Friday, 25 July 2014

What should we believe?

In my previous article, What is enlightenment, liberation or nirvāṇa?, I wrote:
Since experiencing ourself as we really are is what is called enlightenment, liberation or nirvāṇa, if it dissolves this dream that we call our waking state, then it would also dissolve the appearance of the rest of humanity whom we experience in this dream. If the dreamer wakes up, not only is he or she liberated from the dream, but also all the people who seemed to exist in that dream world will also be liberated from it.

All this reasoning is based upon our supposition that this world is all just our dream, but we cannot know for certain whether or not this is actually the case until and unless we investigate ourself and thereby experience ourself as we really are. So at present all we can say for certain is that if we attain enlightenment, liberation or nirvāṇa, it will not do any harm to the rest of humanity, and that if this world and all the people in it are just like the world and the people we see in a dream, then our own liberation will in effect liberate the whole of humanity.
Commenting on these two paragraphs, a friend wrote to me:
If we deeply reflect on it, it appears to be quite true and logical especially if we consider Bhagavan’s teachings. Since this world and all the people in it is our dream, when we wake up from this sleep of self-forgetfulness there will remain no world or no people in this non-existent world. Thus, as you say, our liberation or nirvana will be the liberation or nirvana of the entire world and all the sentient beings in it.

In our spiritual beliefs it is said that if one attains liberation, his seven generations will simultaneously attain liberation. However this is just a belief with no logic to proof it, but what you say appears quite logical therefore there is not much of a problem in believing it.

Therefore, a person who is striving for liberation is in effect striving for liberation of the entire mankind. What more worthy job can one undertake?
The belief he mentions about seven generations attaining liberation is a widely held belief that is based on a claim made in some Hindu texts to the effect that if someone attains liberation, all their forebears and descendants for seven generations in each direction will thereby automatically attain liberation. Taken at face value, this belief is dubious, to say the least, because it seems to be based on several dubious assumptions, such as that other people actually exist (which is in turn based on the dubious assumption that this world is not just a mental creation like any world that we experience in a dream) and either that all one’s forebears and descendants for seven generations actually want liberation (the complete annihilation of their respective egos) or that liberation can be forced on anyone who does not want it.

This belief could perhaps be interpreted as a metaphor that signifies that if we (the one person who now experiences himself or herself as ‘I’) ourself attain liberation, everyone else will simultaneously be liberated, just as if a dreamer wakes up, everyone in his or her dream will thereby cease to exist. However, if it is intended to be taken literally, we have to assume either that whoever first made this claim just wanted to believe that it is true, or that they made this claim in order to encourage others to try to attain liberation. Whatever be the case, it is obviously not a belief that we need to take seriously at face value.

The following is adapted and expanded from the reply that I wrote to my friend who referred to this belief:

Regarding the seven generation belief, as you say this is something that can be believed only on the basis of faith, because there is no logical basis for believing it. However, it is just one among the countless beliefs that are prevalent in the vast ocean of diverse beliefs, philosophies and practices that is called ‘Hinduism’, but one thing that is very good about the Hindu religion is that it consists of so many different and often conflicting or directly contradictory beliefs that we can easily understand that they cannot all be true, so we are free to choose whichever ones we want to believe, and if we are wise and cautious in what we choose to believe, we should choose only those that are actually useful to us.

When Sri Ramana was once asked why there are so many different and conflicting accounts of creation given in the Vedas, he replied that if the Vedas considered creation to be real they would have given only one account of it, and hence since they have given so many different accounts of it, we should understand that the real conclusion of the Vedas is that creation is unreal.

From this we should understand that what the wide diversity of traditional teachings, philosophies and ideas is actually teaching us is that we should not accept any belief blindly, but should be sceptical about all of them. As Sri Sadhu Om often told me that Sri Ramana used to say: ‘Do not believe what you do not know’. Only when we are ready to be sceptical about everything that we may believe, will we be ready to conclude that the only thing we know for certain is that I am, so the most important thing for us to investigate is who am I.

Most of our beliefs — whether mundane beliefs about everyday matters, scientific beliefs, metaphysical beliefs, religious beliefs, spiritual beliefs or whatever — are based upon testimony: that is, upon what we have heard, read or learnt from others. However, though there is general consensus among the beliefs that most people hold about certain mundane matters (such as that rain is water that falls from clouds), there is a huge diversity among the beliefs that they hold about numerous other matters, particularly about metaphysical, religious, spiritual and other philosophical matters, because there does not seem to be any obvious means of verifying or falsifying whatever anyone may believe about such matters. Therefore we should be sceptical regarding any testimony about any matters that we cannot verify from our own experience or reasoning.

However, even what we believe on the basis of our own experience or reasoning is not entirely reliable, because whatever we experience (other than our own existence, ‘I am’) may be an illusion, and the premises on which we base our reasoning may not be true or reliable. Therefore whatever we may believe about anything other than the indubitable fact ‘I am’, we should believe only tentatively and with caution.

Whereas anything else that we may experience could be an illusion, ‘I am’ — which is our primary and most fundamental experience — cannot be an illusion, because in order to experience anything, whether real or illusory, I must exist. Therefore the only fact that is absolutely indubitable is ‘I am’, so our knowledge ‘I am’ is the only certain knowledge that we have.

However, though we know for certain that I am, we do not know for certain what I am, because in our present experience ‘I’ seems to be mixed and confused with other things, such as our body and mind. Whereas ‘I’ itself cannot be an illusion, our body and mind could be illusions, because we experience our present body only in this waking state, and our mind only in waking and in dream. Since we now experience ‘I am awake’, and since we remember that at other times ‘I was dreaming’ or ‘I was asleep’, waking, dream and sleep are all experiences that were experienced by essentially the same ‘I’. Therefore, ‘I’ endures and experiences itself in all these three states, whereas our present body is experienced by us only in waking, another body is experienced by us only in dream, and our mind is experienced by us only in waking and dream but not in sleep, so ‘I’ cannot be either this body or this mind.

Since we experience things other than ‘I’ only when we mistake a body and mind to be ‘I’, and since our experience ‘I am this body’ and ‘I am this mind’ is an illusion, we have good reason to suspect that everything that we experience other than ‘I’ is illusory. Therefore if we are wise, we should be sceptical about everything other than ‘I’, including even the body and mind that now seem to be ‘I’.

This is why Sri Ramana used to say: ‘சந்தேகி யாரென்று சந்தேகி’ (sandēhi yār-eṉḏṟu sandēhi), ‘Doubt who is the doubter’. That is, the reality of even the ‘I’ that believes or doubts anything is doubtful, because it is not our pure ‘I’, but is only an adjunct-mixed ‘I’ —that is, it is our pure ‘I’ mixed and confused with extraneous adjuncts such as a body and mind. Therefore the only thing we should believe is ‘I am’, and not ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that’.

In order to experience ourself (this ‘I’) as we really are, rather than as we now seem to be, we must experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from everything else, and to experience ourself thus, we must try persistently to focus our entire attention upon ‘I’ alone. This persistent attempt to experience ‘I’ alone is what Sri Ramana called ātma-vicāra or self-investigation, and it is the only means by which we can discover who am I (in other words, what I actually am).

Saturday, 19 July 2014

What is enlightenment, liberation or nirvāṇa?

In an anonymous comment on one of my recent articles, Self-investigation, effort and sleep, someone asked several questions, including the following:
[...] What exactly is enlightenment, liberation, or nirvana, and what use is it really? [...] what effect does it have on the rest of humanity? [...] if there are very, very few (1 in a billion?) who manage to achieve liberation what is the point of it all? It seems a complete lottery to me because the Self chooses whom it will and we cannot know the basis on which it chooses. [...]
He also wrote an email to me referring to this comment, so I replied answering each of the four questions he had asked, and the following is adapted from what I wrote to him:

What exactly is enlightenment, liberation, or nirvāṇa?

All these terms presuppose not only the existence of their opposites, but also that each of those opposites is a problem that needs to be solved by each of these respectively. ‘Enlightenment’ presupposes that there is ignorance, ‘liberation’ presupposes that there is bondage, and ‘nirvāṇa’ (which means ‘blown out’ or ‘extinguished’) presupposes that there is something that needs to be extinguished.

Therefore if you have no problem, you have no need for enlightenment, liberation or nirvāṇa, so before asking about any of these things you should first ask yourself whether you have any problems, and if so whether your problems may be caused by some sort of ignorance, bondage or anything else that may need to be extinguished.

If we analyse our problems sufficiently deeply, we will be able to understand that all of them arise ultimately only because we now experience ourself as a finite person, so we need to consider whether or not we are actually a person as we now seem to be. Since we seem to be a person only in waking and dream but not in sleep, it is doubtful that we actually are whatever person we now seem to be. In waking we experience ourself as this body and mind, in dream we experience ourself as this same mind but a different body, and in sleep we experience ourself as no body or mind at all.

We say ‘I am awake’, ‘I was dreaming’ and ‘I was asleep’, so we experienced the same ‘I’ in all these three states, yet in each state we experienced it as something different to what we experienced it as in each of the other two. That is, in waking we experience ‘I’ as if it were this body, in dream we experience it as if it were some other body, and in sleep we experience it as no body at all. Since we experience ‘I’ in sleep without experiencing either our waking body or any dream body, and without experiencing even our mind, ‘I’ cannot be any of these bodies or this mind.

However, though we cannot be either this body or this mind, we now experience ourself as both, so we are clearly ignorant and confused about what we actually are. Therefore, to remove this ignorance and confusion we need to enlighten ourself by experiencing ourself as we really are.

We now feel that we are this person called ‘Rajan’ or ‘Michael’ only because we now experience ourself as a body that has been given this name, and also as the mind that is associated with this body. Therefore, since we cannot be either this body or this mind, we are not actually the person we now mistake ourself to be.

Since all our other problems are caused only by our mistaken experience that we are this finite person, this mistaken experience in effect binds us to all those problems, so we need to liberate ourself from this bondage by experiencing ourself as we really are.

If we could experience ourself as we really are, we would not only destroy our ignorance and liberate ourself from the bondage of mistaking ourself to be a finite person, but would also extinguish the ego that thinks ‘I am this person’. Therefore the answer to your question is that enlightenment, liberation and nirvāṇa are all terms that describe the state of true self-knowledge, in which we experience ourself as we actually are.

In the sixteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?) Sri Ramana gave a very simple and clear definition of liberation (mukti):
[...] பந்தத்தி லிருக்கும் தான் யாரென்று விசாரித்து தன் யதார்த்த சொரூபத்தைத் தெரிந்துகொள்வதே முக்தி [...]

[…] bandhattil irukkum tāṉ yār eṉḏṟu vicārittu taṉ yathārtha sorūpattai-t terindu-koḷvadē mukti. […]

[...] Knowing one’s own real self (yathārtha svarūpa) [by] investigating who is oneself who is in bondage, alone is liberation. [...]
For the reasons I explained above, this definition applies not only to liberation but equally well to enlightenment and nirvāṇa. We are now bound by self-ignorance, so what will liberate us, enlighten us and extinguish the ego or false personal self that we now seem to be is only a perfectly clear experience of our own real self.

What use is it really?

Since all our problems are caused only by our self-ignorance, which makes us experience ourself as a finite person, the only real use of enlightenment, liberation or nirvāṇa is that it will enable us to experience ourself as we really are — that is, as the one infinite and indivisible reality, other than which nothing exists (and hence for which no problems exist) — and thereby it will destroy our illusion that we are this person who has so many problems.

Therefore, if you think that a problem-free existence (one that is free of even the ultimate problem of death) may be something worth having, then enlightenment, liberation or nirvāṇa is something that is certainly very useful indeed.

What effect does it have on the rest of humanity?

Since the whole world as we know it is experienced only by the person we now mistake ourself to be, and since it is not experienced by this person either in dream (in which we experience ourself as another body, and thereby through the senses of that body experience another world) or in sleep (when we do not experience ourself as a body at all), we have good reason to suspect that this world of our waking state is actually just another dream — an illusion that appears only in the deluded experience of this illusory person, who now seems to be ourself but is not actually ourself.

Since dreams appear only under the cover of sleep, in which we cease to be aware of our waking self, we have reason to suspect that the sleep in which we experience this dream that we now mistake to be our waking state is our fundamental sleep of self-ignorance. If this is the case, then this sleep will be dissolved as soon as we experience ourself as we really are, and as soon as it is dissolved the dream of this putative ‘waking’ state will also dissolve (just as any other dream dissolves as soon as we wake from sleep).

Since experiencing ourself as we really are is what is called enlightenment, liberation or nirvāṇa, if it dissolves this dream that we call our waking state, then it would also dissolve the appearance of the rest of humanity whom we experience in this dream. If the dreamer wakes up, not only is he or she liberated from the dream, but also all the people who seemed to exist in that dream world will also be liberated from it.

All this reasoning is based upon our supposition that this world is all just our dream, but we cannot know for certain whether or not this is actually the case until and unless we investigate ourself and thereby experience ourself as we really are. So at present all we can say for certain is that if we attain enlightenment, liberation or nirvāṇa, it will not do any harm to the rest of humanity, and that if this world and all the people in it are just like the world and the people we see in a dream, then our own liberation will in effect liberate the whole of humanity.

If we want we can believe Sri Ramana’s testimony that this world is just a dream, as he knew from his own experience, but even if we do not believe this we cannot be sure that it is not in fact so, so in either case we should still try to experience ourself as we really are, because then only will we know for certain whether or not this world is just our dream.

What is the point of it all?

You ask this question because you say, ‘It seems a complete lottery to me because the Self chooses whom it will and we cannot know the basis on which it chooses’, but what is this ‘Self’ that you believe chooses? Is there any ‘Self’ other than you own real self? If you are this ‘Self’ you talk of, then it is up to you to choose whether or not you want to remain as the self-ignorant person you now mistake yourself to be. If you choose not to remain as this person, then you yourself must investigate yourself in order to experience yourself as you really are, because that is the only way to avoid continuing to make this mistake.

When you yourself are self-ignorant, there is no use in your worrying yourself about the seven billion other people now living in this world, most of whom seem to you to be self-ignorant. First you should choose and make effort to overcome your own self-ignorance, because only by doing so will you be in a position to help anyone else to overcome their self-ignorance — if at all, that is, you find that anyone else still exists after you have overcome your own self-ignorance.

So long as we do not even know what we ourself really are, we cannot know whether anything else that we seem to know is either true or false. Therefore our foremost concern should be to try to investigate ourself in order to experience what we actually are.

Whatever other questions or doubts may arise in our mind, we cannot answer any of them satisfactorily or with any degree of certainty until we find the answer to the fundamental question: who (or what) am I? We cannot find the real answer to this question merely by reasoning, but only by actual experience, so we should leave aside all mental or intellectual questioning, and should instead investigate what we really are by attending only to ourself — that is, to our essential self-awareness, ‘I am’.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

A paradox: sphuraṇa means ‘shining’ or ‘clarity’, yet misinterpretations of it have created so much confusion

As a conclusion to my previous two articles, Demystifying the term ‘sphuraṇa and Self-awareness: ‘I’-thought, ‘I’-feeling and ahaṁ-sphuraṇa, I would like to observe what a paradox it is that a word that means ‘clarity’ has created so much confusion. That is, in the sense in which Sri Ramana used them, the terms ஸ்புரணம் (sphuraṇam) and ஸ்புரிப்பு (spurippu) both mean only ‘shining’ or ‘clarity’, so it is paradoxical that they have been misunderstood and misinterpreted to such an extent that their clear and simple meaning has been obscured and that they have therefore created a huge amount of confusion in the minds of his followers and devotees, particularly those who rely upon English translations and interpretations of his teachings.

