Sunday, 18 January 2015

The connection between consciousness and body

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

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

In this sense, the term ‘absolute consciousness’ likewise means what is conscious, but the adjective ‘absolute’ distinguishes it from any form of relative consciousness. Since any form of consciousness that experiences anything other than itself exists relative to whatever it experiences, it is not absolute consciousness. Therefore ‘absolute consciousness’ means what is conscious of nothing other than itself, and hence it is what is otherwise known as ‘pure consciousness’ or ‘adjunct-free consciousness’ — the consciousness that we experience not as ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that’ but only as ‘I am’.

According to Sri Ramana, absolute consciousness is what we actually are, and it is not connected with anything, because it alone truly exists. That is, logically it could not be connected with anything unless something other than itself actually existed, and if anything other than itself actually existed, it would necessarily be finite and hence not absolute but only relative. Therefore in order to be connected with anything, consciousness would have to be relative.

However though absolute consciousness is not connected with anything, everything that seems to exist is connected with it, because nothing else could seem to exist if it were not experienced by our ego or mind, and our ego could not seem to exist or to experience anything if it did not contain within itself an element of consciousness — an element that is nothing other than absolute consciousness, which is our real self, the only consciousness that actually exists. Therefore everything other than ourself (including our body) is connected with absolute consciousness (ourself) not through our navel, but only through our ego.

Though absolute consciousness is what we actually are, we now experience ourself as this ego or mind, so we now experience consciousness as if it were this ego, and it is only this ego-consciousness that is connected with our body and that experiences anything other than itself. That is, when consciousness seems to be connected with our body, it is not consciousness as it really is, but only consciousness in the limited and distorted form of our ego or mind.

Our ego or mind always experiences itself as a body, so it is a mixture of consciousness, which alone is real, and this body, which is unreal. In other words, the ego or mind is the adjunct-mixed consciousness ‘I am this body’, and hence it is described as cit-jaḍa-granthi, the knot (granthi) that ties consciousness (cit) and the non-conscious (jaḍa) body together as if they were one.

As the ego or mind, we always experience our body as being something that is intimately connected with ourself — that is, with our essential self-awareness or consciousness (which alone is what we actually are) — and hence we feel that our whole body is conscious, and that consciousness (in the form of our ego) pervades throughout our body. That is, we experience every part of our body as ourself, and since we ourself are conscious, we feel that every part of our body is conscious. Even if some part of our body is anaesthetised or is for any other reason deprived of sensation, we are still conscious of it as ourself, but as a part of ourself that is devoid of sensation or sensory feeling. If someone touches our hand, our foot or any other part of our body, we feel that they have touched us, because there is no part of our body that we experience as other than the entire body that we currently experience as ourself.

However, though consciousness (ourself) pervades throughout our body, it seems to be centred at different times in different parts of our body, depending on what activity we happen to be engaged in. For example, when we are engaged in seeing things, our consciousness seems to be centred in the region of our eyes; when we are engaged in hearing things, it seems to be centred in the region of our ears; since much of our thinking involves words and visual images, it seems to be going on in our head, close to our ears and eyes, so when we are thinking our consciousness seems to be centred there; when we are experiencing any strong emotion, our consciousness seems to be centred in our chest, or sometimes (in the case of some particularly unpleasant emotions) in the pit of our stomach; when we are engaged in feeling something with our hand, our consciousness then seems to be centred (at least partially) in that hand; when we are intensely aware of any pain in our body, our consciousness seems to be centred around that pain; and when we are engaged in sexual activity, our consciousness seems to be centred in the region of our genitals.

This is of course an oversimplification, because we are seldom so engrossed in any one activity or bodily experience that we are completely unaware of everything else, but it does explain to some extent the reasoning behind the yōgic idea of different centres of consciousness (cakras) in the body, and the associated idea that when we are engrossed in material desires and bodily pleasures our consciousness (which is what some yōga texts refer to as ‘kuṇḍalinī’) is located lower in our body, whereas when our interest shifts to more refined pleasures, concerns or aims, our consciousness or kuṇḍalinī rises gradually to higher locations in our body.

However, it is important in this context to remember that the consciousness that seems to be located in (or connected with) our body and that is sometimes described as ‘kuṇḍalinī’ is not absolute consciousness as such, but only our ego, which is a body-bound and hence relative form of our original consciousness. Therefore, since our aim is only to experience consciousness (ourself) in its absolute and original form — which is pure and unlimited self-awareness, unconnected in any way with any finite thing such as a body — we need not be concerned with any ideas about kuṇḍalinī or its location in our body.

Because yōga is concerned with exploring the connection between our mind (our ego, which is our body-bound consciousness), our prāṇa (our breathing and other life processes) and our body, it developed various theories about cakras (centres of consciousness in the body) and nāḍis (channels through which consciousness is said to spread or flow in the body), and among such theories there may be one that says that consciousness connects with our body in the region of its navel.

However, when asked about such theories, Sri Ramana often remarked that we need not concern ourself with any such ideas, because concepts such as nāḍis, cakras and kuṇḍalinī are all mere imaginations or mental fabrications (kalpanās), and if questioned further, he would explain that they are all things that pertain to the body and are supposed to exist in it, so since the body itself is just an imagination, they must also be nothing but imaginations. For example, Suri Nagamma recorded in Telugu one occasion when he made such a remark, and the following English translation of what she recorded was published in 1969 in the Ramana Jyothi Souvenir, p. 14, and was later reproduced in The Mountain Path, October 1983 issue, p. 250:
In 1943, a pandit who came to the Ashram went on talking to Bhagavan for a full four days about the amrita nadi and its significance. Bhagavan was nodding His head saying that the nadi would act like this and like that. Having heard their discussions, I felt aggrieved that I had had no experience of any such nadi. After the visitor had left, I met Bhagavan while He was returning from the gosala side and said, “You have been discussing at length the amrita nadi”, but before I could finish the sentence He said with some impatience, “Why do you worry about all that?” I ventured to say, “You have been discussing it for the last four days and so I thought I could know something about it from you”. Bhagavan replied, “You thought so, did you? He was asking something based on the sastras and I replied to him accordingly. Why should you worry about it? All that you should do is to follow the enquiry ‘Who am I?’” So saying, He walked away.

Two days after that when someone in the hall raised the topic regarding amrita nadi Bhagavan coolly said, “Yes, that is an idea”. Surprised at it, I asked, “Is the amrita nadi an idea only?” “Yes. What else is it but an idea? Is not the body itself an idea?” Saying this, Bhagavan looked at me with compassion.
Ideas such as nāḍis, cakras and kuṇḍalinī may have a metaphorical significance, but if our aim is only to experience what we really are, they are unnecessary concepts and need not concern us. Indeed we should not be concerned with any body-related ideas, because what we should be trying to experience is only ourself, in complete isolation from our body and everything else.

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

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Why are compassion and ahiṁsā necessary in a dream?

Last June, a few weeks after I posted on my YouTube channel the May 2014 video of me answering questions at a meeting of the Ramana Maharshi Foundation UK, a friend called Jim wrote to me asking:
In your latest YouTube upload you talk about being vegetarian, and sweatshops, and signing petitions. I’m confused in this point. So much is said about this waking state being exactly like our dream state, what does it matter what we eat, or wear, or where our clothes are made? If in a dream I’m eating a chicken, a carrot or a car bumper none of it matters. Upon waking I realize it’s just a dream all created by my mind. There is no boy toiling in a sweatshop upon my waking right? So why is the waking state different?
The following is adapted from the long reply I wrote to him, and also from shorter replies that I wrote to two of his subsequent emails:
  1. A dream seems to be real so long as we are experiencing it
  2. How to respond to suffering seen in a dream?
  3. Waking up from a dream is the only solution to all the suffering we see in it
  4. Self-investigation is the only means by which we can wake up from this dream
  5. Until we wake up from this dream we must avoid causing harm to others
  6. We should not be too preoccupied with injustices or other worldly matters
  7. So long as our mind is turned outwards we should care about the well-being of others
  8. To keep our ego in check we must be vigilantly self-attentive
  9. Who is responsible for the creation of this world?
  10. Only in absolute silence can we experience what we actually are
1. A dream seems to be real so long as we are experiencing it

You say, ‘If in a dream I’m eating a chicken, a carrot or a car bumper none of it matters. Upon waking I realize it’s just a dream all created by my mind’. Yes, none of it matters after you wake up, but so long as you are dreaming it does matter.

Suppose that you dream that you are being eaten by a chicken. You are lying helpless, unable to move, whilst a chicken is ferociously pecking away at your flesh. Just as people relish the wings and breast of a chicken they are eating, this chicken relishes the flesh on your arms and chest, and is mercilessly ripping it off your bones. So long as you were experiencing such a dream, and feeling all the pain and fear that such an experience would entail, would it not matter to you? Would you not struggle wildly to escape such a situation?

After a while you would wake up and discover that it was a dream, and then it would no longer matter to you (though for a while it may linger on as an unpleasant memory), but while you were actually experiencing that pain and fear in your dream, it mattered to you very much. Why it mattered then is that while we are experiencing a dream it seems to us to be real.

