Friday, 12 September 2014

Why did Sri Ramana teach a karma theory?

This article is the second half of my explanation of the first verse of Upadēśa Undiyār, the first half of which I posted in my previous article: The karma theory as taught by Sri Ramana.

According to Sri Ramana, what we should be concerned with is only being and not doing. We need be concerned with karma — that is, with what we do — only to the extent that we should try as far as possible to avoid doing any action that will cause harm (hiṁsā) to any sentient being, but our primary concern should be not with what we do but only with what we are. Therefore we need not investigate karma in any great depth or detail, but should focus all our effort and attention only on investigating the ‘I’ that feels ‘I am doing karma’ or ‘I am experiencing the fruit of karma’. As he says in verse 38 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu:
வினைமுதனா மாயின் விளைபயன் றுய்ப்போம்
வினைமுதலா ரென்று வினவித் — தனையறியக்
கர்த்தத் துவம்போய்க் கருமமூன் றுங்கழலு
நித்தமா முத்தி நிலை.

viṉaimudaṉā māyiṉ viḷaipayaṉ ḏṟuyppōm
viṉaimudalā reṉḏṟu viṉavit — taṉaiyaṟiyak
karttat tuvampōyk karumamūṉ ḏṟuṅkaṙalu
nittamā mutti nilai
.

பதச்சேதம்: வினைமுதல் நாம் ஆயின், விளை பயன் துய்ப்போம். வினைமுதல் ஆர் என்று வினவி தனை அறிய, கர்த்தத்துவம் போய், கருமம் மூன்றும் கழலும். நித்தமாம் முத்தி நிலை.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): viṉaimudal nām āyiṉ, viḷai payaṉ tuyppōm. viṉaimudal ār eṉḏṟu viṉavi taṉai aṟiya, karttattuvam pōy, karumam mūṉḏṟum kaṙalum. nittam-ām mutti nilai.

English translation: If we are the doer of actions, we will experience the resulting fruit. [However] when we know ourself by investigating who is the doer of action, doership will depart and all the three karmas will slip off. [This is] the state of liberation, which is eternal.
The karma theory is conditional, and the condition on which it depends is that we experience ourself as ‘I am doing actions’ and ‘I am experiencing the consequences of my actions’. So long as we experience ourself as an ego, a finite ‘I’ that does actions through mind, speech and body, we will also experience ourself as the experiencer of the fruit of our actions. Without such a sense of doership and experiencership, we could not do any āgāmya or experience any prārabdha, and hence there would be no sañcita. Hence all these three karmas seem to exist only so long as we seem to be an ego — a doer and an experiencer of things other than ourself. Therefore Sri Ramana says that if we know ourself by investigating who am I, this ego who seems to do action, our sense of doership (and experiencership) will cease to exist, and hence along with it all the three karmas (āgāmya, sañcita and prārabdha) will also cease to exist.

That is, the sense of doership and experiencership is integral feature of our ego, because our ego is the illusory adjunct-mixed self-awareness ‘I am this body and mind’, and the nature the body and mind is to do action and experience its fruit. Therefore so long as we experience ourself as an ego, we seem to be bound by the three karmas, but if we experience ourself as we really are by investigating what is this ‘I’ that experiences itself as if it were a body and mind, the illusion that we are bound or affected in any way at all by any karma will be destroyed forever.

Karma is only as real as the ego that does it and experiences its fruit, but if we investigate this ego we will find it to be non-existent (just as we would find an illusory snake to be non-existent if we looked at it carefully and thereby recognised that it was actually only a rope), because what seems to be this ego is actually only the one pure, adjunct-free and hence infinite ‘I’. Therefore, since this ego is just an unreal appearance, all its karma is likewise just an unreal appearance.

Thus according to Sri Ramana karma is not real, and it seems to be real only because we mistake ourself to be an ego, a finite ‘I’ that experiences itself as a body and mind. Karma is therefore not a central concern in his teachings, so the only reason why he discussed karma in the initial verses of Upadēśa Undiyār is that, as I explained in the introduction (which I will post on my website after completing my translation and explanation of this entire text), he wrote it as the essence of the upadēśa that Lord Siva gave to the ritualists in the Daruka forest after subduing their pride. Because they believed that karma alone is paramount, and that there is therefore no God except karma, it was necessary for Lord Siva to teach them that karma does not give fruit except by the ordainment of God, and that (as he says in the next verse of Upadēśa Undiyār) it cannot give liberation.

Therefore, just because Sri Ramana began Upadēśa Undiyār by discussing karma, we should not conclude that the concept of karma is an important part of his teachings. The degree of importance that he gave to karma can be better understood from Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, in which he discusses it only towards the end, namely in verse 38, where he teaches that it is only conditionally real, and that it will cease to appear real if we know ourself by investigating who am I, who seem to do karma.

The reason why he taught the particular karma theory that he did, which he summarised most clearly and emphatically in the note that he wrote for his mother, was to support us in our practice of self-investigation or self-surrender (which in practice is the same as self-investigation, because we can give up our ego only by investigating it). That is, as he clearly indicated in the concluding sentence of that note, ‘ஆகலின் மௌனமாய் இருக்கை நன்று’ (āhaliṉ mauṉamāy irukkai naṉḏṟu), ‘Therefore silently being is good’, the inference we should draw from the karma theory that he taught is that the only correct use we can make of our free will is to try just to be silent, and as he repeatedly emphasised, the only means to be inwardly silent is to attend only to ‘I’.

If we believe that we can by our volitional actions change what we are to experience outwardly, our motivation to try to do so will be reinforced, and hence we will feel less inclined to try to turn our attention within to experience ourself alone and thereby to be silent, whereas if we believe that we cannot by any means change what we are to experience outwardly, our motivation to try to do so will be weakened, and hence we will feel more strongly inclined to try to turn our attention within to experience ourself alone. Therefore the benefit we will derive from accepting the karma theory as taught by Sri Ramana is that it will weaken our outward-going drive and thereby make it easier for us to turn our attention towards ourself, away from all external things (that is, from everything other than ‘I’ alone).

Moreover, since what we are destined to experience is ordained by God, it is not just the fruits of our past actions but a selection of such fruits chosen by him for our own benefit, and hence it is his will. If we believe this, it will be easier for us to accept calmly whatever difficulties or sufferings may occur in our life, trusting that they are according to his all-loving will and hence for our own ultimate benefit. In other words, it will be easier for us to surrender our individual will to his will, and the more we thus surrender our will, the less our ego will be driven to rise and engage itself in volitional actions, and the easier it will therefore be for us to focus our attention on ‘I’ alone.

That is, in ordaining the fruits of our karmas, God is not merely operating a system of reward and punishment, because his ultimate aim is that we should give up the illusion that we are doing karma and experiencing its fruit, which we can do only by experiencing ourself as we really are, thereby merging in him, who is both our source and substance. Though God seems to be something other than ourself so long as we mistakenly experience ourself to be a finite being, he is actually what we really are, so he loves us as his own self, and accordingly wants us to experience the infinite happiness that is our real nature. Therefore he ordains the fruits of our past karmas in whatever way will be most conducive to our spiritual development and to our eventually merging in our source, our real self, which is the ocean of infinite happiness.

For reasons that we considered earlier, the karma theory as taught by Sri Ramana would not work if there were no God to ordain which fruit each karma is to give and when and in what circumstances that fruit is to be experienced. But who or what is this God? As Sri Ramana teaches us in verses 24 and 25 of Upadēśa Undiyār, God is nothing other than our own real self. In other words, he is what we actually are, even though we now experience ourself as if we were a finite ego. However, the nature of our real self is not to do anything but just to be, and not to experience anything other than itself, ‘I am’. How then can God — as our real self — be the ordainer of the fruits of our karmas?

There are two ways in which this question can be answered. One of these two ways is indicated by Sri Ramana in the fifteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:
இச்சா ஸங்கல்ப யத்நமின்றி யெழுந்த ஆதித்தன் சன்னிதி மாத்திரத்தில் காந்தக்கல் அக்கினியைக் கக்குவதும், தாமரை மலர்வதும், நீர் வற்றுவதும், உலகோர் தத்தங் காரியங்களிற் பிரவிருத்தித்து இயற்றி யடங்குவதும், காந்தத்தின் முன் ஊசி சேஷ்டிப்பதும் போல ஸங்கல்ப ரகிதராயிருக்கும் ஈசன் சன்னிதான விசேஷ மாத்திரத்தால் நடக்கும் முத்தொழில் அல்லது பஞ்சகிருத்தியங்கட் குட்பட்ட ஜீவர்கள் தத்தம் கர்மானுசாரம் சேஷ்டித் தடங்குகின்றனர். அன்றி, அவர் ஸங்கல்ப ஸஹித ரல்லர்; ஒரு கருமமு மவரை யொட்டாது. அது லோககருமங்கள் சூரியனை யொட்டாததும், ஏனைய சதுர்பூதங்களின் குணாகுணங்கள் வியாபகமான ஆகாயத்தை யொட்டாததும் போலும்.

icchā-saṅkalpa-yatnam-iṉḏṟi y-eṙunda ādittaṉ saṉṉidhi-māttirattil kānta-k-kal aggiṉiyai-k kakkuvadum, tāmarai malarvadum, nīr vaṯṟuvadum, ulahōr tattaṅ kāriyaṅgaḷil piraviruttittu iyaṯṟi y-aḍaṅguvadum, kāntattiṉ muṉ ūsi cēṣṭippadum pōla saṅkalpa-rahitar-āy-irukkum īśaṉ saṉṉidhāṉa-viśēṣa-māttirattāl naḍakkum muttoṙil alladu pañcakiruttiyaṅgaṭ kutpaṭṭa jīvargaḷ tattam karmāṉucāram cēṣṭit taḍaṅgugiṉḏṟaṉar. aṉḏṟi, avar saṅkalpa-sahitar allar; oru karumam-um avarai y-oṭṭādu. adu lōka-karumaṅgaḷ sūriyaṉai y-oṭṭādadum, ēṉaiya catur-bhūtaṅgaḷiṉ guṇāguṇaṅgaḷ viyāpakam-āṉa ākāyattai y-oṭṭādadum pōlum.

