādhi (‘wooden’ nirvikalpa samādhi, that is, a nirvikalpa state in which the body and mind remain like a log of wood, unresponsive and unaware of the outside world) and sahaja nirvikalpa samādhi (natural nirvikalpa samādhi, that is, our natural state of pure self-awareness, in which nothing other than ‘I’ is experienced, but in which the body and mind may seem to be functioning normally in the view of any other person).

Another term that is used to describe kāṣṭha nirvikalpa samādhi is kēvala nirvikalpa samādhi (solitary or isolated nirvikalpa samādhi), and though it is a sleep-like state, it is distinguished from sleep by the degree of clarity that is said to be experienced in it. To illustrate this difference, Sri Ramana sometimes said that in sleep the mind is sunk in darkness whereas in kēvala nirvikalpa samādhi it is sunk in light. However, in other contexts he said that sleep is a state of darkness only from the perspective of the waking mind, because in sleep we do experience ‘I am’, though not with perfect clarity. Likewise, ‘I am’ is experienced in kēvala nirvikalpa samādhi, but not with perfect clarity.

In both these states, sleep and kāṣṭha (or kēvala) nirvikalpa samādhi, though the mind has subsided (and hence there is awareness of nothing other than ‘I am’), it has not been destroyed, because our clarity of self-awareness is still to a greater or lesser extent clouded and obscured. Sleep is a state that the mind enters when it is simply too tired to continue attending to anything else, and kāṣṭha nirvikalpa samādhi is a state that the mind enters by an artificial means such as prāṇāyāma or some other such yōgic practice.

What clouds and obscures our natural clarity of self-awareness in sleep or kāṣṭha nirvikalpa samādhi is what is called āvaraṇa: the veiling or obscuring power of māyā, which is the fundamental form of māyā, being the self-forgetfulness or lack of clarity of self-awareness that enables all its other effects to manifest. The other effects of māyā are caused by its secondary form, which is called vikṣēpa: its power of projection, scattering, dispersion, dissipation, confusion or agitation. Āvaraṇa is like the darkness in a cinema, which is required in order for any picture to be seen on the screen, whereas vikṣēpa is like the power that projects the diverse pictures that appear on the screen.

In waking and dream both āvaraṇa and vikṣēpa are functioning, so we experience both a basic lack of clarity of self-awareness (that is, though we are aware that I am, we are not clearly aware what I am) and a diverse display of other things (thoughts, feelings, perceptions of a seemingly outside world and so on), whereas in sleep and kāṣṭha nirvikalpa samādhi what persists is only āvaraṇa, because vikṣēpa has temporarily ceased to function, so we experience only the same basic lack of clarity of self-awareness. Until āvaraṇa (this basic lack of clarity of self-awareness) is destroyed by absolute clarity of self-awareness, vikṣēpa cannot be destroyed, but will cease functioning only temporarily and will continue to reappear again and again.

To destroy vikṣēpa we must destroy its root cause, āvaraṇa, and to destroy āvaraṇa we must experience what this ‘I’ actually is by focusing our entire attention keenly and vigilantly on it alone. However, since we cannot make any effort to attend keenly to ‘I’ either in sleep or in kāṣṭha nirvikalpa samādhi, we can try to experience perfect clarity of self-awareness only when we have risen from either of these states.

In contrast to either of these states, sahaja nirvikalpa samādhi is our natural state of clear self-awareness, because it is a state that the mind enters only by the practice of self-attentiveness: that is, by attending only to ‘I’. That is, the nirvikalpa samādhi that results from attending only to ‘I’ is sahaja nirvikalpa samādhi, whereas the nirvikalpa samādhi that results from attending to anything else is kāṣṭha nirvikalpa samādhi. The former will weaken and eventually destroy all our viṣaya-vāsanās or desires to experience anything other than ‘I’, and thus it will undermine and destroy the mind, which seems to exist only when it experiences something other than ‘I’, whereas the latter is just a state of temporary subsidence of mind, in which all its viṣaya-vāsanās remain intact, although temporarily dormant.

Sri Ramana generally used the term sahaja nirvikalpa samādhi, or simply sahaja samādhi as he more frequently called it, to describe our natural state of absolutely clear self-knowledge, which is our goal, but he also sometimes used it to describe the practice of self-investigation or self-attentiveness, which is the only means by which we can attain this goal. For example, in the introduction (avatārikai) that he wrote to his Tamil translation of Sri Adi Sankara’s Dṛg-Dṛśya-Vivēka (Discrimination between the Seer and the Seen), he wrote:
[...] தன்னையே பாஹ்யாந்தர திருஷ்டிபேதமின்றி எப்போதும் நாடும் சஹஜசமாதிப் பழக்கத்தால் அவ்வாவரணம் நீங்கவே, அத்விதீயப் பிரஹ்மாத்ம சொரூபமாத்திரம் மிஞ்சிப் பிரகாசிக்கும் [...]

[...] taṉṉaiyē bāhyāntara diruṣṭi-bhēdam-iṉḏṟi eppōdum nāḍum sahaja-samādhi-p paṙakkattāl a-vv-āvaraṇam nīṅga-v-ē, advitīya-b brahmātma sorūpa-māttiram miñci-p pirakāśikkum [...]

[…] when that āvaraṇa [the veiling power of māyā, which obscures our natural clarity of self-awareness] is removed by the practice of sahaja samādhi, which is always scrutinising oneself alone without bāhyāntara-dṛṣṭi-bhēda [any difference or distinction between seeing what seems to be external or what seems to be internal], only advitīya brahmātma-svarūpa [our own essential self, which is brahman, the absolute reality, the ‘one without a second’] will remain and shine […]
This practice of sahaja samādhi (which he defines here as investigating, scrutinising or attending only to oneself, ‘I’) is the only type of samādhi that he advised us to practise or try to achieve, because it is the only practice that will destroy our fundamental illusion that we are this mind that we now experience as ‘I’. That is, unless we attend only to ‘I’, we cannot experience what we really are, and unless we experience what we really are we cannot destroy the illusion that we are this mind.

Since all that we need to do in order to experience what we really are is to attend only to ‘I’, and since we do not need to know about any type of samādhi in order to attend only to ‘I’, Sri Ramana generally did not speak about samādhi but only emphasised the need for us to try to experience what this ‘I’ actually is. He spoke about this practice in terms of samādhi or discussed the various different types of samādhi only when he was asked questions in such terms, or when he was discussing texts in which such terms are used.

Long before we ever heard of any technical vocabulary such as samādhi or nirvikalpa samādhi, and whether or not we understand what any of these terms mean, we were and always are aware that ‘I am’, so for us to investigate and experience what this ‘I’ actually is it is not necessary for us to understand or even to know about these terms. Therefore, rather than confusing us with any such unnecessary or unfamiliar terminology, Sri Ramana simply advised us to investigate and try to experience what this ‘I’ actually is: who am I?

Because the terms samādhi and nirvikalpa samādhi are used to denote various different states, they are not precisely defined terms and can therefore lead to confusion. Hence, rather than discussing all the different types of samādhi, Sri Ramana classified any state of subsidence of mind as being either manōlaya (temporary subsidence of mind) or manōnāśa (destruction or permanent subsidence of mind). As he says in verse 13 of Upadēśa Undiyār:
இலயமு நாச மிரண்டா மொடுக்க
மிலயித் துளதெழு முந்தீபற
      வெழாதுரு மாய்ந்ததே லுந்தீபற.

ilayamu nāśa miraṇḍā moḍukka
milayit tuḷadeṙu mundīpaṟa
      veṙāduru māyndadē lundīpaṟa
.

பதச்சேதம்: இலயமும் நாசம் இரண்டு ஆம் ஒடுக்கம். இலயித்து உளது எழும். எழாது உரு மாய்ந்ததேல்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): ilayam-um nāśam iraṇḍu ām oḍukkam. ilayittu uḷadu eṙum. eṙādu uru māyndadēl.

அன்வயம்: ஒடுக்கம் இலயமும் நாசம் இரண்டு ஆம். இலயித்து உளது எழும். உரு மாய்ந்ததேல் எழாது.

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): oḍukkam ilayam-um nāśam iraṇḍu ām. ilayittu uḷadu eṙum. uru māyndadēl eṙādu.

English translation: Subsidence [of mind] is [of] two [kinds]: laya [temporary subsidence] and nāśa [destruction]. That [mind] which is lying down [in laya] will rise. If [its] form dies [in nāśa], it will not rise.
The subsidence of mind that is brought about by prāṇāyāma and other practices of rāja yōga is only kāṣṭha nirvikalpa samādhi, which (like sleep) is a form of manōlaya, whereas the subsidence of mind that is brought about by ātma-vicāra or self-attentiveness is sahaja nirvikalpa samādhi, which when achieved perfectly is manōnāśa. As Sri Ramana says in the eighth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?):
மனம் அடங்குவதற்கு விசாரணையைத் தவிர வேறு தகுந்த உபாயங்களில்லை. மற்ற உபாயங்களினால் அடக்கினால் மனம் அடங்கினாற்போ லிருந்து, மறுபடியும் கிளம்பிவிடும். பிராணாயாமத்தாலும் மன மடங்கும்; ஆனால் பிராண னடங்கியிருக்கும் வரையில் மனமு மடங்கியிருந்து, பிராணன் வெளிப்படும்போது தானும் வெளிப்பட்டு வாசனை வயத்தா யலையும். […] ஆகையால் பிராணாயாமம் மனத்தை யடக்க சகாயமாகுமே யன்றி மனோநாசஞ் செய்யாது.

maṉam aḍaṅguvadaṯku vicāraṇaiyai-t tavira vēṟu tahunda upāyaṅgaḷ-illai. maṯṟa upāyaṅgaḷiṉāl aḍakkiṉāl maṉam aḍaṅgiṉāl-pōl irundu, maṟupaḍiyum kiḷambi-viḍum. pirāṇāyāmattāl-um maṉam aḍaṅgum; āṉāl pirāṇaṉ aḍaṅgi-y-irukkum varaiyil maṉam-um aḍaṅgi-y-irundu, pirāṇaṉ veḷi-p-paḍum-bōdu tāṉum veḷi-p-paṭṭu vāsaṉai vayattāy alaiyum. […] āhaiyāl pirāṇāyāmam maṉattai y-aḍakka sahāyam-āhum-ē y-aṉḏṟi maṉōnāśam seyyādu.