If the meaning of these terms as they were used by Sri Ramana had been correctly understood and explained in English books, none of the mystery and confusion that now surrounds them would have arisen. When they are correctly understood, they are actually terms that convey profound and rich meaning and that help to clarify the practice and aim of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra).

That is, in the context of Sri Ramana’s teachings, sphuraṇa essentially means just ‘shining’, so if the metaphorical sense in which ‘shining’ is used here is correctly understood, it is a very apt and meaningful term. ‘I’ is shining in the sense that it is illuminating or making itself clearly known, but however we may try to explain the meaning of ‘shining’ in this context, no other word or words can actually capture its sense so well as it itself does. So long as it is understood to be employed in a metaphorical sense, its meaning is perfectly self-explanatory.

‘I’ is always shining clearly, and by its shining it is not only illuminating itself, but is also illuminating everything else that we experience or know. In other words, metaphorically speaking, ‘I’ is the light that enables us to experience not only ourself but also everything else that we may ever experience.

However, though ‘I’ is always clearly shining, so long as it is illuminating anything other than itself alone, the clarity with which it shines is somehow obscured by whatever else is made to shine by its light, because its real nature is so subtle and featureless that it seems to assume all the features of whatever is (in its experience) closest to it (namely the body and mind and their attributes), just as a perfectly clear crystal seems to assume the colour of whatever objects are closest to it.

Therefore, in order for ‘I’ to shine perfectly clearly, it must shine all alone, in complete isolation from everything else. In other words, it must experience itself alone and not anything else at all. In order to thus shine or experience itself alone, it must focus its entire attention only on itself, so that everything else is entirely excluded from its experience or awareness.

The more we thus attend to ourself alone, the more clearly we (this ‘I’) will shine. Therefore the clarity or brightness with which ‘I’ shines is determined by the extent to which we focus our entire attention on ‘I’ (ourself) alone. Normally we are so interested in experiencing other things that we make no attempt to attend to and thereby experience ‘I’ alone, so though we always experience the shining of ‘I’, we do not experience it sufficiently clearly.

Therefore the aim of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), which is the practice of self-attentiveness, is only to experience the shining of ‘I’ ever more clearly. The increased and therefore fresh clarity with which we experience the shining of ‘I’ when we practise ātma-vicāra is what Sri Ramana called aham-spurippu or ahaṁ-sphuraṇam.

That is, though the shining of ‘I’ that we always experience could in a certain sense be called an ahaṁ-sphuraṇa, because ahaṁ-sphuraṇa literally means just the shining of ‘I’, when Sri Ramana used this term he generally did not mean the shining of ‘I’ that we are always accustomed to experience, but only the clearer shining of ‘I’ that we experience when we try to focus our entire attention only on ‘I’.

When we understand that this was the sense in which he used these terms aham-spurippu or ahaṁ-sphuraṇa, we will also be able to understand that they do not denote a single specific degree of clarity of self-awareness, but any increased degree of such clarity that we may experience while trying to be self-attentive. Sometimes we are able to focus our attention more keenly and accurately on ‘I’ than at other times, but whatever increased degree of clarity of self-awareness we may experience whenever we try to be more or less self-attentive is a kind of aham-spurippu or ahaṁ-sphuraṇa.

This is why Sri Ramana sometimes used to refer to even the absolute degree of clarity of self-awareness (in other words, the absolutely clear shining of ‘I’) that we will experience when our mind or ego is eventually annihilated by it as ahaṁ-sphuraṇa, and why he said that such a sphuraṇa is self itself. Therefore what ahaṁ-sphuraṇa or aham-spurippu essentially means is just a clear shining of ‘I’, so long as the clarity of that shining is greater than the clouded clarity with which we experience the shining of ‘I’ whenever we are engrossed (as we normally are) in attending to other things.

When we understand this, we will be able to appreciate more clearly the deep meaning of two sentences from the first sub-section of section 1 of Vicāra Saṅgraham that I quoted in both of my previous two articles, namely:
[…] ஆதலால், பிணமான தேகத்தைப் பிணம் போலவே இருத்தி, வாக்காலும் நானென்று சொல்லாமலிருந்து, இப்போது நானென விளங்குவது எதுவென்று கூர்மையாய் விசாரித்தால், அப்போது ஹிருதயத்தில், நான் நான் என்று சத்தமில்லாமல், தனக்குத்தானே ஓர் வித ஸ்புரிப்பு மாத்திரம் தோன்றும். அதனை விடாது சும்மா இருந்தால், தேகம் நானென்னும் அகங்காரரூப ஜீவபோதத்தை முற்றிலும் நாசமாக்கி, கர்ப்பூரத்திற் பற்றிய நெருப்புப்போல், தானும் சாந்தமாய்விடும். […]

[…] ādalāl, piṇamāṉa dēhattai-p piṇam pōla-v-ē irutti, vākkālum nāṉ-eṉḏṟu sollāmal-irundu, ippōdu nāṉ-eṉa viḷaṅguvadu edu-v-eṉḏṟu kūrmaiyāy vicārittāl, appōdu hirudayattil, nāṉ nāṉ eṉḏṟu sattam-illāmal, taṉakku-t-tāṉē ōr vidha spurippu māttiram tōṉḏṟum. adaṉai viḍādu summā irundāl, dēham nāṉ-eṉṉum ahaṅkāra-rūpa jīva-bhōdattai muṯṟilum nāśam-ākki, karppūrattil paṯṟiya neruppu-p-pōl, tāṉ-um śāntam-āy-viḍum. […]

[…] Therefore, setting down the corpse-body as a corpse, and remaining without uttering ‘I’ even by [physical or mental] voice, if one keenly investigates what it is that now shines as ‘I’, then in [one’s] heart a kind of spurippu alone will itself appear to itself [or to oneself] without sound as ‘I [am] I’. Without leaving it [that spurippu or fresh clarity of self-awareness], if one just is, it will completely annihilate the sense of individuality in the form of the ego, [which experiences itself as] ‘body [is] I’, and [then], like fire that catches on camphor, it will itself also be extinguished. […]
The main conditional clause in the first of these two sentences, ‘இப்போது நானென விளங்குவது எதுவென்று கூர்மையாய் விசாரித்தால்’ (ippōdu nāṉ-eṉa viḷaṅguvadu edu-v-eṉḏṟu kūrmaiyāy vicārittāl), ‘if one keenly investigates what it is that now shines as I’, describes the practice of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) in an extremely clear manner, so our practice can be aided by our carefully considering the meaning of these words. That is, what we should be keenly attending to when we practise vicāra is that which now shines as ‘I’ (ippōdu nāṉ-eṉa viḷaṅguvadu), or in other words, our essential self-awareness, which we always experience as ‘I am’.

In addition to this main condition, there are two sub-conditions in this sentence, namely பிணமான தேகத்தைப் பிணம் போலவே இருத்தி (piṇamāṉa dēhattai-p piṇam pōla-v-ē irutti) and வாக்காலும் நானென்று சொல்லாமலிருந்து (vākkālum nāṉ-eṉḏṟu sollāmal-irundu). பிணமான தேகத்தைப் பிணம் போலவே இருத்தி (piṇamāṉa dēhattai-p piṇam pōla-v-ē irutti) means ‘setting down the corpse-body as a corpse’, which implies that we should be as unaware of our body as we would be if it were a corpse. வாக்காலும் நானென்று சொல்லாமலிருந்து (vākkālum nāṉ-eṉḏṟu sollāmal-irundu) means ‘being without uttering ‘I’ even by voice’, in which the word வாக்கு (vākku) or ‘voice’ implies in this context not only our physical voice but also our mental voice, because when our attention is focused keenly on what now shines as ‘I’, all mental activity will subside, being deprived of the attention that it requires to function, so the mind will be unable even to think the word ‘I’.

Together the main condition and the two sub-conditions in this sentence form a complex conditional clause, the heart of which is its main condition, ‘if one keenly investigates what it is that now shines as I’. The two sub-conditions are included here in order to clarify the nature of the self-attentiveness that is described in the main part of this conditional clause, but if we do keenly investigate what it is that now shines as ‘I’, as instructed in that main part, we will automatically fulfil the other two conditions. That is, if we keenly focus our attention on what now shines as ‘I’, our attention will be automatically withdrawn both from our body, thereby leaving it as if it were already a corpse, and from our mind or thinking faculty, thereby depriving it of the attention that it requires to function and thus leaving it without the ability to think even the word ‘I’.

When we thus attend to what now shines as ‘I’, we will experience ‘a kind of shining’ (ōr vidha spurippu), which will appear without sound as ‘I am I’ (nāṉ nāṉ). When Sri Ramana says this, he is obviously implying that this kind of ‘shining’ or spurippu is in some way different to the ordinary shining of ‘I’ that we are accustomed to experiencing always. Though ‘I’ is now shining, it is shining in an obscured and distorted form as ‘I am this body’ (நான் இத் தேகம்: nāṉ i-d-dēham), but when we focus our entire attention only on the shining of ‘I’ and thereby ignore our body so thoroughly that we cease to be aware of it as we would have ceased to be aware of it if it were a corpse, ‘I’ will then shine more clearly as ‘I am only I’ (நான் நானே: nāṉ nāṉ-ē).

Another very significant and deeply meaningful word that Sri Ramana uses in this sentence is the compound word தனக்குத்தானே (taṉakku-t-tāṉē). தனக்கு (taṉakku) means ‘to self’, ‘to itself’ or ‘to oneself’, and தானே (tāṉē) is in this context a strong intensifier (that is, tāṉ is an intensifier meaning ‘itself’, and the suffix ē is another intensifier meaning ‘only’ or ‘certainly’), so தனக்குத்தானே (taṉakku-t-tāṉ-ē) means ‘only to itself itself’. மாத்திரம் (māttiram) also means ‘alone’ or ‘only’, and since it is appended to ஓர் வித ஸ்புரிப்பு (ōr vidha spurippu), it applies to it, so it emphasises that this kind of spurippu or ‘shining’ appears alone. Thus தனக்குத்தானே ஓர் வித ஸ்புரிப்பு மாத்திரம் தோன்றும் (taṉakku-t-tāṉē ōr vidha spurippu māttiram tōṉḏṟum) literally means ‘a kind of spurippu alone will appear only to itself itself’, which strongly emphasises not only that all that will be experienced is only this kind of spurippu, but also that what will experience it is only itself.

That is, since this spurippu or clear shining of ‘I’ is nothing other than ‘I’ itself, it will not be experienced by anything other than itself alone. Thus this final clause emphasises the non-duality and otherlessness of aham-spurippu, the clear shining of ‘I’, and thereby indicates that it is a state of more or less pure (adjunct-free) self-experience or self-awareness. Of course it is not an absolutely non-dual or otherless experience, because absolute non-duality and otherlessness can be experienced only when the ego has been completely destroyed, but this relative kind of aham-spurippu is in itself essentially non-dual and otherless, even though it is experienced along with at least some trace of experience of something other than itself. In fact we can experience a certain degree of aham-spurippu even while we are outwardly engaged in other activities, but because it is in itself non-dual and otherless, it is an experience that is tending towards absolute non-duality and otherlessness. The more keenly our attention is focused on the shining of ‘I’ alone, the more clearly aham-spurippu will shine or be experienced, and hence the less anything else (any degree of duality or otherness) will be experienced.

I am aware that what I am trying to say here may seem to be self-contradictory, because how can aham-spurippu be an essentially non-dual and otherless experience when it is experienced along with anything else? The same contradiction may seem to be implied by Sri Ramana’s use of the word மாத்திரம் (māttiram), ‘alone’ or ‘only’, because if this kind of aham-spurippu alone is experienced, why does it not immediately destroy the ego, the illusion ‘I am this body’? This is why I tried to explain that this aham-spurippu is in itself essentially non-dual and otherless, even though it is experienced along with things other than itself. That is, it is in some sense an isolated (or at least a relatively isolated) experience in which we experience ourself alone, yet at the same time we peripherally experience other things to a greater or lesser extent. What exactly this means (and hence why this seeming contradiction is not actually a contradiction) can perhaps be understood only by those who have practised ātma-vicāra sufficiently deeply and have thereby experienced this kind of aham-spurippu clearly.

The non-duality and otherlessness of this relatively pure self-experience is further emphasised by the words ஹிருதயத்தில் (hirudayattil) and நான் நான் என்று சத்தமில்லாமல் (nāṉ nāṉ eṉḏṟu sattam-illāmal). ஹிருதயத்தில் (hirudayattil) means ‘in the heart’, the word ‘heart’ signifying here the innermost core or centre of oneself, the ‘place’ in which nothing exists other than oneself alone — that is, oneself devoid of all extraneous adjuncts. நான் நான் என்று சத்தமில்லாமல் (nāṉ nāṉ eṉḏṟu sattam-illāmal) means ‘without sound as I am I’, in which the words நான் நான் (nāṉ nāṉ) or ‘I am I’ signify that what is experienced as ‘I’ is nothing other than ‘I’ alone.

Thus this first sentence is a very clear description both of the practice of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) and of what will be experienced as a result of this practice, namely the non-dual clarity of pure self-awareness. Then in the second sentence Sri Ramana explains how we should persist in this practice, and what will eventually be experienced as a result of such persistence.

How we should persist in this practice is indicated by the conditional clause, அதனை விடாது சும்மா இருந்தால் (adaṉai viḍādu summā irundāl), which means ‘Without leaving it, if one just is’. அதனை விடாது (adaṉai viḍādu), ‘without leaving it [or that]’, means without leaving that spurippu, the fresh clarity of self-awareness that we experience when we keenly investigate what it is that now shines as ‘I’. In other words, it means that we should persevere incessantly in attending only to that fresh clarity of self-awareness, the clear shining of ‘I’ that Sri Ramana calls aham-spurippu. சும்மா இருந்தால் (summā irundāl) means ‘if [one] just is’, so அதனை விடாது சும்மா இருந்தால் (adaṉai viḍādu summā irundāl) clearly implies that we should just remain as we are, attending keenly to the clear shining of ‘I’ alone.

If we persist in just being thus without ceasing to attend to that spurippu or fresh clarity of self-awareness, Sri Ramana says that it will completely destroy our sense of individuality (jīva-bhōdam), whose form is the ego (ahaṅkāram), the illusory experience ‘this body is I’ (dēham nāṉ). That is, when we hold fast to the aham-spurippu, the clear self-awareness that shines as ‘I am only I’, it will gradually weaken and eventually destroy the clouded self-awareness that shines mixed with extraneous adjuncts as ‘I am this body’.

