Thursday, 29 October 2009

Japa of ‘I am’ as an aid to self-attentiveness

After I wrote my previous article, ‘Holy indifference’ and the love to be self-attentive, a series of interesting comments have been posted on it discussing the use of japa (repetition) as an aid to the practice of self-attentiveness. In the most recent comment in this series Hans wrote:

... To me it is important to understand the connection between japa which is an object and “I am”. As I do experience, the “me” practicing japa vanishes and some silent apperception of being appears which I am unable to describe. I suppose this is still another subtle object, however I can’t proceed any further. May be Michael will clear up this state of affairs. ...
Other than our pure and absolutely non-dual self-consciousness ‘I am’, everything that we experience is ‘still another subtle object’, as Hans rightly calls it.

That is, so long as we experience ourself as an individual (a mind or separate consciousness) who is practising self-attentiveness (trying to know ‘who am I?’), we have not yet experienced ‘I am’ in its absolutely pristine form (because when we do experience it thus our mind will be destroyed forever), so whatever we experience while practising is ‘still another subtle object’ — a subtle thought experienced by a separate thinking consciousness.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

‘Holy indifference’ and the love to be self-attentive

In reply to a friend who wrote to me asking for some advice concerning the psychological effects of some health problems that he was experiencing, I wrote as follows:

Whatever we experience in our outward life as a body-bound mind or ego, we are destined to experience for a purpose, and the ultimate purpose behind all that we experience is for us to learn the essential lesson of detachment.

Nothing that we experience — other than ‘I am’ — is real or lasting. It is all just a fleeting appearance, as are the body and mind that we mistake to be ourself. But so long as we attend to these fleeting appearances — that is, so long as we allow them to encroach in our consciousness — their seeming reality will be sustained and nourished.

Therefore, if we wish to rest peacefully in and as our essential being, ‘I am’, we must learn to ignore all appearances, and we can ignore them only by being completely indifferent to them (‘holy indifference’, as the Christian mystics call it). That is, only when we are truly indifferent to everything else, knowing it all to be just a fleeting dream, will we have the strength to cling firmly to ‘I am’ alone.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Thinking, free will and self-attentiveness

The following is a reply that I recently wrote to a friend:

Regarding your final sentence, ‘We are only given the thoughts that we are allowed to have, and we can only act from the thoughts we are given’, who gives us the thoughts that we are allowed to have? Nothing really comes from outside ourself, so whatever we are ‘given’ to think must come from within.

The truth is that all thinking is done only by our mind, the spurious form of consciousness that experiences itself as ‘I am this body, a person called so-and-so’, but there are two forces that impel our mind to think whatever it thinks.

One of these two forces is our destiny or prarabdha, which is the ‘fruit’ or consequences of our past actions that God has selected and ordained for us to experience in this lifetime, because in order to experience our prarabdha it is necessary for us to think certain thoughts and do certain actions. For example, if we are destined to do a certain job, our prarabdha will impel us to think all the thoughts and do all the actions that are necessary to get that job, such as studying for the required qualifications, applying for the job and answering the questions that we are asked at the interview.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Self-attentiveness is nirvikalpa – devoid of all differences or variation

A friend recently wrote to me suggesting:

... Indeed Nan Yar? contains everything we need to know and I would be very grateful if you would do translation for mumukshu, giving roman transliteration of every word according to the dictionary (minimum two words which fit in this context) and indicate why you use such and such a word when we could use other (I mean non-trivial words). I don’t know Tamil, that’s why I say such translation is very good for mumukshu. I like your translation but it’s still arbitrary. Giving transliteration you enable all people with different vasanas to create their own translation.
In the same e-mail he wrote about a ‘really great and powerful master who doesn’t speak much but is teaching through experience’, saying that this master ‘advises atma-cintana and if someone can’t he tells to do svarupa-dhyana or mantra japa etc.’ He also wrote that ‘There’s no difference of experience if we use atma-vicara, pranayama or other techniques’, and that ‘I found that Bhagavan used the name atma-vicara and svarupa dhyana, atma cintana to indicate different stages of practice’.