To make the mind subside [permanently], there is no adequate means other than vicāraṇā [self-investigation]. If restrained by other means, the mind will remain as if subsided, [but] will emerge again. Even by prāṇāyāma [breath-restraint], the mind will subside; however, [though] the mind remains subsided so long as the breath remains subsided, when the breath emerges [or becomes manifest] it will also emerge and wander under the sway of [its] vāsanās [dispositions, inclinations, impulses or desires]. […] Therefore prāṇāyāma is just an aid to restrain the mind, but will not bring about manōnāśa [the annihilation of the mind].
Therefore in verse 14 of Upadēśa Undiyār he says:
ஒடுக்க வளியை யொடுங்கு முளத்தை
விடுக்கவே யோர்வழி யுந்தீபற
      வீயு மதனுரு வுந்தீபற.

oḍukka vaḷiyai yoḍuṅgu muḷattai
viḍukkavē yōrvaṙi yundīpaṟa
      vīyu madaṉuru vundīpaṟa.


பதச்சேதம்: ஒடுக்க வளியை ஒடுங்கும் உளத்தை விடுக்கவே ஓர் வழி, வீயும் அதன் உரு.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): oḍukka vaḷiyai oḍuṅgum uḷattai viḍukka-v-ē ōr vaṙi, vīyum adaṉ uru.

அன்வயம்: வளியை ஒடுக்க ஒடுங்கும் உளத்தை ஓர் வழி விடுக்கவே, அதன் உரு வீயும்.

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): vaḷiyai oḍukka oḍuṅgum uḷattai ōr vaṙi viḍukka-v-ē, adaṉ uru vīyum.

English translation: Only when [one] sends the mind, which subsides [only temporarily] when [one] restrains the breath, on ōr vaṙi [the path of investigation] will its form cease [die or be destroyed].
The Tamil word ōr is both a verb that means to investigate, examine, consider attentively or know, and an adjective that means ‘one’, so ōr vaṙi can either mean the ‘path of investigation’ or the ‘one path’. However, since the only means by which the mind can be destroyed is the path of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), whichever way we choose to interpret the meaning of ōr vaṙi, it denotes only this one path of self-investigation.

What he wrote in such passages about prāṇāyāma applies equally well to all the other practices of rāja yōga, because they all entail attention to something other than ‘I’ and can therefore bring about only manōlaya and not manōnāśa. Until a yōgi ‘sends the mind on the path of investigation’ (that is, until he or she directs his or her attention only towards ‘I’), he or she will not be able to experience what this ‘I’ really is, and hence will not be able to destroy the illusion that the mind is ‘I’.

What prevents us from experiencing ‘I’ as it really is are our viṣaya-vāsanās, our desires, inclinations or liking to experience anything other than ‘I’, so in order to experience what we really are we need to destroy all our viṣaya-vāsanās, which we can do only by cultivating the liking to experience nothing other than ‘I’, and obviously the only way to cultivate this liking is to practise trying to experience nothing other than ‘I’. Since viṣaya-vāsanās manifest only when the mind is active, and remain dormant when it subsides, we cannot practise self-attentiveness and thereby weaken the hold of our vāsanās so long as our mind is subsided in any state of manōlaya such as sleep or kāṣṭha nirvikalpa samādhi. Therefore Sri Ramana strongly discouraged anyone allowing their mind to subside in kāṣṭha nirvikalpa samādhi, and he used to say that before the mind subsides in any type of manōlaya we should try to attend vigilantly to ‘I’, and that if it has subsided in such as state, as soon as it revives we should resume our practice of self-attentiveness.

To illustrate that kāṣṭha nirvikalpa samādhi will not help us to eradicate our viṣaya-vāsanās Sri Ramana used to tell the following story: A yōgi lived on the banks of the Ganga, where he practised rāja yōga, and he was so adept in his practice that his mind often subsided in kāṣṭha nirvikalpa samādhi. Once after he woke from a long period in such samādhi he felt thirsty, so he asked his disciple to bring him a cup of water from the river. Before his disciple returned with the water, he had again subsided in samādhi, and this time his samādhi was so deep that he remained in it for 300 years, but as soon as he awoke he again asked for water, this time rather angrily, thinking his disciple had been slow to bring it.

Sri Ramana said that this illustrated that viṣaya-vāsanās remain perfectly intact when the mind is subsided in kāṣṭha nirvikalpa samādhi or any other state of manōlaya, because even the last thought that was in the yōgi’s mind before he subsided in samādhi rose again as soon as he woke up. The reason that they are not destroyed in such samādhi, just as they are not destroyed in sleep, is that they are inclinations or likings to experience something other than ‘I’, so they can be weakened and eventually destroyed only when instead allowing our mind to be driven by them we choose instead to try to experience ‘I’ alone.

That is, since we have cultivated our viṣaya-vāsanās by our own volition (that is, by choosing to think of and to try to experience certain viṣayas or things other than ‘I’), we can destroy them only when by a contrary volition (that is, by choosing to attend to and to try to experience nothing other than ‘I’) we cultivate an all-consuming love to experience only ‘I’. This is why in the tenth and eleventh paragraphs of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?), which I quoted in full in my answer to your first question above [in Self-investigation and sexual restraint], Sri Ramana said:
தொன்றுதொட்டு வருகின்ற விஷயவாசனைகள் அளவற்றனவாய்க் கடலலைகள் போற் றோன்றினும் அவையாவும் சொரூபத்யானம் கிளம்பக் கிளம்ப அழிந்துவிடும். அத்தனை வாசனைகளு மொடுங்கி, சொரூபமாத்திரமா யிருக்க முடியுமா வென்னும் சந்தேக நினைவுக்கு மிடங்கொடாமல், சொரூபத்யானத்தை விடாப்பிடியாய்ப் பிடிக்க வேண்டும். […]

toṉḏṟutoṭṭu varugiṉḏṟa viṣaya-vāsaṉaigaḷ aḷavaṯṟaṉavāy-k kaḍal-alaigaḷ pōl tōṉḏṟiṉum avai-yāvum sorūpa-dhyāṉam kiḷamba-k kiḷamba aṙindu-viḍum. attaṉai vāsaṉaigaḷum oḍuṅgi, sorūpa-māttiramāy irukka muḍiyumā v-eṉṉum sandēha niṉaivukkum iḍam koḍāmal, sorūpa-dhyāṉattai viḍā-p-piḍiyāy-p piḍikka vēṇḍum. […]

Even though viṣaya-vāsanās, which come from time immemorial, rise [as thoughts] in countless numbers like ocean-waves, they will all be destroyed when svarūpa-dhyāna [self-attentiveness] increases and increases. Without giving room even to the doubting thought ‘Is it possible to dissolve so many vāsanās and remain only as self?’ it is necessary to cling tenaciously to self-attentiveness. […]

மனத்தின்கண் எதுவரையில் விஷயவாசனைக ளிருக்கின்றனவோ, அதுவரையில் நானா ரென்னும் விசாரணையும் வேண்டும். நினைவுகள் தோன்றத் தோன்ற அப்போதைக்கப்போதே அவைகளையெல்லாம் உற்பத்திஸ்தானத்திலேயே விசாரணையால் நசிப்பிக்க வேண்டும். […] ஒருவன் தான் சொரூபத்தை யடையும் வரையில் நிரந்தர சொரூப ஸ்மரணையைக் கைப்பற்றுவானாயின் அதுவொன்றே போதும். கோட்டைக்குள் எதிரிக ளுள்ளவரையில் அதிலிருந்து வெளியே வந்துகொண்டே யிருப்பார்கள். வர வர அவர்களையெல்லாம் வெட்டிக்கொண்டே யிருந்தால் கோட்டை கைவசப்படும்.

maṉattiṉgaṇ edu-varaiyil viṣaya-vāsaṉaigaḷ irukkiṉḏṟaṉavō, adu-varaiyil nāṉ-ār eṉṉum vicāraṇai-y-um vēṇḍum. niṉaivugaḷ tōṉḏṟa-t tōṉḏṟa appōdaikkappōdē avaigaḷai-y-ellām uṯpatti-sthāṉattilēyē vicāraṇaiyāl naśippikka vēṇḍum. […] oruvaṉ tāṉ sorūpattai y-aḍaiyum varaiyil nirantara sorūpa-smaraṇaiyai-k kai-p-paṯṟuvāṉāyiṉ adu-v-oṉḏṟē pōdum. kōṭṭaikkuḷ edirigaḷ uḷḷa-varaiyil adilirundu veḷiyē vandu-koṇḍē y-iruppārgaḷ. vara vara avargaḷai-y-ellām veṭṭi-k-koṇḍē y-irundāl kōṭṭai kaivaśa-p-paḍum.