When it has thus completely annihilated the ego, Sri Ramana says that the aham-spurippu will itself also be pacified or extinguished (tāṉ-um śāntam-āy-viḍum), just as a flame that catches a piece of camphor will itself be extinguished when it has consumed all of the camphor. As I explained in each of my previous two articles, what he means by saying that it will be pacified or extinguished is obviously not that our clarity of self-awareness will cease (because the state in which the ego has been annihilated is a state of absolute clarity of self-awareness), but only that its seeming newness or viśēsatva (difference, distinctiveness or specialness) will cease, since it will be experienced as being perfectly natural (sahaja) and hence non-distinctive (nirviśēsa).

Just as the camphor is what sustains the flame, the seeming existence of the ego is what sustains the seeming newness or viśēsatva of the aham-spurippu. Therefore just as the flame will subside and disappear as soon as it has consumed all the camphor, so the seeming newness or viśēsatva of the aham-spurippu will subside and disappear as soon as it has consumed the ego entirely.

The verb that Sri Ramana uses here to mean ‘will be extinguished’ is சாந்தமாய்விடும் (śāntam-āy-viḍum), which literally means ‘will become peaceful’ or ‘will be pacified’. Just as a flame that has caught a piece of camphor will not be pacified until it has consumed all of that camphor , so our aham-spurippu or fresh clarity of self-awareness will not be pacified until it has completely consumed the very last trace of our ego. No matter how many times we may leave it and return to our preoccupation with other things, once we have tasted this fresh clarity of self-awareness by practising self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), our mind will be drawn back to it again and again, until finally it will destroy our mind completely. Then only will its newness, freshness and viśēsatva subside in the absolute peace of our natural state of pure self-awareness.

Though Sri Ramana did not use the terms sphuraṇa or spurippu in any of his original Tamil writings, he did use them in certain contexts while replying to questions (such as in some of his answers that are recorded in Vicāra Saṅgraham), and if we understand that what he meant by them was nothing more than the fresh clarity of self-awareness that we experience whenever we turn our attention towards ‘I’, and that there are therefore a broad range of degrees of sphuraṇa or clarity (varying from the slightly increased clarity that we experience when we first start to practise ātma-vicāra to the absolute clarity that we will experience when our mind or ego has been completely destroyed by it), it will be clear to us why he used these terms and how they fit perfectly alongside all the other explanations that he has given us about the practice and purpose of ātma-vicāra.

The confusions and misunderstandings about ahaṁ-sphuraṇa that are so prevalent among his followers and devotees are due in part to the fact that in most English books the meaning of sphuraṇa as it is used by Sri Ramana has not been explained, and in part to the fact that when it has been explained it has been explained wrongly by confounding the meaning intended by him with other meanings of the word, such as pulsation, throbbing or vibration. It is therefore a case of the lakṣyārtha or intended meaning of sphuraṇa as it was used by him having been confused with an inappropriate selection from the broad range of vācyārtha or literal meanings of it as given in dictionaries.

The meaning intended by him was only ‘shining’ (in the sense of clarity) or ‘shining forth’ (in the sense of a fresh degree of clarity), so what he meant by the term ahaṁ-sphuraṇa was only the clear shining of ‘I’ or fresh clarity of self-awareness that we experience whenever we are self-attentive. What he obviously did not mean was that ahaṁ-sphuraṇa is any kind of pulsation, throbbing or vibration of ‘I’, because anything that pulsates, throbs or vibrates would be an object experienced by ‘I’ and hence could not be ‘I’ itself.

Yet in spite of the obviousness of this, the simple and clear meaning of ahaṁ-sphuraṇa as intended by him has been so widely (and wildly) misunderstood by those who have attempted to interpret his teachings that the wrong belief that ahaṁ-sphuraṇa is some sort of pulsation, throbbing or vibration of ‘I’ became — and has now been for eighty years or so — the prevalent belief about it among his devotees. What a paradox it is that a term whose meaning in the context of his teachings should be so simple, clear and obvious has been misinterpreted to such a great extent and consequently misunderstood so prevalently.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Self-awareness: ‘I’-thought, ‘I’-feeling and ahaṁ-sphuraṇa

During the past few weeks I have written many comments about ahaṁ-sphuraṇa and related subjects in reply to comments that others have written on some of my recent articles, and since Sanjay Lohia suggested in one of his recent comments that I should gather together all such comments and make them available as an article, I decided to compile and adapt them (along with one email on the same subject) as this article, which I hope will serve as a useful supplement to my previous article, Demystifying the term ‘sphuraṇa.

Since this is a long article that discusses various different but related issues, I have divided it into the following ten sections:
  1. ‘I’-thought, ‘I’-feeling and ahaṁ-sphuraṇa
  2. நான் நான் (nāṉ nāṉ) means ‘I am I’, not ‘I-I’
  3. The exact meaning of sphuraṇa is determined by the context in which it is used
  4. When we try to attend only to ‘I’, it shines more clearly
  5. Aham-sphurana is an experience that cannot be described adequately in words
  6. தன்னுணர்வு (taṉ-ṉ-uṇarvu) means self-awareness rather than ‘I’-feeling
  7. The Path of Sri Ramana explains the practice of ātma-vicāra more clearly than any other English book
  8. Viśēsa-jñāna and aham-spurippu
  9. Ātmākāram is nothing other than ātman itself
  10. A paradox: sphuraṇa means ‘shining’ or ‘clarity’, yet misinterpretations of it have created so much confusion
Anyone who has been closely following the comments written on my recent articles will already have read most of the contents of these sections, but in some of them (such as the second section) I have expanded on what I wrote in my original comments, and the fifth section contains a reply that I wrote last week by email, so it has not appeared in any of the comments that I wrote here.

1. ‘I’-thought, ‘I’-feeling and ahaṁ-sphuraṇa

In two comments that he wrote on one of my recent articles, Since we always experience ‘I’, we do not need to find ‘I’, but only need to experience it as it actually is, Palaniappan Chidambaram asked me what is meant by the term ‘ahaṁ-sphuraṇa’ and whether it is the same as the ‘I’-thought and the ‘I’-feeling. The following is adapted from the series of three comments that I wrote in reply to him:

What is common to the terms ‘I’-thought, ‘I’-feeling and ahaṁ-sphuraṇa is only ‘I’ (aham), and that is all that we need to investigate in order to experience ourself (which is what we call ‘I’) as we really are. If we once experience this ‘I’ as it really is, the meaning of all these terms will become clear to us. However, for the sake of conceptual clarity and understanding, I will explain briefly the meaning of each of these terms.

‘I’-thought is an English translation of two equivalent Tamil terms that Sri Ramana often used, namely நான் என்னும் நினைவு (nāṉ eṉṉum niṉaivu) and நான் என்னும் எண்ணம் (nāṉ eṉṉum eṇṇam), both of which literally mean the thought or idea called ‘I’. As he explained on many occasions, what he meant by these terms is our mixed experience ‘I am this body’, in which ‘I am’ is what we actually are (our real self) and ‘this body’ is an extraneous adjunct that we mistake to be ourself.

Therefore, when he asks us to investigate this thought called ‘I’, what he actually wants us to investigate is only its essential element, ‘I am’, in order to separate this essential ‘I’ from all extraneous adjuncts such as ‘this body’. That is, only by focusing our entire attention only on ‘I’ (ourself) can we experience ourself in complete isolation from all adjuncts and other extraneous things.

Regarding the term ‘I’-feeling, it is not possible to say precisely what this means, because the meaning of the English word ‘feeling’ is very vague and ambiguous (for example, the meanings of it given in Oxford Dictionaries include: an emotional state or reaction; an idea or belief, especially a vague or irrational one; the capacity to experience the sense of touch; a sensitivity to or intuitive understanding of). In most cases where this term ‘I’-feeling is used in English books about Sri Ramana’s teaching, it is probably intended to mean the thought or idea called ‘I’, but in some cases it could be a translation of நான் என்னும் உணர்வு (nāṉ eṉṉum uṇarvu), which could be more accurately translated as the awareness or consciousness called ‘I’.

The word உணர்வு (uṇarvu) has a range of meanings depending on the context in which it is used, some of which are similar to some of the meanings of ‘feeling’, but its basic meaning is awareness or consciousness. However, in the sense in which Sri Ramana often used it, it means more precisely that which is aware or conscious. I am not sure whether he actually used the term நான் என்னும் உணர்வு (nāṉ eṉṉum uṇarvu), or if so how often, but an equivalent term that he often used was தன்னுணர்வு (taṉ-ṉ-uṇarvu), which means self-awareness or self-consciousness. Since the awareness we call ‘I’ is only our self-awareness, நான் என்னும் உணர்வு (nāṉ eṉṉum uṇarvu) would denote what he called தன்னுணர்வு (taṉ-ṉ-uṇarvu).

Therefore, if the term ‘I’-feeling is understood to mean our தன்னுணர்வு (taṉ-ṉ-uṇarvu) or self-awareness, in its pure form it would be only our real self, ‘I am’, but so long as it is experienced mixed with any adjuncts, it would be the thought called ‘I’, namely our ego.

In English books and articles on the teachings of Sri Ramana a huge amount of confusion has been created about the meaning of the term ahaṁ-sphuraṇa, and hence there are many misconceptions that prevail about what this term actually denotes. Therefore last year I wrote an article in order to try to clear up some of this confusion, and recently I enlarged upon it and posted it here: Demystifying the term ‘sphuraṇa.

Therefore without going into too much detail here, I will just briefly explain that as it is used by Sri Ramana the term ahaṁ-sphuraṇa (or its abbreviated form sphuraṇa) simply denotes a fresh clarity of self-awareness. At present the clarity of our self-awareness is clouded due to its being mixed up and confused with extraneous adjuncts such as our body and mind, so what we experience now is a relatively less clear self-awareness. That is, we clearly know that we are, but we do not clearly know what we are. Therefore, when we try to focus our entire attention only on ourself in order to experience ourself as we really are, we begin to experience a fresh clarity of self-awareness, which is what Sri Ramana calls an ahaṁ-sphuraṇa.

At first this sphuraṇa or fresh clarity of self-awareness is unlikely to be perfect (as it was in the exceptional case of Sri Ramana when on account of an intense fear of death he investigated himself in order to find out who am I), so whatever fresh clarity we experience initially will probably be just a relative clarity of self-awareness. However, as we go deeper into this practice by focusing our attention more and more accurately on ourself alone, the clarity of our self-awareness will increase, until eventually we will experience the same perfect clarity that Sri Ramana experienced at that moment that he investigated himself. This perfect clarity of self-awareness is not a relative one but an absolute one, so it will destroy forever the illusion that we are anything other than what we really are.

Therefore, though the term ahaṁ-sphuraṇa means in general a fresh clarity of self-awareness, it does not denote any particular degree of clarity, so it can denote anything from the fresh but still very dim clarity that we experience when we first try to attend to ourself alone, to the perfect clarity that we will experience when we finally succeed in focusing our entire attention only on ourself.

Hence, to summarise my reply to Palaniappan’s questions, when our self-awareness (or ‘I’-feeling as it is sometimes rather vaguely called) is mixed and confused with extraneous adjuncts such as our body and mind, it is called the ‘I’-thought or thought called ‘I’, but when we try to attend to it alone in order to experience it in complete isolation from all extraneous adjuncts, we begin to experience it with an fresh degree of clarity, and any such fresh degree of clarity of self-awareness is what is called ahaṁ-sphuraṇa.

Therefore, from a practical perspective, all we actually need to understand is that we should try to attend only to ‘I’ (ourself). If we do so, the adjuncts that are now mixed with ‘I’ will begin to drop off or recede from our experience, and thus we will experience a fresh of clarity of self-awareness, which is a greater or lesser degree of ahaṁ-sphuraṇa.

If we understand the meaning of the term ahaṁ-sphuraṇa in this simple manner as intended by Sri Ramana, it will no longer seem to be something mysterious, and we will no longer be confused by whatever anyone else may write about it. Moreover, we will be able to understand that the reason why Sri Ramana seemed to say different things about ahaṁ-sphuraṇa in different contexts is simply that there is no single degree of clarity of self-awareness to which alone this term refers, because it can refer to any of a broad range of degrees of such clarity.

2. நான் நான் (nāṉ nāṉ) means ‘I am I’, not ‘I-I’

Before I had time to answer the questions asked by Palaniappan Chidambaram that I refer to in the previous section, they had already sparked a discussion about ahaṁ-sphuraṇa in a long series of comments on another more recent article, Why do we not experience the existence of any body or world in sleep?, beginning with a series of three comments by Wittgenstein in which he replied to the questions asked by Palaniappan Chidambaram, offering his own reflections and expressing his own doubts. Some useful ideas were exchanged in that discussion, but many of the ideas expressed (particularly in some of the comments that quoted from books, articles or correspondence written by others) were clearly influenced by inadequate translations of Sri Ramana’s teachings and by some of the prevalent misunderstandings, misinterpretations and confusions that surround the term ahaṁ-sphuraṇa and related aspects of his teachings.

However, since I did not have time to reply in detail to all those comments, and since I hoped that many of those misunderstandings, misinterpretations and confusions would be cleared up by my article Demystifying the term ‘sphuraṇa, I decided to reply specifically to only a few of the ideas expressed in those comments. The following is adapted and expanded from a series of three comments that I wrote in answer to one such idea.

Though I agree by and large with all that Wittgenstein has written in his first two comments in this discussion (namely this comment and this one), I think it is important to point out that though in most English books the term நான் நான் (nāṉ nāṉ), which Sri Ramana often used to describe the experience of true self-knowledge (such as in verse 20 of Upadēśa Undiyār, verse 30 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu and verse 2 of Āṉma-Viddai), is generally translated as ‘I-I’, this is actually a mistranslation of it (or at least a very inadequate and misleading translation of it). That is, though நான் நான் (nāṉ nāṉ) literally means just ‘I I’, what it actually means is ‘I am I’, just as though நான் யார்? (nāṉ yār?) literally means ‘I who?’, what it actually means is ‘I am who?’ (or ‘who am I?’).

The reason why there is no explicit verb meaning ‘am’ in sentences such as நான் நான் (nāṉ nāṉ) or நான் யார்? (nāṉ yār?) is that a feature of Tamil (which it shares with many other languages) is a phenomenon known as zero copula, which means that the link between a subject and its complement (what it is said to be) is understood without the need for any overt copula (linking verb) such as ‘am’, ‘is’ or ‘are’. It is possible to use an overt copula in Tamil, but it is complicated and in most circumstances would seem unnatural. For example, the normal way to say ‘I am Raman’ would be to say ‘nāṉ rāmaṉ’ (‘I [am] Raman’), but to include an overt copula one would have to say ‘nāṉ rāmaṉāy irukkiṟēṉ’, which literally means ‘I am being Raman’ or ‘I am as Raman’.

As Lakshmana Sarma points out in his Tamil commentary on verse 30 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, Sri Ramana described the experience of true self-knowledge as ‘நான் நான்’ (nāṉ nāṉ), ‘I am I’, in order to contrast it with our experience of the ego, ‘நான் இது’ (nāṉ idu), ‘I am this’, and he expresses the same idea in Chapter 9 of Maha Yoga when he writes, “the Sage calls this formless Consciousness the ‘I am I’ to distinguish it from the ego-sense which has the form of ‘I am this (body)’” (2002 edition, p. 149). That is, whereas we now experience ourself as ‘I am this body’, when this false ego-sense is swallowed by the clear light of true self-knowledge we will experience ourself only as ‘I am I’.