Just as in the mere presence of the sun, which rose without icchā [wish, desire or liking], saṁkalpa [volition or intention] or yatna [effort or exertion], a crystal stone [or magnifying lens] will emit fire, a lotus will blossom, water will evaporate, and people of the world will engage in [or begin] their respective activities, do [those activities] and subside [or cease being active], and [just as] in front of a magnet a needle will move, [so] jīvas [sentient beings], who are caught in [the finite state governed by] muttoṙil [the threefold function of God, namely the creation, sustenance and dissolution of the world] or pañcakṛtyas [the five functions of God, namely creation, sustenance, dissolution, concealment and grace], which happen due to nothing but the special nature of the presence of God, who is saṁkalpa rahitar [one who is devoid of any volition or intention], move [exert or engage in activity] and subside [cease being active, become still or sleep] in accordance with their respective karmas [that is, in accordance not only with their prārabdha karma or destiny, which impels them to do whatever actions are necessary in order for them to experience all the pleasant and unpleasant things that they are destined to experience, but also with their karma-vāsanās, their inclinations or impulses to desire, think, speak and act in particular ways, which impel them to make effort to experience pleasant things and to avoid experiencing unpleasant things]. Nevertheless, he [God] is not saṁkalpa sahitar [one who is connected with or possesses any volition or intention]; even one karma does not adhere to him [that is, he is not bound or affected by any karma or action whatsoever]. That is like world-actions [the actions happening here on earth] not adhering to [or affecting] the sun, and [like] the qualities and defects of the other four elements [earth, water, air and fire] not adhering to the all-pervading space.
That is, since God is our real self, he has no saṁkalpa (volition or intention) and he does not actually do anything but just is, so whatever seems to happen does so in his mere presence and without his volition. Moreover, in his view nothing exists other than himself, so he does not experience or know anything other than ‘I am’, and hence whatever seems to happen in our view does so without his knowledge. Therefore the fruits of our karmas are ordained by the power of his mere presence — that is, by the power of his just being — without either his volition or even his knowledge. This is why Sri Ramana says here, ‘ஒரு கருமமு மவரை யொட்டாது’ (oru karumam-um avarai y-oṭṭādu), ‘even one karma does not adhere to him’. That is, he is not bound or affected by any karma whatsoever, because in his view no karmas exist at all.

Though this is the most accurate explanation of how he ordains the fruits of our karmas, from the perspective of our mind it is not an entirely satisfactory explanation, because we cannot adequately comprehend how by his mere presence and without his knowledge or choice the fruits of our karmas can be ordained in a way that is both morally just and most beneficial for our spiritual development. Moreover, though he is our real self, so long as we experience ourself as an ego, he seems to be something other than ourself, because whereas we seem to be finite and hence bound by numerous limitations, he is infinite and hence unbound by any limitation whatsoever. Not only is his existence infinite, but so also is his knowledge and love. Since he alone truly exists, he experiences and loves everything as himself. In his view ‘everything’ is himself, so it is one and not many, whereas in our view it is manifold, because it includes all the multiplicity and diversity of this world.

Hence, so long as we experience ourself as a finite person, and therefore experience many other finite things that constitute the world as we know it, it is not possible for us to adequately comprehend the absolute oneness, infinity and indivisibility of God, who is our real self. Therefore when we think of God in relation to ourself as a person and to this world of plurality, we cannot but think of him as something that is other than ourself and the world, and since he knows and loves everything as himself, and since in his view there is nothing — and hence no power — that is other than himself, he seems to us to be something that is not only omnipresent but also omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent. Therefore the other way to answer the question how God, being our real self, can be the ordainer of the fruits of our karmas is to explain that it is in his role as a seemingly other, omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent being that he does so.

Being omniscient, he knows what is the most appropriate fruit to ordain for each of our karmas; being omnibenevolent (all-loving), the time and circumstances in which he chooses us to experience each fruit is what is most beneficial for us in the long term (that is, it is what is most conducive to our spiritual development and our eventual liberation from the bonds of finite existence); and being omnipotent, there is no power other than himself that could prevent him from ordaining the fruits of our karmas in accordance with his all-knowing and all-loving will.

However, as a seemingly other, omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent being, God is not absolutely real. As our own essential self and as the one source and ultimate substance that appears as all this world of plurality, he is absolutely real, but so long as he seems to be other than ourself and to have a function to play in whatever we experience in this world (or in any other world, such as any world that we experience in a dream), he is only relatively real. As such, he is no more real than we are as an individual or than the world is as something other than ourself. Just as we as an ego or individual soul (jīva) are merely a kalpana (a fabrication or figment of our imagination), and just as the world is likewise a mere kalpana, so too is God when he is conceived to be a separate entity: an omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent Lord (īśvara) who governs this world and all that we experience in it. As Sri Ramana wrote in the seventh paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:
யதார்த்தமா யுள்ளது ஆத்மசொரூப மொன்றே. ஜக ஜீவ ஈச்வரர்கள், சிப்பியில் வெள்ளிபோல் அதிற் கற்பனைகள். இவை மூன்றும் ஏககாலத்தில் தோன்றி ஏககாலத்தில் மறைகின்றன. சொரூபமே ஜகம்; சொரூபமே நான்; சொரூபமே ஈச்வரன்; எல்லாம் சிவ சொரூபமாம்.

yathārtham-āy uḷḷadu ātma-sorūpam oṉḏṟē. jaga-jīva-īśvarargaḷ, śippiyil veḷḷi pōl adil kaṯpaṉaigaḷ. ivai mūṉḏṟum ēka-kālattil tōṉḏṟi ēka-kālattil maṟaigiṉḏṟaṉa. sorūpam-ē jagam; sorūpam-ē nāṉ; sorūpam-ē īśvaraṉ; ellām śiva sorūpam ām.

What actually exists is only ātma-svarūpa [our own essential self]. The world, soul and God are kalpanas [imaginations, fabrications, mental creations or illusory superimpositions] in it, like [the imaginary] silver [seen] in a shell. These three appear simultaneously and disappear simultaneously. Svarūpa [our ‘own form’ or essential self] alone is the world; svarūpa alone is ‘I’ [our ego, soul or individual self]; svarūpa alone is God; everything is śiva-svarūpa [our essential self, which is śiva, the absolute and only truly existing reality].
Therefore when Sri Ramana says that karmas give fruit according to the ordainment of God, we can conceive of this in either of two ways. Either we can understand that God is nothing other than our own real self, and that as such he does nothing and knows nothing other than himself, ‘I am’, but that since he experiences and loves everything as his own self, by his mere presence or existence within us as our pure adjunct-free ‘I’ our karmas are made to yield appropriate fruit in whatever way is most conducive to us achieving our ultimate goal of merging entirely in him by experiencing ourself as we really are, thereby liberating ourself from the bondage of finite existence. Or we can understand that so long as we experience ourself as a finite ego who does karmas that are either morally righteous or unrighteous, our own infinite real self seems to us to be an omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent God, who as such is other than ourself as an ego, and who knowingly and compassionately ordains our karmas to yield appropriate fruit in whatever way is most conducive to us achieving our ultimate goal of merging entirely in him.

For a spiritual aspirant these two alternative views are complementary, so we need not choose one in preference to the other. The former view accords more closely with what is actually the case, whereas the latter accords more closely with our present experience of ourself as a finite ego. If we view our practice primarily in terms of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), the former view is likely to appeal to us more and may be more conducive to our practice, whereas if we prefer to view our practice more in terms of self-surrender, the latter view may appeal to us more and be more conducive to our practice. But whichever view we prefer, we need not and should not set it against the other view, because karma is only relatively and not absolutely true, so any explanation of the workings of karma must also be only relatively true. In relative terms, the former view may seem to be closer to the absolute truth, but it is nevertheless still relative, because the absolute truth is that there is no karma or anything else other than the one infinite reality (brahman), which alone is what we actually are.

Though Sri Ramana always insisted that God is nothing other than our own real self, he recognised that for most devotees God seems to be something other than themself, and he acknowledged that cultivating love for God as if he were other than ourself can be an effective means to purify our mind and thereby make us fit to recognise that God is actually nothing other than our real self — the pure adjunct-free ‘I am’, which is the only real and essential element in the ego, which is adjunct-mixed and hence confused experience ‘I am this body’. This is why he never discouraged anyone who had dualistic faith in God (belief in God as if he were other than oneself), but at the same time he never insisted that belief in God is necessary. If the concept of God did not appeal to someone, or if anyone expressed any doubts about the existence of God or about the efficacy of his grace, he used to say: ‘Why should you concern yourself with questions about God? You know that you exist, so first investigate and find out what you actually are, and then if necessary you can investigate whether there is any God other than yourself’.

So long as God seems to us to be something other than ourself, he is as real as we are as an ego and as the world is. As Sri Ramana said, our ego, the world and God are all just kalpanas or imaginary fabrications. Therefore God as a seemingly separate entity is as real as our karmas, so as long as our karmas seem to be real, the fact that their fruits are ordained by God is equally real. None of this is absolutely real, but it is as real as the ego that seems to do karma and to experience its fruit. Therefore when Sri Ramana says that our karmas give fruit according to the ordainment of God, he does not intend to imply that the God who has such a function is absolutely real, but only that he is as real as our karmas, which are in turn only as real as our ego, which does them and experiences their fruit.

When he says that karma is jaḍa (non-conscious), we can infer that he means that it is also asat (non-existent), because according to him what really exists must be not only eternal and unchanging but also svayam-prakāśa (self-shining, self-luminous or self-illuminating) — that is, it must experience itself by its own light of consciousness. Anything that does not experience itself seems to exist only in the view of whatever experiences or imagines its existence, namely the ego (which is the subject that experiences, knows, imagines, infers, conceives or thinks of it), so its seeming existence is dependent upon the seeming existence of the ego. Though the ego does experience itself, it is not real as such, because it is a mixture of a self-experiencing (cit) element, namely ‘I’, and various non-experiencing (jaḍa) adjuncts such as the body that it mistakes to be itself (which is why it is described as cit-jaḍa-granthi: the knot that binds together what is conscious with what is not conscious as if they were one). Therefore according to Sri Ramana what is real is only the pure adjunct-free ‘I’, which is why he said in the seventh paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?: ‘யதார்த்தமா யுள்ளது ஆத்மசொரூப மொன்றே’ (yathārtham-āy uḷḷadu ātma-sorūpam oṉḏṟē), ‘What actually exists is only ātma-svarūpa [our own essential self or pure ‘I’]’.