As long as viṣaya-vāsanās exist in the mind, so long is the investigation who am I necessary. As and when thoughts arise, then and there it is necessary to annihilate them all by vicāraṇā [self-investigation] in the very place from which they arise. […] If one clings fast to uninterrupted svarūpa-smaraṇa [self-remembrance] until one attains svarūpa [one’s own essential self], that alone will be sufficient. So long as enemies [viṣaya-vāsanās] are within the fort [the heart or core of one’s being], they will continue coming out from it. If [one] continues cutting them all down as and when they come, the fort will [eventually] come into [one’s] possession.
Question 7: I have seen ‘on-line accounts’ that say that Sri Ramana practiced nirvikalpa samadhi in a cave after his teenage realisation. Some say 3 years, others say 20 years. How truthful are these? For example:
In a cave on the mountain he became absorbed in meditative awareness of immanence for two or three years oblivious of his body, so that insects ate parts of his legs, his body wasted as he was rarely conscious enough to eat, and his hair and fingernails grew to great length. After this his slow return to physical normality took several years. (http://www.philtar.ac.uk/encyclopedia/hindu/ascetic/ramana.html)

Complete Absorption in the Self

He now began his life of complete inner absorption in the great Universal Self. He sat in various places within the temple complex, avoiding contact with people as much as possible. For days, and weeks on end he was lost in samadhi, unconscious of the world and his body. Insects and vermin crawled over his legs and chewed his flesh but he was completely unaware of it. His consciousness was swimming in the vast ocean of Universal Awareness. His body began to lose weight and weaken but he took no notice of it.
I knew nothing, had learned nothing before I came here. Some mysterious power took possession of me and effected a thorough transformation. I knew nothing and planned nothing. When I left home in my 17th year, I was like a speck swept on by a tremendous flood. I knew not my body or the world, whether it was day or night. It was difficult even to open my eyes. The eyelids seemed to be glued down. My body became a mere skeleton. Visitors pitied my plight as they were not aware how blissful I was. It was after years that I came across the term Brahman when I happened to look into some books on Vedanta brought to me. Amused, I said to myself, ‘Is this known as Brahman!?!’ (http://www.cosmicharmony.com/Sp/Ramana/Ramana.htm)
On the day in July 1896 when he was overwhelmed by an intense fear of death, Sri Ramana keenly investigated himself in order to see whether or not ‘I’ is something that would cease to exist when the body dies, and due to the intensity of his self-attentiveness he experienced what ‘I’ actually is, namely the one infinite and eternal reality, other than which nothing exists. Thus his mind or finite (personal) self was completely destroyed in the absolute clarity of pristine self-awareness, so from that moment he remained permanently absorbed in and as the one infinite (transpersonal) self or ‘I am’.

This natural state of complete self-absorption is what he later sometimes described as sahaja samādhi or sahaja nirvikalpa samādhi, as I explained above. So yes, from that day onwards he was permanently absorbed in this state of sahaja nirvikalpa samādhi, but this was not a state that he ever needed to practise after that first brief moment of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), because at that moment he merged entirely in it, ceasing thereby to exist as anything separate from it.

As he often indicated, either implicitly or explicitly, after merging and becoming one with the infinite ‘I am’, he did not experience anything other than that, so in his view there was neither any body nor any world. When asked about the seeming actions of his body, mind and speech, he said that these exist only in the view of others, but not in his view.

Such statements seem to us to be paradoxical, and so long as we experience duality, which entails the basic distinction between ‘I’ and other, we cannot adequately understand the experience of a jñāni such as Sri Ramana, who experiences nothing other than ‘I’, and in whose view there is neither any action nor anything that could act or do anything. As he says in verse 31 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu:
தன்னை யழித்தெழுந்த தன்மயா னந்தருக்
கென்னை யுளதொன் றியற்றுதற்குத் — தன்னையலா
தன்னிய மொன்று மறியா ரவர்நிலைமை
யின்னதென் றுன்ன லெவன்.

taṉṉai yaṙitteṙunda taṉmayā ṉandaruk
keṉṉai yuḷadoṉ ḏṟiyaṯṟudaṟkut — taṉṉaiyalā
taṉṉiya moṉḏṟu maṟiyā ravarnilaimai
yiṉṉadeṉ ḏṟuṉṉa levaṉ
.

பதச்சேதம்: தன்னை அழித்து எழுந்த தன்மயானந்தருக்கு என்னை உளது ஒன்று இயற்றுதற்கு? தன்னை அலாது அன்னியம் ஒன்றும் அறியார்; அவர் நிலைமை இன்னது என்று உன்னல் எவன்?

Padacchēdam (word-separation): taṉṉai aṙittu eṙunda taṉmaya-āṉandarukku eṉṉai uḷadu oṉḏṟu iyaṯṟudaṯku? taṉṉai alādu aṉṉiyam oṉḏṟum aṟiyār; avar nilaimai iṉṉadu eṉḏṟu uṉṉal evaṉ?

அன்வயம்: தன்னை அழித்து எழுந்த தன்மயானந்தருக்கு இயற்றுதற்கு என்னை ஒன்று உளது? தன்னை அலாது அன்னியம் ஒன்றும் அறியார்; அவர் நிலைமை இன்னது என்று உன்னல் எவன்?

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): taṉṉai aṙittu eṙunda taṉmaya-āṉandarukku iyaṯṟudaṯku eṉṉai oṉḏṟu uḷadu? taṉṉai alādu aṉṉiyam oṉḏṟum aṟiyār; avar nilaimai iṉṉadu eṉḏṟu uṉṉal evaṉ?

English translation: For those who enjoy tanmayānanda [the ‘bliss composed of it’, namely the real self], which rose [as ‘I am I’] destroying the [false] self [the mind or ego], what one [action] exists for doing? They do not know anything other than self, [so] who can [or how to] conceive their state as ‘it is such’?
He also emphasises the actionlessness of the state of non-dual self-knowledge in verse 15 of Upadēśa Undiyār:
மனவுரு மாயமெய்ம் மன்னுமா யோகி
தனக்கோர் செயலிலை யுந்தீபற
      தன்னியல் சார்ந்தன னுந்தீபற.

maṉavuru māyameym maṉṉumā yōgi
taṉakkōr seyalilai yundīpaṟa
      taṉṉiyal sārndaṉa ṉundīpaṟa.


பதச்சேதம்: மன உரு மாய மெய் மன்னும் மா யோகி தனக்கு ஓர் செயல் இலை. தன் இயல் சார்ந்தனன்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): maṉa uru māya mey maṉṉum mā yōgi taṉakku ōr seyal ilai. taṉ iyal sārndaṉaṉ.

English translation: When the form of the mind is annihilated, for the great yōgi who is [thereby] established as the reality, there is not a single doing [or action], [because] he has attained his [true] nature [which is actionless being].
The words that I have translated here as ‘a single doing [or action]’ are ōr seyal, and as I explained earlier while discussing the meaning of verse 14 of Upadēśa Undiyār, the Tamil word ōr is both an adjective that means ‘one’ and a verb that means to investigate or know, so ōr seyal can either mean ‘one doing [or action]’ or ‘[any] act of knowing’. Whereas knowing or experiencing anything other than ‘I’ is an action or ‘doing’, because it entails a movement of our attention away from ourself towards something that seems to be other than ourself, knowing or experiencing only ‘I’ is not an action but is the state of just being (summā iruppadu), because ‘I’ is inherently self-aware, so its very nature is to experience itself as ‘I am’, and to experience itself thus its attention need not move anywhere, but just has to rest peacefully in and as its source, ‘I am’.

This non-doing nature of self-knowledge is also emphasised and explained by Sri Ramana in verse 26 of Upadēśa Undiyār:
தானா யிருத்தலே தன்னை யறிதலாந்
தானிரண் டற்றதா லுந்தீபற
      தன்மய நிட்டையீ துந்தீபற.

tāṉā yiruttalē taṉṉai yaṟidalān
tāṉiraṇ ḍaṯṟadā lundīpaṟa
      taṉmaya niṭṭhaiyī dundīpaṟa.


பதச்சேதம்: தானாய் இருத்தலே தன்னை அறிதல் ஆம், தான் இரண்டு அற்றதால். தன்மய நிட்டை ஈது.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): tāṉ-āy iruttal-ē taṉṉai aṟidal ām, tāṉ iraṇḍu aṯṟadāl. taṉmaya niṭṭhai īdu.

அன்வயம்: தான் இரண்டு அற்றதால், தானாய் இருத்தலே தன்னை அறிதல் ஆம். ஈது தன்மய நிட்டை.

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): tāṉ iraṇḍu aṯṟadāl, tāṉ-āy iruttal-ē taṉṉai aṟidal ām. īdu taṉmaya niṭṭhai.

English translation: Being self alone is knowing self, because self is devoid of two. This is tanmaya-niṣṭhā [‘abidance composed of it’, that is, the state of being firmly established as tat or ‘it’, the one absolute reality called brahman, which is our real self].
As he often explained, we do not have two selves or two ‘I’s, so self-knowledge is not a state in which one ‘I’ knows another ‘I’, but is just the state in which ‘I’ experiences itself by just being itself. Because we now like to experience things other than ‘I’, it seems to us that we need to make effort to experience only ‘I’, but when our mind is destroyed by perfectly clear self-awareness, its liking to experience other things will be destroyed along with it, after which we will find that experiencing nothing other than ‘I’ requires no effort, because pure non-dual self-awareness is our very nature. This is why in verse 15 Sri Ramana said, ‘[…] there is no act of knowing, [because] he has attained his [true] nature’.

However, though Sri Ramana was firmly established in this state of absolutely non-dual and otherless self-knowledge (which is what is called sahaja nirvikalpa samādhi, the natural state of absorption, which is completely devoid of any vikalpa, change or difference), and though he therefore did not experience himself as a body or mind, or experience anything else other than ‘I am’, in our view he continued to exist as a body, which travelled from Madurai (the town when he confronted his intense fear of death and thereby experienced what ‘I’ really is) to Tiruvannamalai and lived there for the next 54 years, until its death in 1950.

During those 54 years his body underwent various changes. For its first few years in Tiruvannamalai it spent most of the time sitting oblivious to the world, so much so that for much of the first two or three months it sat in a neglected shrine called Patala Lingam (situated under the thousand-pillared hall in a corner of the vast Arunachaleswara Temple) unnoticed by anyone and without eating any food or even moving, allowing ants or other insects to feed on its thighs. When it was eventually found there, no one was able to wake it, so they gently lifted it to take it to a cleaner place, and since the coagulated blood, pus and scabs on its thighs had stuck to the filthy insect-infested ground on which it was sitting, the wounds were opened and began to bleed afresh, but still it showed no signs of waking.