A clear example of such a contrast can be seen in the passage from the first sub-section of section 1 of Vicāra Saṅgraham that I quoted in my previous article, Demystifying the term ‘sphuraṇa. In one sentence in that passage Sri Ramana says that if one keenly investigates what it is that now shines as ‘I’, then a kind of spurippu (or sphuraṇa) will appear as நான் நான் (nāṉ nāṉ), ‘I [am] I’, and in the next sentence he says that if one just remains without leaving that spurippu, it will completely annihilate the ego, which is (what experiences itself as) தேகம் நான் (dēham nāṉ), ‘[this] body [is] I’:

[…] இப்போது நானென விளங்குவது எதுவென்று கூர்மையாய் விசாரித்தால், அப்போது ஹிருதயத்தில், நான் நான் என்று சத்தமில்லாமல், தனக்குத்தானே ஓர் வித ஸ்புரிப்பு மாத்திரம் தோன்றும். அதனை விடாது சும்மா இருந்தால், தேகம் நானென்னும் அகங்காரரூப ஜீவபோதத்தை முற்றிலும் நாசமாக்கி, கர்ப்பூரத்திற் பற்றிய நெருப்புப்போல், தானும் சாந்தமாய்விடும்.

[…] ippōdu nāṉ-eṉa viḷaṅguvadu edu-v-eṉḏṟu kūrmaiyāy vicārittāl, appōdu hirudayattil, nāṉ nāṉ eṉḏṟu sattam-illāmal, taṉakku-t-tāṉē ōr vidha spurippu māttiram tōṉḏṟum. adaṉai viḍādu summā irundāl, dēham nāṉ-eṉṉum ahaṅkāra-rūpa jīva-bhōdattai muṯṟilum nāśam-ākki, karppūrattil paṯṟiya neruppu-p-pōl, tāṉ-um śāntam-āy-viḍum.

[…] if one keenly investigates what it is that now shines as ‘I’, then in [one’s] heart a kind of spurippu [a fresh clarity] alone will itself appear to itself [or to oneself] without sound as ‘I [am] I’. Without leaving that [fresh clarity of self-awareness], if one just is, it will completely annihilate the sense of individuality in the form of the ego, [which experiences itself as] ‘body [is] I’, and [then], like fire that catches on camphor, it will itself also be extinguished.
Here Sri Ramana is clearly contrasting two different experiences of self-awareness, நான் நான் (nāṉ nāṉ) and தேகம் நான் (dēham nāṉ). Though neither of these two pairs of words contain an explicit copula meaning ‘am’ or ‘is’, such a copula is implicit in both of them, so they are each a complete clause. That is, in this context just as தேகம் நான் (dēham nāṉ) obviously means ‘body is I’ and not just ‘body-I’, so நான் நான் (nāṉ nāṉ) obviously means ‘I am I’ and not just ‘I-I’.

Whenever Sri Sadhu Om wrote a பொழிப்புரை (an explanatory paraphrase in Tamil prose) for any verse in which Sri Ramana used this term ‘நான் நான்’ (such as verse 20 of Upadēśa Undiyār, verse 30 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu or verse 2 of Āṉma-Viddai), he usually paraphrased it as ‘நான் நானே’ (nāṉ nāṉē), which means ‘I am only I’ (the added suffix ‘ē’ being an intensifier that in this context conveys the sense of ‘only’), in order to emphasise that what is experienced as ‘I’ in the state of true self-knowledge is only ‘I’ itself and not anything else such as ‘this’ or ‘that’.

When நான் நான் (nāṉ nāṉ) is translated correctly as ‘I am I’, it is clear what Sri Ramana meant by these words, but when it is translated as ‘I-I’, as it is in most English books, it is not at all clear what he meant. Because the translation ‘I-I’ does not indicate or even suggest that ‘நான் நான்’ (nāṉ nāṉ) is actually a complete sentence or finite clause with a verb that is clearly implied though not explicitly stated, ‘I-I’ does not at all convey the meaning that is clearly conveyed in Tamil by ‘நான் நான்’ (nāṉ nāṉ), but somehow this mistranslation has become established and most translators, commentators and writers of English books or articles on the teachings of Sri Ramana continue to use it unquestioningly and without any apparent idea of what the original term in Tamil actually means.

What actually does ‘I-I’ mean? Is it a repetition of ‘I’, or a double ‘I’? And what would a repeated ‘I’ or double ‘I’ actually imply? Why would Sri Ramana have so frequently used such a vague and ambiguous term? The answer is that ‘I-I’ does not actually mean anything at all (or at least not anything clearly), and that Sri Ramana did not actually use this term.

However, many people seem to assume that ‘I-I’ means a pulsation or throbbing of ‘I’, as if ‘I’ were the sort of thing that could pulsate or throb. Because pulsation and throbbing are two among the many meanings of the Sanskrit word sphuraṇa (though not actually the meaning intended by Sri Ramana when he used this word), the mistranslation of நான் நான் (nāṉ nāṉ) as ‘I-I’ has reinforced the mistaken belief that ahaṁ-sphuraṇa means a pulsation or throbbing of ‘I’.

The essential meaning of sphuraṇa is ‘making itself known’, so anything that makes itself known in any way can be described as a sphuraṇa, so this includes any sort of throbbing, quivering, trembling, pulsating, shining, flashing, glittering, manifesting or coming into view. However, in the sense in which Sri Ramana used this term sphuraṇa it means shining or shining forth in a metaphorical sense, or in a more literal sense, being experienced more clearly. That is, since he used sphuraṇa with respect to ‘I’, and since ‘I’ cannot throb, tremble, pulsate or even shine in the literal sense of a visible light, what he called ahaṁ-sphuraṇa or a ‘shining of I’ simply means a clear experience of ‘I’ — that is, a clarity of self-awareness. And since sphuraṇa also implies shining forth or ‘making itself known anew’, he used the term ahaṁ-sphuraṇa to mean the fresh clarity of self-awareness that we experience when we try to focus our attention only on ‘I’, thereby withdrawing it from all other things.

3. The exact meaning of sphuraṇa is determined by the context in which it is used

The following is adapted from another comment I wrote in reply to a question asked by Wittgenstein and several issues he touched upon:

Wittgenstein, regarding your question, ‘why such a sphurana [as narrated by Bhagavan] is getting a status of purnam in Upadesa Undiyar [by the same Bhagavan]?’ I hope you were able to understand the answer to this from what I wrote yesterday in reply to Palaniappan (which I have reproduced in the first section of this article), namely that ‘though the term ahaṁ-sphuraṇa means in general a fresh clarity of self-awareness, it does not denote any particular degree of clarity, so it can denote anything from the fresh but still very dim clarity that we experience when we first try to attend to ourself alone, to the perfect clarity that we will experience when we finally succeed in focusing our entire attention only on ourself’.

Incidentally, Bhagavan did not actually use the word sphuraṇa in Upadēśa Undiyār, but in verse 20 of the Sanskrit version, Upadēśa Sāram, he did use the verb sphurati, which means ‘[it] shines’ or ‘[it] shines forth’, and which is a form of sphur, the verb from which the verbal noun sphuraṇa is derived.

Regarding the two passages from Day by Day that you refer to in the same comment, I would not attach any importance to what Bhagavan said about Hiranyagarbha (on 30-5-46), because this is a concept that has nothing to do with his teachings, so when he was asked about it he simply explained some of the traditional beliefs that surround it.

Regarding what he said on 24-3-45 when Mudaliar asked him the meaning of sphuraṇa, his first answer, ‘It means விளங்குவது [shining or what shines] or விளக்குவது [making clear or what makes clear]’ is clear and accurate, so if Mudaliar had been satisfied with that, he would not have said anything further. But Mudaliar then asked, ‘Is it not a sound we hear?’, which is hardly the most appropriate question to ask after being told that it means shining or making clear, so seeing that his first answer had not been understood, Bhagavan replied something else, the full import of which I suspect Mudaliar may not have understood and therefore may not have recorded accurately.

(However, in my previous article, Demystifying the term ‘sphuraṇa, I tried to explain the implication of what he did record, namely that it is not a sound that we can hear but a ‘sound’ (figuratively speaking) that we become aware of, and that since it is actually silence, if it is described metaphorically as a ‘sound’, it is a ‘soundless sound’, and hence it cannot be heard but can only be experienced in silence. In this context it is also worth noting that in the passage from the first sub-section of section 1 of Vicāra Saṅgraham that I quoted above in the previous section of this article, Bhagavan said specifically that a kind of spurippu (that is, a sphuraṇa) will appear without sound (சத்தமில்லாமல்: sattam-illāmal), which clearly implies that it is not a sound: ‘நான் நான் என்று சத்தமில்லாமல், தனக்குத்தானே ஓர் வித ஸ்புரிப்பு மாத்திரம் தோன்றும்’ (nāṉ nāṉ eṉḏṟu sattam-illāmal, taṉakku-t-tāṉē ōr vidha spurippu māttiram tōṉḏṟum), which means “a kind of spurippu [a fresh clarity] alone will itself appear to itself [or to oneself] without sound as ‘I [am] I’”.)

Then Devaraja Mudaliar recorded that from a dictionary perspective Bhagavan said, ‘both sound and light may be implied in the word sphuraṇa’. However, we should understand that though light and sound may both be said to be types of sphuraṇa (since sphuraṇa means ‘making itself known’ or anything that makes itself known), neither of them can be an ahaṁ-sphuraṇa, because ‘I’ (aham) is neither a literal light nor a literal sound (though it could be said to be a metaphorical light, or at a stretch of the imagination even a metaphorical sound).

4. When we try to attend only to ‘I’, it shines more clearly

In reply to my comment that I reproduced in the previous section, Wittgenstein wrote another comment in which he remarked: ‘If only at that critical juncture Mudaliar had asked, “What shines?”! Amazing to see how Bhagavan never shoved this teachings down anybody’s throat’. In reply to this I wrote the following comment:

Yes, Wittgenstein, as you say, Bhagavan never sought to impose his teachings upon anyone, and if anyone was interested or believed in anything that was irrelevant or even contrary to his teachings, he was perfectly happy to talk with them accordingly, as if he too believed and was interested in such things.

Regarding your suggestion that when he answered that sphuraṇa means விளங்குவது [shining] or விளக்குவது [making clear] (as recorded in Day by Day, 24-3-45), Mudaliar should have asked, ‘What shines?’, if Mudaliar was really interested to know specifically about ahaṁ-sphuraṇa (rather than any other type of sphuraṇa such as the sphuraṇa of a light or a sound) he should have understood that in the case of ahaṁ-sphuraṇa what shines or makes itself clear is only ‘I’ (aham). Therefore, what he should perhaps have asked is: ‘But is not ‘I’ always shining and making itself clear? What then is the difference between our ordinary experience of ‘I’ and the experience of it that is called ahaṁ-sphuraṇa?’

If he had asked this, I guess that Bhagavan would have explained that ahaṁ-sphuraṇa means a fresh clarity of self-awareness, and that this fresh clarity is experienced when we try to attend only to ‘I’ because our awareness of ‘I’ is then not clouded and confused with awareness of anything else, so ‘I’ then shines (so to speak) more clearly.

5. Aham-sphurana is an experience that cannot be described adequately in words

As I explained in Demystifying the term ‘sphuraṇa, the Sanskrit word स्फुरणम् (sphuraṇam) is a verbal noun derived from the verb स्फुर् (sphur), the essential meaning of which is to shine, to be clear or to make itself known. Another verbal noun that is derived from the same verb and that therefore means the same as स्फुरणम् (sphuraṇam) is स्फूर्तिः (sphūrtiḥ), the Tamil form of which is ஸ்பூர்த்தி (sphūrtti), which is used to mean anything that manifests or flashes to mind, such as a memory. Therefore in the context of Sri Ramana’s teachings அஹம் ஸ்பூர்த்தி (aham-sphūrtti) means the same as அஹம் ஸ்புரணம் (aham-sphuraṇam).

Recently a friend wrote an email to me asking various questions about ahaṁ-sphūrtti and ahaṁ-sphuraṇa, and the following is what I replied to him:

To understand what is meant by the terms ஸ்பூர்த்தி (sphūrtti) or ஸ்புரணம் (sphuraṇam) in the context of Bhagavan's teachings, please read my latest article, Demystifying the term ‘sphuraṇa, which I posted on my blog today.

The ahaṁ-sphuraṇa or ‘shining of I’ is not anything other than ‘I’, so the experience of it cannot be adequately described in words, except by saying that it is a fresh clarity of self-awareness. What you describe as ‘a certain feeling of warmth and peace’ is therefore probably not this clarity of self-awareness, because anything that we could describe as ‘a certain feeling of warmth and peace’ would be something other than ‘I’.

If someone were to ask you to describe what ‘I’ is, would you describe it as ‘a certain feeling of warmth and peace’? What you would probably answer is that ‘I’ cannot be described. In the same way, the ahaṁ-sphuraṇa or ‘clear shining of I’ cannot be described, because it is nothing other than ‘I’ itself.

Even now ‘I’ is shining, so to speak (that is, it is clearly experienced by us), so the only difference between this shining of ‘I’ with which we are always familiar and the shining of ‘I’ that is called ahaṁ-sphuraṇa is that the latter is a more clear shining of ‘I’. Though we clearly experience that I am, we do not clearly experience what I am, so the aim of ātma-vicāra is only to experience clearly what I am. Now we do not know clearly what I am because our experience of ‘I’ is now mixed up with our experience of many other things, so in order to experience clearly what I am, we need to experience ‘I’ alone, in complete isolation from all other things. Therefore we need to try to attend only to ‘I’ and not to anything else.

When we thus try to attend only to ‘I’, we begin to experience it more clearly — that is, we experience a greater clarity of self-awareness. This greater clarity of self-awareness is all that is meant by the terms ahaṁ-sphūrtti or ahaṁ-sphuraṇam. Therefore the deeper we go in our practice of ātma-vicāra, the more clearly we will experience ‘I’ alone, and thus (so to speak) the more brightly ahaṁ-sphuraṇam will shine.

6. தன்னுணர்வு (taṉ-ṉ-uṇarvu) means self-awareness rather than ‘I’-feeling

In reply to the series of three comments that I wrote in reply to the original questions about ahaṁ-sphuraṇam asked by Palaniappan Chidambaram and that I reproduced above in the first section of this article, Wittgenstein wrote a comment in which he reflected on the meaning of தன்னுணர்வு (taṉ-ṉ-uṇarvu) and on what he took to be Sri Sadhu Om’s translation of it as the ‘I’-feeling. In reply I wrote the following comment:

Wittgenstein, regarding what you write about Sri Sadhu Om’s translation of Tamil words, you should not assume that the choice of words in English translations of his Tamil books was always his. Though he could understand English and express himself adequately in spoken English, his knowledge of English vocabulary and grammar was fairly limited, so he could not express himself so well when he tried to write English. Therefore whenever he translated Bhagavan’s, Muruganar’s or his own writings into English, he would explain the meaning to someone who knew better English, and they would then write it in their own words. This is why the present translations of The Path of Sri Ramana and other such books is not very accurate, and why the choice of words used in them is often not the best.