Not only is karma both jaḍa (non-conscious) and asat (non-existent), but so also are the mind, speech and body that do karma, as Sri Ramana explicitly says in verse 22 of Upadēśa Undiyār, in which he lists all the principal adjuncts that we experience as ‘I’, namely the so-called ‘five sheaths’ or pañca-kōśas (the physical body, the life or prāṇa that animates this body, the mind, the intellect and the seeming ‘darkness’ or absence of knowledge that we experience in sleep), and asserts that they are all jaḍa and asat, and hence not ‘I’, because ‘I’ is what is conscious (cit) and what actually exists (sat).

Therefore according to Sri Ramana the ego, the karmas it seems to do, the instruments (the mind, speech and body) through which it seems to do them, and the God who seems to ordain their fruit are all unreal. However, so long as we experience ourself as this ego, it seems to be real, and hence all these other things also seem to be real, so the only means by which we can liberate ourself from the bondage that results from experiencing all such things as if they were real is to investigate ourself and thereby experience ourself as we really are. When we do so, we will destroy the illusion we are this ego, and thus we will destroy the illusion that we are engaged in doing karma and experiencing its fruit or consequences. Until then, karma and its consequences will seem to us to be real and to be a self-perpetuating cycle from which we can never be liberated by doing any karma, as Sri Ramana says in the next verse of Upadēśa Undiyār.

Friday, 5 September 2014

The karma theory as taught by Sri Ramana

Since I started my website one of my long-standing aims has been to include in it detailed and explanatory translations of all of Sri Ramana’s original Tamil writings, but amidst all my other work I have not yet had time to do so. Last month I decided to make a start by writing such a translation of Upadēśa Undiyār (உபதேச வுந்தியார்), but I have so far completed writing only an introduction and a detailed explanation for the first verse.

Due to circumstances that now make it necessary for me spend much more of my time working to increase my currently inadequate income, I will not have time to complete this translation and explanation of Upadēśa Undiyār in the near future, so I have decided in the meanwhile to post here my translation and explanation of the first verse, and since it is a very long explanation, I will post it as two consecutive articles, this and the next one: Why did Sri Ramana teach a karma theory?

Incidentally, I have recently been spending most of my time replying to numerous emails and to comments on this blog, which is a work I am always happy to do, because it keeps my mind dwelling on the teachings of Sri Ramana and on the practice of self-investigation, but due to the other more mundane work that I now need to attend to, I will not be able to spend so much time replying to emails and comments, so please bear with me if I not able to reply promptly to any emails you may send me. However, in spite of whatever other work I have to do, I will try to continue posting articles here on a fairly regular basis, as I have been doing since the beginning of this year.

உபதேச வுந்தியார் (Upadēśa Undiyār) verse 1
கன்மம் பயன்றரல் கர்த்தன தாணையாற்
கன்மங் கடவுளோ வுந்தீபற
      கன்மஞ் சடமதா லுந்தீபற.

kaṉmam payaṉḏṟaral karttaṉa dāṇaiyāl
kaṉmaṅ kaḍavuḷō vundīpaṟa
      kaṉmañ jaḍamadā lundīpaṟa
.
பதச்சேதம்: கன்மம் பயன் தரல் கர்த்தனது ஆணையால். கன்மம் கடவுளோ? கன்மம் சடம் அதால்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): kaṉmam payaṉ taral karttaṉadu āṇaiyāl. kaṉmam kaḍavuḷ-ō? kaṉmam jaḍam adāl.

அன்வயம்: கன்மம் பயன் தரல் கர்த்தனது ஆணையால். கன்மம் சடம் அதால், கன்மம் கடவுளோ?

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): kaṉmam payaṉ taral karttaṉadu āṇaiyāl. kaṉmam jaḍam adāl, kaṉmam kaḍavuḷ-ō?

English translation: Karma [action] giving fruit is by the ordainment of God [the kartā or ordainer]. Since karma is jaḍa [devoid of consciousness], can karma be God?

Explanation: கன்மம் (kaṉmam) is a Tamil form of the Sanskrit word karma, which means ‘action’ in the sense of any action done with volition by a sentient being, whether by mind, speech or body. பயன் (payaṉ) means ‘fruit’, so it is a Tamil equivalent of the Sanskrit word phala, which in the context of karma means the fruit or moral consequences of any volitional action. தரல் (taral) is a verbal noun meaning ‘giving’. கர்த்தனது (karttaṉadu) is a genitive form of கர்த்தன் (karttaṉ), which is a Tamil form of the Sanskrit word kartṛ or kartā, which means ‘doer’ or ‘agent’, so it literally means ‘of the doer’ or ‘the doer’s’. However, in this context கர்த்தன் (karttaṉ) does not refer to the person who does karma, but only to God, who is considered to be the ultimate ‘doer’ or driving force behind all actions, though as Sri Ramana explains in the fifteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?), God does not act with any volition, but just as in the presence of the sun numerous things are made to happen on earth, so by the mere presence of God sentient beings are made to act according to both their own volition and their destiny (prārabdha), which is the fruit of their past volitional actions (āgāmya). ஆணையால் (āṇaiyāl) is an instrumental form of ஆணை (āṇai), which is a Tamil form of the Sanskrit word ājñā, which means ‘command’, ‘injunction’, ‘ordainment’, ‘authority’ or ‘permission’, so கர்த்தனது ஆணையால் (karttaṉadu āṇaiyāl) means ‘by the ordainment of God’ (or less literally, ‘according to the ordainment of God’).

கன்மம் பயன் தரல் (kaṉmam payaṉ taral), ‘karma giving fruit’, is the subject of this first sentence, and கர்த்தனது ஆணையால் (karttaṉadu āṇaiyāl), ‘by the ordainment of God’, is its predicative. Though there is no explicit finite verb here, the copula ‘is’ is clearly implied, because in a Tamil sentence or clause that predicates what something is (such as ‘X is Y’, where ‘X’ is the subject and ‘Y’ is the subject predicative, which may be either a noun phrase or an adjective phrase), the copula ‘am’, ‘is’ or ‘are’ is generally not stated explicitly, since it is clearly implied by presence of the subject and predicative without any finite verb. Thus this first sentence, ‘கன்மம் பயன் தரல் கர்த்தனது ஆணையால்’ (kaṉmam payaṉ taral karttaṉadu āṇaiyāl) means ‘Karma giving fruit is by [or according to] the ordainment of God’, which implies that when, where and how each karma yields what fruit or consequential experience is determined not by that action itself but only by God.

In the second sentence கன்மம் (kaṉmam) again means karma, and கடவுளோ (kaḍavuḷ-ō) is the noun கடவுள் (kaḍavuḷ), which means ‘God’ in the sense of what transcends all finite things (being derived from கடந்து உள்ளது (kaḍandu uḷḷadu), ‘what exists transcending’, or கடந்து உள்ளவன் (kaḍandu uḷḷavaṉ), ‘he who exists transcending’), with the interrogative suffix ஓ (ō) appended to it. As in the previous sentence, the copula ‘is’ is implied here, so ‘கன்மம் கடவுளோ?’ (kaṉmam kaḍavuḷ-ō?) means ‘Is karma God?’ (or less literally, ‘Can karma be God?’).

In the final clause கன்மம் (kaṉmam) again means karma; சடம் (jaḍam) is a Sanskrit word that means lifeless, insentient, non-conscious, material or physical, but in this context means specifically non-conscious; and அதால் (adāl) is an instrumental form of அது (adu), so it literally means ‘by that’ or ‘by it’, but in this context means ‘since’ or ‘because’. The copula ‘is’ is again implied in this clause, so ‘கன்மம் சடம் அதால்’ (kaṉmam jaḍam adāl) means ‘since karma is non-conscious’. This final clause can be construed with either or both of the two main clauses in this verse: ‘Since karma is non-conscious, karma giving fruit is by the ordainment of God’ and ‘Since karma is non-conscious, can karma be God?’

The concept of karma — that is, the idea that each action that an individual does with volition by mind, speech or body must bear fruit or yield a moral consequence that will sooner or later be experienced by that individual as either a pleasant or unpleasant experience — is very ancient, dating back to the older portions of the Vēdas, which are the earliest records of philosophical and religious thought in India. Almost every system of Indian philosophy and every religion of Indian origin accept this concept in one form or another, though they each have their own theories about it — both about what constitutes a moral or an immoral action, and about how such actions yield their appropriate fruit.

According to the philosophy of the pūrva mīmāṁsā, which Sri Ramana repudiates in this verse, karma principally means actions that are enjoined, allowed or prohibited by the Vēdas, and an action is moral if it is done in accordance with Vēdic injunctions, or immoral if it is done in contravention of them. Moreover, pūrva mīmāṁsā claimed that karmas are paramount, being the driving force that regulates the entire universe, and that since they have the power to yield their own fruit automatically, and since there is no power greater than them, there is no God except karma.

Other systems of Indian philosophy do not hold such extreme views about the power of karmas, and most of them take any action done with volition to be a karma. However, like pūrva mīmāṁsā, many of them (such as sāṁkhya, some interpretations of yōga philosophy, Jainism, the various systems of Buddhist philosophy, and even early forms of vaiśēṣika and perhaps also of nyāya) have or had no place for the concept of God, and hence see no need to postulate a God who ordains the fruits of karmas, so they maintain that karmas somehow bear fruit automatically. Without any concept of God, however, it does not seem easy to explain how karmas can bear fruit according to any moral principles. Unless there is a conscious regulating power that decides which action is to bear what type of fruit, how can a moral action automatically result in a pleasant experience for the person who did it, and how can an immoral action automatically result in an unpleasant experience for that person?

If karma itself were conscious, it could perhaps determine its own fruit, but a karma is just an action that an individual does by mind, speech or body, so how could it be conscious? Since karma is not conscious, how can it determine its own fruit? Though an individual who does any karma is conscious, he or she cannot be the one who determines the fruit of that action, because if they could, a person who does an immoral action would not choose to experience an unpleasant fruit as a result of it. Therefore, since the fruit of any karma cannot be determined either by the individual who did it or by the karma itself, there must be some independent power that is conscious and therefore able to determine its fruit. Unless such a power is postulated, it would be very hard to substantiate any karma theory.

Therefore in this verse Sri Ramana argues that since karma is not conscious, it could not bear fruit except by the ordainment of God. That is, what fruit each karma should yield, and when and how that fruit should be experienced is determined only by God, because he alone can know the moral worth of each action and what fruit would be appropriate to it.