Naturally people took such signs of intense self-absorption to mean that he was practising nirvikalpa samādhi, but he later explained that that was not the case, because whether his body was active or remained like a log of wood, he was always effortlessly absorbed only in self. Over the next few years his body gradually began to resume normal activities, but for several years he did not speak. People assumed that this meant he was observing a vow of silence, but he later said that his silence then was not deliberate, but that he had just lost the habit of speaking and felt no inclination to resume.

However, he explained all such things only many years later, so in the early years people imagined all sorts of things about his state, and the general belief was that when he first came to Tiruvannamalai he was practising some sort of intense tapas (spiritual austerity) in order to achieve liberation. He was unconcerned about such rumours and beliefs, so for many years he did not refute them, but when people later began to ask him what he was actually doing at that time, he made it clear that he had already achieved in Madurai all that needed to be achieved. As he once cryptically remarked in this context: ‘The sun that rose in Madurai is the same sun that is shining here in Tiruvannamalai. It has not changed in the least’.

Though he thus refuted many of the old beliefs about and misinterpretations of his state in those early years, the remnants of such beliefs still tend to persist in the popular imagination, because it is truly difficult for any of us to understand his state until we ourself experience it. This is why in various accounts of his life there are still some implications that he was practising nirvikalpa samādhi or some such thing, and almost all accounts inevitably seem to suggest that he was still a person who had certain personal experiences. So long as we consider him to be the person that he seemed to be, rather than the one infinite reality that we each experience as ‘I am’, we cannot avoid thinking of him in terms of someone who experienced the same some of diversity and otherness that we each experience.

One on the clearest examples of how emphatically he later refuted the belief that he was practising or seeking to achieve anything during his early years in Tiruvannamalai is what he said in reply to Prof. DS Sarma on 4th October 1946. What he replied to Sarma in Tamil on that day was recorded by Sarma in English and sent to him for his approval before Sarma published it in an article in The Vedanta Kesari (vol. 33, No. 9: January 1947, p.327), and since then it has been reproduced in many books and journal such as Hinduism Through the Ages by DS Sarma, Sri Ramana Reminiscences by GV Subbaramayya and The Mountain Path (April 1977, pp. 80-1). It was also recorded independently by Devaraja Mudaliar in Day By Day with Bhagavan (entry dated 4-10-46: 2002 edition, pp. 317-8). What Sarma recorded is that he asked Sri Ramana:
In the lives of the western mystics we find descriptions of what is called the mystic way with the three well-marked stages of purgation, illumination and union. The purgatory stage corresponds to what we call the sādhana period. Was there any such period in the life of Bhagavan?
To this Sri Ramana replied emphatically:
I know no such period. I never performed any prāṇāyāma or japa. I knew no mantras. I had no idea of meditation or contemplation. Even when I came to hear of such things later I was never attracted by them. Even now my mind refuses to pay any attention to them. Sādhana [spiritual practice] implies an object to be gained and the means of gaining it. What is there to be gained which we do not already possess? In meditation, concentration and contemplation, what we have to do is only not to think of anything, but to be still. Then we shall be in our natural state. This natural state is given many names — mōkṣa, jñāna, ātma, etc., and these give rise to many controversies. There was a time when I used to remain with my eyes closed. That does not mean that I was practising any sādhana then. Even now I sometimes remain with my eyes closed. If people choose to say that I am doing some sādhana at the moment, let them say so. It makes no difference to me. People seem to think that by practising some elaborate sādhana the Self would some day descend upon them as something very big and with tremendous glory and they would then have what is called sākṣātkāram [‘making evident’: that is, evident perception or ‘realisation’]. The Self is sākṣāt [evident], all right, but there is no kāram [making] or kṛtam [made] about it. The word kāram implies one’s doing something. But the Self is realized not by one’s doing something, but by one’s refraining from doing anything — by remaining still and being simply what one really is.
‘What one really is’ is something that is clearly and perfectly self-aware, so ‘remaining still and being simply what one really is’ means just being calmly and clearly self-aware without any action of mind, speech or body. This practice or ‘path’ of just being (summā iruppadu) is clearly described by Sri Ramana in verse 4 of Āṉma-Viddai:
கன்மா திகட்டவிழ சென்மா திநட்டமெழ
வெம்மார்க் கமதனினு மிம்மார்க் கமிக்கெளிது
சொன்மா னததனுவின் கன்மா திசிறிதின்றிச்
சும்மா வமர்ந்திருக்க வம்மா வகத்திலான்ம —
      சோதியே; நிதானு பூதியே; இராது பீதியே;
      இன்பவம் போதியே. (ஐயே)

kaṉmā dikaṭṭaviṙa jeṉmā dinaṭṭameṙa
vemmārg gamadaṉiṉu mimmārg gamikkeḷidu
soṉmā ṉadadaṉuviṉ kaṉmā disiṟidiṉḏṟic
cummā vamarndirukka vammā vahattilāṉma —
      jyōtiyē; nitāṉu bhūtiyē; irādu bhītiyē;
      iṉbavam bhōdhiyē. (aiyē)


பதச்சேதம்: கன்ம[ம்] ஆதி கட்டு அவிழ, சென்ம[ம்] ஆதி நட்டம் எழ, எம் மார்க்கம் அதனினும் இம் மார்க்கம் மிக்கு எளிது. சொல் மானத தனுவின் கன்ம[ம்] ஆதி சிறிது இன்றி சும்மா அமர்ந்து இருக்க, அம்மா, அகத்தில் ஆன்ம சோதியே; நித அனுபூதியே; இராது பீதியே; இன்ப அம்போதியே. (ஐயே, அதி சுலபம், ...)

Padacchēdam (word-separation): kaṉma-ādi kaṭṭu aviṙa, jeṉma-ādi naṭṭam eṙa, e-m-mārggam-adaṉiṉum i-m-mārggam mikku eḷidu. sol māṉada taṉuviṉ kaṉma-ādi siṟidu iṉḏṟi summā amarndu irukka, ammā, ahattil āṉma-jyōti-y-ē; nita āṉubhūti-y-ē; irādu bhīti-y-ē; iṉba ambhōdhi-y-ē. (aiye, ati sulabham, …)

English translation: To untie the bonds beginning with karma [that is, the bonds of action and of all that results from it], [and] to rise above the ruin beginning with birth [that is, to transcend and become free from the miseries of embodied existence, which begins with birth and ends with death], rather than whatever [other] path, this path [ātma-vicāra] is exceedingly easy. When [one] just is, having settled [calmly as pure self-awareness] without even the least karma [action] of mind, speech or body, ah, in [one’s] heart [the innermost core of one’s being] the light of self [will shine forth clearly as ‘I am I’]. [Having thereby drowned and lost our finite self in this perfectly peaceful and infinitely clear state of pure self-awareness, we will discover it to be our] eternal experience. Fear will not exist. The ocean of [infinite] bliss alone [will remain]. ([Therefore] ah, the science of self is extremely easy, ah, extremely easy!)
As I explained earlier, attending to (or experiencing) anything other than ‘I’ is an action (karma), whereas being self-attentive (experiencing nothing other than ‘I’) is not an action but our natural state of being. Therefore what Sri Ramana describes in this verse as சொல் மானத தனுவின் கன்ம[ம்] ஆதி சிறிது இன்றி சும்மா அமர்ந்து இருக்க (sol māṉada taṉuviṉ kaṉmādi siṟidiṉḏṟi summā amarndirukka: when [one] just is, having settled without even the least action of mind, speech or body) is just the state of pure self-attentiveness that he also described as ātma-vicāra (self-investigation).

This is the easiest of all paths or spiritual practices, because every other path entails attending to something other than ‘I’, and is therefore an action, whereas this path entails attending only to ‘I’, so it is not an action but our natural state of pure self-aware being. Moreover, not only is this the easiest path, but it is also the only path that will lead us directly to our goal, because our goal is the action-free state of pure self-awareness, so it can be attained only by action-free pure self-awareness. Any other path can at best only purify the mind and thereby enable it to understand that the only way to experience ‘I’ as it actually is is to try to experience it alone, in complete isolation from everything else, including all actions of mind, speech or body.

Though kāṣṭha nirvikalpa samādhi is also a state that is devoid of any action of mind, speech or body, it is not a sādhana or practice, but is a state in which the mind subsides as a result of some practice that entails attending to something other than ‘I’. Because it results in this way, it is a state devoid of clear self-awareness, so it cannot help one to experience ‘I’ as it really is.

In order for us to experience ourself as we really are, we must focus our entire attention upon this ‘I’. As Sri Ramana repeatedly made clear, there is no other means by which we can experience what we actually are and thereby liberate ourself not only from all karmas and their fruits (actions and their consequences) but also from the instruments that do karmas (namely the mind, speech and body) and from what experiences their fruit or consequences (namely the mind).

Kāṣṭha nirvikalpa samādhi or any other type of samādhi except sahaja samādhi is just a temporary lull (laya) in the activity of the mind, like the lull that we effortlessly enjoy every day in deep sleep, but it will not bring about complete annihilation of mind (manōnāśa), because it is not a state of clear self-awareness. Since absolutely clear self-awareness is our goal, the only means by which we can achieve it is absolutely clear self-awareness, so by practising ātma-vicāra or keenly focused self-attentiveness we must try to experience our natural state of absolutely clear self-awareness.

This is the sum and substance of the simple and clear teachings that Sri Ramana has given us based upon what he discovered from his own experience.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Ahiṁsā and sexual morality
(Interview on Celibacy: Part 4)

This is the fourth of the following five instalments, which are a slightly modified reproduction of an interview in which I answered seven questions asked by the editor of the online Non-Duality Magazine for their current issue entitled The Celibacy Question:
  1. Self-investigation and sexual restraint
  2. Ātma-vicāra is the only means by which we can experience ourself as we really are
  3. No differences exist in the non-dual view of Sri Ramana
  4. Ahiṁsā and sexual morality
  5. Ātma-vicāra and nirvikalpa samādhi
Question 5: Also have a question on Swami Suddhananda, a Vedanta teacher who seems to have violated the sanyasi dharma. James Swartz says that Vedanta works, and that one should separate "the teaching from the teacher", in this instance that would mean even if the teacher is dishonest and sexually abuses his students? Is this not just a lame excuse or like the proverbial "blind leading the blind" in a pit?