In dream we experience a dream body as ourself, and therefore since we are real we experience that body as if it were real. And since that body is a part of the world that we experience then, that world also seems to be real. That is, we extend our sense of reality from ourself (who alone are actually real) to whichever body we experience as ourself, and via that body we extend it to the world, of which that body is a small part.

Therefore whatever we experience in a dream seems to us to be real at that time, and exactly the same occurs in waking. We now experience a body as ourself, so we extend our sense of reality from ourself to this body, and via this body to the world around us. Though we may now suspect that this waking life is just a dream, and though we may therefore doubt whether our body and this world are real, we nevertheless experience them as real so long as we are in this state.

2. How to respond to suffering seen in a dream?

Let us suppose that this waking life is actually just a dream (as Sri Ramana tells us that it is). In this dream we see many people (both human and non-human ones), and those people all seem to us to be real, and hence the joys and sufferings that we see them experiencing also seem to us to be real. If a beloved friend or relative is suffering in intense pain with terminal cancer, we do not try to console them by saying: ‘You are just part of my dream, so you and your suffering are just a creation of my mind, and hence your suffering does not matter’. When someone we love is suffering, we suffer seeing or even thinking about their suffering. Even if we tell ourself that this is all a dream, we cannot avoid feeling pained when we see them suffering.

Therefore, whether this waking state is real or just a dream, so long as we are experiencing it all the people we see in it seem to us to be real, and hence their suffering should matter to us. They may be just a creation of our mind, but if they are, so too is the person we now experience as ourself. If Michael is a creation of your mind, so too is Jim. Michael and every other person you come across are as real (or as unreal) as Jim.

If Jim is suffering either a physical or emotional pain, it certainly matters to you so long as you experience yourself as Jim. If Jim is in intense pain, you feel ‘I am in intense pain’, and though telling yourself that this is all a dream may help you to bear it, you feel that intense pain nonetheless, and you are eager to be relieved of it. Because you now experience yourself as Jim, he and all that he experiences seem to you to be real, so you have extended your sense of reality from yourself to Jim and all that he experiences. Because Jim seems to you to be real, all the other people you see in this world also seem to be real, so just as Jim’s suffering matters to you, the suffering of any other person (whether human or non-human) should also matter to you.

3. Waking up from a dream is the only solution to all the suffering we see in it

Of course, if this is all your dream, the best solution to all the suffering you see in this dream is for you to wake up. But you have not woken up yet, and the reason you have not woken up is that you are still very much attached to Jim, so you are unwilling to let go of the experience ‘I am Jim’. Therefore so long as you are attached to this person called Jim, this dream will continue until it is forcibly terminated by the death of Jim (after which you will either subside temporarily in the sleep in which that dream occurred, or you will immediately begin to dream some other dream). If you want to terminate this dream earlier than that — and at the same time to terminate the sleep in which it and all your other dreams occur — you must investigate who am I who now experience myself as Jim.

When you experience yourself as Jim, that adjunct-bound self-awareness ‘I am Jim’ is what is called the ego, and as Sri Ramana says in verse 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu:
அகந்தையுண் டாயி னனைத்துமுண் டாகு
மகந்தையின் றேலின் றனைத்து — மகந்தையே
யாவுமா மாதலால் யாதிதென்று நாடலே
யோவுதல் யாவுமென வோர்.

ahandaiyuṇ ḍāyi ṉaṉaittumuṇ ḍāhu
mahandaiyiṉ ḏṟēliṉ ḏṟaṉaittu — mahandaiyē
yāvumā mādalāl yādideṉḏṟu nādalē
yōvudal yāvumeṉa vōr
.

பதச்சேதம்: அகந்தை உண்டாயின், அனைத்தும் உண்டாகும்; அகந்தை இன்றேல், இன்று அனைத்தும். அகந்தையே யாவும் ஆம். ஆதலால், யாது இது என்று நாடலே ஓவுதல் யாவும் என ஓர்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): ahandai uṇḍāyiṉ, aṉaittum uṇḍāhum; ahandai iṉḏṟēl, iṉḏṟu aṉaittum. ahandai-y-ē yāvum ām. ādalāl, yādu idu eṉḏṟu nādal-ē ōvudal yāvum eṉa ōr.

If the ego comes into existence, everything comes into existence; if the ego does not exist, everything does not exist. [Hence] the ego itself is everything. Therefore, know that investigating what this [ego] is alone is giving up everything.
Until we investigate and find out what this ‘I’ is that now seems to be masquerading as ‘I am Jim’ or ‘I am Michael’, we cannot give up everything else, so we will continue to be attached to everything that we experience as ‘I’ or ‘mine’.

So long as we are experiencing a dream, merely telling ourself that it is a dream is not a solution to all the suffering we see in it. The only solution is to wake up, and the only way to wake up in such a manner that we do not ever dream again is to investigate ourself, the ‘I’ who is experiencing this dream.

4. Self-investigation is the only means by which we can wake up from this dream

Until we are willing to give up entirely our attachment to the person we now experience as ourself (which entails also giving up our attachment to everything else that we experience as a result of experiencing ‘I am this person’), we will not be able to experience ourself as we really are, and hence we will continue dreaming one dream after another, and whatever we experience in any of those dreams will seem to us at that time to be real. Therefore we must give up our attachment to whichever person we experience as ‘I’, and the only effective means to give up this fundamental attachment is to investigate who I actually am.

The more we persevere in investigating ourself — that is, in trying to experience what this ‘I’ actually is by attending to ourself alone — the more clearly we will experience ourself as something that is distinct from and independent of any of the adjuncts that we now mistake to be ourself, and thus our attachment to the person we now experience as ourself will be gradually weakened, until eventually we will be willing to give up this attachment entirely. Only then will we be able to experience ourself as we really are, whereupon this dream will be dissolved along with the sleep of self-ignorance in which it and all our other dreams occurred.

5. Until we wake up from this dream we must avoid causing harm to others

Until we experience what we really are and thereby wake up from the sleep of self-ignorance that underlies and supports this and all other dreams, we will continue experiencing this dream or some other dream, and whatever we experience in any of these dreams will seem to us to be real so long that particular dream is occurring. Therefore, though our principal aim should be to experience ourself as we really are here and now, until we are able to do so we have to live in each dream as if it were real. In other words, though we should be inwardly investigating ourself as much as we can, outwardly we have to act in this world as if it were real.

Trying to act in this world as if it were unreal is futile and meaningless, because our actions and the person who feels ‘I am doing these actions’ are all part of this world. As this person, we and our actions are as real or as unreal as this world of which we now seem to be a part, so this person should outwardly act in this world as if it is as real as himself or herself (which it is), but should inwardly doubt the reality of all these things and should therefore try to investigate the ‘I’ who seems to experience them.

Moreover, even if we wanted to act in this world as if it were unreal, in practice we would not be able to do so consistently. If someone held our head under water, we would not be able to calmly dismiss the feeling that we are suffocating and drowning as being unreal or just part of a dream, but would struggle to raise our head above water in order to breath. Likewise, when we are crossing a road and see a speeding car coming towards us, we run out of its way, and do not just think, ‘This is only a dream, so let it hit me, because even if it hurts me, it does not matter’.

Whatever philosophy we may profess, in practice there are a lot of things that do matter to us in this world: when we are hungry, food matters to us; when we are thirsty, water matters to us; when we are cold and wet, a warm dry shelter or at least some adequate clothing matters to us; if we were forced to work 18 hours a day in a sweatshop for wages that were insufficient to support our family, it would matter to us; if we were conscripted unwillingly to fight as a soldier in a war, it would matter to us; if we were born as a factory-farmed animal, kept all our life in a small cage to produce milk or eggs or to be fattened as meat, and finally slaughtered in the brutal conditions of a modern abattoir, it would matter to us.

When conditions that affect the quality, comfort or convenience of our life as a person matter to us so much, should we not also be concerned about the conditions that affect other people or animals? When we do not like to suffer, should we not at least try to avoid causing suffering to any other sentient being?

If we practise self-investigation and thereby weaken our attachment to the person that we now experience as ‘I’, our sense of distinction between ‘I’ and ‘others’ will also begin to dissolve, so we will automatically feel compassion for the sufferings of others, as if we ourself were experiencing those sufferings, and hence we will naturally adhere to the practice of ahiṁsā (trying not to harm any sentient being), and we will do whatever we can to alleviate suffering wherever we happen to see or know about it. As Sri Ramana says at the end of the nineteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?):
பிறருக் கொருவன் கொடுப்ப தெல்லாம் தனக்கே கொடுத்துக்கொள்ளுகிறான். இவ் வுண்மையை யறிந்தால் எவன்தான் கொடா தொழிவான்?

piṟarukku oruvaṉ koḍuppadu ellām taṉakkē koḍuttu-k-koḷḷugiṟāṉ. i-vv-uṇmaiyai y-aṟindāl evaṉ-dāṉ koḍādu oṙivāṉ?

All that one gives to others one is giving only to oneself. If [everyone] knew this truth, who indeed would remain without giving?