In reply to this e-mail I wrote as follows:

Sunday, 12 July 2009

‘Tracing the ego back to its source’

A friend recently wrote to me asking:

I am stuck at a point where I feel I need help ... While reading Sri Ramana Maharshi’s work and Talks, there is this constant mention of tracing the ego back to the source. When I try to do it there is an arresting of thoughts and a feeling near my chest and I am not able to proceed further. I will be very grateful if you could suggest something in this regard.
In reply to this I wrote as follows:

What exactly does ‘tracing the ego back to the source’ mean? To answer this question we must first understand how the ego left its source, because as Sri Ramana sometimes used to say, we must ‘go back the way we came’, and before we can do that, we must understand what ‘the way we came’ actually is.

In verse 25 of Ulladu Narpadu Sri Ramana explains how the ego rises from its source (our real self), how it remains away from its source, and how it will eventually subside back into its source:

Saturday, 11 July 2009

‘Just sitting’ (shikantaza) and ‘choiceless awareness’

A friend recently wrote to me as follows:

I have been reading chapter 9 (Self-Investigation) of your book Happiness and the Art of Being.

What you describe regarding the practice of atma-vichara as advocated by Ramana Maharishi, I interpret as being very similar to the practice of choice-less awareness, or shikantaza, as it is commonly referred to by Zen practitioners.

The significant difference between the two techniques is that I, as a Zen practitioner, am trained to use the power of attention in order to step back from ‘I’ thoughts and ‘I’ feelings. And thereby effectively return to the abiding silence.

The self-investigation technique in contrast uses the question, who?, whose?, where? etc in order to disentangle from ‘I’ thoughts and ‘I’ feelings, effectively returning to the abiding silence (and yes, I understand that you prefer to define self-investigation as the practice of being nothing other than oneself and not a process of mental questioning).

Some ‘I’ thoughts and feelings are so very powerful that challenging the validity of the ‘I’ by directly asking who? whose? where?, may very well be a more potent technique for disentangling from the ‘I’ chain, thereby returning to the abiding silence.
In reply to this I wrote as follows:

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Svarupa-dhyana and svarupa-darsana

A friend recently wrote to me asking:

Does svarupa-dhyana, atma-chintana and atma-smarana mean focusing attention on the first thought ‘I am’, consciousness of being? I mean, is it concentration on being, staying without thoughts but still aware of external world? If so, svarupa-darshana is different experience and is the same as kevala nirvikalpa samadhi. Isn’t it?
Here the mention of ‘svarupa-darshana’ and ‘external world’ appears to be a reference to the third paragraph of Nan Yar? (Who am I?), in which Sri Ramana says:
If [our] mind, which is the cause of all [objective] knowledge and of all activity, subsides [completely], [our] perception of the world (jaga-dṛṣṭi) will cease. Just as knowledge of the rope, which is the base [that underlies and supports the appearance of the snake], will not arise unless knowledge of the imaginary snake ceases, svarūpa-darśana [true knowledge of our essential self], which is the base [that underlies and supports the appearance of the world], will not arise unless [our] perception of the world, which is an imagination, ceases.
In reply to this friend I wrote as follows:

Yes, terms such as ātma-vichāra, svarūpa-dhyāna, svarūpa-smaraṇa and ātma-chintana (which are various terms that Sri Ramana uses in Nan Yar?) all mean self-attentiveness — the focusing of our entire attention upon ourself, our essential consciousness of being, ‘I am’.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Atma-vichara and metta bhavana (‘loving-kindness’ meditation)

A friend recently wrote to me asking:

I’ve got a question concerning atma-vichara in relation to some meditation techniques.

Before I came across Sri Bhagavan's teachings I practised some form of Buddhist meditation which is called ‘metta’ or loving-kindness meditation. In this meditation one develops the feelings of love and care, starting with oneself and expanding the range step by step to include teachers, friends and finally all living beings.

I never regarded myself as a Buddhist but nevertheless I still find this form of meditation very helpful and beneficial. That's why I do a daily loving-kindness meditation for about 45-60 minutes.

I also find that this is a help when I try to practice atma-vichara because self-attention seems to be easier with a mind which is not so noisy and turbulent.

Through reading and reflecting on Sri Bhagavan’s teachings I know that the only practice which leads to final liberation and experience of true self-knowledge is atma-vichara or self-abidance.