According to the karma theory as taught by Sri Ramana, when we do a karma, it does not yield its fruit immediately, because whatever we experience in our present life is predestined, being what God has selected from the large collection of fruits of our past karmas for us to experience in this lifetime. Hence the fruit of whatever fresh karma we do in any lifetime will not be experienced by us during that lifetime, but will be stored in order to be experienced in future lives. Whatever fresh karma we do by our own volition or free will is called āgāmya, the store of all the accumulated fruits of our past karmas that we are yet to experience is called sañcita, and the fruits of our past karmas that we are destined to experience in any particular life is called prārabdha.

Generally the amount of āgāmya that we do in each life is much greater than the amount of prārabdha that we experience, because we desire and make effort by mind, speech and body to experience much more than we can experience in a single life, and we also desire and make effort to avoid experiencing all the unpleasant things that we are destined to experience, so the quantity of the fruits of all our āgāmya that is stored in our sañcita is steadily increasing. Hence for each of our lives (which are just dreams that occur in our long sleep of self-ignorance) God has to select just a small portion from the vast store of fruits that have accumulated in our sañcita.

Since the fruit of any āgāmya that we do now will not be experienced by us during this lifetime, we cannot by any effort made now by our own free will change anything that we are destined to experience in our current life. This was emphatically stated by Sri Ramana in the note that he wrote for his mother in December 1898 when she pleaded with him to return home with her to Madurai:
அவரவர் பிராரப்தப் பிரகாரம் அதற்கானவன் ஆங்காங்கிருந் தாட்டுவிப்பன். என்றும் நடவாதது என் முயற்சிக்கினும் நடவாது; நடப்ப தென்றடை செய்யினும் நில்லாது. இதுவே திண்ணம். ஆகலின் மௌனமா யிருக்கை நன்று.

avar avar prārabdha-p prakāram adaṯkāṉavaṉ āṅgāṅgu irundu āṭṭuvippaṉ. eṉḏṟum naḍavādadu eṉ muyaṯcikkiṉum naḍavādu; naḍappadu eṉ taḍai seyyiṉum nillādu. idu-v-ē tiṇṇam. āhaliṉ mauṉamāy irukkai naṉḏṟu.

According to the prārabdha [destiny] of each person, God being there there [in the heart of each of them] will make [him or her] act. What is never to happen will not happen whatever effort [one] makes [to make it happen]; what is to happen will not stop whatever obstruction [or resistance] [one] does [to prevent it happening]. This indeed is certain. Therefore silently being [or being silent] is good.
The literal meaning of the first sentence of this note is ‘According to their their prārabdha, he who is for that being there there will cause to act’, in which the term அதற்கானவன் (adaṯkāṉavaṉ), which means ‘he who is for that’, denotes God, whose function in this context is to ordain the destiny (prārabdha) of each individual, and in which ஆங்காங்கிருந்து (āṅgāṅgirundu), which means ‘being there there’ (āṅgu-āṅgu-irundu), implies that God is in the heart of each individual whose destiny he ordains.

What Sri Ramana clearly implies here by saying, ‘What is never to happen will not happen whatever effort [one] makes; what is to happen will not stop whatever obstruction [one] does’, is firstly that we are not free to change whatever we are destined to experience, and secondly that we are nevertheless free to try to change it. That is, though we cannot experience anything that we are not destined to experience, and though we cannot avoid experiencing anything that we are destined to experience, we can desire and make effort by mind, speech and body to experience what we are not destined to experience, and to avoid experiencing what we are destined to experience.

Since our destiny or fate (prārabdha) will impel us to make whatever effort is required for us to experience what we are destined to experience (as Sri Ramana implied in the first sentence of this note), the actions of our mind, speech or body are driven by two forces, fate and free will, which may work at any moment either in harmony or in conflict with each other. Some of our actions may be impelled only by our fate, others may be impelled only by our free will, while yet others may be simultaneously impelled by both. That is, since we genuinely desire some of the things that we are destined to experience, both our fate and our free will will impel us to make whatever efforts are required to experience such things, in which case they will be working in harmony. However, it is not possible for us to determine to what extent each of our actions is impelled by either fate or free will.

Since Sri Ramana says that it is certain that we cannot change what we are destined to experience, no matter how much effort we may make to do so, we should understand that it is futile to make any effort by our own volition either to experience or not to experience anything other than ourself. That is, destiny determines only what is experienced by us when our mind is turned outwards — towards anything other than ‘I’ — but it cannot prevent us from turning inwards to experience ‘I’ alone, because attending to and thereby experiencing only ‘I’ is not an action (karma) but a state of just being (summā-v-iruppadu), and hence it is not bound or restricted by karma in any way whatsoever. Therefore the only wise use we can make of our free will is to try to experience nothing other than ‘I’ by attending to ourself alone, thereby remaining indifferent to whatever we may or may not be destined to experience outwardly. Calmly and silently attending thus to ‘I’ alone is the state that he describes here as மௌனமாய் இருக்கை (mauṉamāy irukkai), ‘silently being’ or ‘being as silence’, which he says is நன்று (naṉḏṟu), ‘good’.

By saying ‘மௌனமாய் இருக்கை நன்று’ (mauṉamāy irukkai naṉḏṟu), ‘silently being is good’, he did not merely mean that silently being is the best option, but that it is the only satisfactory option — the only option that is actually good. மௌனமாய் இருக்கை (mauṉamāy irukkai), ‘silently being’, means remaining without doing any volitional action (that is, any āgāmya or karma impelled by our free will), so the only other option is to do some such volitional action, and according to him doing any such action is not good, because it cannot change whatever is destined to be experienced (either by ourself or others), since that is determined only by prārabdha, and because by doing any such action we are not only generating fresh karma (āgāmya) but are also cultivating or nourishing a vāsana (a propensity or inclination) to do such an action again and again (as he says in the next verse of Upadēśa Undiyār). Therefore மௌனமாய் இருக்கை (mauṉamāy irukkai), ‘silently being’, alone is good.

What exactly is implied by this term மௌனமாய் இருக்கை (mauṉamāy irukkai), ‘silently being’, can be understood more clearly by comparing this sentence, ஆகலின் மௌனமாய் இருக்கை நன்று (āhaliṉ mauṉamāy irukkai naṉḏṟu), ‘Therefore silently being is good’, with another sentence in which Sri Ramana expresses a similar idea, namely the second sentence of the final paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?), in which he says:
[…] எவ்வளவுக்கெவ்வளவு தாழ்ந்து நடக்கிறோமோ அவ்வளவுக்கவ்வளவு நன்மையுண்டு. […]

[…] evvaḷavukkevvaḷavu tāṙndu naḍakkiṟōmō avvaḷavukkavvaḷavu naṉmai-y-uṇḍu. […]

[…] To whatever extent being subsided we behave, to that extent there is goodness [or virtue]. […]
எவ்வளவுக்கெவ்வளவு (evvaḷavukkevvaḷavu) and அவ்வளவுக்கவ்வளவு (avvaḷavukkavvaḷavu) are each a compound of two words, namely எவ்வளவுக்கு எவ்வளவு (evvaḷavukku evvaḷavu) and அவ்வளவுக்கு அவ்வளவு (avvaḷavukku avvaḷavu), which respectively mean ‘what extent to what extent’ and ‘that extent to that extent’, and which by duplication of their respective words add emphasis to their basic meanings, ‘to what extent’ and ‘to that extent’. That is, the duplication of each of these words emphasises the exact parallel between the ideas expressed in each of these two clauses: namely that there is goodness only to the extent that we are subsided and behave accordingly.

Being a participle form of தாழ் (tāṙ), which means to be low, descend, sink, subside, decline, diminish, halt, bend, bow or be humble, தாழ்ந்து (tāṙndu) has various closely related meanings, but in this context it essentially means ‘subsiding’ or ‘being subsided’, because what Sri Ramana emphasises in all three sentences of this final paragraph is that the ego or mind being subsided is the greatest good. நடக்கிறோம் (naḍakkiṟōm) is the second person plural present tense form of நட (naḍa), which means to walk, go, proceed, behave or conduct oneself, so தாழ்ந்து நடக்கிறோம் (tāṙndu naḍakkiṟōm) means ‘we behave [while] being subsided’. The suffix ஓ (ō), which is appended to நடக்கிறோம் (naḍakkiṟōm), signifies contrast or comparison, and in this context serves as a conjunction to connect the two parallel clauses.

நன்மை (naṉmai) literally means goodness, so it signifies whatever is good, and thus it also means virtue or morality. உண்டு (uṇḍu) means ‘there is’, so நன்மையுண்டு (naṉmai-y-uṇḍu) means ‘there is goodness’, or less literally, ‘it is good’. Therefore this sentence essentially means that there is goodness only to the extent that we are subsided, and thus it paraphrases the meaning of மௌனமாய் இருக்கை நன்று (mauṉamāy irukkai naṉḏṟu), ‘silently being is good’.

That is, தாழ்ந்து நடப்பது (tāṙndu naḍappadu), ‘behaving [while] being subsided’, means essentially the same as மௌனமாய் இருக்கை (mauṉamāy irukkai), ‘silently being’, because in both terms the emphasis is on just being in a subsided and hence silent condition. If our ego has subsided completely, we will just silently be, whether or not our mind, speech or body are engaged in any actions, because in the absence of the ego we will not experience any actions done by these instruments as actions done by us. In this context நடப்பது (naḍappadu) means behaving or conducting oneself in general, so it includes both being active and being inactive. If we are inwardly subsided, our mind, speech or body may either be active or inactive, but what will then determine whatever actions these instruments may do is only our destiny or fate (prārabdha) and not our free will, because the ego obviously cannot exercise its free will when it is subsided.

Since the subsidence of our ego entails the subsidence of our individual will, only when our ego has subsided completely will our will be surrendered entirely to God (which is the state that devotees aspire for when they pray ‘Thy will be done: not my will, but only thine’), and if our ego is not yet completely subsided, our will is surrendered only to the extent that our ego is subsided. Hence, as Sri Ramana says, only to the extent that we are subsided and behave accordingly is there goodness. And only to the extent that we are subsided are we just silently being.