6. We should not be too preoccupied with injustices or other worldly matters

However, we should also bear in mind what he wrote in the previous two sentences:
பிரபஞ்ச விஷயங்களி லதிகமாய் மனத்தை விடக் கூடாது. சாத்தியமானவரையில், அன்னியர் காரியத்திற் பிரவேசிக்கக் கூடாது.

pirapañca viṣayaṅgaḷil adhikam-āy maṉattai viḍa-k kūḍādu. sāddhiyamāṉa-varaiyil, aṉṉiyar kāriyattil piravēśikka-k kūḍādu.

It is not appropriate to let [one’s] mind [dwell] excessively on worldly matters. To the extent possible, it is not appropriate to enter [or interfere] in the affairs of other people.
Since the principal aim of our life should be to investigate ourself, we should not spend too much time worrying about the numerous injustices and sufferings we see in this world, because if we do so we will thereby be distracted away from our self-investigation.

Therefore we need to maintain a balance between our inward responsibility to try to experience what we really are and whatever outward responsibilities we have to this world of which we now experience ourself to be a small part. We should always give priority to investigating ourself, but so long as we experience ourself as a person, we will feel that we also have to give some time and attention to providing the food, clothing and shelter that our body requires, and while doing so we should try to avoid causing any harm to any other sentient being, and should feel that whatever harm we may cause to others, whether intentionally or unintentionally, we are actually causing to ourself.

7. So long as our mind is turned outwards we should care about the well-being of others

If we were so detached from our life as a person that we were able to devote most of our time and attention to investigating ourself and only the barest minimum to providing for the basic needs of our body, we should not allow anything else to distract us away from our self-investigation. However, if we are honest with ourself, I think most of us will have to admit that we are still too attached to our life as a person, because our liking to experience things other than ourself is still too strong, so we are not able to devote all our spare time and attention to self-investigation, and hence we spend our time and attention not only on investigating ourself and on providing the minimum needs of our body, but also on many other unnecessary thoughts and activities.

When such is the case, we should take care that our outward activities are not causing any harm either directly or indirectly to any other person or animal. Moreover, because we are spending some of our time paying attention to the world around us, we will inevitably notice in it numerous injustices and various forms of suffering, and though we obviously can do very little to rectify those injustices or to alleviate all that suffering, whenever we can do at least a little, our natural sense of compassion will prompt us to do whatever we can.

If we were so unmoved by compassion that we not only never try to rectify any injustice nor to alleviate any suffering, but do not even care about trying to avoid causing any harm, that would indicate a very strong ego — one that firmly believes in the false distinction between ‘myself’ and ‘others’, and that is unwilling to investigate itself, the basis of that distinction. Only a strong and unrefined ego will care only about its own well-being and remain indifferent to the well-being of others.

When I write all this, I am not trying to say that we should make doing good in this world to be our major priority. If we want to end all injustice and suffering, we need to wake up from this dream, so investigating ourself should be our foremost priority. But when we are still so attached to dreaming that we are not yet willing to destroy our ego by merging back into the source — the pure adjunct-free ‘I’ — from which we have risen, we would be deluding ourself still further if we were to act as if we were the only person in this world who matters, and we would thereby be strengthening our ego.

To the extent to which we care about others, to that extent at least our ego is diminished. However, just caring about others is obviously not a sufficient means to destroy our ego entirely, because caring about others presupposes their existence, and so long as others seem to exist our ego must also exist to experience their seeming existence. In order to destroy the illusion that there are others separate from ourself, we need to investigate ourself to find out whether we are actually this little person we now seem to be.

But until we thereby destroy our ego, the illusion that others exist will remain, and those others will seem to be as real as the person we now experience as ‘I’. Therefore their joys and sufferings will seem to be as real as our own, and hence we should care for them at least as much as we care for our personal self, and we can be justifiably indifferent to their joys and sufferings only to the extent to which we are genuinely indifferent to our own.

8. To keep our ego in check we must be vigilantly self-attentive

In your email you express your concern that caring about the suffering of others in this dream called ‘the waking state’ will create a ‘more spiritualized ego’ and make this dream and the individual doer seem more real:
Doesn’t this way of viewing the waking state subtly create more spiritualized ego? I’m better than you. I don’t eat meat. I sign petitions for clean water and air. I fight against child labor. Aren’t we then making the dream real? Aren’t we then making the individual doer more real?
Whatever we may do or not do in this dream, we always have to be vigilant about the subtle rising of our ego, because the nature of our ego is to delude us, and it uses countless tricks to do so. Therefore the danger you speak of is very real, and the only safeguard we have against it is to persevere in investigating ourself as much as possible.

If the only person we care only about is ourself, that is certainly egotistical, but even if we care about others, our ego can take that as a pretext to boost its own pride or to feel self-righteous. Indeed, so long as we attend to anything other than our essential self, our ego will find one way or another to nourish and sustain itself. Hence the only solution to this problem of ego is to practise persistent self-investigation: that is, to be constantly and vigilantly self-attentive.

This simple practice of self-attentiveness alone will solve all our problems (and also all the problems of this world, which seems to exist and be real only so long as we are experiencing it), so whatever else we may do in this dream we call our life, we should be careful not to neglect this practice. Even while engaged in other activities, we should try to remember to be attentively aware of ‘I’ (our essential self), and in the midst of all our activities, we should set aside some time to try to go deep into the experience of pure self-awareness — awareness of nothing other than ourself alone.

Our ego comes into existence and is sustained only by pramāda or self-negligence, so it will subside and be kept in check only to the extent that we are self-attentive. Whatever action we may do entails attending to something other than ourself, and to the extent to which we are attending to anything else, we are not attending to ourself. Therefore all the actions we do by mind, speech or body tend to sustain and nourish our ego, and only self-attentiveness can undermine it and make it subside in ourself, the source from which it originated.

As Sri Ramana says in verse 25 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu:
உருப்பற்றி யுண்டா முருப்பற்றி நிற்கு
முருப்பற்றி யுண்டுமிக வோங்கு — முருவிட்
டுருப்பற்றுந் தேடினா லோட்டம் பிடிக்கு
முருவற்ற பேயகந்தை யோர்.

uruppaṯṟi yuṇḍā muruppaṯṟi niṟku
muruppaṯṟi yuṇḍumiha vōṅgu — muruviṭ
ṭuruppaṯṟun tēḍiṉā lōṭṭam piḍikku
muruvaṯṟa pēyahandai yōr
.

பதச்சேதம்: உரு பற்றி உண்டாம்; உரு பற்றி நிற்கும்; உரு பற்றி உண்டு மிக ஓங்கும்; உரு விட்டு, உரு பற்றும்; தேடினால் ஓட்டம் பிடிக்கும், உரு அற்ற பேய் அகந்தை. ஓர்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): uru paṯṟi uṇḍām; uru paṯṟi niṯkum; uru paṯṟi uṇḍu miha ōṅgum; uru viṭṭu, uru paṯṟum; tēḍiṉāl ōṭṭam piḍikkum, uru aṯṟa pēy ahandai. ōr.

அன்வயம்: உரு அற்ற பேய் அகந்தை உரு பற்றி உண்டாம்; உரு பற்றி நிற்கும்; உரு பற்றி உண்டு மிக ஓங்கும்; உரு விட்டு, உரு பற்றும்; தேடினால் ஓட்டம் பிடிக்கும். ஓர்.

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): uru aṯṟa pēy ahandai uru paṯṟi uṇḍām; uru paṯṟi niṯkum; uru paṯṟi uṇḍu miha ōṅgum; uru viṭṭu, uru paṯṟum; tēḍiṉāl ōṭṭam piḍikkum. ōr.

English translation: Grasping form, the formless phantom-ego rises into being; grasping form it stands [or endures]; grasping and feeding on form it grows [or flourishes] abundantly; leaving [one] form, it grasps [another] form. If sought [examined or investigated], it will take flight. Investigate [or know thus].
Here உரு பற்றி (uru paṯṟi) or ‘grasping form’ means attending to or experiencing anything other than ourself, because we ourself are formless, since in this context a ‘form’ is anything that has any features that distinguish it in any way either from ourself or from other things. Therefore what Sri Ramana implies in this verse is that we rise or come into being as an ego only by attending to anything other than ourself, and that by continuing to attend other things we sustain and nourish the illusion that we are this ego, but that if we instead try to attend to ourself alone, this illusion ‘will take flight’ — that is, our ego will subside and disappear in ourself, the source from which it had arisen.

Since we ourself are formless, we cannot continue to experience ourself as this ego if we attend to and thereby experience ourself alone. And on the other hand, we cannot cease to experience ourself as this ego so long as we persist in attending to and experiencing anything other than ourself. Therefore self-negligence sustains our ego, and self-attentiveness alone can subdue and destroy it. Hence the only means by which we can effectively keep our ego in check and prevent it deluding us is by being constantly and vigilantly self-attentive.