Michael James: I do not know the Swami you are referring to, so I do not know if any allegations about him are true, and hence I can only answer in general terms and not about his specific case.

If any spiritual teacher is dishonest or sexually abuses his students, that is obviously wrong, and he or she is not qualified to be a spiritual teacher. If anyone takes on the role of a spiritual teacher, they are taking on a huge responsibility, and they should accept that their students or followers will have certain reasonable expectations of them. Therefore if they cannot live up to such expectations, they should be honest and admit the fact, and they should not continue to pose as anything that they are not.

Regarding sexual abuse of any kind, that is unjustifiable under any circumstances. This is why ethical issues need to be considered in any questions about sexual conduct, whether the sexual conduct of a spiritual teacher or aspirant or of anyone else. Considering such questions from the point of view of a spiritual aspirant, I explained earlier [in answer to question 1 in Self-investigation and sexual restraint] that though the physical act of sex is not in itself an obstacle on the spiritual path, our desire for sex is a potential obstacle, so we need to minimise this desire as much as possible, but in that connection I did not mention any ethical considerations, so now is an opportunity to do so.

I believe the one overruling moral obligation we all have with regard not only to sexual conduct but also to anything else that we may do is that as far as possible we should always try to avoid causing harm to any other person or sentient being. The principle behind this obligation is called ahiṁsā (non-harm), which is rightly considered to be one of the foundations of any form of yōga or spiritual practice, and which is the one basic and essential moral principle that is most widely revered in all the dharmic religions (the family of religions that originated in India such as Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism).

With regard to sexual conduct, ahiṁsā means that we should avoid any sexual behaviour that could in any way cause harm to anyone. If two adults engage in sexual activity together with mutual consent, shared expectations, honesty and a reciprocal sense of obligation towards each other, and if they do so in circumstances that would not cause any harm to anyone else (such as by betraying the trust or legitimate expectations of a spouse or other type of established sexual partner, or by giving birth to an unwanted child whom neither of them would be willing to take proper care of), they would not be violating the principle of ahiṁsā, and hence there would not essentially be any moral wrong in what they are doing.

Though according to certain social norms it may be considered wrong, for example, to have sex before marriage or outside marriage, social norms are generally arbitrary and vary from one society or culture to another, so they do not necessarily determine what is inherently immoral, whereas ahiṁsā is a moral principle that is based on the universal ideals of compassion and reason, so it does necessarily determine what is inherently immoral. In all circumstances, in any society or any culture, it is morally wrong to cause unnecessary harm to anyone (though there are many circumstances in which it is not obvious how this general principle should best be applied, because sometimes avoiding causing one harm will cause another one).

As spiritual aspirants it is particularly important that we live as far as possible according to this principle of ahiṁsā, so we should avoid any sexual conduct that is liable to harm anyone. Obviously the most direct and immediate way in which sexual conduct can harm someone is when any form of sexual abuse in involved, whether in the form of violent rape, subtle coercion or deliberate deceit. Therefore any such abusive conduct should obviously be avoided, but such abuse is not the only way in which sexual behaviour can cause harm to others.

Human relationships are based on trust, and trust gives rise to certain reasonable expectations and consequent obligations, which can sometimes be betrayed by certain types of sexual behaviour, and this can lead to damaged relationships and consequent suffering. One obvious example of this is when someone betrays the trust of their wife, husband or other type of established sexual partner by engaging in sexual activity with someone else, and another example would be if a spiritual teacher who outwardly poses as celibate, whether formally as a monk or saṁnyāsi (a person who has formally renounced worldly life and is therefore usually expected to be celibate) or informally, were to deceive his or her devotees by secretly engaging in any sexual relationship.

A married person who betrays the trust and expectations of their spouse in this way can cause suffering not only to their spouse but also, if it results in a broken or disharmonious marriage, to their children. However, if a spiritual teacher betrays the trust and expectations of their followers in this way, and if they happen to have many followers, they could cause suffering, disillusionment and a sense of betrayal in the hearts of many more people than an unfaithful spouse would cause. Even if a spiritual teacher betrays the trust of only one devotee in this way, they can still cause considerable harm, because people tend to invest a huge amount of trust, faith and love in their spiritual teacher.

Some people deceive themselves into believing that because they are following a spiritual path (or believe that they have attained some sort of spiritual goal), they have somehow transcended the moral obligations that bind other people, and hence that they are free to behave as they please. Such people have not even began to follow the true spiritual path, because what following it entails above all else is self-denial: that is, curbing not only our desires but also the rising of the separate ‘I’ that has those desires. Therefore giving free rein to our desires is the very antithesis of following a spiritual path.

So long as we experience the existence of other people and other sentient beings, we are morally obliged to avoid as far as possible causing them any harm in any way whatsoever, and as spiritual aspirants we should feel this moral obligation even more strongly than others. We should not feel that this moral obligation restricts our freedom in any way, because it should actually help us to curb our desires, and we are truly free only to the extent to which we are free from our desires and consequently from our ego, which is their root cause.

If we truly wish to be free of all moral obligations, we must free ourself from the delusion that we are a person, because this delusion is the sole cause for the appearance of this world, in which so many other people and sentient beings seem to exist along with this person we take to be ‘I’. In order to free ourself from this delusion we must experience ourself as we really are, and in order to experience ourself thus we must investigate what this ‘I’ actually is [as I explained earlier in Ātma-vicāra is the only means by which we can experience ourself as we really are].

Next instalment: Ātma-vicāra and nirvikalpa samādhi

Friday, 28 March 2014

No differences exist in the non-dual view of Sri Ramana
(Interview on Celibacy: Part 3)

This is the third of the following five instalments, which are a slightly modified reproduction of an interview in which I answered seven questions asked by the editor of the online Non-Duality Magazine for their current issue entitled The Celibacy Question:
  1. Self-investigation and sexual restraint
  2. Ātma-vicāra is the only means by which we can experience ourself as we really are
  3. No differences exist in the non-dual view of Sri Ramana
  4. Ahiṁsā and sexual morality
  5. Ātma-vicāra and nirvikalpa samādhi
Question 3: Papaji said that none of his Western students were enlightened, that obviously would have included all the well known western teachers out there today who claim they belong to his lineage.

He said that no one was holy enough to receive what he knew. He said that he gave them spiritual lollipops and hinted they were enlightened to get the ‘leeches’ off his back. These are direct quotes of Papaji himself in the book ‘Nothing Ever Happened’.

Do you know if Sri Ramana ever gave Papji or anyone else permission to teach his version of atma Vichara?


Michael James: Sri Ramana never gave anyone ‘permission’ to teach ātma-vicāra, firstly because the reason he taught ātma-vicāra was not for us to teach it to others but only for each of us to practise it ourself, and secondly because teaching it does not require any permission, since it is not in any way a secret or something that should not be shared with anyone who cares to know about it.

Sri Ramana was once asked whether he had any secret teaching that he gave only to selected disciples, and he replied something to the effect: ‘Here it is all an open secret. Everyone knows ‘I am’, and ‘I am’ is all I know, so that is all I teach’ (as told to me by someone who was present at the time, and in Day by Day with Bhagavan it is recorded that on 8-10-46 in reply to a similar question he said: ‘There is nothing more to be known than what you find in books. No secret technique. It is all an open secret, in this system’). Therefore, since he taught ātma-vicāra openly to everyone who was interested to know what ‘I’ am or what is real, there was no need for him to give anyone special permission to share the same teaching with others.

This, incidentally, is the reason why neither he nor any of his real disciples ever tried or wanted to establish a paramparā or lineage of gurus to succeed him. Since he openly shared with everyone all that he knew from his own experience, including the clear and simple means by which we can each attain the same experience, there was no need for him to establish any kind of lineage. Moreover, he did not actually consider himself to be a guru, because he saw no difference between himself and others, so for him there could have been no question of establishing a lineage of gurus.

However, though in his non-dual view there is neither any disciple nor any guru, he did not deny that from the viewpoint of a spiritual aspirant a guru is necessary. He always taught that the real guru is only our own essential self, ‘I am’, but that since we are in the habit of attending constantly to other things and thereby ignoring our essential self, it is necessary for it to manifest outwardly in human form in order to teach us through words that we need to turn our attention back towards ourself in order to experience our essential self. Since the purpose of the human form of the guru is only to teach this, once that human form has made this teaching openly available to all who seek it (as Sri Ramana did), there is no need for any lineage of gurus, because the teachings remain available even after the human form has passed away.

Regarding the sayings of ‘Papaji’ (HWL Poonja) that you refer to here, I do not know how accurately these have been recorded, but if these are what he actually said, I find it very strange that anyone who claims to be a disciple of Sri Ramana should say such things, because they seem quite opposed to all that Sri Ramana taught, and they display a strong bhēda-buddhi or sense of difference, which is quite alien to his teachings and experience.