I also think that my other practice will naturally drop away when I get more experienced in atma-vichara. But as a beginner I find it difficult to practice self-attention, especially when there are difficult emotions, plenty of thoughts and the stress of day-to-day life.

My question is if this kind of sitting meditation is contradictory to practising self-attention or can even be a hindrance.
In reply to this I wrote as follows:

The only practice that will enable us directly to experience ourself as we really are and thereby destroy our mind is the action-free non-dual practice of ātma-vichāra or self-attentiveness. All other practices or forms of meditation are only mental activities, because they each involve our paying attention to something other than ‘I’ (which means that our attention is moving away from ourself towards whatever other thing we are thinking of), and hence they cannot enable us to experience our real action-free (thought-free) self.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Staying with ‘I am’

A friend recently wrote to me asking:

The path is so subtle ... how to understand this? Ramana Maharshi mentions concentrating on the right side of the chest. Is this for the merest novice? If one takes this path, will one have to unlearn that “anchor” to just stay with the sense ‘I am’.

Nisargadatta mentions staying with the ‘I am’ and looking at it with affection.

To witness the ‘I am’, does that mean just “to be” not “this or that” and watch thoughts go by without getting emotionally involved. Is that staying with the ‘I am’?

Some pointer or direction is needed.
To this I replied as follows:

As you say, the path is very subtle, but it is also very simple, because all it involves is the effort to be clearly self-conscious, which is our natural state.

Sri Ramana never actually asked anyone to concentrate their attention on the right side of the chest. This is a major misunderstanding. On many occasions he clarified that what he meant by the word ‘heart’ (ullam in Tamil or hridayam in Sanskrit) was only self (atman), which is consciousness (chit), and not any organ in the body, which is non-conscious (jada). Therefore when he said, for example, that we should make the mind subside and merge in the heart, he did not mean that we should merge in any part of this body, but only that we should merge and lose our separate identity in self.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Sadhanai Saram – The Essence of Spiritual Practice (sadhana)

As I had intimated in several of my recent articles, today I have uploaded the following four new e-books to the Books section of my website:

I have also uploaded a PDF copy of La Félicité et l'Art d'Etre – Chapitre 1, ‘Qu’est-ce que la Félicité?’, which is a French translation of the first chapter of Happiness and the Art of Being, ‘What is Happiness?’.

The following is an extract from the introductory page that I wrote for Sadhanai Saram:

சாதனை சாரம் (Sadhanai Saram), the ‘Essence of Spiritual Practice’, is a collection of several hundred Tamil verses composed by Sri Sadhu Om on the subject of the practice of atma-vichara (self-investigation) and atma-samarpana (self-surrender).

Friday, 26 June 2009

Upadesa Tanippakkal – an explanatory paraphrase

In continuation of my previous six articles, which were explanatory paraphrases of Upadesa Undiyar, Ulladu Narpadu, Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham, Ekatma Panchakam, Appala Pattu and Anma-Viddai (Atma-Vidya), the following is the last of seven extracts from the introductory page that I have drafted for Sri Ramanopadesa Noonmalai (an e-book copy of which I will be uploading to the Books section of my website within the next few days, along with e-book copies of Sri Arunachala Stuti Panchakam, Sadhanai Saram and Part Two of The Path of Sri Ramana):

Besides these six poems that form உபதேச நூன்மாலை (Upadesa Nunmalai), there are a total of twenty-seven separate verses of upadesa (spiritual teaching) that Sri Ramana composed, which are not included in the Upadesa Nunmalai section of ஸ்ரீ ரமண நூற்றிரட்டு (Sri Ramana Nultirattu), the Tamil ‘Collected Works of Sri Ramana’, but which could appropriately be included there.

However, as I explain in the introduction that I wrote for this English translation of Sri Ramanopadesa Noonmalai, which is contained in the printed book and in the e-book copy of it (and also in a separate article in my blog, Sri Ramanopadesa Nunmalai – English translation by Sri Sadhu Om and Michael James), Sri Sadhu Om gathered these twenty-seven verses together and arranged them in a suitable order to form a work entitled உபதேசத் தனிப்பாக்கள் (Upadesa-t-tani-p-pakkal), the ‘Solitary Verses of Spiritual Teaching’, and he included this work at the end of his Tamil commentary on Upadesa Nunmalai, which is a book called ஸ்ரீ ரமணோபதேச நூன்மாலை – விளக்கவுரை (Sri Ramanopadesa Nunmalai – Vilakkavurai).