9. Who is responsible for the creation of this world?

In reply to the email that I adapted in the eight previous sections my friend wrote:
There is one confusing point I keep going back to. If all is ultimately one, and Brahma, isn’t the dream Brahma too? And if the dream is also Brahma isn’t it all unfolding perfectly as Brahma wants it to?
To this I replied:

Brahman is not anything other than ourself. It is just a name given to what we actually are. So if you say that everything is unfolding as brahman wants it to, that means it is unfolding as you want it to. But is all this what you really want? If it is, then there is no problem, and hence no need to investigate who am I.

But if you see any problems either in this world or in yourself, then this is not what you really want, so you have to rectify the wrong decision you made to create all this. All this came into being by your decision or choice, so in order to rectify your choice you first need to know exactly what is this ‘I’ in you that made this choice. Now you appear to be Jim, but Jim is part of the creation, so he cannot be the creator. Therefore if you are the creator, you are not Jim, so who are you?

Therefore it all comes back to the same point: what we each need first of all is to know who we actually are. If we first investigate ourself and thereby experience what we really are, we can then see whether any creator, creation, world or problems still exist, and only if they do will we then need to do anything about them.

10. Only in absolute silence can we experience what we actually are

Since I asked Jim in my previous reply, ‘Therefore if you are the creator, you are not Jim, so who are you?’, he replied to me saying among other things that he is ‘Satchitananda’, ‘the all-pervading consciousness, free from doing, non-attached, desireless, boundless and undisturbed’, but added:
I am trying to tell you the impossible. What I am. What you are. What only exists. Beyond the body mind. Beyond Brahman, Christ consciousness, and all other labels and concepts that point to the unspeakable, unknowable presence that we are. What am I?? What am I? I know I am not this lacking, imperfect, insecure, flawed sack of meat and bones who appears to suffer we call Jim.
To which I replied:

When I asked ‘you are not Jim, so who are you?’ it was not a question to which I expected an answer in words, because no words or ideas can answer it. The answer can only be found within ourself, by losing ourself in ourself (that is, by losing our ego in what we actually are).

Sat-cit-ānanda (being-consciousness-bliss), the all-pervading consciousness and whatever else you say you are are all just ideas — ideas that Jim has about what he really is — so how can any of them be what you actually are. What you actually are cannot be adequately expressed by any ideas or words, whether expressed affirmatively (I am that) or negatively (I am not this), but can only be experienced by you alone in the depth of absolute silence.

In order to experience ourself as we really are, we must each withdraw our attention from everything else (which is all mere noise created by our mind) by turning it back towards ourself alone and thereby allowing it to sink deep into ourself, its source (which alone is absolute silence). In other words, to know who you are, Jim and all his ideas (including his idea that Jim is just a phantom) must go, and the ever-silent and perfectly self-aware ‘I’ alone must remain.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The fundamental law of experience or consciousness discovered by Sri Ramana

My previous article, Our aim should be to experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from everything else, was adapted from an email I wrote to a friend in reply to some questions he asked me about the practice of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), which led to an exchange of further emails on the same subject. Therefore this article is adapted from the subsequent replies that I wrote to him.
  1. Self-attentiveness is the simplest possible state
  2. Self-attentiveness in the midst of daily activities
  3. Love to experience ourself alone is essential
  4. Investigating ourself is investigating our source
  5. The fundamental law of experience
  6. The importance of grasping this fundamental principle
1. Self-attentiveness is the simplest possible state

In his reply to my first email my friend wrote, ‘My email was about my practice of self-enquiry in formal sitting meditation [...]. I find that doing self-enquiry while going about in one's normal, day-to-day activities in life is even more complicated’, to which I replied that ‘practising vicāra even in the midst of our day-to-day activities is very important’ and commented:

You say that it ‘is even more complicated’, but vicāra (self-investigation or self-enquiry) is actually never complicated, because oneself attending to oneself is the simplest possible state. Complication can arise only when many factors are involved, but in self-attentiveness only one factor is involved, namely ourself. Not only is it just ourself who is both attending and attended to, but even the attention to ourself or awareness that we have of ourself is nothing other than ourself, because self-awareness is our very nature.

2. Self-attentiveness in the midst of daily activities

My friend then relied:
The question is how exactly does one do this in one’s daily activities. In daily life, thoughts arise, situations develop which require immediate response, discussions, arguments, emergencies occur. It is not always possible in such situations, to go back to asking to whom these things are happening, or be just a witness or let the thoughts go.

It is for this reason that I said it is difficult to practise self-enquiry in the midst of daily life, when often one is overwhelmed by external developments, which are beyond one's control and call for immediate response.
To which I replied:

Whatever activities we may be engaged in, and whatever thoughts may be occupying our mind, we are always present there as the ‘I’ that is experiencing all such things. However, though we are always aware that ‘I am’, we are not always attentively aware that ‘I am’, because most of our attention is preoccupied in experiencing things other than ourself.

We attend to other things because of our liking to experience things other than ourself, so we need to cultivate a liking to experience only ourself more than we like to experience anything else. So long as our liking to experience only ourself is still relatively weak, it seems difficult to attend to ourself when other things are occupying all our interest, but if we persevere in our practice of trying to attend to ourself as often as possible, our liking to experience only ourself will increase, and we will then find it easier to attend to ourself even in the midst of other activities. In other words, the frequency with which we remember to attend to ourself will increase.

Even if we sit with closed eyes intending to attend only to ourself, our interest in other things will cause us to think of those things, so it is often no less difficult to attend to ourself during our ‘meditation’ times than it is during other times. Therefore we should try to attend to ourself as frequently as possible, whether we are sitting for ‘meditation’ or engaged in any other activity.

You say, ‘It is not always possible in such situations, to go back to asking to whom these things are happening, or be just a witness or let the thoughts go’, but in fact we spend most our time just letting thoughts go on, and so long as we let them go on, we are witnessing them. Therefore neither letting thoughts go on nor witnessing them is our aim. What we should be aiming for is only to experience ourself (that is, to witness ourself alone and nothing else), and when we turn our entire attention towards ourself alone other thoughts will automatically subside, because they cannot go on if we do not attend to (or witness) them.

3. Love to experience ourself alone is essential

In reply to my friend’s next mail I wrote:

The crux of the matter is love (bhakti): At present our love to experience ourself alone is still woefully insufficient, and the only way to cultivate it so that it grows ever stronger is to persevere in our practice of persistent self-attentiveness.

4. Investigating ourself is investigating our source

My friend then wrote a long email, in which he mentioned among other things that he was confused about the difference between meditating on just ‘I am’ and on either ‘who am I’ or ‘whence am I’, and also about ‘how exactly is this investigation into the source of the I to be undertaken’, to which I replied:

The practice of investigating whence am I is exactly the same as the practice of investigating who am I, as I explained in one of my recent articles: There is no difference between investigating ‘who am I’ and investigating ‘whence am I’. Investigating whence am I means investigating the source from which the ego rises, and that source is obviously only ourself — what we actually are. Just as the source from which the illusory snake appears is only the rope, which is what the snake actually is, so the source from which the illusory ego appears is only our real self, which is what the ego actually is. Therefore investigating what is the source of this ego is exactly the same as investigating what actually am I.

In order to find the source of the snake, we must look at it very carefully, and when we do so we will discover that it is not actually a snake but only a rope. Since it was only the rope that seemed to be a snake, the rope alone is the source of the snake. Therefore only by looking carefully at the snake can we find its source, the rope. Likewise, in order to find the source of our ego, we must look at it very carefully, and when we do so we will discover that it is not actually an ego but only our real self. Since it was only our real self that seemed to be an ego, our real self alone is the source of the ego. Therefore only by looking carefully at the ego can we find its source, our real self.

As I explain in many articles in my blog, including Establishing that I am and analysing what I am, there are not two separate ‘I’s, an ego-’I’ and a real ‘I’, but only one ‘I’, namely ourself. Now we experience this one ‘I’ as if it were a person consisting of a body and mind, and when we wrongly experience it thus, it is called ‘ego’. However, even when we experience it thus, what it actually is is only the one real ‘I’, just as the illusory snake is actually only a rope even when it seems to be a snake.

The ego is our real ‘I’ mixed and confused with extraneous adjuncts such as this body and mind, so it consists of a real element, namely ‘I’ (ourself), and an unreal element, namely whatever adjuncts (upādhis) we mistake to be ourself. Since our aim is only to experience what we actually are, when we investigate this ego we should investigate only its real element, namely ‘I’, ourself. Therefore there is no difference between investigating our real ‘I’ and investigating our ego, because even when we investigate this ego we are investigating only the real ‘I’-element in it.

When we investigate ‘I’ (ourself), we are trying to experience what we (this ‘I’) really are, so we can describe it either as investigating ‘I’ or as investigating what am I (or who am I). Therefore investigating what am I or who am I means investigating only ‘I’, ourself, and not anything else.

Hence meditating on ‘I am’ (that is, meditating not on the words ‘I am’ but only on ourself, who are what these words refer to) is the same as investigating what am I, who am I or whence am I, because each of these is just an alternative way of describing the simple practice of self-attentiveness, self-observation or self-investigation.