Though I was with him for eight years, most of his books that are now available in English (except Guru Vācaka Kōvai and Sādhanai Sāram) had been translated with the help of others before I first met him. With my help he did correct some of the worse translations, but we never had time to do so thoroughly and completely, so almost all of the existing translations are in need of extensive revision, which I hope I will one day have time to do.

Regarding தன்னுணர்வு (taṉ-ṉ-uṇarvu), he always explained to me that it means self-awareness or self-consciousness, so though the term ‘I’-feeling or the feeling ‘I’ does occur in some of his English books, this was not his choice of wording. Though உணர்வு (uṇarvu) can mean ‘feeling’ in certain contexts, in the contexts in which Bhagavan, Muruganar or Sadhu Om usually used it it means awareness or consciousness, or more precisely in many cases, that which is aware or conscious, namely ‘I’.

Regarding Lakshmana Sarma’s use of the term ‘sense of self’, I suspect that this was perhaps a translation of the Tamil term தன்மை (taṉmai), which literally means ‘self-ness’, but which as you probably know has many other meanings depending on the context, including nature, essence, truth, state or the first person (‘I’). Whether or not this was the Tamil word he had in mind when he wrote ‘sense of self’, as it is used in Bhagavan’s teachings தன்மை (taṉmai) could in many contexts be translated as ‘I-ness’, ‘self-ness’ or ‘sense of self’. Therefore when Lakshmana Sarma explains the meaning of ‘whence am I?’ as ‘what is the source of the sense of self in the ego?’, I would understand ‘sense of self’ in this context as meaning தன்மை (taṉmai): ‘what is the source of the I-ness in the ego?’

Regarding your suggestion that தன்னுணர்வு (taṉ-ṉ-uṇarvu) could be interpreted as ‘intuitive feeling’ and தன்னறிவு (taṉ-ṉ-aṟivu) as ‘intuitive understanding’, it seems to me that both these English terms are too imprecise and general, because they fail to convey the meaning of தன் (taṉ), namely ‘self’, and because these Tamil terms both mean self-awareness, self-consciousness, self-knowledge or self-experience. Not only are ‘feeling’ and ‘understanding’ both inadequate translations of உணர்வு (uṇarvu) and அறிவு (aṟivu) as they are used in the context of Bhagavan’s teachings, but ‘intuitive’ also seems to be an inappropriate term to use to describe self-awareness, because self-awareness is not merely intuitive but is an immediate and indubitable experience — in fact it is the only thing that we experience immediately and indubitably.

7. The Path of Sri Ramana explains the practice of ātma-vicāra more clearly than any other English book

In reply to the comment that I reproduced in the previous section, Wittgenstein wrote another comment in which he said that he was a little taken aback when he read that The Path of Sri Ramana was not translated by Sri Sadhu Om himself, and added:
Having read The Path of Sri Ramana, the initial reaction is to focus on the I-feeling, assuming it is some kind of feeling. I was frustrated when I read this book for the first time because I felt I was again in square one, unable to do vichara. However, reading the original Tamil version showed the correct path.
He also wrote that ‘even the I-thought is misunderstood’, and that investigating it ‘is taken to be a search for a particular thought’, whereas what Bhagavan meant was that we should focus our attention on our self-awareness, ‘I am’, which is the essential cit (conscious) aspect of the ‘I’-thought, and he ended by saying:
In my opinion, there are only three books one can read to get an accurate picture of the practice of vichara: [1] Ramana Vazhi [the Tamil original of The Path of Sri Ramana], [2] Maha Yoga and [3] HAB [Happiness and the Art of Being]. Unfortunately, the first one is for those who can understand written Tamil and the second one is for those with a background in Metaphysics [that is why it is not so popular].
In reply to this I wrote a series of two comments, from which the following is adapted:

Sorry, Wittgenstein, I did not mean to suggest that the present translation of The Path of Sri Ramana is not an extremely valuable and helpful book. This translation certainly does give plenty of room for improvement, and the choice of some words used in it may not always be the most appropriate, but it is still the best book in English for anyone who seriously wants to understand how to practise ātma-vicāra. The most important part of the book is the first part, and fortunately the present translation of it is much better than the present translation of the second part, but even the latter is still very useful.

For understanding the practice of ātma-vicāra, the main part of The Path of Sri Ramana is much more clear, accurate and useful than Maha Yoga, because though Maha Yoga does clearly explain much of the philosophical basis of ātma-vicāra, it does not explain the practice of it nearly as clearly or as deeply as The Path of Sri Ramana. Therefore anyone who wants to practise ātma-vicāra should certainly read The Path of Sri Ramana if they do not know Tamil and therefore cannot read its original, ஸ்ரீ ரமண வழி (Śrī Ramaṇa Vaṙi, or Sri Ramana Vazhi as its title is often transcribed in Latin script).

Regarding the translation of தன்னுணர்வு (taṉ-ṉ-uṇarvu) as the feeling ‘I’ or the ‘I’-feeling, though this is not the most accurate translation of it, it is not entirely misleading, because most people should be able to understand that what is meant by ‘I’-feeling is only our self-awareness. Therefore all I wanted to point out to you in this regard is that the feeling ‘I’ or the ‘I’-feeling are not terms that I often heard Sri Sadhu Om using when talking, and that whenever he would have used தன்னுணர்வு (taṉ-ṉ-uṇarvu) while speaking in Tamil, he generally used self-awareness or self-consciousness while speaking in English. And even when he did talk about the feeling ‘I’, he used the word ‘feeling’ only because he had heard others using it in this context, so he would have assumed that it is commonly used and understood by people to mean consciousness or awareness.

That is, since almost the only English books he had read were the English books about Bhagavan’s teachings, he tended to use the same terminology used in them unless it was clear to him that any particular word was inappropriate, or unless he knew another English word (such as ‘attention’, which he used very frequently) that was more appropriate than any of the words that were generally used in English books that tried to express or explain ātma-vicāra. For example, the term ‘self-attention’ was not used in any English books about Bhagavan’s teachings before he coined and started to use it, but he chose to use it because he understand enough English to recognise that it explained the practice of ātma-vicāra so much more clearly than any of the other words that were then used in English books to explain it (such as the term ‘Quest of the Self’, which Lakshmana Sarma used so frequently in Maha Yoga and other books).

However, one term that Sri Sadhu Om did frequently use because it was used in almost all other English books was ‘Self-enquiry’ as a translation of ‘ātma-vicāra’. During the last one or two years of his bodily life I pointed out to him that using a capital ‘S’ in this context seemed to be misleading, since it suggests that the ‘Self’ is something other than ourself, and since distinguishing ‘Self’ from ‘self’ implies a fundamental duality. He at once agreed that this was so, saying that in Tamil there are no capitals and hence no room for creating such unnecessary confusion, and he told me that in all future books and translations we should be careful to avoid capitalising the initial letter of ‘self’ or any other word that denoted self, such as ‘being’, ‘consciousness’ or ‘awareness’.

Later it struck me one day that ‘self-investigation’ would be a much clearer and more accurate translation of ‘ātma-vicāra’ than ‘self-enquiry’, so I discussed this with Sadhu Om and explained to him that ‘enquiry’ can mean either ‘questioning’ or ‘investigation’, so it is ambiguous, and hence though ‘enquire who am I’ can mean ‘investigate who am I’, it is more likely to be misunderstood as meaning ‘question (or ask) who am I’, because when they come immediately after the verb ‘enquire’ the words ‘who am I’ would more typically be understand as a question than as denoting a subject for investigation. I also explained that with regard to the verb equivalents of ‘enquiry’ and ‘investigation’, we can say ‘investigate self’ but cannot say ‘enquire self’, so if we use ‘enquire’ we have to say ‘enquire into self’ or ‘enquire about self’, which is more cumbersome and seems less direct than saying simply ‘investigate self’.

When I explained all this, Sadhu Om told me that in Tamil the verb ‘vicāri’ can also mean either ‘investigate’ or ‘ask’, like the English verb ‘enquire’, but that the nouns ‘vicāram’ and ‘vicāraṇai’ primarily mean ‘investigation’, ‘examination’, ‘exploration’, ‘scrutiny’ or ‘research’, so they are less likely to be understood as meaning ‘asking’ or ‘questioning’. Moreover, he said that in the context of Bhagavan’s teachings ‘vicāri’, ‘vicāram’ and ‘vicāraṇai’ mean ‘enquire’ or ‘enquiry’ only in the sense of ‘investigate’ or ‘investigation’ and not in the sense of ‘ask’ or ‘asking’. Therefore he agreed with me that it would be better to translate ‘ātma-vicāra’ as ‘self-investigation’ rather than ‘self-enquiry’, and said that in future editions of The Path of Sri Ramana or any other books we should use the term ‘self-investigation’ instead of ‘self-enquiry’.

(Incidentally, I noticed later that in Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshivicāri’ and ‘vicāra’ are respectively often translated as ‘investigate’ and ‘investigation’, though they are more frequently translated as ‘enquire’ and ‘enquiry’.)

Therefore, when reading the English translations of any of Sadhu Om’s books, it is important to bear in mind that he had only a limited knowledge of English, so the English words he used may not always be the most appropriate ones or the ones that he would have used if he had had a broader or deeper knowledge of English.

8. Viśēsa-jñāna and aham-spurippu

In a comment on my previous article, Demystifying the term ‘sphuraṇa, Sanjay Lohia quoted two sentences from its second last paragraph and wrote that though he could understand the vācyārtha (literal meaning) of them, he could not understand their lakṣyārtha (intended meaning). The two sentences he quoted were:
Since viśēsa-jñāna cannot stand on its own without any support, it generally attaches itself to the body, depending upon it for support, but it can instead attach itself only to self. When it attaches itself to the body and mind, it assumes their distinguishing features, and thus it appears to be identical to them, whereas when it attaches itself to self, it shines as ātmākāram, the ‘form’ or nature of self, and is then called aham-spurippu, the clear shining of ‘I’.
Referring to these sentences, he asked what the experiential difference is between viśēsa-jñāna attaching itself to the body and mind and it attaching itself to self, and how it appears to be identical to the body and mind when it attaches itself to them. The following is adapted from the two comments that I wrote in reply to him:

Sanjay, what I wrote in the two sentences that you quote in your comment is an explanatory paraphrase of ideas that Sri Ramana expressed in the passage that I quoted from the third sub-section of section 2 of Vicāra Saṅgraham, and the key to understanding this passage is to understand exactly what he meant in this context by the term ‘viśēsa-jñāna’, distinctive or differentiated knowledge. What is it actually a distinctive knowledge of? The clue to answer this lies in the second sentence of the above-quoted passage, namely:
பின்னர் தூக்கத்தினின்றும் ‘விழித்தேன்’, மயக்கத்தினின்றும் ‘தெளிந்தேன்’ என்ற அநுபவம் முற்கூறிய நிர்விசேஷ நிலையினின் றுதித்த தோர் விசேஷஞானத்தினது தோற்றமன்றோ?

piṉṉar tūkkattiṉiṉḏṟum ‘viṙittēṉ’, mayakkattiṉiṉḏṟum ‘teḷindēṉ’ eṉḏṟa anubhavam muṯkūṟiya nirviśēṣa nilaiyiṉiṉḏṟutittadōr viśēṣa-jñāṉattiṉadu tōṯṟam-aṉḏṟō?

Afterwards, the experience ‘I woke from sleep’ or ‘I regained consciousness from fainting’ is the appearance of a viśēsa-jñāna [distinctive, differentiated or feature-laden knowledge] that rose from the aforesaid nirviśēsa [non-distinctive, undifferentiated or featureless] state, is it not?
That is, the experience ‘I woke from sleep’ or ‘I regained consciousness from fainting’ is the appearance of a distinctive, differentiated or feature-laden knowledge of ‘I’. In sleep we experience ‘I’, but our experience of it then is nirviśēsa (non-distinctive, undifferentiated or featureless) because we experience it without experiencing anything else whatsoever, whereas in waking and dream our experience of it is viśēsa (distinctive, differentiated or feature-laden) because we experience it along with other things. What essentially differentiates our experience of ‘I’ in waking and dream from our experience of ‘I’ in sleep is all the adjuncts (such as a body, a mind and conditions such as being awake or regaining consciousness of other things) that we mix and confuse with ‘I’ in waking and dream. Therefore in this context viśēsa-jñāna or vijñāna means the distinctive, differentiated or feature-laden self-awareness or knowledge of ‘I’ that we experience in waking and dream.

Therefore when Sri Ramana says, ‘This vijñāna cannot shine separately [or on its own] but shines only [by] attaching itself to either ātman [self] or anātman [something that is not self]’, what he is indicating is that though this viśēsa-jñāna or distinctive self-awareness normally attaches itself to other things, it can instead attach itself to itself by attending to itself alone. That is, we now experience ourself as this viśēsa-jñāna, and as such we experience both ‘I’ and other things, so we can choose to attend either to other things or to ‘I’ alone, and whichever of these we attend to, we thereby attach ourself to it.

When our present viśēsa-jñāna or distinctive self-awareness attaches itself to the body and mind, it experiences itself as them, ‘I am this body’ and ‘I am this mind’, and thus it assumes their distinguishing features and seems to be identical to them. Likewise, when it attaches itself to itself alone, it experiences itself as nothing else, ‘I am nothing other than I alone’, and hence Sri Ramana says that it then shines as ātmākāram, the ‘form’ or nature of self. This shining of ‘I’ as ‘I’ alone is what is called aham-spurippu, the clear shining of ‘I’.

At present our attachment to other things is very strong, but the more we try to attend to ‘I’ alone, the more strongly we will become attached to ‘I’, and the more our attachment to other things will thereby be weakened, until eventually our attachment to ‘I’ will completely destroy all our attachments to anything else. This is why Sri Ramana used to say that we should cling firmly to aham-spurippu, the clear shining of ‘I’, and why he said in the earlier passage that I quoted from the first sub-section of section 1 of Vicāra Saṅgraham:
[…] அதனை விடாது சும்மா இருந்தால், தேகம் நானென்னும் அகங்காரரூப ஜீவபோதத்தை முற்றிலும் நாசமாக்கி, கர்ப்பூரத்திற் பற்றிய நெருப்புப்போல், தானும் சாந்தமாய்விடும். […]

[…] adaṉai viḍādu summā irundāl, dēham nāṉ-eṉṉum ahaṅkāra-rūpa jīva-bhōdattai muṯṟilum nāśam-ākki, karppūrattil paṯṟiya neruppu-p-pōl, tāṉ-um śāntam-āy-viḍum. […]

[…] Without leaving it [that spurippu, the fresh clarity of self-awareness that shines as ‘I am I’], if one just is, it will completely annihilate the sense of individuality in the form of the ego, [which experiences itself as] ‘body [is] I’, and [then], like fire that catches on camphor, it will itself also be extinguished. […]
That is, when the ego is eventually destroyed by the clear shining of ‘I’ (aham-spurippu), the shining of ‘I’ will cease to be experienced as a viśēsa-jñāna (a different, distinctive or special knowledge) and will instead be experienced as it really is, which is prajñānam: pure self-awareness (that is, self-awareness that is completely adjunct-free and hence nirviśēsa: featureless and not distinctive or different). In other words, aham-spurippu or ahaṁ-sphuraṇa (the clear experience ‘I am only I’) will seem to be viśēsa (different, distinctive or special) only so long as even the slightest trace of the ego (the illusory experience ‘I am this body’) survives, and it will cease to seem viśēsa as soon as the ego is completely annihilated. This cessation of the seeming viśēsatva (difference, distinctiveness or specialness) of the aham-spurippu or ahaṁ-sphuraṇa is what Sri Ramana sometimes described as its subsidence or extinguishment.