A visitor once praised Sri Ramana, saying to him, ‘Your realisation is unique in the spiritual history of the world’, to which he replied in English: ‘What is real in me is real in you and in everyone else. Where is the room for any difference?’ (as told to me by someone who was present at the time). Since in his experience the only thing that actually exists is self, ‘I am’, he did not see any difference between himself and others, so he never claimed to know anything that was not known by others, and he often said that in his view there is no one who is ignorant of self. This attitude of his is clearly expressed by him in verse 38 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Anubandham, which he composed in answer to someone who asked him how he was able to remain so unmoved by either praise or blame:
தானன்றி யாருண்டு தன்னையா ரென்சொலினென்
றான்றன்னை வாழ்த்துகினுந் தாழ்த்துகினுந் — தானென்ன
தான்பிறரென் றோராமற் றன்னிலையிற் பேராமற்
றானென்று நின்றிடவே தான்.

tāṉaṉḏṟi yāruṇḍu taṉṉaiyā reṉcoliṉeṉ
ḏṟāṉḏṟaṉṉai vāṙttugiṉun tāṙttugiṉun — tāṉeṉṉa
tāṉbiṟareṉ ḏṟōrāmaṯ ṟaṉṉilaiyiṯ pērāmaṯ
ṟāṉeṉḏṟu niṉḏṟiḍavē tāṉ.


பதச்சேதம்: தான் அன்றி யார் உண்டு? தன்னை யார் என் சொலின் என்? தான் தன்னை வாழ்த்துகினும், தாழ்த்துகினும் தான் என்ன? ‘தான்’, ‘பிறர்’ என்று ஓராமல், தன் நிலையில் பேராமல் தான் என்றும் நின்றிடவே தான்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): tāṉ aṉḏṟi yār uṇḍu? taṉṉai yār eṉ soliṉ eṉ? tāṉ taṉṉai vāṙttugiṉum, tāṙttugiṉum tāṉ eṉṉa? ‘ tāṉ’ ‘piṟar’ eṉḏṟu ōrāmal, taṉ ṉilaiyil pērāmal tāṉ eṉḏṟum niṉḏṟiḍa-v-ē tāṉ.

அன்வயம்: ‘தான்’, ‘பிறர்’ என்று ஓராமல், தன் நிலையில் பேராமல் தான் என்றும் நின்றிடவே தான், தான் அன்றி யார் உண்டு? தன்னை யார் என் சொலின் என்? தான் தன்னை வாழ்த்துகினும், தாழ்த்துகினும் தான் என்ன?

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): ‘ tāṉ’ ‘piṟar’ eṉḏṟu ōrāmal, taṉ ṉilaiyil pērāmal tāṉ eṉḏṟum niṉḏṟiḍa-v-ē tāṉ, tāṉ aṉḏṟi yār uṇḍu? taṉṉai yār eṉ soliṉ eṉ? tāṉ taṉṉai vāṙttugiṉum, tāṙttugiṉum tāṉ eṉṉa?

English translation: When oneself always abides inseparably in the state of self, without knowing [any differences such as] ‘myself’ and ‘others’, who is there besides oneself? If whoever says whatever about oneself, what [does it matter]? What indeed [does it matter] whether one praises or disparages oneself?
The same non-dual experience that made him indifferent to both praise and disparagement also made it impossible for him to see any difference between himself and others. Therefore he taught us that if differences of any kind seem to exist in our view, we need to rectify our view by experiencing ourself as we really are instead of as the person that we now seem to be.

Question 4: Do you know if Papaji was celibate like Sri Ramana was or engaged in sexual relations of any kind?

Michael James: I believe he was married and had children, which means he was not always celibate, though perhaps he was in his later life. I do not know enough about him to say more than this about any sexual relationships he may have had, and anyway I do not think that such personal matters about other people need concern us.

As Sri Ramana taught us, enquiring about others is anātma-vicāra (investigating what is not ourself), so it will not benefit us in any way. Therefore we should aim to do only ātma-vicāra (self-investigation), since this alone will enable us to experience ourself as we really are and thereby destroy our present illusion that we are a person, a finite being among so many other such finite beings.

Next instalment: Ahiṁsā and sexual morality

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Ātma-vicāra is the only means by which we can experience ourself as we really are
(Interview on Celibacy: Part 2)

This is the second of the following five instalments, which are a slightly modified reproduction of an interview in which I answered seven questions asked by the editor of the online Non-Duality Magazine for their current issue entitled The Celibacy Question:
  1. Self-investigation and sexual restraint
  2. Ātma-vicāra is the only means by which we can experience ourself as we really are
  3. No differences exist in the non-dual view of Sri Ramana
  4. Ahiṁsā and sexual morality
  5. Ātma-vicāra and nirvikalpa samādhi
Question 2: Some say that Sri Ramana told his followers that “only a very, very minuscule fraction of seekers are ‘ready’ to become fully enlightened through self-inquiry. He insisted that such a person would’ve had to have worked through many, many lifetimes of earnest, rigorous and skilful spiritual practice in order to be primed for this technique.”

Do you know if he had any other teachings designed for those who were not primed or ready for this, other than his atma vichara method?


Michael James: As I explained above [in the preliminary paragraphs of my answer to question 1 in Self-investigation and sexual restraint], statements are often attributed to Sri Ramana that he did not actually say, and this is clearly one such statement. On numerous occasions he said that ātma-vicāra (self-investigation or self-enquiry) is the only means by which we can experience ourself as we really are, and he explained the reasons for this very clearly in his original writings. Only to those who were unwilling to accept this did he talk about other types of spiritual practice, but he explained that no other practice could be a direct means to true self-experience, and that at best such practices can purify the mind and thereby give it the clarity to understand and accept that in order to experience ourself as we really are we must investigate ourself by attending only to ‘I’.

He taught that ātma-vicāra is not only the only means by which we can experience ourself as we really are, but is also the easiest of all kinds of spiritual practice. In verse 4 of Āṉma-Viddai he says:
கன்மா திகட்டவிழ சென்மா திநட்டமெழ
வெம்மார்க் கமதனினு மிம்மார்க் கமிக்கெளிது
[...]

kaṉmā dikaṭṭaviṙa jeṉmā dinaṭṭameṙa
vemmārg gamadaṉiṉu mimmārg gamikkeḷidu
[...]

பதச்சேதம்: கன்ம[ம்] ஆதி கட்டு அவிழ, சென்ம[ம்] ஆதி நட்டம் எழ, எம் மார்க்கம் அதனினும் இம் மார்க்கம் மிக்கு எளிது. [...]

Padacchēdam (word-separation): kaṉma-ādi kaṭṭu aviṙa, jeṉma-ādi naṭṭam eṙa, e-m-mārggam-adaṉiṉum i-m-mārggam mikku eḷidu. [...]

English translation: To untie the bonds beginning with karma [that is, the bonds of action and of all that results from it], [and] to rise above the ruin beginning with birth [that is, to transcend and become free from the miseries of embodied existence, which begin with birth and end with death], rather than whatever [other] path, this path [ātma-vicāra] is exceedingly easy. [...]
Therefore he taught that ātma-vicāra is both the only direct means and the easiest means, so it is suitable for anyone who genuinely wants to know what they really are. In verse 17 of Upadēśa Undiyār he says:
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, [it will be clear that] there is no such thing as ‘mind’. This is the direct path for everyone.
In the next verse he explains that though ‘mind’ is a collective name for all thoughts, the root of all thoughts is only the thought called ‘I’ (the ego), so in essence what is called ‘mind’ is only this ‘I’. Therefore what he means in verse 17 by ‘investigating the form of the mind’ is investigating this root-thought ‘I’. As he explained elsewhere, this thought called ‘I’ is cit-jaḍa-granthi, the knot that (seemingly) binds the conscious to the non-conscious, because it is a confused mixture of the pure consciousness ‘I am’, which alone is real, and a physical body, which is an unreal superimposition. Thus the ego or thought called ‘I’ is nothing other than our real self, the pristine ‘I am’, appearing as something that it is not, namely a body. Hence it is like a rope that appears to be a snake.

If we look carefully at such a snake, we will see that it is actually only a rope, and thus we will recognise that there was no such thing as a snake there at all. Likewise, if we look carefully at this mind (the ego or thought called ‘I’), we will see that it is actually only the pure and infinite consciousness ‘I am’, and thus we will recognise that there was no such thing as ‘mind’ at all. Therefore the first line of this verse, ‘When one investigates the form of the mind without forgetting’, is a description of uninterrupted ātma-vicāra, and Sri Ramana says that this is not only the direct path (the direct means by which we can experience ourself as we really are), but also the direct path ‘for everyone’. In other words, it is not only for a select few who are somehow specially qualified for it, but for everyone who wants to experience what this ‘I’ really is.

The only ‘qualification’ we need to investigate ‘I’ is that we should want to experience what this ‘I’ actually is, but this is like saying that the only people who are qualified to put food in their mouth, chew it and swallow it are those who want to eat it. Just as we would not compel anyone to eat if they do not want to, Sri Ramana never attempted to compel anyone to practise ātma-vicāra if they did not want to do so.

If anyone claims that they want to attain liberation or self-knowledge but that they do not want to practise ātma-vicāra, they would be like a person who claims that they want to read a book but that they do not want to look at what is printed in it. Just as it is necessary to look at what is printed in a book in order to read it, so it is necessary for us to investigate ourself by carefully attending to this ‘I’ in order to experience it as it really is.

The actual practice of ātma-vicāra is just trying to experience ‘I’ as it really is by attending to it keenly and vigilantly, so as Sri Ramana often pointed out, the nature of this path and of its goal are essentially the same: both entail only experiencing ourself. As he says in verse 579 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai:
மன்னுசொரூ பாத்துவித மாட்சியால் வேறுகதி
தன்னைத் தவிர்த்தில்லாத் தன்மையால் — துன்னு
முபேயமுந் தானே யுபாயமுந் தானே
யபேதமாக் காண்க வவை.

maṉṉusorū pādduvita māṭciyāl vēṟugati
taṉṉait tavirttillāt taṉmaiyāl — tuṉṉu
mupēyamun dāṉē yupāyamun dāṉē
yabhēdamāk kāṇka vavai.


பதச்சேதம்: மன்னு சொரூப அத்துவித மாட்சியால், வேறு கதி தன்னை தவிர்த்து இல்லா தன்மையால், துன்னும் உபேயமும் தானே, உபாயமும் தானே. அபேதமா காண்க அவை.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): maṉṉu sorūpa adduvita māṭciyāl, vēṟu gati taṉṉai tavirttu illā taṉmaiyāl, tuṉṉum upēyam-um tāṉē, upāyam-um tāṉē. abhēdam-ā kāṇga avai.