5. The fundamental law of experience

In the same long email my friend also wrote that during the past forty years he had been practising various forms of meditation, including the kind taught by Nisargadatta, and that he thought that witnessing thoughts as they arise would enable one not to identify with them and would thereby allow them to perish, to which I replied:

The practice of ātma-vicāra taught by Sri Ramana is based upon a crucial but very simple principle [which I also discussed in The teachings of Sri Ramana and Nisargadatta are significantly different (the sixth section of The need for manana and vivēka: reflection, critical thinking, discrimination and judgement) and in several earlier articles such as The crucial secret revealed by Sri Ramana: the only means to subdue our mind permanently, ‘Tracing the ego back to its source’ and Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu — an explanatory paraphrase], and it is important that we should understand this principle, because then only will we be able to understand clearly why ātma-vicāra (investigating ourself by attending only to ‘I’) is the only means by which we can experience ourself as we really are. This principle is that the ego comes into existence only by experiencing things other than itself, and its seeming existence is sustained by its continuing to experience other things, so if it tries to experience only itself, it will subside and dissolve in its source. Without some other thing to cling to for support, it cannot stand by itself, as Sri Ramana says in the fourth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?):
[…] மனம் எப்போதும் ஒரு ஸ்தூலத்தை யனுசரித்தே நிற்கும்; தனியாய் நில்லாது. […]



[…] maṉam eppōdum oru sthūlattai y-aṉusarittē niṯkum; taṉiyāy nillādu. […]



[…] The mind stands only [by] always going after [attending and thereby attaching itself to] something gross [something other than ‘I’]; solitarily it does not stand. […]
This principle is clearly stated by him in verse 25 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu:
உருப்பற்றி யுண்டா முருப்பற்றி நிற்கு
முருப்பற்றி யுண்டுமிக வோங்கு — முருவிட்
டுருப்பற்றுந் தேடினா லோட்டம் பிடிக்கு
முருவற்ற பேயகந்தை யோர்.

uruppaṯṟi yuṇḍā muruppaṯṟi niṟku
muruppaṯṟi yuṇḍumiha vōṅgu — muruviṭ
ṭuruppaṯṟun tēḍiṉā lōṭṭam piḍikku
muruvaṯṟa pēyahandai yōr.


பதச்சேதம்: உரு பற்றி உண்டாம்; உரு பற்றி நிற்கும்; உரு பற்றி உண்டு மிக ஓங்கும்; உரு விட்டு, உரு பற்றும்; தேடினால் ஓட்டம் பிடிக்கும், உரு அற்ற பேய் அகந்தை. ஓர்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): uru paṯṟi uṇḍām; uru paṯṟi niṯkum; uru paṯṟi uṇḍu miha ōṅgum; uru viṭṭu, uru paṯṟum; tēḍiṉāl ōṭṭam piḍikkum, uru aṯṟa pēy ahandai. ōr.

அன்வயம்: உரு அற்ற பேய் அகந்தை உரு பற்றி உண்டாம்; உரு பற்றி நிற்கும்; உரு பற்றி உண்டு மிக ஓங்கும்; உரு விட்டு, உரு பற்றும்; தேடினால் ஓட்டம் பிடிக்கும். ஓர்.

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): uru aṯṟa pēy ahandai uru paṯṟi uṇḍām; uru paṯṟi niṯkum; uru paṯṟi uṇḍu miha ōṅgum; uru viṭṭu, uru paṯṟum; tēḍiṉāl ōṭṭam piḍikkum. ōr.

English translation: Grasping form, the formless phantom-ego rises into being; grasping form it stands [or endures]; grasping and feeding on form it grows [or flourishes] abundantly; leaving [one] form, it grasps [another] form. If sought [examined or investigated], it will take flight. Investigate [or know thus].
Here உரு (uru) or ‘form’ means anything other than ‘I’ — that is, anything that has any features that distinguish it from what we actually are. Hence by attending to or experiencing anything other than ‘I’ we are ‘grasping form’ and ‘feeding on form’. Therefore if we try to attend only to the ‘I’ that normally attends to things other than itself, it will thereby cease to grasp (attend to) anything else, and hence it will ‘take flight’ — that is, it will subside and disappear.

Since it is formless, this ego cannot rise or stand by itself, but can rise and stand only by ‘grasping form’, so if it tries to grasp itself, it will vanish. This is the essential principle on which the practice of ātma-vicāra is based: If we attend to anything other than ‘I’ alone, we are thereby nourishing and sustaining our ego, whereas if we attend only to ‘I’, we are thereby depriving it of the support that it requires in order to appear as if it were ourself.

In other words, by experiencing (being aware or conscious of) anything other than ourself, we are nourishing and sustaining the illusion that we are this ego or mind, whereas by experiencing (being aware or conscious of) ourself alone, we would be depriving this illusion of the support that it requires into order to endure, and thereby we can dissolve it entirely. Since this principle governs all that we experience or could ever experience, we can call it the fundamental law of experience, awareness or consciousness.

This is why witnessing, observing or attending to any thoughts other than ‘I’ alone is counterproductive. So long as we are aware of any thoughts — anything other than ‘I’ (ourself) alone — we are sustaining the illusory experience that our ego or mind is ‘I’, so we cannot thereby experience ourself as we really are. In order to experience ourself as we really are, we must attend only to ‘I’.

Therefore according to Sri Ramana the only real sādhana or spiritual practice is ātma-vicāra — investigating ourself by trying to experience nothing other than ‘I’ alone. Any other sādhana entails attending to something other than ‘I’, so it will sustain the illusion that this ego is what we really are.

This essential principle or fundamental law of experience was discovered by Sri Ramana when as a sixteen-year-old schoolboy he investigated himself in order to find out whether or not he (his essential self or ‘I’) would cease to exist when his body died, and it is the basis of his teaching that self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) is the only means by which we can experience ourself as we really are and thereby destroy the entire illusion of ego and otherness.

6. The importance of grasping this fundamental principle

After sending the reply that I reproduced in the previous two sections, I wrote another email saying:

In continuation of the reply I just sent, I want to emphasise again how important it is that we should clearly and firmly grasp the simple principle that Sri Ramana teaches us in verse 25 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, because once we have understood this our mind will lose interest in all other sādhanas, and we will not be distracted or confused if we read or hear anyone (no matter who they may be) recommending any other sādhana.

Therefore, until it is firmly and unshakably established in our mind, we should often remember and reflect on this principle, so that we understand it clearly and never forget it. It is like a key to unlock the essence of Sri Ramana’s teaching, because if we understand it and do not forget it, we will be able to understand clearly and without confusion or doubt everything else that he has taught us about both ātma-vicāra and all other sādhanas.

This principle is actually a law of nature, and it is at least as true and inviolable as any other law of nature, such as the law of gravity or the laws of thermodynamics. In fact, it is more true and inviolable than any such law, because whereas those laws are only laws of physics, and therefore hold true only so long as we experience ourself as part of this physical world, this law is the fundamental law of consciousness or experience, so it holds true so long as we experience anything, whether ourself or any other thing.

If we experience anything other than ourself alone, what experiences it is only our ego or mind, so we cannot experience anything other than ourself unless we experience ourself as this ego. Therefore, so long as we experience anything other than ourself alone, we cannot experience ourself as we actually are. Hence, in order to experience ourself as we actually are, we must experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from everything else.

Therefore trying to be exclusively self-attentive — that is, aware of nothing other than ourself alone — is the only sādhana or spiritual practice that can enable us to experience ourself as we actually are.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

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

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

Firstly The Technique of Maha Yoga [which was not written by K. Lakshmana Sarma, the author of Maha Yoga, but by another devotee called N.R. Narayana Aiyar] is a very misleading book, because the explanation that it gives about the practice of ātma-vicāra is completely wrong, so it is good that you found that it does not seem to work.

Secondly, ‘the heart’ is a term that Sri Ramana used metaphorically to denote what we really are, because it is the core, centre or essence of all that we now seem to be, and ‘diving into the heart’ is a metaphorical description of the mind subsiding or sinking deep within ourself as a result of self-attentiveness, so it should not be interpreted literally (as some devotees seem to do), and it should not be mistaken to be a technique that entails anything other than simple self-attentiveness.

Since you have asked for my comments on your description of your practice, I will quote each of your points as a bullet point and then comment on it:
  • I begin by observing the movement of my breath, breathing in and breathing out at normal pace.
Some people say that they find observing the movement of their breath to be an effective means to calm the mind down before practising self-investigation, but this is not necessary, and it can actually be detrimental in the long run. The most effective way to calm the mind down is simply to try directly to be self-attentive, and in the long run this will yield the greatest benefit.

Suppose that you have to bicycle today from London to Brighton [which is south of London], and you have never ridden a bicycle before. Therefore you have to start practising, and since your aim is to reach Brighton, it is obviously best to start practising on the road to Brighton, because while practising you will be getting nearer to your destination. If instead you were to start practising on the road to York [which is north of London], that would be foolish, because it would take you further away from your destination.

On the path of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) our destination is only ourself, ‘I’, and the only way to reach that destination is to attend to ourself alone. Therefore to reach our destination as quickly as possible, from the very outset we should not practise anything other than self-attentiveness. If we practise only self-attentiveness from the very beginning, that would be like practising to cycle on the road to Brighton.