9. Ātmākāram is nothing other than ātman itself

In reply to my two comments that I reproduced in the previous section, Sanjay wrote another comment explaining what he had understood from what I wrote, and saying that he hoped he had understood it correctly. The following is adapted from the comment I wrote in reply:

Sanjay, I think that in general terms you have understood correctly what Bhagavan meant in the passage I quoted from the third sub-section of section 2 of Vicāra Saṅgraham, but it seems that you are perhaps mistaken on one detail, because you seem to be reifying the meaning of ātmākāram (that is, you seem to take it to be some sort of ‘thing’ that is in some way separate from self or ātman). The suffix ākāram means ‘form’ and is here used in a figurative sense, so in this sense ātmākāram (the ‘form of self’) is nothing other than ātman (self) itself.

The context in which Bhagavan used this term is in the sentence ‘இவ்விஞ்ஞானம் ஆன்மாவை யாச்ரயித்து ஆன்மாகாரமாக விளங்கும் ஸ்திதியே அஹம் ஸ்புரிப்பு எனச் சொல்லப்படுகிறது’ (i-v-vijñāṉam āṉmāvai y-āśrayittu āṉmākāram-āha viḷaṅgum sthiti-y-ē aham spurippu eṉa-c collappaḍukiṟadu), which means ‘The state in which this vijñāna attaches itself to ātman and shines as ātmākāram is alone called aham spurippu [the clear shining of ‘I’]’, so ‘shines as ātmākāram’ here means in effect that it shines as self — that is, as ‘I’ alone. That is, when this vijñāna or distinctive self-awareness attaches itself to itself by attending only to ‘I’, instead of shining as the body or any other adjunct, it shines as ‘I’ alone.

When this vijñāna thus shines as ‘I’ alone, it is called aham-spurippu, the clear shining of ‘I’. Therefore, the more we focus our attention only on ‘I’ and thereby experience ourself as ‘I’ alone, the more brightly, clearly and intensely this aham-spurippu will shine, until eventually it will shine so brightly and clearly that it will completely destroy all trace of the ego, the mistaken and illusory experience ‘I am this body’.

10. A paradox: sphuraṇa means ‘shining’ or ‘clarity’, yet misinterpretations of it have created so much confusion

As a conclusion to this and my previous article, I began to write a final section about the paradox that though the term sphuraṇa simply means ‘shining’ or ‘clarity’, it has been so widely misinterpreted that its clear and simple meaning has been obscured and a huge amount of confusion has thereby been created about it. However what I began to write is now becoming so long that I have decided to form it into a separate article: A paradox: sphuraṇa means ‘shining’ or ‘clarity’, yet misinterpretations of it have created so much confusion.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Demystifying the term ‘sphuraṇa

In two comments on one of my recent articles, Since we always experience ‘I’, we do not need to find ‘I’, but only need to experience it as it actually is, Palaniappan Chidambaram asked me some questions about ahaṁ-sphuraṇa, and I replied in a series of three comments. These questions asked by Palaniappan also started a discussion about ahaṁ-sphuraṇa in a long series of comments on another more recent article, Why do we not experience the existence of any body or world in sleep?, and I replied to some of the points raised in that discussion in several comments towards the end of it. Since in another comment Sanjay Lohia suggested that I should gather together all the comments I have recently been writing in reply to comments written by others and make them available as an article, I will compile and post here all my recent comments regarding ahaṁ-sphuraṇa (perhaps with some additional explanations to link them all together) as my next article: Self-awareness: ‘I’-thought, ‘I’-feeling and ahaṁ-sphuraṇa.

Another friend, R Viswanathan, suggested in one of his recent comments that in the context of this discussion about ahaṁ-sphuraṇa it would useful if I were to reproduce here an article entitled ‘Demystifying the Term Sphuraṇa’, which I wrote last year for the Autumn 2013 newsletter of the Ramana Maharshi Foundation UK. The editor of this newsletter, Alasdair Black, had asked me to write an article for it, so since I am often asked questions about ahaṁ-sphuraṇa, and since a lot of confusion has been created about this term in English books and articles, I decided to write an article to try to clarify what this term actually means. However, when I read that article again in the light of our recent discussions about ahaṁ-sphuraṇa and thought more about this subject, I began developing some of the ideas that I had expressed in it, so this present article is a much enlarged version of that original article.

Before I come to the main article itself, I would like to make a suggestion. For me writing the original article and enlarging it recently served each time as a kind of meditation, because whenever I think or write about ‘I’ or the shining of ‘I’ (which is not other than ‘I’ itself, as I explain below), my attention is naturally drawn towards this shining of ‘I’ (which is ever present but generally overlooked by most of us). Therefore, though this is a very long article that considers the shining of ‘I’ in great detail, I suggest that anyone else who is really interested in this subject should perhaps read it slowly, carefully and meditatively, so that they may also derive the same benefit from reading it that I derived from writing it. Though superficially this article was written by me, I believe the ideas expressed in it are not actually my own ideas, but are just an expansion of ideas that have already been given to us in seed-form by Sri Ramana.

The following is the newly enlarged version of the original article I wrote last year:

In English books on the teachings of Sri Ramana, and also among many of his devotees and followers, a lot of mystery and confusion seems to surround the Sanskrit word ‘sphuraṇa’, so much so that some aspirants agonise over whether or when they are going to experience the mysterious and elusive thing that this word is imagined to denote. In this context, therefore, the first thing that needs to be clarified is that what we are seeking to experience when we practise ātma-vicāra or self-investigation is not anything mysterious or previously unknown, but is only ‘I’, ourself, with which we are already more familiar than we are with any other thing.

We already experience this ‘I’, of course, but what we are now trying to experience is not anything other than it, but is just this same ‘I’ but with a greater degree of clarity — in fact, with absolute clarity. At present the clarity with which we experience ‘I’ is less than perfect, because we experience it mixed with other things that we mistake to be ‘I’, such as our body and mind, and hence our current experience of ‘I’ is confused and clouded by our experience of those extraneous adjuncts as ‘I’. Therefore, though we clearly know that I am, we do not clearly know what I am, so Sri Ramana advises us to investigate and find out who or what we actually are.

What then is the meaning of this term ‘sphuraṇa’, and why did Sri Ramana occasionally use it? Unsurprisingly, all that this word denotes in the context in which he used it is just clarity of self-awareness — the very clarity that he advises us to seek. Therefore sphuraṇa is not anything other than ‘I’, but is only the greater degree of clarity with which we are now trying to experience ‘I’.

In the context of Sri Ramana’s teachings, just as vicāra (investigation or enquiry) means by default only ātma-vicāra (self-investigation or self-enquiry), sphuraṇa means by default only ahaṁ-sphuraṇa, the ‘clear shining of I’. Just as the shining of a light is not other than that light, because if a light did not shine it would not be a light, this clear shining of ‘I’ is not other than ‘I’, because if ‘I’ did not shine (that is, if it was not experienced by itself) it would not be ‘I’

However, in contexts other than Sri Ramana’s teachings, the Sanskrit word स्फुरणम् (sphuraṇam) has a much broader range of meanings, such as shining, glittering, sparkling, twinkling, flashing, shining forth, springing to mind, appearing, starting into view, breaking forth, manifestation, quivering, trembling, throbbing, vibration or pulsation. In short, anything that shines, appears, manifests, becomes clear or makes itself known can be called a sphuraṇa. In the context of Sri Ramana’s teachings, however, many of these meanings of sphuraṇa are obviously not applicable, because ‘I’ does not sparkle, twinkle, quiver, tremble, throb, vibrate or pulsate, since it is essentially just being, not something that moves in any way or does anything. The things that we mistake to be ‘I’, such as our body and mind, do move and act, but ‘I’ itself just is and does not move or do anything.

Though the term sphuraṇa does have various meanings, not all of its meanings are applicable in any given context, so which of its meanings are applicable is determined by the particular context in which it was used. Therefore which of its meanings is or are applicable in the context of Sri Ramana’s teachings? When Devaraja Mudaliar asked him the meaning of sphuraṇa, he replied, ‘It means விளங்குவது or விளக்குவது’ (Day by Day with Bhagavan, 24-3-45 Afternoon: 2002 edition, p. 5). விளங்குவது (viḷaṅguvadu) and விளக்குவது (viḷakkuvadu) are both verbal nouns (from the verbs விளங்கு and விளக்கு respectively), or to be more precise, participial nouns, as for example is உள்ளது (uḷḷadu), so just as உள்ளது (uḷḷadu) can mean either ‘what is’ or ‘being’, விளங்குவது (viḷaṅguvadu) can mean either ‘what shines’ or ‘shining’, and விளக்குவது (viḷakkuvadu) can mean either ‘what makes clear’ or ‘making clear’. This then is what he meant by sphuraṇa when he coined the term ahaṁ-sphuraṇa, so ahaṁ-sphuraṇa means the shining of ‘I’ or the making clear of ‘I’.

Obviously ‘I’ does not shine in the same way that a physical light shines, so in this context ‘shining’ is not used literally but metaphorically. That is, in this context the basic metaphorical meaning of ‘shining’ is ‘being experienced’, so whatever is experienced at any given time can be said to be ‘shining’ at that time. Since ‘I’ is not only the only thing that is always experienced, but also the only thing that is experienced by itself, it is not only ever-shining but is also the only thing that is self-shining.

However, ‘shining’ in a metaphorical sense means not only ‘being experienced’ in general, but more specifically ‘being clearly experienced’. Thus the more clearly a thing is experienced, the more brightly it may be said to be shining. It is significant, therefore, that though the basic meaning of விளங்குவது (viḷaṅguvadu) is either ‘what shines’ or ‘shining’, it also means either ‘what is clear’ or ‘being clear’, so in the case of ahaṁ-sphuraṇa or the shining of ‘I’, sphuraṇa or ‘shining’ simply means ‘being clear’ or ‘being clearly experienced’.

Since what is always more clearly experienced than any other thing is only ‘I’, it may be said to be the most brightly shining of all things, but so long as its shining is mixed with the shining of any other things (all of which are illuminated only by the light of ‘I’, which is a metaphorical way of saying that they are all experienced only by the conscious thing called ‘I’), it is not shining sufficiently clearly. In order to shine with complete clarity, ‘I’ must shine alone — that is, it must be experienced on its own, in the absence of all other things. When it shines alone, in complete isolation from all other things, it shines clearly, and this clear shining of ‘I’ alone is what Sri Ramana sometimes described as ahaṁ-sphuraṇa.

Since a light is a light only because it shines, and since it shines only because it is a light, it and its shining can never be separated from each other, and in fact its shining is nothing other than it itself. Therefore the two basic meanings of விளங்குவது (viḷaṅguvadu), namely ‘what shines’ and ‘shining’, both actually denote the same thing. For example, in the case of ahaṁ-sphuraṇa, ‘I’ is both shining and what shines. That is, shining or being clear — and hence in this sense sphuraṇa — is the very nature of ‘I’, because if it did not shine (that is, if it were not experienced by itself) it would not be ‘I’. Therefore ahaṁ-sphuraṇa, the ‘shining of I’ or ‘clarity of I’, is nothing other than ‘I’ itself.

When a light shines, not only does it make other things clear, but it also makes itself clear, and likewise whatever else shines (whether literally or metaphorically) thereby makes itself clear. Therefore, when Sri Ramana said that sphuraṇa means விளங்குவது (shining or being clear) or விளக்குவது (making clear), what he implied is that it actually means both simultaneously, because by shining or being clear ‘I’ is making itself clear.

This is why anything that makes itself clear, such as a light, a sound, a throbbing, a pulsation, a vibration, an explosion or anything else that appears, manifests, springs into view or strikes the mind, can be described as a sphuraṇa. However, no such things can be ahaṁ-sphuraṇa, because ahaṁ-sphuraṇa is the shining of ‘I’ alone. Moreover, there is a fundamental difference between ahaṁ-sphuraṇa and every other type of sphuraṇa, because any other type of sphuraṇa is conditional, since it depends on ‘I’, whereas ahaṁ-sphuraṇa is unconditional, since it depends upon nothing other than itself.

That is, a light, a sound, a throbbing or anything else other than ‘I’ can make itself known or clear only if there is an ‘I’ to whom it is making itself known or clear, so there can be no sphuraṇa of any such thing unless it is experienced by ‘I’. In the case of ahaṁ-sphuraṇa, on the other hand, what experiences the ‘I’ that makes itself clear is only that very same ‘I’ itself, so it does not depend upon anything other than itself. Therefore ahaṁ-sphuraṇa is the only self-shining sphuraṇa — the only sphuraṇa that experiences itself.

After Sri Ramana explained to him that sphuraṇa means விளங்குவது (shining or being clear) or விளக்குவது (making clear), Devaraja Muduliar went somewhat off-topic by asking, ‘Is it not a sound we hear?’ Since his original question was about the meaning of the word sphuraṇa in ahaṁ-sphuraṇa, it was not relevant to then ask about a sound, unless he imagined that ahaṁ-sphuraṇa is somehow a sound of some sort. However, just as ahaṁ-sphuraṇa is not literally a light, it is also not literally a sound, but just as it can be described metaphorically as a light, it could also (at a stretch of the imagination) be described metaphorically as a sound, so it seems (if the recording of his answer to this question in Day by Day is at all accurate) that Sri Ramana replied implying that it is not a sound that we can hear but a ‘sound’ (figuratively speaking) that we become aware of. That is, the nature of ‘I’ (aham) and hence of the shining of ‘I’ (ahaṁ-sphuraṇa) is silence, so if it is described metaphorically as a ‘sound’, it is a ‘soundless sound’, and hence it cannot be heard but can only be experienced in silence.