Because of the non-dual nature of [our] enduring self, [and] because of the fact that excluding self there is no other gati [refuge, means or goal], the upēya [the aim or goal] which [we are to] reach is only self and the upāya [the means or path] is only self. Know them to be non-different (abhēda).
Since differences entail duality, they are diametrically opposed to the non-dual nature of self, so in its view no differences actually exist, and hence whatever differences we experience are just a false appearance. Therefore, since our goal is self, which is absolutely non-dual and hence completely devoid of differences of any kind whatsoever, any practice whose nature is fundamentally different to it cannot be a means to experience it. Hence, since pure unadulterated self-awareness is the nature of self, it must also be the nature of the means by which we can experience it. Hence, since ātma-vicāra is just the attempt we make to experience such pure self-awareness or self-attentiveness, it is the only means by which we can merge and become one with our real self.

For some people who felt inclined toward the path of bhakti or devotion, Sri Ramana recommended that they should surrender themselves entirely to God, so he sometimes said that self-investigation and self-surrender are the only means by which we can attain liberation or self-knowledge. However, he also made it clear that self-investigation and self-surrender are not two different paths but one and the same, because in order to investigate and experience ourself as we really are we must be willing to give up our present false self, our mind or ego, which is what we are not, and in order to surrender this false self, we must know what our real self actually is. Therefore in the thirteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?) he said:
ஆன்மசிந்தனையைத் தவிர வேறு சிந்தனை கிளம்புவதற்குச் சற்று மிடங்கொடாமல் ஆத்மநிஷ்டாபரனா யிருப்பதே தன்னை ஈசனுக் களிப்பதாம். […]

āṉma-cintaṉaiyai-t tavira vēṟu cintaṉai kiḷambuvadaṯku-c caṯṟum iḍam-koḍāmal ātma-niṣṭhā-paraṉ-āy iruppadē taṉṉai īśaṉukku aḷippadām. […]

Being completely absorbed in ātma-niṣṭhā [self-abidance, the state of just being as we really are], giving not even the slightest room to the rising of any thought other than ātma-cintana [self-contemplation], alone is giving ourself to God.
It is true that most people are not interested in practising either ātma-vicāra or complete self-surrender as described here by Sri Ramana, so in that sense they are not ‘ready’ for it, but this is simply because they do not want real ‘enlightenment’, which is the state in which we experience ourself as we really are, thereby giving up the false self that we now mistake ourself to be. Unless we are willing at least to begin separating ourself from the body and mind that we now experience as ‘I’, we are not yet ready for either ātma-vicāra or complete self-surrender.

Though most people at any given time are not yet willing to practise either ātma-vicāra or complete self-surrender, in due course (either during the lifetime of their present body or during that of some future body) each of them will reach the point where they sincerely want to experience themself as they really are and are therefore willing to begin letting go of their false self, and as soon as they reach this point they will be willing to practise the only correct and direct path to this goal, which can be described either as ātma-vicāra or complete self-surrender.

Most people are not interested in practising any spiritual path, and though many others like to do so, most of them are drawn to paths other than ātma-vicāra or complete self-surrender. None of those other paths can be a direct means to self-knowledge, because we cannot know ourself without attending to this ‘I’ (which is the practice called ātma-vicāra) or without giving up whatever we wrongly take to be ourself (which is complete self-surrender), but they can be a rather circuitous means to it, because they can purify the mind, cleansing it (at least to some extent) of some of its grosser desires and attachments, and thereby giving it the clarity to understand that the only means to attain liberation or self-knowledge is to investigate what this ‘I’ that want to attain them actually is.

In verses 2 and 3 of Upadēśa Undiyār Sri Ramana says:
வினையின் விளைவு விளிவுற்று வித்தாய்
வினைக்கடல் வீழ்த்திடு முந்தீபற
      வீடு தரலிலை யுந்தீபற.

viṉaiyiṉ viḷaivu viḷivuṯṟu vittāy
viṉaikkaḍal vīṙttiḍu mundīpaṟa
      vīḍu taralilai yundīpaṟa.


பதச்சேதம்: வினையின் விளைவு விளிவு உற்று வித்தாய் வினை கடல் வீழ்த்திடும். வீடு தரல் இலை.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): viṉaiyiṉ viḷaivu viḷivu uṯṟu vittāy viṉai-kaḍal vīṙttiḍum. vīḍu taral ilai.

English translation: The fruit of action having passed away [remains] as seed [and thereby] causes [one] to sink in the ocean of action. [Therefore action] does not give liberation.

கருத்தனுக் காக்குநிட் காமிய கன்மங்
கருத்தைத் திருத்தியஃ துந்தீபற
      கதிவழி காண்பிக்கு முந்தீபற.

karuttaṉuk kākkuniṭ kāmiya kaṉmaṅ
karuttait tiruttiyaḵ dundīpaṟa
      gativaṙi kāṇbikku mundīpaṟa.


பதச்சேதம்: கருத்தனுக்கு ஆக்கும் நிட்காமிய கன்மம் கருத்தை திருத்தி அஃது கதி வழி காண்பிக்கும்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): karuttaṉukku ākkum niṭkāmiya kaṉmam karuttai tirutti aḵdu gati vaṙi kāṇbikkum

English translation: Action (karma) done [with love] for God and without desire [for any personal benefit] purifies the mind and [thereby] it shows the path to liberation.
All spiritual practices other than ātma-vicāra are actions or karmas, because they entail attending to something other than ‘I’, which means that our attention is moving away from ourself towards that other thing or things, so ātma-vicāra is the only spiritual practice that is not a karma, because it does not entail any movement of our attention away from ourself, its source. Therefore what Sri Ramana says in these two verses applies to all spiritual practices other than ātma-vicāra, so what he is in effect saying is that if we do any other spiritual practice with the correct attitude (that is, motivated not by desire for any gain or benefit for oneself as a person, but only by love for God or any such spiritual ideal), it will purify our mind and thereby enable us to recognise what the correct path to liberation is. In other words, it will enable us to recognise that ātma-vicāra is the only means by which we can liberated from the bondage of mind and action.

Whatever spiritual practice we may do, and for whatever motive we may do it, there must be an ego or finite ‘I’ to do it and to have that motive, so any spiritual practices other than ātma-vicāra will help to perpetuate the illusion that this finite ‘I’ is real. Only in ātma-vicāra do we investigate this ‘I’ to see whether or not it is actually real, so ātma-vicāra is the only spiritual practice that can directly undermine this illusory ‘I’ and expose its unreality.

Therefore in verse 14 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Anubandham Sri Ramana teaches us that by practising ātma-vicāra we will achieve the true aim of all forms of spiritual practice, each of which can be classified as being a form of one of the four yōgas, namely karma (the path of desireless action), bhakti (the path of devotion), yōga (the path of union) or jñāna (the path of knowledge):
வினையும் விபத்தி வியோகமஞ் ஞான
மினையவையார்க் கென்றாய்ந் திடலே — வினைபத்தி
யோகமுணர் வாய்ந்திடநா னின்றியவை யென்றுமிறா
னாகமன லேயுண்மை யாம்.

viṉaiyum vibhatti viyōgamañ ñāṉa
miṉaiyavaiyārk keṉḏṟāyn diḍalē — viṉaibhatti
yōgamuṇar vāyndiḍanā ṉiṉḏṟiyavai yeṉḏṟumiṟā
ṉāhamaṉa lēyuṇmai yām.


பதச்சேதம்: வினையும், விபத்தி, வியோகம், அஞ்ஞானம் இணையவை யார்க்கு என்று ஆய்ந்திடலே வினை, பத்தி, யோகம், உணர்வு. ஆய்ந்திட, ‘நான்’ இன்றி அவை என்றும் இல். தானாக மனலே உண்மை ஆம்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): viṉai-y-um, vibhatti, viyōgam, aññāṉam iṉaiyavai yārkku eṉḏṟu āyndiḍal-ē viṉai, bhatti, yōgam, uṇarvu. āyndiḍa, ‘nāṉ’ iṉḏṟi avai eṉḏṟum il. tāṉ-āha maṉal-ē uṇmai ām.

English translation: Investigating to whom are these, karma, vibhakti, viyōga and ajñāna, is itself karma, bhakti, yōga and jñāna. [This is because] when [one] investigates [oneself], [it will be clear that] they [karma, vibhakti, viyōga and ajñāna] never exist without ‘I’ [which is itself not real]. Only being permanently as self is true.
The aim of any spiritual practice is to rectify some defect or deficiency, such as karma (action), vibhakti (lack of devotion), viyōga (separation from God) or ajñāna (ignorance of self), but no such defect or deficiency can exist without a finite ‘I’. If this ‘I’ were real, its defects and deficiencies might also be real, but if it is just an illusory appearance, they too must be illusory appearances. Therefore before trying to rectify any defect or deficiency, we should first try to see whether or not this ‘I’ is real.

As Sri Ramana says in verse 17 of Upadēśa Undiyār (which I quoted above), if we examine this ‘I’ (the mind or ego), we will find that it does not actually exist, so when it seems to exist it is just an unreal appearance. Therefore, since its seeming existence will cease when we carefully examine it (just as the seeming existence of the illusory snake will cease when it is carefully examined), the only effective way to rectify all its seeming defects and deficiencies entirely and forever is to examine it. In other words, investigating this ‘I’ that seems to possess and experience so many defects and deficiencies is the only effective means by which we can achieve the goal of all spiritual practices.

Until we investigate this ‘I’, it will continue to seem real, and hence all its defects and deficiencies will also seem to be real. Therefore trying to rectify its defects and deficiencies without investigating whether it is real is like cutting the leaves and branches off a dense bush: until its root is destroyed, it will continue sprouting new leaves and branches. Likewise, until we annihilate this false ‘I’ by examining it, its defects and deficiencies (its desires, fears, attachments, selfishness, ignorance, pride and so on) will continue sprouting in one form or another.