If we practise attending to our breathing or to anything else other than ‘I’ alone, that would be taking us away from ourself, which is our destination, so it would be like practising to cycle on the road to York. Is it not foolish to start by going in a direction that is opposite to our destination? Would it not be wiser to proceed towards our destination from the start?

If we cultivate the habit of observing our breathing or attending to anything else other than ‘I’, that habit will be just another obstacle that will distract us when we try to attend only to ‘I’. Therefore it is best to cultivate the habit of observing only ‘I’ from the very outset, and to avoid all other practices.

It is wrong to think that our mind must be calm before we can begin attending to ‘I’. Though it may be easier for us to attend to ‘I’ when our mind is calm, calmness of mind is not a necessary prerequisite, because whether our mind is calm or agitated, we are always there experiencing it, so whatever we may be experiencing we can always turn our attention back towards ourself, the ‘I’ who is experiencing it.

Therefore it is best to avoid all other practices and to begin investigating ourself alone from the very outset.
  • After a few minutes, I ask myself who am I and focus my attention on the I.
Asking ourself ‘who am I?’ may help to turn our attention back towards ‘I’, ourself, but it is not necessary to ask this question every time. By persistent practice of self-attentiveness, we can cultivate the habit of turning our attention back towards ‘I’ whenever we notice that it has strayed away towards anything else, and the stronger this habit becomes, the less we will find it necessary to ask any question in order to turn our attention back towards ‘I’.

Moreover, we should clearly understand that asking any question to help to turn our attention back towards ourself is only an aid to ātma-vicāra, but is not ātma-vicāra itself. Ātma-vicāra is self-investigation, so it really begins only when we are actually attending to and thereby trying to experience ourself alone.
  • Initially, I cannot hold on to the I for a long period.
It is not necessary to attend to ‘I’ for prolonged periods of time. Just one moment of perfect self-attentiveness is all that is required for us to experience ourself as we really are, and when we once experience ourself thus, the illusion that we are anything other than what we actually are will be destroyed forever.

Therefore what we should aim for is intensity and clarity of self-attentiveness rather than just a prolonged duration of less intense or clear self-attentiveness. What I mean here by ‘intensity and clarity of self-attentiveness’ (and by ‘perfect self-attentiveness’ in the previous paragraph) is being aware of ourself alone, without any mixture of any awareness of anything else. That is, our attention should be so keenly focused on ‘I’ (ourself) alone that we are not in the least aware of anything other than ourself.

Even time is something that we experience as other than ourself, so the idea that I must be self-attentive for a prolonged period of time is just another distraction that will prevent us from experiencing ‘I’ alone, in complete isolation from everything else, including time.

Moreover, our mind naturally has a strong urge to attend to and experience things other than ‘I’, so it is usually not possible for us to be exclusively self-attentive for a long time. If we try to oppose this natural urge of our mind for a prolonged period of time, we will end up creating an internal conflict, which will be counter-productive, so generally many short attempts at being self-attentive are more effective than one long attempt.
  • As I continue my practice, I notice that the period of my focus on the I increases.
If we are able to focus our attention on ‘I’ alone for longer periods without creating any internal conflict, that is good, but we should remember that our real aim should not be just longer durations of self-attentiveness but should be more deep, intense and clear self-attentiveness — that is, attentiveness that is more keenly and exclusively focused on ‘I’ alone, without the least trace of any awareness of anything else.
  • I call it the gap between two thoughts.
Since any awareness that we may have of anything other than ‘I’ (ourself) is a thought, the gap between two thoughts is the state in which we are aware of absolutely nothing other than ourself alone. This is the state that we should be aiming to experience, but if we once experience it perfectly, we will clearly experience ourself as we really are, which is the state of ātma-jñāna (self-knowledge or perfectly clear self-awareness), so it will destroy our mind forever.

Therefore so long as we experience ourself as this mind, we should not imagine that we have yet experienced perfectly the gap between two thoughts. What exists in that gap is only what we really are, so experiencing that is our goal.
  • After some time I notice that I do not have to focus attention on I.
Until we experience absolutely clear self-attentiveness as natural and unavoidable, we need to continue trying to focus our entire attention upon ‘I’ alone. Therefore if you think that you do not need to focus your attention on ‘I’, you are mistaken.

Self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) is just the attempt we make to focus our entire attention upon ‘I’ alone and thereby to experience ourself as we really are, in complete isolation from everything else. Therefore if we imagine that we do not need to focus our attention on ‘I’ alone, we are imagining that ātma-vicāra is not necessary, which is wrong. As Sri Ramana says in the eleventh paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?):
மனத்தின்கண் எதுவரையில் விஷயவாசனைக ளிருக்கின்றனவோ, அதுவரையில் நானா ரென்னும் விசாரணையும் வேண்டும். நினைவுகள் தோன்றத் தோன்ற அப்போதைக்கப்போதே அவைகளையெல்லாம் உற்பத்திஸ்தானத்திலேயே விசாரணையால் நசிப்பிக்க வேண்டும். […]

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

As long as viṣaya-vāsanās [inclinations or desires to experience anything other than ourself] exist in [our] mind, so long the investigation who am I [that is, attentively investigating ourself] is necessary. As and when thoughts arise, then and there it is necessary to annihilate them all by vicāraṇā [investigation or vigilant self-attentiveness] in the very place from which they arise. […]
Experiencing ourself alone is our goal, and the only way to experience ourself alone is to attend to ourself alone, so self-attentiveness or self-awareness is both our path and our goal. So long as we mistake ourself to be anything other than what we actually are, it seems to require effort for us to be self-attentive, but when we experience ourself as we really are, we will find that self-attentiveness is our very nature, because we are always self-aware, and there is actually nothing other than ourself that we could be aware of. Therefore there is never a time when self-attentiveness is not necessary.
  • I remain without any thought, including the I thought.
What we really are (that is, our real self) would not say ‘I remain without any thought’, because in its view no thoughts ever exist. Therefore when you say ‘I remain without any thought’, the ‘I’ that says so is your mind or ego, which is your primal thought called ‘I’.

We can remain without any thought, including this primal thought ‘I’, only in states of manōlaya (temporary subsidence of mind, such as sleep) or in the state of manōnāśa (complete destruction or annihilation of mind). Manōnāśa is the state in which we are eternally aware of ourself alone, so it can be achieved only by keenly attentive self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), and once it is achieved we can never return to a state in which we experience anything other than ‘I’ (ourself). Therefore manōnāśa is the state in which neither the primal thought called ‘I’ nor any other thought has ever existed or could ever exist.

Manōlaya, on the other hand, is a temporary state in which the primal thought called ‘I’ and all other thoughts have subsided without clear self-awareness, and since our mind or ego (the primal thought called ‘I’) is therefore absent in that state, there is no one there to make any effort to attend to ‘I’. Therefore manōlaya cannot help us to achieve our goal, which is manōnāśa.

Hence, whenever we are not in manōlaya or manōnāśa we are experiencing ourself as the ego, which is the primal thought called ‘I’, and so long as this thought is present, at least some trace of some other thought will also be present, because the primal thought called ‘I’ cannot stand on its own without some other thought to cling to. As Sri Ramana says in the fourth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:
[…] மனம் எப்போதும் ஒரு ஸ்தூலத்தை யனுசரித்தே நிற்கும்; தனியாய் நில்லாது. […]

[…] maṉam eppōdum oru sthūlattai y-aṉusarittē niṯkum; taṉiyāy nillādu. […]

[…] The mind [the primal thought called ‘I’] stands only by always going after [attending and thereby attaching itself to] something gross [some thought other than ‘I’]; solitarily it does not stand. […]
Anything that we experience other than ‘I’ alone is a thought, and what experiences any thought is just our primal thought called ‘I’ (the ego), which is our pure ‘I’ mixed with adjuncts. If we are able to clearly experience ‘I’ alone without experiencing the slightest trace of anything else, that is the state of manōnāśa, so until we attain that state the primal thought called ‘I’ and at least some trace of some other thought will be present (unless of course we have subsided in sleep or some other such state of manōlaya).
  • It is a pleasant state and I can remain in this state for quite some time. At this time, I experience a feeling of surging of energy and heat in my body. A kind of soft golden light spreads in the body and in the surroundings. I do not know whether all this is my wishful imagination or these sensations actually arise. I feel reluctant to come out of this state.
From the description you give of this state, it is clear that though you imagine that you are then remaining ‘without any thought, including the I thought’, you are actually experiencing many thoughts, because everything that you describe is just a thought. The ‘I’ that had this experience is a thought (the primal thought called ‘I’); the state it was then in is a thought; the time you spent in that state is a thought; the pleasantness you experienced in it is a thought; the body is a thought; the ‘feeling of surging of energy’ is a thought; the heat is a thought; the ‘soft golden light’ is a thought; the surroundings are a collection of thoughts; and the reluctance you felt to come out of this state is a thought. None of these things are what you really are, so they are all thoughts, and they originate only from your primal thought called ‘I’, which creates and experiences them.
  • I then ask who is experiencing these pleasant sensations. The sensations then become weaker but I continue to remain without any thought.
Yes, whatever we may experience, we should investigate the ‘I’ who is experiencing it. It is not sufficient just to ask who is experiencing it, because asking is just another thought process. We need to actually investigate who is experiencing it by trying to focus our entire attention on ‘I’ alone. When we focus our attention on ourself alone, the sensations or whatever else we may have been experiencing will disappear or at least recede from our awareness, because we can experience them only when we attend to them, and hence when we try to attend only to ‘I’ we will be depriving everything else of our attention.
  • I am, however, aware of myself all the time, and do not lose my identity.
We are always aware of ourself, but usually our awareness of ourself is mixed with awareness of other things, so we do not experience ourself as we really are. Therefore our aim is not just to be aware of ourself, but is to be aware of ourself alone, in complete isolation from all other things.