In the sixth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? Sri Ramana explains exactly what he means by the term மௌனம் (mauṉam) or silence:
[…] நான் என்னும் நினைவு கிஞ்சித்து மில்லா விடமே சொரூபமாகும். அதுவே ‘மௌன’ மெனப்படும். […]

[…] nāṉ eṉṉum niṉaivu kiñcittum illā v-iḍam-ē sorūpam āhum. adu-v-ē ‘mauṉam’ eṉappaḍum. […]

[…] The place devoid of even the slightest thought called ‘I’ is svarūpa [our ‘own form’ or essential self]. That alone is called ‘mauna’ [silence]. […]
Here, as he often did, Sri Ramana uses the term இடம் (iḍam), which literally means ‘place’, ‘location’ or ‘situation’, in a metaphorical sense to denote the base or fundamental reality, which is the innermost core or centre of ourself and of all that we experience; the term நான் என்னும் நினைவு (nāṉ eṉṉum niṉaivu), which means ‘the thought called I’, to denote our ego; and the term சொரூபம் (sorūpam), which is a Tamil form of the Sanskrit word svarūpa, which literally means ‘own form’, to denote our real self. Thus what he explains here is that our real self is only the fundamental, central and innermost place in which not even the slightest trace of ego exists, and this alone is silence (mauṉa). Therefore மௌனமாய் இருக்கை (mauṉamāy irukkai), which literally means ‘silently being’ or ‘being as silence’, is the state in which we remain without even the least rising of any ego.

Thus மௌனமாய் இருக்கை நன்று (mauṉamāy irukkai naṉḏṟu), ‘Therefore silently being is good’, implies that being completely silent (that is, completely subsided and hence devoid of any ego) is good, but does not explicitly indicate that to the extent to which we are silent it is good. However, from what he wrote in the second sentence of the final paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? we can infer that he meant was not only that being completely silent is good, but also that to the extent to which we are silent it is good.

Since the ego rises only by attending to things other than ‘I’, and since it is nourished and sustained only by continuing to attend to things other than ‘I’, it will subside and be silent only to the extent to which it attends only to ‘I’, thereby withdrawing its attention from all other things. That is, the nature of the ego or mind is to subside and dissolve in its source only when it investigates itself by trying to attend to ‘I’ alone, as Sri Ramana stated clearly and emphatically in the sixth, eighth and sixteenth paragraphs of Nāṉ Yār?:
நானார் என்னும் விசாரணையினாலேயே மன மடங்கும்; [...]

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

Only by [means of] the investigation who am I will the mind subside [or cease]; [...]

மனம் அடங்குவதற்கு விசாரணையைத் தவிர வேறு தகுந்த உபாயங்களில்லை. மற்ற உபாயங்களினால் அடக்கினால் மனம் அடங்கினாற்போ லிருந்து, மறுபடியும் கிளம்பிவிடும். [...]

maṉam aḍaṅguvadaṯku vicāraṇaiyai-t tavira vēṟu tahunda upāyaṅgaḷ-illai. maṯṟa upāyaṅgaḷiṉāl aḍakkiṉāl maṉam aḍaṅgiṉāl-pōl irundu, maṟupaḍiyum kiḷambi-viḍum. [...]

For subsiding [or cessation] of the mind, there are no appropriate [or adequate] means other than vicāraṇā [self-investigation]. If made to subside by other means, the mind will remain as if subsided, [but] will emerge again. [...]

[...] மனத்தை யடக்குவதற்குத் தன்னை யாரென்று விசாரிக்க வேண்டுமே [...]

[...] maṉattai y-aḍakkuvadaṯku-t taṉṉai yār eṉḏṟu vicārikka vēṇḍum-ē [...]

[...] For making the mind subside it is certainly necessary to investigate oneself [in order to experience] who [one actually is] [...]
What impels the ego or mind to rise and attend to other things is its desires, so to the extent to which it attends only to ‘I’ it is curbing its outward-going desires, and since such desires are the volition that impels it to do any actions by mind, speech or body that are not solely impelled by prārabdha, we can effectively refrain from doing any volitional actions (āgāmya) only to the extent that we attend to ‘I’ alone. That is, so long as we are attending to anything other than ‘I’, our ego is active, and so long as it is active it will be driven by its desires and will therefore inevitably be doing volitional actions, the fruit of which will be added to our sañcita in order to be later experienced as prārabdha. Therefore the only effective way to break this cycle of repeated karma is to attend only to ‘I’ and thereby to subside and be silent.

Our outward-going desires are what are called viṣaya-vāsanās (inclinations, propensities or likings to experience things other than oneself), and so long as these are strong we will not be able to attend only to ‘I’ and thereby be silent all or even most of the time. However, this does not mean that we cannot at least try to be silent by attending only to ‘I’, and to the extent to which we thus try to be silent we will thereby be weakening our viṣaya-vāsanās and cultivating in their place sat-vāsanā, the inclination or liking just to be — that is, the liking to experience nothing other than ourself alone. Thus by persistent practice we will gain increasing strength to subside and be silent to a greater and greater extent. As Sri Ramana wrote in the sixth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:
[…] நானார் என்று விசாரித்தால் மனம் தன் பிறப்பிடத்திற்குத் திரும்பிவிடும்; எழுந்த வெண்ணமு மடங்கிவிடும். இப்படிப் பழகப் பழக மனத்திற்குத் தன் பிறப்பிடத்திற் றங்கி நிற்கும் சக்தி யதிகரிக்கின்றது. […]

[…] nāṉ-ār eṉḏṟu vicārittāl maṉam taṉ piṟappiḍattiṯku-t tirumbi-viḍum; eṙunda v-eṇṇam-um aḍaṅgi-viḍum. ippaḍi-p paṙaga-p paṙaga maṉattiṯku-t taṉ piṟappiḍattil taṅgi niṯgum śakti y-adikarikkiṉḏṟadu. […]

[…] If [one] investigates who am I, the mind will return to its birthplace [our real self, the source from which it arose]; the thought which had risen will also subside. When [one] practises and practises in this manner, to the mind the power to stand firmly established in its birthplace will increase. […]
Thus the import of the note that Sri Ramana wrote for his mother is that our prārabdha will impel us to do whatever actions of mind, speech or body are required to experience whatever we are destined to experience, so we cannot avoid doing such actions, but we should try to avoid doing any other action (that is, any action impelled by our free will), and the only way to avoid doing any such action is just to remain silent by attending only to ‘I’. So long as we are attending to anything other than ‘I’, our ego is active and will therefore inevitably be driven by its free will to do āgāmya, whereas when we attend only to ‘I’ the activity of our ego will subside, leaving us in our natural state of just silently being (mauṉamāy irukkai). Therefore the only effective and reliable means to remain without doing any āgāmya is to attend only to ‘I’.

Note: I will post the rest of my explanation of this first verse of Upadēśa Undiyār in my next article: Why did Sri Ramana teach a karma theory?

Friday, 29 August 2014

The crucial secret revealed by Sri Ramana: the only means to subdue our mind permanently

A friend wrote to me recently asking in Tamil:
பகவான் அருளியபடி ஆத்ம விசாரம் செய்ய நாம் ‘நான்’ என்னும் எண்ணத்தின் மீது கவனம் செலுத்த வேண்டும் என பல புத்தகங்களில் கூறப்படுகிறது. ஆனால் ‘நான் யார்?’ என்ற கட்டுரையிலோ, மனம் எப்போதும் ஓர் ஸ்தூலத்தையே பற்றி இருக்கும் எனவும், மனமென்பது ‘நான்’ என்னும் எண்ணமே எனவும் குறிப்பிடப்பட்டிருக்கிறது. இது உண்மை எனில், அந்த எண்ணத்தை ஸ்தூலத்திலிருந்து எவ்வாறு தனியே பிரித்து அதன் மீது கவனம் செலுத்துதல் ஸாத்தியம் ஆகும்? இது அஸாத்தியம் என்பதால் ‘எண்ணங்கள் தோன்றும் இடம் எது?’ என கூர்ந்து கவனித்தலே விசார வழி என நான் நினைக்கிறேன்; பின்பற்றியும் வருகிறேன். இது சரியா?
which means:
In many books it is said that to do self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) as taught by Bhagavan we must direct our attention on the thought called ‘I’. But in the essay Nāṉ Yār? it is said that the mind exists by always clinging to a sthūlam [something gross], and that what is called mind is only the thought called ‘I’. If this is true, is it possible to separate that thought in any way from the sthūlam and to direct attention towards it [that thought]? Since this is impossible, I think that keenly observing ‘what is the place where thoughts rise?’ alone is the path of vicāra; I am also following [this]. Is this correct?
The following is adapted from the reply I wrote (partly in Tamil but mostly in English):

The two statements from நான் யார்? (Nāṉ Yār?: Who am I?) that you refer to are both certainly true, but the inference you draw from them, namely ‘இது அஸாத்தியம்’ (idu asādhyam), ‘this is impossible’, is incorrect. When Bhagavan says in the fourth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?, ‘மனம் எப்போதும் ஒரு ஸ்தூலத்தை யனுசரித்தே நிற்கும்; தனியாய் நில்லாது’ (maṉam eppōdum oru sthūlattai y-aṉusarittē niṟkum; taṉiyāy nillādu), which means, ‘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’, what we should infer is that the mind will subside when it does not have anything other than itself to cling to (that is, to attend to), and that it will therefore subside only when it tries to attend to itself alone. This is why Bhagavan also says in the sixth, eighth and sixteenth paragraphs of Nāṉ Yār?:
நானார் என்னும் விசாரணையினாலேயே மன மடங்கும்; [...]

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

Only by [means of] the investigation who am I will the mind subside [or cease]; [...]

மனம் அடங்குவதற்கு விசாரணையைத் தவிர வேறு தகுந்த உபாயங்களில்லை. மற்ற உபாயங்களினால் அடக்கினால் மனம் அடங்கினாற்போ லிருந்து, மறுபடியும் கிளம்பிவிடும். [...]

maṉam aḍaṅguvadaṯku vicāraṇaiyai-t tavira vēṟu tahunda upāyaṅgaḷ-illai. maṯṟa upāyaṅgaḷiṉāl aḍakkiṉāl maṉam aḍaṅgiṉāl-pōl irundu, maṟupaḍiyum kiḷambi-viḍum. [...]

For subsiding [or cessation] of the mind, there are no appropriate [or adequate] means other than vicāraṇā [self-investigation]. If made to subside by other means, the mind will remain as if subsided, [but] will emerge again. [...]

[...] மனத்தை யடக்குவதற்குத் தன்னை யாரென்று விசாரிக்க வேண்டுமே [...]

[...] maṉattai y-aḍakkuvadaṯku-t taṉṉai yār eṉḏṟu vicārikka vēṇḍum-ē [...]