In English books on the teachings of Sri Ramana, though the noun स्फुरणम् (sphuraṇam) is used, the verb स्फुर् (sphur), from which this verbal noun is derived, is not used, whereas in Sanskrit he used this verb (as he did for example in verse 20 of Upadēśa Sāram, where he used it to describe the shining forth of self as ‘I [am] I’ after the ego is destroyed by self-investigation) perhaps as frequently as he used its noun form, स्फुरणम् (sphuraṇam), and in Tamil he sometimes used its equivalents, ஸ்புரி (spuri) or புரி (puri). The Sanskrit verb स्फुर् (sphur) means to shine, be bright, be clear, be evident, make itself known, flash to mind, appear clearly, become visible, manifest, arise, shine forth, burst out plainly, start into view, spring, dart, flash, sparkle, glitter, gleam, glisten, twinkle, twitch, tremble, throb, palpitate, jerk or kick (and thus it is etymologically related to the English words spurn and spur, which like it are believed to be derived from a Proto-Indo-European root meaning to twitch, push or kick). In Tamil the frequently used verb புரி (puri), which means to shine, be manifest, be clear or be understood, and its much less frequently used form ஸ்புரி (spuri), which tends to mean more specifically to strike one’s mind, are both derived from this Sanskrit verb स्फुर् (sphur).

Since some of these various meanings of स्फुर् (sphur) and ஸ்புரி (spuri), such as to shine forth, spring into view, become clear or strike one’s mind, imply an experience that is somehow new, one of the connotations both of these verbs and of their various derivatives, such as the verbal nouns स्फुरणम् (sphuraṇam) in Sanskrit and ஸ்புரிப்பு (spurippu) in Tamil, is newness or freshness. Therefore in the context of Sri Ramana’s teachings, sphuraṇa generally does not mean only clarity of self-awareness but more specifically a fresh clarity (or fresh degree of clarity) of self-awareness.

Hence, after Sri Ramana explained to him that sphuraṇa means விளங்குவது (shining or being clear) or விளக்குவது (making clear), if Devaraja Muduliar had asked, ‘But is not ‘I’ always shining or making itself clear? In what sense, then, is ahaṁ-sphuraṇa any different to the ordinary shining of ‘I’ that we already experience?’ he would probably have replied by explaining that the term ahaṁ-sphuraṇa does not denote merely the ordinary shining of ‘I’ or the ordinary manner in which it makes itself clear, but more specifically a fresh and more clear shining of ‘I’.

As Sri Sadhu Om used to say (punning on the words ‘new clear’ and ‘nuclear’), sphuraṇa is a new clear awareness of ourself. Just as the potentially destructive power of nuclear energy is released by splitting an atom, the all-destroying power of this sphuraṇa or new clear self-awareness is released by splitting the ego-atom — the cit-jaḍa-granthi or knot that binds the conscious (self) to the non-conscious (body) — by means of keenly focused self-attentiveness.

Until the final moment when the ego is destroyed completely by absolute clarity of self-awareness, we do not actually split this cit-jaḍa-granthi entirely, but even while practising self-attentiveness we are beginning to split it, and thus we experience a less than perfect kind of sphuraṇa, a fresh but still partial degree of clarity of self-awareness, which will not have the power to destroy our mind entirely, but will gradually undermine it by weakening its vāsanās or outward-going inclinations. Only when we experience absolute clarity of self-awareness, which is the perfect kind of sphuraṇa, will its full power be released, thereby destroying not only our mind but also its entire creation, the appearance of this vast universe that comes into seeming existence whenever it rises. As Sri Ramana is recorded as saying (on the afternoon of 22-11-1945) in Day by Day (2002 edition, p. 49):
The spark of jñāna will easily consume all creation as if it were a mountain-heap of cotton. All the crores of worlds being built upon the weak (or no) foundation of the ego, they all topple down when the atomic bomb of jñāna comes down upon them.
This ‘spark of jñāna’ or ‘atomic bomb of jñāna’ is the absolute clarity of self-awareness, which is the perfect variety of what Sri Ramana sometimes called the ahaṁ-sphuraṇa.

When we practise ātma-vicāra, what we are seeking to experience is greater and greater clarity of self-awareness until such clarity becomes absolute, and the only way to experience such clarity is to be keenly and vigilantly self-attentive. Therefore, just as clarity of self-awareness is our goal, so it is also the only means by which we can reach that goal, and hence, since it is just clarity of self-awareness, ahaṁ-sphuraṇa is both our goal and the path to it.

We begin to taste a partial and imperfect kind of this ahaṁ-sphuraṇa or fresh clarity of self-awareness as soon as we turn our attention keenly towards ourself in an attempt to experience who am I, and our experience of this sphuraṇa deepens and becomes increasingly clear as we focus our attention more and more keenly upon our essential self-awareness, ‘I am’. Thus during our practice of ātma-vicāra we experience varying degrees of sphuraṇa or clarity of self-awareness.

Contrary to what some people imagine, therefore, sphuraṇa is not some sort of ‘thing’ that we should aim to experience, because what this term denotes is not an object of experience but only a quality of experience, and the experience in question is not in any way concerned with any object or ‘thing’ but is only self-experience — an experience in which the experiencer, the experienced and the experiencing are all one. The quality of self-experience that this term denotes is its degree of clarity, which as we have seen can vary from the increased but nevertheless still partial clarity that we experience when we start practising ātma-vicāra or keenly focused self-attentiveness, to the complete and absolute clarity that we will experience when our mind is destroyed by the all-consuming light of ātma-jñāna or true self-knowledge.

Because the verbal origin of this noun sphuraṇa has not been made clear in most English books, there has been a tendency to reify it (that is, to depict as if it were a thing), and hence some people have been led to imagine that it denotes some sort of thing that is other than ourself rather than simply a fresh condition or degree of clarity of the (metaphorical) shining of ‘I’, and thus they imagine not only that the word sphuraṇa has a fixed referent, but also that that referent is something other than self. If they had instead understood the verbal origin of this word, and if they had been familiar with the variety of contexts in which Sri Ramana used the verb sphur and its derivatives, they would have understood that he used sphuraṇa to refer to any degree of fresh clarity of self-awareness that is experienced as a result of practising ātma-vicāra or self-attentiveness, and that since we can experience varying degrees of such clarity, including the absolute clarity that is ātma-jñāna, the referent of the word sphuraṇa is not fixed but variable (at least in degree), and hence that the verb sphur and the noun sphuraṇa were used by Sri Ramana to refer not only to any partial degree of fresh clarity of self-awareness that we experience while practising vicāra, but also to the absolute clarity of self-awareness that shines forth when the ego is finally destroyed.

A clear example of him using the verb sphur to describe the complete and final shining forth of self is verse 20 of Upadēśa Sāram:
अहमि नाशभा ज्यहम हंतया ।
स्फुरति हृत्स्वयं परम पूर्णसत् ॥

ahami nāśabhā jyahama haṁtayā
sphurati hṛtsvayaṁ parama pūrṇasat

When ‘I’ [the ego] is annihilated, heart [self] spontaneously shines forth as ‘I [am] I’ (aham aham). [This is] parama pūrṇa sat [the supreme whole reality].
In the original Tamil version of this verse Sri Ramana used the verb தோன்றுமே (tōṉḏṟumē), which means ‘[it] certainly appears, becomes clear, springs up or shines forth’, and in this Sanskrit version he translated this as स्फुरति (sphurati), which in this context means ‘[it] shines forth, becomes clear or shines clearly’. Since what he is describing here is the spontaneous shining forth of our heart or true self as ‘I am I’, which we will experience when our mind or false ‘I’ is annihilated by ātma-vicāra, and since he emphasises that this is the one infinite reality, the parama pūrṇa sat or ‘supreme whole being’, in this context the verb स्फुरति (sphurati) obviously describes only the shining forth of the absolute clarity of pure adjunct-free self-awareness. From this it is clear that Sri Ramana considered even this shining forth of absolute clarity of self-awareness to be a kind of स्फुरणम् (sphuraṇam) — the perfect kind in fact.

However, in most cases when he used स्फुर् (sphur) or any of its derivatives he did so to describe the fresh but still relative clarity of self-awareness that we experience during our practice of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra). As far as I can remember, he did not use any form of the verb sphur or any of its derivatives in any of his original Tamil writings, but in Śrī Ramaṇa Nūṯṟiraṭṭu (his Tamil collected works) there is one text in which derivatives of this word are used several times, namely Vicāra Saṅgraham, in which he uses the Tamil verb ஸ்புரி (spuri) four times (in sections 1, 9 and 10) and its noun form ஸ்புரிப்பு (spurippu) eight times (in sections 1, 2, 6 and 9), and in all these cases he used these words to denote the partial clarity of self-awareness experienced during the practice of self-investigation. However, before we consider any of these in more detail, it is important to remember that though Vicāra Saṅgraham is included in Śrī Ramaṇa Nūṯṟiraṭṭu, the ideas expressed in it are a mixture of ideas from other spiritual texts that Gambhiram Seshayyar asked him to explain and replies that he gave from his own experience whenever Seshayyar asked for further clarification, so though the passages we consider may have been answers that he gave from his own experience, the conceptual framework within which he gave them and the wording that he used to express them were intended to suit the perspective from which the questions he was answering were asked.

In the first sub-section of section 1 of Vicāra Saṅgraham he says:
[…] விசாரிப்பதெப்படி? என்னில், கட்டை முதலிய போலும் ஜடமான இச்சரீரம், நானென்று ஸ்புரித்து வழங்கி வருமா? வராதே. ஆதலால், பிணமான தேகத்தைப் பிணம் போலவே இருத்தி, வாக்காலும் நானென்று சொல்லாமலிருந்து, இப்போது நானென விளங்குவது எதுவென்று கூர்மையாய் விசாரித்தால், அப்போது ஹிருதயத்தில், நான் நான் என்று சத்தமில்லாமல், தனக்குத்தானே ஓர் வித ஸ்புரிப்பு மாத்திரம் தோன்றும். அதனை விடாது சும்மா இருந்தால், தேகம் நானென்னும் அகங்காரரூப ஜீவபோதத்தை முற்றிலும் நாசமாக்கி, கர்ப்பூரத்திற் பற்றிய நெருப்புப்போல், தானும் சாந்தமாய்விடும். இதுவே மோக்ஷமென்று பெரியோர்களாலும் சுருதிகளாலும் சொல்லப்படுகிறது.

[…] vicārippadu eppadi? eṉṉil, kaṭṭai mudaliya pōlum jaḍamāṉa i-c-śarīram, nāṉ eṉḏṟu spurittu vaṙaṅgi varumā? varādē. ādalāl, piṇamāṉa dēhattai-p piṇam pōla-v-ē irutti, vākkālum nāṉ-eṉḏṟu sollāmal-irundu, ippōdu nāṉ-eṉa viḷaṅguvadu edu-v-eṉḏṟu kūrmaiyāy vicārittāl, appōdu hirudayattil, nāṉ nāṉ eṉḏṟu sattam-illāmal, taṉakku-t-tāṉē ōr vidha spurippu māttiram tōṉḏṟum. adaṉai viḍādu summā irundāl, dēham nāṉ-eṉṉum ahaṅkāra-rūpa jīva-bhōdattai muṯṟilum nāśam-ākki, karppūrattil paṯṟiya neruppu-p-pōl, tāṉ-um śāntam-āy-viḍum. idu-v-ē mōkṣam-eṉḏṟu periyōrgaḷālum śurutigaḷālum sollappaḍukiṟadu.

[…] If [anyone] asks how to investigate [this impure self-awareness that rises as ‘I am this body’], [the reply is:] can this body, which is jaḍa [non-conscious] like a block of wood, shine and behave as ‘I’? It cannot. Therefore, setting down the corpse-body as a corpse, and remaining without uttering ‘I’ even by [physical or mental] voice, if one keenly investigates what it is that now shines as ‘I’, then in [one’s] heart a kind of spurippu [a fresh clarity] alone will itself appear to itself [or to oneself] without sound as ‘I [am] I’. Without leaving that [fresh clarity of self-awareness], if one just is, it will completely annihilate the sense of individuality in the form of the ego, [which experiences itself as] ‘body [is] I’, and [then], like fire that catches on camphor, it will itself also be extinguished. This itself is said by sages and sacred texts to be mōkṣa [liberation].
In the first sentence of this passage the verb that I translated as ‘shine’ is ஸ்புரி (spuri), and in the third sentence I translated விசாரி (vicāri) as ‘investigate’, விளங்குவது (viḷaṅguvadu) as ‘it that shines’ and ஸ்புரிப்பு (spurippu) as ‘fresh clarity’ (though I could alternatively have translated it as ‘shining’ or ‘fresh shining’). ஸ்புரிப்பு (spurippu) is a verbal noun, and is the Tamil equivalent of the Sanskrit verbal noun स्फुरणम् (sphuraṇam), but though Sri Ramana does not actually use this Sanskrit word sphuraṇa in Vicāra Saṅgraham, in most English translations of it the Tamil word ஸ்புரிப்பு (spurippu) has been translated rather unhelpfully as sphuraṇa, which for most readers is just replacing one unfamiliar word with another, without actually explaining its meaning in clear English terms.

The fact that Sri Ramana says here ‘ஓர் வித ஸ்புரிப்பு’ (ōr vidha spurippu), ‘a kind of spurippu’, confirms what I wrote above, namely that the term ஸ்புரிப்பு (spurippu) or स्फुरणम् (sphuraṇam) when used by him has a range of referents rather than a single specific one, because if its referent did not vary according to the exact context in which he used it, it would have been superfluous for him to say ‘a kind of’ (ōr vidha) in this context. The particular kind of spurippu that he refers to here is the partial kind of clarity of self-awareness that we newly experience during our practice of ātma-vicāra, and hence he says in section 2 (in a passage that we will consider below) that it is not itself the vastu (the real substance that we actually are) but is only a precursor of the complete and perfect experience of it.

That is, when this kind of spurippu or partial clarity of self-awareness becomes complete and absolute clarity, it blossoms as true self-knowledge (ātma-jñāna), the direct or immediate (aparōkṣa) experience of the one real substance, which consumes and annihilates the mind or ego once and forever. Thus this final aparōkṣa experience of self is a spurippu of a subtly but nevertheless radically different kind. That is, instead of being just a partial or relative clarity, it is a complete and absolute one. Therefore, when Sri Ramana sometimes said that spurippu or sphuraṇa is self itself (as for example in section 160 of Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi), the kind of spurippu he was then referring to was this absolute clarity of pure self-awareness or ātma-jñāna.

As we saw above, Sri Ramana explained to Devaraja Mudaliar that the meaning of spurippu or sphuraṇa is விளங்குவது (viḷaṅguvadu) or விளக்குவது (viḷakkuvadu), so when he uses both the words விளங்குவது (viḷaṅguvadu) and ஸ்புரிப்பு (spurippu) in the third sentence of this passage, he is using two words that have essentially the same meaning. In this sentence விளங்குவது (viḷaṅguvadu) means ‘what shines’ or ‘what is clear’ (though in other contexts it can also mean ‘shining’ or ‘being clear’), and ஸ்புரிப்பு (spurippu) means ‘shining’ or ‘clarity’, so ‘இப்போது நானென விளங்குவது எதுவென்று கூர்மையாய் விசாரித்தால், அப்போது ஹிருதயத்தில், நான் நான் என்று சத்தமில்லாமல், தனக்குத்தானே ஓர் வித ஸ்புரிப்பு மாத்திரம் தோன்றும்’ (ippōdu nāṉ-eṉa viḷaṅguvadu edu-v-eṉḏṟu kūrmaiyāy vicārittāl, appōdu hirudayattil, nāṉ nāṉ eṉḏṟu sattam-illāmal, taṉakku-t-tāṉē ōr vidha spurippu māttiram tōṉḏṟum) can be translated thus:
[…] if one keenly investigates what it is that now shines as ‘I’, then in [one’s] heart a kind of shining (spurippu) alone will itself appear to itself without sound as ‘I [am] I’.
If we carefully consider the meaning of what Sri Ramana says here, it is obvious that the kind of shining that is denoted here by the word ஸ்புரிப்பு (spurippu) must in some way be different to the kind of shining that is denoted by the words இப்போது நானென விளங்குவது (ippōdu nāṉ-eṉa viḷaṅguvadu), which mean ‘it that now shines as I’. What then is the difference between these two kinds of shining? Since there is and can be only one ‘I’, in both cases it must be the same ‘I’ that is shining, so the difference must lie in some quality of its shining in each case.