What do you mean when you say, ‘I [...] do not lose my identity’? We can never lose ‘I’, our real identity (that is, what we really are), so the only identity we can lose is our false identity, which is the ego or mind, and we can lose this false identity permanently only be experiencing ourself as we really are. When we practise ātma-vicāra we are trying to experience ourself as we really are, so when we succeed we will lose our false identity (the feeling ‘I am Gurudas’ or ‘I am Michael’). Until then, we will not and cannot get rid of this identity (except by bodily death, but at that time we will just replace one false identity with another).
  • During this period, I also experience slight heaviness on the right side of my chest.
Whatever we may experience should be of no concern to us, because our only concern should be to experience ourself alone. Therefore, whether you experience slight heaviness on the right side of your chest or anything else other than ‘I’, you should try to investigate yourself alone by turning your attention back towards the ‘I’ that is experiencing it.
  • Am I on the right path or am I being deluded by my mind to believe that I am practising self-enquiry in the correct manner?
We are on the right path — the path of ātma-vicāra or self-investigation — only when we are trying to experience nothing other than ‘I’ alone. So long as this is what you are trying to do, you are practising self-enquiry in the correct manner, but you should remember that whatever else you may experience, you should turn you attention back towards yourself, who are experiencing it, in order to experience yourself alone.
  • I am also wondering whether self-enquiry or nan yar [who am I] naturally and automatically leads to silence, summa iru [just be].
Yes, it does. So long as we experience anything other than ‘I’, our attention is moving away from ourself towards that other thing, and such movement of our attention is thought or mental activity, which is the very antithesis of silence. Therefore when we practise self-investigation or self-enquiry we are trying to experience nothing other than ‘I’ alone, and when we succeed in this attempt, our attention is not moving away from ourself but is resting calmly in its source (namely ourself), so this is the subsidence of all mental activity, and hence it is the state of perfect silence, which is also described as the state of ‘just being’ (summā iruppadu).

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Science and self-investigation

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

First reply:

When I skimmed through Michael Talbot’s article I did not find it any closer to the advaitic view of reality than any other theory of advanced physics such as quantum theory, because it is all based on the assumption that there is something that exists independent of the mind that experiences it, and on the further assumption that the mind that experiences all this is real, which are two assumptions that Sri Ramana challenges.

To say the universe is a phantasm (in the sense that Talbot suggests it is) is very different to saying it is a dream, because a dream is created by the mind without any external cause, whereas a phantasm (in Talbot’s sense) is supposed to be a phenomenon created by the mind due to its misperception of something that exists externally (that is, something that exists independent of the perceiving mind).

Science is limited by its demand that everything should be studied objectively, so it can never come anywhere near to the view of advaita, which can be experienced only by rejecting all objective experience and trying to experience only the experiencing subject, ‘I’. By experiencing ‘I’ in total isolation from everything else, which is what we attempt to experience when we practise self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), we will experience absolute non-duality, in which all that is experienced is the ‘I’ that is experiencing it. Therefore there is no way that any of the objective sciences can approach this experience, because they only investigate things that are experienced as other than ‘I’, and hence their findings necessarily entail duality (a distinction between the observer and the observed).

Science is useful for improving the material comforts and conveniences of our bodily life, but there is no way that it can enable us to experience the absolute reality that underlies the appearance of our bodily life and this physical world. In this context we should bear in mind what Sri Ramana wrote in the third paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?):
சர்வ அறிவிற்கும் சர்வ தொழிற்குங் காரண மாகிய மன மடங்கினால் ஜகதிருஷ்டி நீங்கும். கற்பித ஸர்ப்ப ஞானம் போனா லொழிய அதிஷ்டான ரஜ்ஜு ஞானம் உண்டாகாதது போல, கற்பிதமான ஜகதிருஷ்டி நீங்கினா லொழிய அதிஷ்டான சொரூப தர்சன முண்டாகாது.

sarva aṟiviṯkum sarva toṙiṯkuṅ kāraṇam āhiya maṉam aḍaṅgiṉāl jaga-diruṣṭi nīṅgum. kaṯpita sarppa-jñāṉam pōṉāl oṙiya adhiṣṭhāṉa rajju-jñāṉam uṇḍāhādadu pōla, kaṯpitamāṉa jaga-diruṣṭi nīṅgiṉāl oṙiya adhiṣṭhāṉa sorūpa darśaṉam uṇḍāhādu.

If the mind, which is the cause of all [objective] knowledge and of all activity, subsides, jagad-dṛṣṭi [perception of the world] will cease. Just as knowledge of the rope, which is the base [that underlies and supports the imaginary appearance of a snake], will not arise unless knowledge of the imaginary snake ceases, svarūpa-darśana [true experiential knowledge of our own essential nature or real self], which is the base [that underlies and supports the imaginary appearance of this world], will not arise unless perception of the world, which is an imagination [or fabrication], ceases.
We cannot experience ‘I’ as it actually is so long as we experience the world, and when we do experience ‘I’ as it actually is, the false appearance of both our mind (which is a mistaken experience of ‘I’) and this world will dissolve and disappear, just as the imaginary snake disappears as soon as we see the rope as it is.

Second reply:

Long before any of the findings or theories of modern physics were known, philosophers both in the east (probably earlier) and in the west (probably somewhat later) have asked questions about the world such as: How can we know that there is any external world? How can we know that anything that we experience (such as this world) exists independent of our experience of it (or independent of our mind that experiences it)? How can we know that anything is as it appears to be? How can we know that any appearance is actually real?

These questions are all a mixture of epistemological and metaphysical questions (the ‘how can we know’ portion is epistemological, and the other portion of each of these questions is metaphysical), and epistemological and metaphysical questions cannot be adequately answered either by philosophy or by science [as I explained in my previous article, Does the world exist independent of our experience of it?]. That is, neither philosophy nor science can give us a certain answer to any of these questions.

Philosophy is useful insofar as it prompts us to question everything that we believe or that we assume we know, and thereby it helps us to understand how little we do actually know for certain. However, though it teaches us to ask many important questions, it cannot by itself provide us with any certain answers to those questions. The greatest benefit that we can derive from philosophy is that it can (though most philosophies do not) indicate where we must look in order to find reliable answers to all its most fundamental questions, as does the philosophy taught by Sri Ramana.

That is, since philosophy can show us that the only thing that is absolutely certain is that I am, even though at present I am confused about what I am, it can enable us to understand that we cannot attain certain knowledge about anything else until we know for certain what I am, and that in order to know what I am I must try to experience myself alone, in complete isolation from everything else. In other words, before investigating anything else we should first investigate ourself alone in order to experience what I actually am, as the philosophy of Sri Ramana teaches us to do.

Science, on the other hand, does research on the world as it appears to us, and it develops technologies for doing research on things that we cannot perceive by our unaided senses. In the course of its research it develops theories to try to explain its observations, and those theories postulate theoretical entities such as atoms, protons, neutrons, electrons and energy fields, and thus it creates a theoretical picture of the world which is quite different to the picture of the world that is provided by our five senses. So for example it theorises that what seems to us to be solid matter is just energy fields in empty space.

But these are all just theories, and from the history of science we learn that theories and theoretical entities that were once universally accepted by the scientific community were later discredited and replaced by newer theories and theoretical entities that could accommodate more recent discoveries. Therefore we have no reason to suppose that any of the theories or theoretical entities that are now universally accepted by the scientific community will not later be discredited by future discoveries, and will not therefore need to be replaced by other theories and theoretical entities.

Even if we suppose that all currently accepted theories and theoretical entities are true (though this is a supposition that is almost certainly not true), how can we be sure that the theoretical picture of the world that they present to us is any less of an appearance than is the picture of the world that is provided by our five senses? If the world as we perceive it by our unaided senses is only an appearance, why should we believe that the world as it is postulated to be by modern physics is not likewise only an appearance?

Can physics or any other objective science prove to us that there is actually an external world; that anything that we experience actually exists independent of our experience of it (or independent of our mind that experiences it); that anything is as it appears to be; or that that any appearance is actually real? All objective sciences are based on the assumption that there is an external world — a world that exists independent of our experience of it, and independent of our experiencing mind — so how can any theory that is based on this assumption prove that this assumption is true?