[...] For making the mind subside it is certainly necessary to investigate oneself [in order to experience] who [one actually is] [...]
That is, the nature of the mind or ego (our primal thought called ‘I’) is to rise, endure and be nourished so long as it attends to anything other than itself (that is, anything other than ‘I’), and to subside when it tries to attend to itself alone. This is clearly stated by Sri Bhagavan in verse 25 of உள்ளது நாற்பது (Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu: Forty Verses on What Is):
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 takes flight. Know [thus].
Here தேடினால் ஓட்டம் பிடிக்கும் (tēḍiṉāl ōṭṭam piḍikkum), ‘If sought, it takes flight’, means that if it tries to attend to itself, it will subside and disappear. This is the crucial and extremely valuable secret that Sri Bhagavan has revealed to us all about the nature of our ego or mind: If we attend to anything other than ourself, our mind will thereby rise and be nourished, whereas if we attend only to ourself, our mind will thereby subside and dissolve in its source.

What exactly do you mean when you write: ‘எண்ணங்கள் தோன்றும் இடம் எது?’ என கூர்ந்து கவனித்தலே (keenly observing ‘what is the place where thoughts rise?’)? What is the இடம் (place) from which all thoughts arise? It is only ourself, because from where else could they arise? In fact we ourself are not only the place from which all thoughts arise but also the place in which they must all subside, which is why Bhagavan says in the sixth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:
[...] நான் என்னும் நினைவு கிஞ்சித்து மில்லா விடமே சொரூபமாகும். [...]

[...] nāṉ eṉṉum niṉaivu kiñcittum illā v-iḍamē sorūpam āhum. [...]

[...] The place [space or state] devoid of even the slightest thought called ‘I’ is svarūpa [our ‘own form’ or essential self]. [...]
Since all thoughts arise only from ourself, investigating from what they arise means investigating only ourself, and we can investigate ourself only by attending to ourself.

Therefore if by ‘எண்ணங்கள் தோன்றும் இடம் எது?’ என கூர்ந்து கவனித்தலே (keenly observing ‘what is the place where thoughts rise?’) you mean தன்னையே கூர்ந்து கவனித்தலே (taṉṉai-y-ē kūrndu gavaṉittal-ē: keenly observing oneself alone), then that is certainly the correct practice of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), as it is clearly defined by Sri Bhagavan in sixteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:
[...] சதாகாலமும் மனத்தை ஆத்மாவில் வைத்திருப்பதற்குத் தான் ‘ஆத்மவிசார’ மென்று பெயர்; [...]

[…] sadā-kālam-um maṉattai ātmāvil vaittiruppadaṯku-t tāṉ ‘ātma-vicāram’ eṉḏṟu peyar; […]

[…] The name ‘ātma-vicāra’ [refers] only to [the practice of] always keeping the mind in [or on] ātmā [self]; […]
Here சதாகாலமும் மனத்தை ஆத்மாவில் வைத்திருப்பது (sadā-kālam-um maṉattai ātmāvil vaittiruppadu) means always keeping our mind fixed in or on self, or in other words, always keeping our attention fixed on ourself. This alone is the correct practice of ஆத்மவிசாரம் (ātma-vicāram).

This is why it is correctly said in many books, பகவான் அருளியபடி ஆத்ம விசாரம் செய்ய நாம் ‘நான்’ என்னும் எண்ணத்தின் மீது கவனம் செலுத்த வேண்டும் (to do ātma-vicāram as taught by Bhagavan we must direct our attention on the thought called ‘I’). As he himself said in the tenth and eleventh paragraphs of Nāṉ Yār?:
[...] சொரூபத்யானத்தை விடாப்பிடியாய்ப் பிடிக்க வேண்டும். [...]

[…] sorūpa-dhyāṉattai viḍā-p-piḍiyāy-p piḍikka vēṇḍum. […]

[…] it is necessary to cling tenaciously to svarūpa-dhyāna [self-contemplation or self-attentiveness]. […]

[...] ஒருவன் தான் சொரூபத்தை யடையும் வரையில் நிரந்தர சொரூப ஸ்மரணையைக் கைப்பற்றுவானாயின் அதுவொன்றே போதும். [...]

[…] oruvaṉ tāṉ sorūpattai y-aḍaiyum varaiyil nirantara sorūpa-smaraṇaiyai-k kai-p-paṯṟuvāṉ-āyiṉ adu-v-oṉḏṟē pōdum. […]

[…] If one clings fast to uninterrupted svarūpa-smaraṇa [self-remembrance] until one attains svarūpa [one’s own essential self], that alone [will be] sufficient. […]
Here சொரூபத்யானம் (svarūpa-dhyāna) and சொரூபஸ்மரணை (svarūpa-smaraṇa) are just alternative ways of describing the practice of self-attentiveness, which is all that ஆன்மவிசாரம் (ātma-vicāram) actually entails.

Therefore, if we want to apply the crucial clue revealed by Sri Bhagavan, we should try to attend only to ‘I’, thereby withdrawing our attention entirely from all other things, because so long as we allow our mind to attend to anything other than ‘I’, it will not subside, whereas when we attend only to ‘I’, it will no longer be able to stand or endure, and hence it will subside in its source, our real self — the foundation or underlying reality that we always actually are.

Friday, 22 August 2014

The featurelessness of self-attentiveness

The friend who had asked the questions that I answered in What do we actually experience in sleep? wrote another email to me in which he asked whether timelessness is also one of the ‘features’ of our featureless experience in sleep, and which he concluded by asking: ‘Do you have a favorite practice that makes sense to share? (I’m still angling for a goodie ;-))’. The following is adapted from my reply to him:

Time and duration are features that we experience in waking and dream, but not in the featureless state of sleep. However, even to say that we experience time and duration in waking and dream requires some clarification: what we actually experience is change, both in our mind and in our body and the physical world around us, and this constant flow of change creates the illusion that we call ‘time’. Therefore since no change occurs in our experience during sleep, the illusion of time is absent there.

Since we do not experience any time in sleep, we do not think either ‘I was’ or ‘I will be’, but only experience ‘I am’ — our own being or existence in the ever-present present moment.

Regarding my favourite practice (and indeed my only practice), it is just self-investigation (ātma-vicāra). Though the practice of ātma-vicāra can be described simply as self-attentiveness — being attentively aware only of ‘I’, ourself — no words or ideas can adequately describe it or explain what it is. Words such as ‘being self-attentive’ are only pointers, because they can only indicate what we should try to do (or rather to be), but cannot adequately convey what the experience of being self-attentive actually is.

Therefore, more than just saying that my favourite practice is trying to be self-attentive, I cannot say anything about it. If I did try to say anything more than this, whatever I might say would fail to convey what I mean, because just as no words can describe or convey the experience of being ‘I’ — the first person or subject, the experiencer of whatever is experienced — so no words can describe or convey the experience that is indicated by the words ‘being self-attentive’ or ‘being aware only of I’.

If we try to describe, or even to conceive, what the actual experience of self-attentiveness is, by our very attempt to do so we will lose it, because we can know it only by experiencing it, and we can experience it only to the extent that thoughts are then absent from our experience. After experiencing an increased clarity of self-awareness, people sometimes try to describe it, but whatever they may describe is not what they actually experienced, because the words in which they describe it are produced by thoughts, and thoughts cannot capture the thought-free experience of clear self-awareness.

Any thought has features, and hence it can only represent or be about something that has features. No thought can adequately represent an experience that has no features, so the featureless experience of self-attentiveness or clear self-awareness is beyond the grasp of any thought (and hence beyond the descriptive power of any words). To the extent that we are experiencing any thought, we are not experiencing ourself as we really are, because what we really are is featureless and hence thought-free.

That is, as I explained in one of my earlier replies, what I essentially am is featureless, so ātma-vicāra is the practice of trying just to be in our natural state of featureless self-awareness, so the only ‘goodie’ I can offer you is to suggest that you investigate what ‘I’ actually is and thereby try just to be the pure featureless self-awareness that you really are. Now we experience ourself — our pure featureless self-awareness — mixed up with extraneous adjuncts such as this body and mind (each of which has multiple features), so to experience ourself as we really are we have to separate ourself from all such adjuncts, which we can do only by focusing our entire attention only on ‘I’.

Because he was asked to describe how as a sixteen-year-old schoolboy he had experienced true self-knowledge, Sri Ramana described how he reacted when he was overcome by a sudden and intense fear of death: turning his attention inwards to discover whether ‘I’ would die when the body dies. However, though he described in words how he thus investigated ‘I’, he emphasised that what he actually experienced could not be adequately described in words, because as soon as his attention turned towards ‘I’, all thoughts ceased and his mind was consumed entirely by absolute clarity of pure self-awareness.

Therefore he described his experience of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) only to indicate to us that we can likewise experience true self-knowledge only by turning our attention away from all other things towards ‘I’ alone. That is, as he did, we should ignore our body as if it were a corpse (that is, we should be as unaware of it as we would be if death had separated us from it) and focus our entire attention on ‘I’ alone, thereby excluding everything else from our awareness. When we manage to do this successfully, we will experience ourself as we really are, and thus our mind or ego (our present adjunct-mixed self-awareness ‘I am this body’) will be destroyed forever, and hence we will never again mistake ourself to be anything other than what we actually are — namely pure self-awareness that, being entirely devoid of adjuncts, is featureless and hence infinite.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Establishing that I am and analysing what I am

In my previous article, We must experience what is, not what merely seems to be, I wrote:
‘I’ definitely does exist, because ‘I’ is what experiences both itself and all other things, so even if all other things merely seem to exist, their seeming existence could not be experienced if ‘I’ did not actually exist to experience it. The existence of ‘I’ is therefore necessarily true, whereas the existence of anything else is not necessarily true, because nothing else experiences either its own existence or the existence of anything else, so though things other than ‘I’ do seem to exist, it is possible that they do not exist except in the experience of ‘I’.
Referring to this paragraph, a friend called Sanjay asked in a comment:
You say here: ‘The existence of ‘I’ is therefore necessarily true…’, but you have also said earlier that: ‘…because ‘I’ is what experiences both itself and all other things…’. Therefore if ‘I’ experiences both itself and all other things then it is our mind, our limited or reflected consciousness, then how can ‘I’ be necessarily true, as you have said earlier in this above paragraph. Should we not consider this ‘I’ to be our imagination, though it is our first imagination – that is, our thought-‘I’?
The aim of this paragraph that Sanjay referred to was only to establish the fact that I am, and was not to analyse what I am. It is of course necessary for us to analyse what I am, because we need to distinguish what I actually am from what I merely seem to be, but the arguments that are used to analyse what I am are different to the arguments that are used simply to establish that I am, whatever I may be. That is, the latter arguments simply establish that something that we experience as ‘I’, ourself, does definitely exist, even though this definitely existing ‘I’ may not be whatever it now seems to be.