Now we experience a body (or more generally a person or body-mind complex) as ‘I’, so what now shines as ‘I’ is not just our pure ‘I’ but our pure ‘I’ mixed with extraneous adjuncts such as this body and mind. In other words, what now shines as ‘I’ is our confused experience ‘I am this body’, and hence due to its confused mixture with adjuncts, its shining is in some sense lacking in clarity. That is, though we clearly experience that I am, we do not clearly experience what I am.

Therefore, when we investigate what it is that now shines as ‘I’, which we can do only by trying to focus our entire attention only on the essential ‘I’ in the compound experience ‘I am this body’, we will begin to experience ‘I’ in isolation (or at least in a relative degree of isolation) from the body and other adjuncts with which is it now mixed, and hence instead of experiencing ‘I am this body’, we will begin to experience ‘I am only I’. In other words, we will begin to experience ‘I’ more clearly as it really is. This is what Sri Ramana meant when he said, “then in [one’s] heart a kind of shining (spurippu) alone will itself appear to itself without sound as ‘I [am] I’” (அப்போது ஹிருதயத்தில், நான் நான் என்று சத்தமில்லாமல், தனக்குத்தானே ஓர் வித ஸ்புரிப்பு மாத்திரம் தோன்றும்: appōdu hirudayattil, nāṉ nāṉ eṉḏṟu sattam-illāmal, taṉakku-t-tāṉē ōr vidha spurippu māttiram tōṉḏṟum).

So long as we are attending to and thereby experiencing anything other than ‘I’, ‘I’ shines in a mixed and confused form as ‘I am this body’, but when we try to experience only ‘I’ by attending to it alone, it begins to shine more clearly in its pure form as ‘I am just I’. Therefore the kind of shining or ஸ்புரிப்பு (spurippu) that Sri Ramana refers to here as ‘நான் நான்’ (nāṉ nāṉ) or ‘I am I’ is a relatively clearer and more precise experience of ‘I’. Hence by carefully considering the meaning of this third sentence of this passage, we can understand that what Sri Ramana means here by ‘ஓர் வித ஸ்புரிப்பு’ (ōr vidha spurippu) or ‘a kind of shining’ is only a clearer shining of ‘I’, or in other words, a fresh clarity of self-awareness.

This is why I wrote earlier in this article that in the context of Sri Ramana’s teachings spurippu or sphuraṇa generally does not mean only clarity of self-awareness but more specifically a fresh clarity (or fresh degree of clarity) of self-awareness. ‘I’, our self-awareness, is always shining, but so long as it is mixed and confused with anything other than itself, it is not shining sufficiently clearly, so to enable it to shine more clearly (that is, to be experienced more clearly) we must try to attend to it alone and thereby exclude from our awareness all other things. When we thus try to attend to ‘I’ alone, we will experience it more clearly, and this increased clarity is what Sri Ramana meant by the terms ஸ்புரிப்பு (spurippu) or स्फुरणम् (sphuraṇam).

Returning once again to our analysis of the above-quoted passage of Vicāra Saṅgraham, the conditional clause in the fourth sentence that I translated as ‘if one just is’ is சும்மா இருந்தால் (summā irundāl), in which the word சும்மா (summā) means just, merely, quietly, silently, peacefully or without any work or activity. When Sri Ramana says, ‘without leaving that’, he means without ceasing to attend to that ஸ்புரிப்பு (spurippu), the fresh clarity of self-awareness that is experienced as ‘I am I’ (‘I am just I’ or ‘I am nothing other than I alone’) in place of the former clouded and confused self-awareness that was experienced as ‘I am this body’, and he describes this state of self-attentiveness as ‘just being’ because self-attentiveness is not an action but a state of actionless being. Attending to anything other than ourself is an activity, because it entails a movement of our attention away from ourself towards something else, whereas attending only to ourself, ‘I’, is not an activity, because it entails no movement of our attention away from ourself, its source, and hence it is a state of just being — a state in which all mental activity has ceased.

Sri Ramana says that if we thus remain still without ceasing to attend to it, this fresh clarity of self-awareness will entirely destroy the ego, our false experience ‘I am this body’, and will then subside or be extinguished, just as the flame that catches on a piece of camphor will be extinguished as soon as it has consumed that camphor entirely. What does he mean by saying that this ஸ்புரிப்பு (spurippu) or fresh clarity of self-awareness will thus be extinguished? He obviously does not mean that self-awareness or clarity of self-awareness will cease when the ego is destroyed, because the ego is the cloud that obscures the perfect clarity of self-awareness that is our real nature. What he means therefore is that its seeming freshness or newness will cease, because when the ego ceases to exist what remains shining is not anything new but is only our natural and eternal clarity of absolute and infinite self-awareness.

Prior to the complete destruction of the ego, whatever kind of ஸ்புரிப்பு (spurippu) we experience will not be an absolute clarity but only a relative clarity of self-awareness, and in contrast to the relatively unclear self-awareness that we have been confusing till now with this body, it will seem to be new and fresh. But when we eventually experience absolute clarity of self-awareness, it will be clear to us that our present body-confused self-awareness, which is our ego or mind, has never actually existed, and hence that absolute clarity of self-awareness will be experienced as natural, not as anything new or hitherto unknown.

That is, when our mind has been completely destroyed by absolute clarity of self-awareness, all that will remain is what we really are, and for what we really are such clarity of self-awareness is neither new nor special, but is perfectly natural or sahaja. This state in which clarity of self-awareness ceases to seem new and is instead experienced as natural and eternal is what Sri Ramana describes here as the state in which spurippu has subsided or been extinguished. The natural clarity of self-awareness that then remains is the perfect kind of spurippu or sphuraṇa that Sri Ramana described in verse 20 of Upadēśa Sāram as parama pūrṇa sat — supreme whole being or reality.

In section 2 of Vicāra Saṅgraham he gives a more technical and abstruse explanation of the relative and imperfect kind of spurippu, presumably to satisfy Gambhiram Seshayyar’s interest in the concepts expressed in such technical language in the vēdāntic and yōgic texts that he often asked him to explain. Generally Sri Ramana expressed his teachings in simple terms that could be readily understood by people who have little or no knowledge of the more abstruse concepts expressed in many such texts, but when he was questioned in terms of such concepts he would reply accordingly. What he says in the third sub-section of section 2 is this:
சுழுத்தி மூர்ச்சையாதிய காலங்களில் எவ்வித ஞானமும் அதாவது தன் ஞானமோ அன்னிய ஞானமோ அற்பமு மின்றென்பது எவர்க்கு மநுபவ மன்றோ? பின்னர் தூக்கத்தினின்றும் ‘விழித்தேன்’, மயக்கத்தினின்றும் ‘தெளிந்தேன்’ என்ற அநுபவம் முற்கூறிய நிர்விசேஷ நிலையினின் றுதித்த தோர் விசேஷஞானத்தினது தோற்றமன்றோ? இவ்விசேஷ ஞானமே விஞ்ஞான மெனப்படுகிறது. இவ்விஞ்ஞானமானது ஆன்மாவையேனும் அநான்மாவையேனும் ஆச்ரயித்தே விளங்கு மல்லாது தனியாகப் பிரகாசிக்காது. […] இவ்விஞ்ஞானம் ஆன்மாவை யாச்ரயித்து ஆன்மாகாரமாக விளங்கும் ஸ்திதியே அஹம் ஸ்புரிப்பு எனச் சொல்லப்படுகிறது. இந்த ஸ்புரிப்பு வஸ்துவை விட்டுத் தனியாக இராது. இந்த ஸ்புரிப்பே வஸ்துவை அபரோக்ஷப் படுத்தற்கான தக்ககுறியாம். என்றாலும் இதுவே வஸ்துநிலை யாகாது. இந்த ஸ்புரிப்பானது எதனை ஆச்ரயித்து விளங்குகிறதோ அந்த மூலமே வஸ்து அல்லது ப்ரஜ்ஞான மெனப்படும். வேதாந்தம் ப்ரஜ்ஞானம் ப்ரஹ்ம என்றது இதுபற்றியேயாம்.

suṙutti mūrccai-y-ādiya kālaṅgaḷil e-v-vidha jñāṉamum adāvadu taṉ jñāṉam-ō aṉṉiya jñāṉam-ō aṯpamum iṉḏṟeṉbadu evarkkum anubhavam aṉḏṟō? piṉṉar tūkkattiṉiṉḏṟum ‘viṙittēṉ’, mayakkattiṉiṉḏṟum ‘teḷindēṉ’ eṉḏṟa anubhavam muṯkūṟiya nirviśēṣa nilaiyiṉiṉḏṟutittadōr viśēṣa-jñāṉattiṉadu tōṯṟam-aṉḏṟō? i-v-viśēṣa jñāṉam-ē vijñāṉam eṉappaḍukiṟadu. i-v-vijñāṉamāṉadu āṉmāvai-y-ēṉum anāṉmāvai-y-ēṉum āśrayittē viḷaṅgum allādu taṉiyāha-p pirakāśikkādu. […] i-v-vijñāṉam āṉmāvai y-āśrayittu āṉmākāram-āha viḷaṅgum sthiti-y-ē aham spurippu eṉa-c collappaḍukiṟadu. inda spurippu vastuvai viṭṭu-t taṉiyāha irādu. inda spurippē vastuvai aparōkṣa-p paḍuttaṯkāṉa takka-kuṟi-y-ām. eṉḏṟālum idu-v-ē vastu-nilai y-āhādu. inda spurippāṉadu edaṉai āśrayittu viḷaṅgukiṟatō anta mūlam-ē vastu alladu prajñāṉam eṉappaḍum. vēdāntam prajñāṉam brahma eṉḏṟadu idu-paṯṟi-y-ē-y-ām.

Is it not the experience of everyone that during times such as sleep or fainting there is not the slightest knowledge of any kind, that is, neither knowledge of oneself nor knowledge of any other thing? Afterwards, the experience ‘I woke from sleep’ or ‘I regained consciousness from fainting’ is the appearance of a viśēsa-jñāna [distinctive, differentiated or feature-laden knowledge] that rose from the aforesaid nirviśēsa [non-distinctive, undifferentiated or featureless] state, is it not? This viśēsa-jñāna alone is called vijñāna. This vijñāna cannot shine separately [or on its own] but shines only [by] attaching itself to either ātman [self] or anātman [something that is not self]. […] The state in which this vijñāna attaches itself to ātman and shines as ātmākāram [the form or nature of self] is alone called aham spurippu [the clear shining of ‘I’]. This spurippu does not exist on its own separate from vastu [the real substance, namely self]. This spurippu itself is a suitable [precursory] indication of the arising of direct cognition (aparōksa) of vastu. However, this itself is not the state of vastu. What this spurippu shines attaching itself to [or depending upon], that mūlam [origin, source or foundation] alone is called vastu or prajñānam [pure consciousness]. That which vēdānta says as ‘prajñānam brahma’ [pure consciousness is brahman, the absolute reality] is only about this.
An indication of the fact that this technical explanation is not how Sri Ramana would normally explain such ideas can be seen in the first sentence of this passage, where he seems to concede that we have no knowledge of ourself in sleep, as most of us usually imagine, because he generally insisted that though we do not experience anything other than ourself in sleep, we do experience ourself — our being, ‘I am’. However, despite this concession, the meaning of the first two sentences of this passage is clear, namely that when we wake from sleep or any other such state of seeming unconsciousness, we experience a type of self-awareness that was absent in sleep and that is distinct or differentiated from whatever we did or did not experience then. He calls this distinctive self-awareness viśēsa-jñāna, which means knowledge that is different, special, distinctive, differentiated or having distinguishing features — features that differentiate it from the nirviśēsa (undifferentiated or featureless) character of sleep.

Though Sri Ramana uses various technical terms and concepts here, he does explain them to some extent, and some of his explanations are particularly revealing, such as his explanation that the term vijñāna (as it is used for example in the technical term vijñānamaya kōśa, which means the discriminating faculty, intellect or ‘sheath composed of vijñāna’) denotes only this viśēsa-jñāna.

The verb that I have translated here as ‘attaches itself to’ is ஆச்ரயி (āśrayi), a Tamil form of the Sanskrit verb आश्रि (āśri), which means to join, adhere, attach oneself to, rest on, depend on or resort to, and in this context it specifically means both to attach oneself to and to depend upon for support. Since viśēsa-jñāna cannot stand on its own without any support, it generally attaches itself to the body, depending upon it for support, but it can instead attach itself only to self. When it attaches itself to the body and mind, it assumes their distinguishing features, and thus it appears to be identical to them, whereas when it attaches itself to self, it shines as ātmākāram, the ‘form’ or nature of self, and is then called aham-spurippu, the clear shining of ‘I’. Thus aham-spurippu is the state in which our self-awareness shines clearly, having relinquished its hold on the body and mind by attaching itself firmly to self alone. In other words, when we attend only to self, thereby ceasing to attend to anything else, we experience a fresh clarity of self-awareness, which is called aham-spurippu or ahaṁ-sphuraṇa.

The source (mūlam) and substance (vastu) of this spurippu is only ourself, because it originates from ourself and when scrutinised is found to be nothing other than ourself, but so long as we experience it as something new and special, it is not itself the reality or self, which is not new but natural, being what we always actually are. Therefore Sri Ramana once said, ‘அஹம் ஸ்புரணத்தின் மூலத்தை நாடியிருப்பதே மார்க்கமாகும்’ (aham sphuraṇattiṉ mūlattai nāḍi-y-iruppadē mārgam āhum), which means, ‘remaining investigating [examining or attending to] the source of the ahaṁ-sphuraṇa is alone the path’*. That is, whatever fresh clarity of self-awareness we may experience, our aim should always be to keep our attention focused ever more firmly and sharply on ourself, the source from which this clarity originates and the essential support on which it always depends.

——————————

* This is recorded towards the end of a reply that was sent on Sri Ramana’s behalf to a question that Kavyakantha Ganapati Sastri asked him by a letter in May 1931, which was published in 1980 on pp. 21-2 of a booklet called மணிமொழிகளும் தனிப்பாக்களும் (Maṇimoṙigaḷum Tanippākkaḷum), and a translation and explanation of which was published on pp. 95-101 of the April 1982 issue of The Mountain Path and reproduced in February 2010 by David Godman in his blog as an article called Bhagavan’s Letter to Ganapati Muni.