Just as what seemed to be a snake was actually only a rope, so what now seems to be this finite, defective and deficient ‘I’ is actually only the one infinite, indivisible and immutable real ‘I’. Even when it seems to be finite and hence defective and deficient, this ‘I’ is actually infinite and hence devoid of any defect or deficiency, so when we investigate ‘I’ we will discover that it was never defective and deficient. Therefore in the final sentence of this verse Sri Ramana says, ‘Only being permanently as self is true’, meaning that we have never been anything other than the pure adjunctless ‘I’, which is the one eternal, infinite and perfect reality.

The fact that ātma-vicāra is the only means by which we can experience ourself as we really are and thereby destroy the illusion that we are a mind or ego was repeatedly emphasised by Sri Ramana both in his original writings and in the answers that he gave to questions asked by anyone who genuinely wanted to know the nature of reality and the means to experience it. For example, in Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?) he says:
[...] மனமற்ற நித்திரையில் தின மனுபவிக்கும் தன் சுபாவமான அச் சுகத்தை யடையத் தன்னைத் தானறிதல் வேண்டும். அதற்கு நானார் என்னும் ஞான விசாரமே முக்கிய சாதனம்.

[...] maṉam-aṯṟa niddiraiyil diṉam aṉubhavikkum taṉ subhāvam-āṉa a-c-cukhattai y-aḍaiya-t taṉṉai-t tāṉ aṟidal vēṇḍum. adaṯku nāṉār eṉṉum jñāṉa-vicāram-ē mukhiya sādhaṉam.

[...] to attain that happiness, which is one’s own [true] nature that is experienced daily in [dreamless] sleep, which is devoid of the mind, oneself knowing oneself is necessary. For that, jñāna-vicāra [knowledge-investigation] who am I alone is the principal means. (first paragraph, with bold type as in the original text)

நானார் என்னும் விசாரணையினாலேயே மன மடங்கும்; [...]

nāṉ-ār eṉṉum vicāraṇaiyiṉāl-ē-y-ē maṉam aḍaṅgum; [...]

Only by [means of] the investigation who am I will the mind subside [entirely and permanently]; [...] (sixth paragraph)

மனம் அடங்குவதற்கு விசாரணையைத் தவிர வேறு தகுந்த உபாயங்களில்லை. [...]

maṉam aḍaṅguvadaṯku vicāraṇaiyai-t tavira vēṟu tahunda upāyaṅgaḷ-illai. [...]

To make the mind subside [entirely and permanently], there are no adequate means other than vicāraṇā [self-investigation]. [...] (eighth paragraph)

[...] மனத்தை யடக்குவதற்குத் தன்னை யாரென்று விசாரிக்க வேண்டுமே யல்லாமல் எப்படி நூல்களில் விசாரிப்பது? தன்னைத் தன்னுடைய ஞானக்கண்ணாற்றானே யறிய வேண்டும். [...] பந்தத்தி லிருக்கும் தான் யாரென்று விசாரித்து தன் யதார்த்த சொரூபத்தைத் தெரிந்துகொள்வதே முக்தி. சதாகாலமும் மனத்தை ஆத்மாவில் வைத்திருப்பதற்குத் தான் ‘ஆத்மவிசார’ மென்று பெயர்; [...]

[...] maṉattai y-aḍakkuvadaṯku-t taṉṉai yār eṉḏṟu vicārikka vēṇḍum-ē y-allāmal eppaḍi nūlgaḷil vicārippadu? taṉṉai-t taṉṉuḍaiya jñāṉa-k-kaṇṇāl-tāṉ-ē y-aṟiya vēṇḍum. [...] bandhattil irukkum tāṉ yār eṉḏṟu vicārittu taṉ yathārtha sorūpattai-t terindu-koḷvadē mukti. sadā-kālamum maṉattai ātmāvil vaittiruppadaṯku-t tāṉ ‘ātma-vicāram’ eṉḏṟu peyar; [...]

[...] For restraining the mind it is necessary to investigate oneself [in order to experience] who [one really is], [but] instead [of doing so] how [can one experience oneself by] investigating in books? It is necessary to know oneself only by one’s own eye of jñāna [knowledge or awareness]. [...] Knowing one’s yathārtha svarūpa [real self] [by] investigating who is oneself who is in bondage is alone mukti [liberation]. The name ‘ātma-vicāra’ [refers] only to [the practice of] always keeping the mind in [or on] ātmā [self]; [...] (sixteenth paragraph)
Likewise, in verse 27 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu he explains that ātma-vicāra is the only means by which we can experience the real non-dual state of self, which is what is indicated in the mahāvākyas or ‘great sayings’ of the Vēdas such as ahaṁ brahmāsmi (I am brahman [the absolute reality]) and tat tvam asi (that [God or brahman] you are):
நானுதியா துள்ளநிலை நாமதுவா யுள்ளநிலை
நானுதிக்குந் தானமதை நாடாம — னானுதியாத்
தன்னிழப்பைச் சார்வதெவன் சாராமற் றானதுவாந்
தன்னிலையி னிற்பதெவன் சாற்று.

nāṉudiyā duḷḷanilai nāmaduvā yuḷḷanilai
nāṉudikkun tāṉamadai nāḍāma — ṉāṉudiyāt
taṉṉiṙappaic cārvadevaṉ sārāmaṯ ṟāṉaduvān
taṉṉilaiyi ṉiṯpadevaṉ sāṯṟu.


பதச்சேதம்: ‘நான்’ உதியாது உள்ள நிலை நாம் அது ஆய் உள்ள நிலை. ‘நான்’ உதிக்கும் தானம் அதை நாடாமல், ‘நான்’ உதியா தன் இழப்பை சார்வது எவன்? சாராமல், தான் அது ஆம் தன் நிலையில் நிற்பது எவன்? சாற்று.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): ‘nāṉ’ udiyādu uḷḷa nilai nām adu-v-āy uḷḷa nilai. ‘nāṉ’ udikkum tāṉam-adai nāḍāmal, ‘nāṉ’ udiyā taṉ-ṉ-iṙappai sārvadu evaṉ? sārāmal, tāṉ adu ām taṉ-ṉilaiyil niṯpadu evaṉ? sāṯṟu.

English translation: The state in which ‘I’ exists without rising is the state in which we exist as that [brahman]. Without investigating the source from which ‘I’ rises, how to attain the annihilation of oneself, where ‘I’ does not rise? [And] without attaining [this ego-annihilation], say, how to abide in the state of self, in which one is that?
The two rhetorical questions that he asks in this verse clearly imply that: (1) we cannot attain the egoless state, in which ‘I’ exists without rising as a finite mind, unless we investigate ourself, who are the source from which this ‘I’ rises; and (2) we cannot abide in our natural state of self, in which we are nothing other than brahman, unless we attain the state in which we do not rise as a separate ‘I’. In other words, we cannot experience ourself as ‘that’ or brahman, the one absolute reality, unless we investigate ourself, the source from which the ego-‘I’ arises.

In verse 22 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu he asks another rhetorical question with a similar meaning:
மதிக்கொளி தந்தம் மதிக்கு ளொளிரு
மதியினை யுள்ளே மடக்கிப் — பதியிற்
பதித்திடுத லன்றிப் பதியை மதியான்
மதித்திடுக லெங்ஙன் மதி.

matikkoḷi tandam matikku ḷoḷiru
matiyiṉai yuḷḷē maḍakkip — patiyiṯ
padittiḍuda laṉḏṟip patiyai matiyāṉ
matittiḍuda leṅṅaṉ mati.


பதச்சேதம்: மதிக்கு ஒளி தந்து, அம் மதிக்குள் ஒளிரும் மதியினை உள்ளே மடக்கி பதியில் பதித்திடுதல் அன்றி, பதியை மதியால் மதித்திடுதல் எங்ஙன்? மதி.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): matikku oḷi tandu, am-matikkuḷ oḷirum matiyiṉai uḷḷē maḍakki patiyil padittiḍudal aṉḏṟi, patiyai matiyāl matittiḍudal eṅṅaṉ? mati.

அன்வயம்: மதிக்கு ஒளி தந்து, அம் மதிக்குள் ஒளிரும் பதியில் மதியினை உள்ளே மடக்கி பதித்திடுதல் அன்றி, பதியை மதியால் மதித்திடுதல் எங்ஙன்? மதி.

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): matikku oḷi tandu, am-matikkuḷ oḷirum patiyil matiyiṉai uḷḷē maḍakki padittiḍudal aṉḏṟi, patiyai matiyāl matittiḍudal eṅṅaṉ? mati.

English translation: Consider, except by turning the mind back within and immersing it in God, who shines within that mind giving light to the mind, how to know God by the mind?
Though this verse seems to be couched in the dualistic terminology of devotion, what it is actually describing in that terminology is only the practice of ātma-vicāra, because the word pati (which literally means the master, lord or God) here denotes the true nature of God, which is nothing other than our own real self. As such, God shines within our mind as our essential self-awareness, ‘I am’, and thereby he gives our mind the light of awareness or consciousness by which it is able to know both itself and the appearance of all other things. Therefore Sri Ramana asks how we can know God, our essential self, by our mind except by turning our mind back within and immersing it in the clear light of pure self-awareness, which is God.

Here ‘turning the mind back within and immersing it in God’ denotes the practice of ātma-vicāra, which is trying to turn our mind or power of attention away from all other things, back towards itself, ‘I’, and thereby to make it merge and become one with its own essential self, which is God, the source of its light of awareness. Therefore, by asking how it is possible for us to know God except by thus ‘turning the mind back within and immersing it in God’, Sri Ramana clearly implies that we cannot know God, the one absolute reality, except by practising ātma-vicāra.

Next instalment: No differences exist in the non-dual view of Sri Ramana