The context in which I wrote this paragraph was when discussing the need for us to investigate and experience what actually is rather than what merely seems to be, so I was aiming to establish that the only thing that certainly exists is ‘I’, and that whatever else seems to exist does not certainly exist. I certainly exist, because if I did not exist I could not experience either myself or anything else, whether real or illusory. Other than myself (‘I’) alone, whatever else I experience could be an illusion, but the fact that I exist cannot be an illusion, because in order to experience anything, even an illusion, I must exist.

This is why I wrote: ‘The existence of ‘I’ is therefore necessarily true, whereas the existence of anything else is not necessarily true’. In order to be necessarily true, a thing must experience itself, because if it did not experience itself but were only experienced by something other than itself, it could be just an illusion experienced by that other thing. Therefore, since ‘I’ alone experiences itself, it alone is necessarily true.

However, though it is necessarily true that I am, it does not logically follow from this that it is necessarily true that I am what I now seem to be, because whatever I seem to be (that is, whatever I experience as if it were myself) could be an illusion. In fact, if I experience myself as anything other than ‘I’ alone, whatever it is that I experience as myself is certainly not what I actually am, because I cannot be anything other than ‘I’ alone. Therefore, having logically established that it is necessarily true that I am, we then need to analyse what I am.

I now experience a certain body as if it were myself, but this body is not something that would experience itself if I were not present to experience it, so it seems doubtful whether this body can be what I actually am. Now I experience myself as this body, but in dream I do not experience this body at all, though I still experience that I am. However, as in waking, in dream I do not experience myself as ‘I’ alone, but experience myself as if I were some other body, which at that time seems to be a physical body, just like this present body. Only after I have woken from a dream am I able to recognise that the seemingly physical body that I then experienced as myself was actually just a mental creation, and was therefore not really physical at all.

From our experience of dream we can draw two important conclusions. Firstly, since I experience myself in dream without experiencing the body that I experience as myself in waking, this body of the waking state cannot actually be ‘I’, because if ‘I’ and this body were numerically identical (that is, if they were not two separate things but were one and the same), I could not experience one of them without experiencing the ‘other’ one (because the ‘other’ one would not actually be ‘other’). In other words, I could not experience ‘I’ without experiencing this body if this body were what I actually am. Likewise, I cannot actually be the body that I experienced as myself in a dream, because I now experience myself without experiencing that body.

Secondly, since the body that I experienced as myself in a dream seemed to me at that time to be real and physical, and was recognised by me as being merely an illusory mental creation only after I had woken from that dream, I do not seem to have any adequate reason to suppose that this body that I now experience as myself in this present ‘waking’ state is not likewise merely an illusory mental creation. While dreaming, my dream state seemed to be a state of waking, and the body and world that I then experienced seemed to be real and physical, just as my present state now seems to be a state of waking, and the body and world that I now experience seem to be real and physical. How can I be sure, then, that this present state that now seems to be a state of waking is not actually just another dream? There does not seem to be any evidence available to me that could conclusively prove to me (or that could even show it to be probable) that this is not a dream, or that any similar state that I may experience is not a dream.

Though both of these conclusions that we can draw from our experience of dream are important, the one that concerns us most in the context of our present analysis of what I am is the first of them, namely the conclusion that I cannot be the body that I now experience as myself, because I experience myself in dream without experiencing this body. Therefore my experience that I am this body is an illusion, even though I myself cannot be an illusion.

In this present state (which seems to be a state of waking but could be just another dream) I experience myself not only as this seemingly physical body but also as a seemingly thinking, feeling and experiencing mind. However, I do not experience myself as this mind only in this present state, because in dream I experience myself as this same mind. In fact, in every state in which I experience myself as a body, I also experience myself as this mind. Though the body that I experience as myself in each state is different, the mind that I experience as myself in each such state seems to be essentially the same — even though some of its features, such as some or all of its memories, may be different.

The fact that some of the memories that I experience in a dream may not be identical to those that I now experience is not significant to our present analysis, because even in this present state of seeming waking my memories are constantly changing. Experiences or information that I could remember in the past I may now have forgotten, and new experiences and information are constantly being added to my memory, but the mind that remembers such things is the same. Just because I have now forgotten some of the things that I could remember ten years ago, or because in the meanwhile I have experienced and learnt many new things that have now been added to my memory, we would not say that my mind now is not essentially the same mind as it was ten years ago.

The same applies to other features of my mind that do or may change over time, such as my likes, dislikes, beliefs, hopes or fears, and of course my ever-changing thoughts. Just because some of these features may not be the same as they were ten, twenty or forty years ago, we would not say that my mind now is not essentially the same mind as it was at those times. Likewise, though some of its memories and other features may not be exactly the same in a dream as they are now in this present state, it would be unreasonable to say that the mind that I experience as myself in a dream is not essentially the same mind that I experience as myself in this present state.

Therefore, since I experience the same mind as myself in all the states in which I experience a body as myself, can we conclude that this mind is what I actually am? If I never experienced that I am without experiencing myself as this mind, this mind could perhaps be what I actually am, but since I am essentially unchanging (because whatever I may experience in the past, present or future, it is always the same I that is experiencing it) and since many of the features of this mind are either changing or are liable to change, this entire mind cannot be what I actually am, though perhaps some essential part of it could be what I actually am. That is, since I myself am essentially something that is single, undivided and hence absolutely simple, whereas my mind is a very complex entity, I cannot be this entire mind but could only be some part of it, if at all any part of it were what I actually am.

Before we can decide whether or not any part of this mind is what I actually am, we need to analyse it in order to determine what part of it, if any, could be what I actually am. Sri Ramana has therefore given us a summary analysis of the mind in verse 18 of Upadēśa Undiyār:
எண்ணங்க ளேமனம் யாவினு நானெனு
மெண்ணமே மூலமா முந்தீபற
      யானா மனமென லுந்தீபற.

eṇṇaṅga ḷēmaṉam yāviṉu nāṉeṉu
meṇṇamē mūlamā mundīpaṟa
      yāṉā maṉameṉa lundīpaṟa
.

பதச்சேதம்: எண்ணங்களே மனம். யாவினும் நான் எனும் எண்ணமே மூலம் ஆம். யான் ஆம் மனம் எனல்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): eṇṇaṅgaḷ-ē maṉam. yāviṉ-um nāṉ eṉum eṇṇam-ē mūlam ām. yāṉ ām maṉam eṉal.

English translation: Thoughts alone are mind [or the mind is only thoughts]. Of all [thoughts], the thought called ‘I’ alone is the mūla [the root, base, foundation, origin, source or cause]. [Therefore] what is called mind is [essentially just this root thought] ‘I’.
In this context எண்ணங்கள் (eṇṇaṅgaḷ), which means ‘thoughts’ or ‘ideas’, denotes mental phenomena of any kind whatsoever, and therefore includes all our perceptions, conceptions, ideas, imaginations, memories, beliefs, feelings, emotions, desires, hopes, fears and so on. That is, in the sense in which Sri Ramana used the term, an எண்ணம் (eṇṇam) or thought is anything that I experience other than what I actually am.

Of all the thoughts that we experience, the root or foundation is our primal thought called ‘I’, which is our ego. All other thoughts are perpetually coming and going, whereas this root thought called ‘I’ is constant — that is, it is present as long as the mind is active (in other words, as long as any other thought is present), and it subsides only when all other thoughts have subsided, as in dreamless sleep. Whereas no other thought experiences anything — either itself or any other thought — this root thought ‘I’ experiences both itself and every other thought. In other words, it is the one thought that thinks (creates and experiences) all other thoughts. Whereas all other thoughts are objects experienced by it, this thought called ‘I’ is the one subject that experiences them all, and this is why it must be present in order for any other thought to be experienced. Therefore it alone is the essence of the mind — that is, it is what the mind essentially is.

However, this primal thought called ‘I’ (the ego) is not what I actually am, because it subsides and ceases to exist as such in sleep or whenever all other thoughts subside. Without experiencing some other thought, it cannot stand, so it never exists alone. As Sri Ramana says in the fourth and fifth paragraphs of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?):
[...] மனம் எப்போதும் ஒரு ஸ்தூலத்தை யனுசரித்தே நிற்கும்; தனியாய் நில்லாது. [...]

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

[...] The mind stands only by always going after [attending and thereby attaching itself to] something gross [some thought other than ‘I’]; solitarily it does not stand. [...]

[...] மனதில் தோன்றும் நினைவுக ளெல்லாவற்றிற்கும் நானென்னும் நினைவே முதல் நினைவு. இது எழுந்த பிறகே ஏனைய நினைவுகள் எழுகின்றன. தன்மை தோன்றிய பிறகே முன்னிலை படர்க்கைகள் தோன்றுகின்றன; தன்மை யின்றி முன்னிலை படர்க்கைக ளிரா.

[...] maṉadil tōṉḏṟum niṉaivugaḷ ellāvaṯṟiṯkum nāṉ-eṉṉum niṉaivē mudal niṉaivu. idu eṙunda piṟahē ēṉaiya niṉaivugaḷ eṙugiṉḏṟaṉa. taṉmai tōṉḏṟiya piṟahē muṉṉilai paḍarkkaikaḷ tōṉḏṟugiṉḏṟaṉa; taṉmai y-iṉḏṟi muṉṉilai paḍarkkaikaḷ irā.

[...] Of all the thoughts that appear in the mind, the thought called ‘I’ alone is the first [primal, basic, original or causal] thought. Only after this rises do other thoughts rise. Only after the first person appears do second and third persons appear; without the first person [the primal thought called ‘I’] second and third persons [other thoughts] do not exist.
Since this primal thought called ‘I’ rises, subsists and flourishes only in waking and dream, but subsides and ceases to exist in sleep (and in any other state in which all other thoughts have subsided), it cannot be what I actually am, because in sleep I exist in its absence. Not only do I exist in sleep, but I also experience my existence then, because if I did not experience my own existence and the absence of everything else in sleep, after waking I would not be aware that I had slept or that in sleep I experienced nothing other than myself — in other words, I would not be aware of sleep as a seemingly empty gap that I had experienced between successive states of waking and dream.