If there is no external world, all the theories of science are false, because they are all beliefs that entail belief in an external world. Therefore, to try to prove the existence of an external world by means of any scientific theory would entail circular reasoning — that is, it would assume as one of its premises the conclusion that it is trying to prove.

When modern philosophers of science are confronted by the question whether there is actually any external world (that is, any mind-independent world), the best answer they can give is that belief in an external world is justified by what is called IBE or ‘inference to the best explanation’, because they claim the existence of an external world is the best explanation of all that we experience. However, what makes it appear to be the ‘best explanation’ is that it fits best with everything else we believe about the world, all of which entail our belief that the world exists independent of our experience of it. Therefore their claim that it is the ‘best explanation’ is based on a not too well concealed form of circular reasoning (which means that science is not as rational as it superficially appears to be).

Therefore though modern physics does lend support to the view that the world is not as it appears to be, it does not and cannot challenge our deep-rooted but unfounded belief that the world exists independent of our experience of it.

When Sri Ramana says that the world is unreal, he is not merely saying as modern physics says that it is not as it appears to be, but is saying that it does not exist at all independent of our mind that experiences it. And according to him, even the mind that experiences this world is itself unreal: it does not actually exist at all, so if we investigate it it will disappear, and along with it the entire appearance of this world will also cease to exist.

Science consists of observations (about how the world appears to be) and theories (that explain those observations), but neither its observations nor its theories can actually prove anything other than the fact that I am, because in order to observe anything or to conceive any theory, I must exist. However, we do not need any science to prove that I am, because everything that I experience proves that I am, and even if I did not experience anything else, I would still experience that I am, because the very nature of ‘I’ is to experience its own existence, ‘I am’.

Thinking about science or anything else other than ‘I’ is a distraction that diverts our attention away from ourself towards other things. Therefore, if we are to experience what this ‘I’ is, we must give up investigating or attending to anything else, and must instead investigate only ‘I’ by attending to it exclusively.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Does the world exist independent of our experience of it?

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

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

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

What you call ‘the hard won knowledge of physics and the evolution of the universe’ consists of observations and theories (beliefs) developed by the human mind in order to explain those observations in terms of other currently held theories or beliefs. In other words, it is a collection of beliefs that are based upon a certain interpretation of what has been observed.

However, as philosophers of science have long recognised, the same observations can be interpreted in different way, so a number of quite different theories can explain the same phenomena (observations) equally well. Therefore the theories that are currently accepted by the scientific community are arbitrary, and could (at least in theory) be replaced by an entirely different set of theories that would explain the same phenomena equally well.

Moreover, theories that were accepted by the entire scientific community in the past were later discredited by new observations, and hence they have been replaced by newer theories that for the time being seem to be more satisfactory. This is what philosophers of science call ‘the problem of theory change’. Since past theories have now been replaced by newer ones, we can be reasonably sure that current theories will sooner or later be replaced by other ones. This is the uncertain nature of science, and should prompt us to be wary of the term ‘scientific knowledge’ (and of any claim that something has been ‘proved by science’). What is called ‘scientific knowledge’ is in constant flux and is never certain.

Still more importantly, all objective sciences are based upon a metaphysical assumption that they have no means of either verifying or falsifying, namely the assumption that some things that are experienced exist independent of the experiencer. We perceive what seems to be an external world, and we assume that that world exists independent of our perception of it (just as in dream we perceive what seems to be an external world, which at that time we assume exists independent of our perception of it), but what we are actually perceiving is not an external world as such but just a series of perceptual images that have been formed in our own mind.

For example, when we see a tree, what we are actually seeing is a mental image of a tree. Whether or not (and if so, to what extent) that mental image of a tree is caused in any way by something that exists outside our mind is something that our mind has no means of knowing. However, in spite of this fundamental uncertainty about all that we seem to experience, science is based on the arbitrary assumption that our perceptual experiences are in some way caused by things that exist independent of our experience of them.

Not only have the people you call ‘mystics’ repudiated the idea that a mind-independent world exists, but philosophers have long been troubled with the problem of finding some way to prove the existence of such a world. Reacting to the external world scepticism expressed by Hume and others, Kant famously wrote (in a footnote to his preface to the second edition of his Critique of Pure Reason) that it is ‘a scandal to philosophy and to human reason in general that the existence of things outside us […] must be accepted merely on faith, and that if anyone thinks good to doubt their existence , we are unable to counter his doubts by any satisfactory proof’, and in spite of the efforts of many philosophers, none of them has ever managed to find any conclusive proof or evidence that that anything does exist outside our mind. As Hume wrote (in the final chapter of his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding):
By what argument can it be proved, that the perceptions of the mind must be caused by external objects, entirely different from them, though resembling them (if that be possible) and could not arise either from the energy of the mind itself, or from the suggestion of some invisible and unknown spirit, or from some other cause still more unknown to us? It is acknowledged, that, in fact, many of these perceptions arise not from anything external, as in dreams, madness, and other diseases. And nothing can be more inexplicable than the manner, in which body should so operate upon mind as ever to convey an image of itself to a substance, supposed of so different, and even contrary a nature.

It is a question of fact, whether the perceptions of the senses be produced by external objects, resembling them: how shall this question be determined? By experience surely; as all other questions of a like nature. But here experience is, and must be entirely silent. The mind has never anything present to it but the perceptions, and cannot possibly reach any experience of their connexion with objects. The supposition of such a connexion is, therefore, without any foundation in reasoning.
Hume was no mystic, but on the basis of simple and straightforward reasoning he was able to recognise what should be a very obvious fact, namely that we have no adequate evidence that any external objects actually exist, nor can we logically deduce their existence from our experience. Therefore we have very good reason to be sceptical about the putative existence of an external world, and if we are wise and cautious in what we choose to believe, we should not base our metaphysical beliefs on the dubious assumption that such a world does actually exist. Or even if we do choose to believe in the existence of an external world, we should hold that belief only in a very tentative manner, and should recognise that it could well be wrong.

In spite of the lack of any actual evidence to support the common supposition that there is an external world that causes our perceptions, science supposes that such a world does exist, and all its theories are based on the belief that this supposition is true. However, as Hume rightly points out, this supposition had no basis either in our experience or in reasoning. It is a mere supposition, and a very uncertain one, yet it is the foundation on which the entire edifice of science is built.

Therefore, since science is based on blind belief in a dubious metaphysical assumption, we should not rely upon it when considering metaphysical questions. Over-reliance on science, and particularly reliance on it in domains over which it has no legitimate jurisdiction (such as metaphysics and epistemology), is what is what is called in modern philosophy by the derogatory name ‘scientism’. Science is very useful in its own sphere, but it cannot answer ultimate questions about what is reality and what is mere appearance, what is true knowledge and what is mere belief, and most importantly of all, what am I.

Science is self-avowedly objective, so it limits the scope of its research to objective phenomena, and hence it is essentially an investigation of appearances (which is what the word ‘phenomena’ actually means), and cannot say with any adequate degree of certainty whether any of the appearances it investigates are real or just illusory. What experiences all objective phenomena is only ‘I’, but since ‘I’ is not objective, science will not and cannot investigate it.

Whereas science investigates only phenomena that are experienced by ‘I’, Sri Ramana investigated ‘I’ itself, and from his investigation he discovered how ‘I’ comes to experience phenomena. That is, he discovered that ‘I’ creates within itself all the phenomena that it experiences in the waking state, as it does in the case of all the phenomena that it experiences in a dream, and that it simultaneously experiences itself as if it were one of those phenomena, namely a body.

The investigation done by Sri Ramana was more rational and truly scientific than any investigation done by science, because investigation done by science is based on the assumption that phenomena are real (or at least not entirely illusory), whereas Sri Ramana did not assume that any phenomena are real, and he even doubted the reality of the ‘I’ that experiences all phenomena. That is, when he undertook his self-investigation after being overwhelmed by an intense fear of death, what he sought to discover was whether ‘I’ would remain when the body dies, and what he discovered as a result of his investigation was that what ‘I’ actually is is only the one eternal and infinite reality, which transcends and is untouched by the appearance of any duality, multiplicity or otherness.

However, though Sri Ramana did indicate by words what he discovered from his self-investigation, he made it clear that it is not sufficient that we just believe him, because any belief is just a fragile, insubstantial and unreliable mental phenomena, so he insisted that we should each investigate ‘I’ and discover for ourself what he had discovered.

Since metaphysical questions such as ‘what is real?’, ‘what is appearance?’ or ‘what am I?’ cannot be answered conclusively either by science or by philosophy, the only hope we have of finding any conclusive answer to them is to investigate the ‘I’ that experiences everything else.

Does this world exist when we do not perceive it, or does it seem to exist only because I create a perceptual experience of it in my mind? At present we do not know for certain the correct answers to such questions, and we have no hope of knowing them so long as we do not even know correctly what I myself am. Therefore, before concerning ourself with any other question, we should first investigate ourself in order to find for ourself from our own experience a conclusive answer to the question ‘who (or what) am I?’