Since this primal thought called ‘I’ is not what I actually am, what is its relation to what I actually am, and in what way is it different to what I actually am? It obviously cannot exist independent of what I actually am, because it seems to exist only when I experience it as if it were myself, but it also cannot exist independent of other thoughts. It therefore seems to function as some sort of a link between myself and other thoughts.

As we earlier observed, this primal thought called ‘I’, which is what the mind essentially is, rises and functions only in states (such as waking and dream) in which I experience myself as a body. Without experiencing ourself as a body, we never experience ourself as a mind. Even if we could imagine ourself existing as a mind in some sort of disembodied state, it would be hard (and perhaps even impossible) to imagine being in such a state without having at least some sort of an ethereal body, because without a body of any kind whatsoever, we would not experience ourself having any location in space (either in physical space or in a purely mental space), and without any location in space we could not experience any object other than ourself (either a physical object or a purely mental object such as a thought or a feeling), because without having a separate location in which to appear, nothing would appear to be separate from ourself.

Therefore mental experience (that is, experience of things that seem to be other than ourself) seems to be predicated on the experience of ourself as some sort of a body, whether physical or ethereal. Moreover, postulating a distinction between an ethereal (sūkṣma or subtle) and a physical (sthūla or gross) body is perhaps invalid, because whatever body we currently experience as ourself always seems to be a physical body while we are experiencing it. For example, though we may now consider a body that we experienced as ourself in a dream to be non-physical (purely mental or ethereal), while we were experiencing it it seemed to us to be physical. Likewise, if our present state of seeming waking is actually only another dream, the seemingly physical body that we now experience as ourself is actually not physical but only mental or ethereal.

Since we never experience our mind without experiencing ourself as a body, Sri Ramana often described our primal thought called ‘I’ as the thought ‘I am this body’ (in which ‘this body’ refers to whatever body we currently experience as ourself, whether in waking or in dream). For example, in the first two lines of verse 2 of Āṉma-Viddai he wrote:
ஊனா ருடலிதுவே நானா மெனுநினைவே
நானா நினைவுகள்சே ரோர்நார் [...]

ūṉā ruḍaliduvē nāṉā meṉuniṉaivē
nāṉā niṉaivugaḷsē rōrnār
[...]

பதச்சேதம்: ‘ஊன் ஆர் உடல் இதுவே நான் ஆம்’ எனும் நினைவே நானா நினைவுகள் சேர் ஓர் நார் [...]

Padacchēdam (word-separation): ‘ūṉ ār uḍal idu-v-ē nāṉ ām’ eṉum niṉaivē nāṉā niṉaivugaḷ sēr ōr nār [...]

English translation: The thought ‘this body composed of flesh itself is I’ alone is the one thread on which [all] the various thoughts are strung [...]
Therefore our primal thought called ‘I’ (the ego) is not our pure ‘I’ alone, but our pure ‘I’ mixed with extraneous adjuncts, the first and foremost of which is a body. This is why Sri Ramana described it as a thought. Our pure ‘I’ (that is, what we really are) is not a thought, but the body and other adjuncts with which it now seems to be mixed and confused are thoughts, so the compound experience ‘I am this body’ is a thought.

Because my primal thought called ‘I’ is a confused mixture of myself (‘I’), who am conscious, and a body, which is non-conscious, he often described it as cit-jaḍa-granthi, the knot (granthi) that binds together the conscious (cit) and the non-conscious (jaḍa) as if they were one. In this confused mixture, one element is real while the other is unreal. The real element is what is conscious (cit), namely ‘I am’, whereas the unreal element is what is non-conscious (jaḍa), namely ‘this body’.

What subsides and temporarily ceases to exist in sleep is only the unreal element of this primal thought called ‘I’, namely the body and all other adjuncts that accompany it, and what remains is only its real element, namely ‘I am’. This is why we continue to experience our existence in sleep in spite of the absence of our mind and everything else.

When our pure ‘I am’ (which is what we actually are) exists alone without being mixed with any adjuncts, it does not experience anything other than itself. Even when it seems to be mixed with adjuncts, what then experiences the seeming existence of other things is not this pure ‘I am’ itself but is only the primal thought called ‘I’, which is a confused mixture of the pure ‘I’ and adjuncts. In other words, what experiences all multiplicity and otherness in waking and dream is not what we really are but is only what we then seem to be, namely our mind, which always experiences itself as ‘I am this body’ (whether the body that it currently experiences as ‘I’ happens to this present body or some other dream body).

Therefore Sanjay was correct when he wrote in his comment, ‘if ‘I’ experiences both itself and all other things then it is our mind, our limited or reflected consciousness’, but what he implied when he wrote in the next clause of that sentence, ‘then how can ‘I’ be necessarily true’, was not correct. Even though I now experience myself as this mind and therefore experience things that seem to be other than myself, it is still necessarily true that I am. What is not necessarily true is that I am this body or mind that I now seem to be.

The confusion on which Sanjay’s doubt seems to be based is one that arises when we imagine that there are actually two ‘I’s, a real ‘I’ and a false ‘I’, the latter being our mind or ego. However, this confusion is unnecessary, because there are never two ‘I’s, since I am always one and undivided. The so-called false ‘I’ (the mind or ego) is actually nothing other than the real ‘I’ seeming to be something other than what it always actually is. In other words, whether I experience myself as I actually am or as something else that I merely seem to be, I am always the same ‘I’ — the one and only ‘I’ that exists.

In his comment Sanjay went on to quote another portion from my previous article, namely:
Our mind seems to be self-aware, but the light by which it is aware of itself is not its own light, but is the light that it borrows from ‘I’. That is, the mind ‘shines’ or is aware of itself only when ‘I’ experiences itself as ‘I am this mind’. Though ‘I’ does seem to experience itself as the mind during waking and dream, it does not experience itself as such during sleep, so ‘I’ is actually distinct from the mind, because it shines in sleep in the absence of the mind.
Referring to this he then wrote:
You have said above: ‘Though ‘I’ does seem to experience itself as the mind during waking and dream, it does not experience itself as such during sleep, so ‘I’ is actually distinct from the mind, because it shines in sleep in the absence of the mind. …’. Here you are using ‘I’ in the sense of our pure non-dual self, ‘I am’.

Therefore you equate ‘I’ both to our pure self and our mind. Should we understand it this way? Or should we understand ‘I’ only as our pure self?
In the context of Sri Ramana’s teachings, the word ‘I’ (or ‘self’) may refer either to what we really are (our real self) or to what we now seem to be (our false self), namely our mind or ego, the primal thought called ‘I’. Therefore on each occasion it is used we have to judge from the context what exactly it is referring to. Moreover, there are many occasions in which it does not refer specifically to either one or the other. For example, when Sri Ramana advises us to investigate who am I, the ‘I’ that we are to investigate seems initially to be our mind or ego, but if we investigate it sufficiently thoroughly we will find that it was never actually a mind or ego but was always only what we really are. Therefore we should not try to specify whether the ‘I’ that we should investigate is what we really are or just what we now seem to be.

The reason why this seeming ambiguity is unavoidable is that we actually experience only one ‘I’, so it is essentially the same ‘I’ that we experience whether we experience it as it actually is (which is our pure ‘I’ or real self) or as something that it merely seems to be (which is therefore an adjunct-mixed version of our pure ‘I’). That is, whether I experience myself as I actually am or as something that I merely seem to be, I am always essentially the same ‘I’, and it is always necessarily true that I am, even though I may not be what I now seem to be.

According to Sri Ramana’s experience, what I actually am is infinite and indivisible, so it alone exists and there is nothing other than it for it to experience. Therefore according to his analysis of our present experience, what experiences anything other than itself is not what I actually am but only what I seem to be (namely this mind or ego, our primal thought called ‘I’), and what I seem to be is a mixture of what I actually am and various extraneous adjuncts, the essential base of which is a body, which is itself just a thought and hence unreal.

Therefore what I actually am is neither a body nor a mind, nor is it even the essence of the mind (namely its primal thought called ‘I’, which experiences itself as ‘I am this body’), but is only the essence of the essence of the mind (namely the pure adjunct-free ‘I am’, which is the essential and only real element in the compound experience ‘I am this body’). That is, the essence of the mind is the ego (which experiences itself as ‘I am this body’), and the essence of the ego is what I actually am (which experiences itself without any adjuncts as just ‘I am’).

However, neither logically establishing that I am nor logically analysing what I am can enable us to experience what we actually are, because what engages in such logical reasoning or analysis is only our mind, which is what we now seem to be. Since we cannot reason or analyse anything without experiencing ourself as a mind, no amount of reasoning or analysis can result in our experiencing ourself as we really are. Therefore, in order to experience what I actually am, I must investigate myself by trying to focus my entire attention only on ‘I’ so that I can experience myself in complete isolation from all other things (including any activity such as reasoning or analysis).

Using our power of logical reasoning to establish that I am and to analyse what I am is a useful preliminary to self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), because by establishing that it is necessarily true that I am, whereas it is not necessarily true that anything else is (since the seeming existence of all other things may be illusory), we can convince ourself that investigating and experiencing what I actually am is more important than investigating or experiencing anything else, and because by analysing what I am we can at least conclude that I am not the body or mind that I now seem to be, and thus we can avoid investigating such adjuncts due to the false belief that they are what I actually am.

That is, once we understand clearly that I am not the body or mind that I now seem to be — nor am I even the primal thought called ‘I’ (which is both the essence of the mind and the subject that experiences everything else), because this primal thought (the ego) is a mixture of myself and adjuncts (that is, it is cit-jaḍa-granthi, the knot that binds together the conscious ‘I’ and the non-conscious adjuncts) — we will understand that what we are to investigate is only the essential conscious element in this mixture, namely the ‘I’ bereft of all adjuncts. As Sri Ramana said (as recorded in the final chapter of Maharshi’s Gospel: 2002 edition, p. 89):
[…] The ego is therefore called the cit-jaḍa-granthi. In your investigation into the source of ahaṁ-vṛtti [the ‘I’-occurrence or ego], you take the essential cit [conscious] aspect of the ego; […]
Therefore, analysing what I am will help us to focus our attention accurately on our pure adjunct-free ‘I’ alone and thereby to experience what I actually am.