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Anma-Viddai (Atma-Vidya) – an explanatory paraphrase

In continuation of my previous five articles, which were explanatory paraphrases of Upadesa Undiyar, Ulladu Narpadu, Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham, Ekatma Panchakam and Appala Pattu, the following is the sixth of seven extracts from the introductory page that I have drafted for Sri Ramanopadesa Noonmalai:

ஆன்ம வித்தை (Anma-Viddai), the ‘Science of Self’, also known as Atma-Vidya Kirtanam, the ‘Song on the Science of Self’, is a Tamil song that Sri Ramana composed on 24th April 1927 in answer to the request of Sri Muruganar.

That is, Sri Muruganar composed the pallavi and anupallavi (refrain and sub-refrain) of a kirtana (song), in which he said that atma-vidya (the science and art of self-knowledge) is extremely easy, and he then asked Sri Ramana to complete the kirtana by composing the charanas (verses). Sri Ramana accordingly composed the charanas, in which he emphatically confirmed the truth that atma-vidya is extremely easy.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Appala Pattu – an explanatory paraphrase

In continuation of my previous four articles, which were explanatory paraphrases of Upadesa Undiyar, Ulladu Narpadu, Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham and Ekatma Panchakam, the following is the fifth of seven extracts from the introductory page that I have drafted for Sri Ramanopadesa Noonmalai:

அப்பளப் பாட்டு (Appala-p-pattu), the ‘Appalam Song’, is a Tamil song that Sri Ramana composed for his mother one day in about 1914 or 1915, when she asked him to help her make some appalams (a thin crisp wafer made of gram flour and other ingredients, also known as parpata, pappadam, poppadum or pappad, which can either be fried or toasted over a naked flame or in hot embers). He responded by composing this song, in which he compares each of the ingredients, implements and actions required to make an appalam to the qualities and practices required for us to experience true self-knowledge.

In the pallavi or refrain (which completes the meaning of the anupallavi and each of the four verses) he simply says, ‘Making appalam, see; eating it, fulfil [or destroy] your desire’. The appalam that he asks us to prepare is the appalam of true self-knowledge, and what he asks us to see is who we really are. By eating this appalam — that is, by experiencing true self-knowledge — we will satisfy our hunger for infinite happiness, and thus we will destroy all our other desires, which are all just distorted forms of our fundamental desire for real happiness.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Ekatma Panchakam – an explanatory paraphrase

In continuation of my previous three articles, Upadesa Undiyar – an explanatory paraphrase, Ulladu Narpadu – an explanatory paraphrase and Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham – an explanatory paraphrase, the following is the fourth of seven extracts from the introductory page that I have drafted for Sri Ramanopadesa Noonmalai:

ஏகான்ம பஞ்சகம் (Ekanma Panchakam), the ‘Five Verses on the Oneness of Self’, is a poem that Sri Ramana composed in February 1947, first in Telugu, then in Tamil, and later in Malayalam.

The word ஆன்மா (anma) is a Tamil form the Sanskrit word atman, which means ‘self’, and hence in the title ஏகான்ம பஞ்சகம் (Ekanma Panchakam) the compound word ஏகான்ம (ekanma) means ‘the one self’, ‘self, the one’ or (by implication) ‘the oneness of self’, and பஞ்சகம் (panchakam) means a ‘set of five [verses]’. Thus this title implies not only that self is only one (and not many), but also that self is the only one (that is, the only one existing reality), which is the true import of this poem, since in verse 5 Sri Ramana clearly states that self is the only ever-existing and self-shining reality.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham – an explanatory paraphrase

In continuation of my previous two articles, Upadesa Undiyar – an explanatory paraphrase and Ulladu Narpadu – an explanatory paraphrase, the following is the third of seven extracts from the introductory page that I have drafted for Sri Ramanopadesa Noonmalai:

உள்ளது நாற்பது – அனுபந்தம் (Ulladu Narpadu – Anubandham), the ‘Supplement to Forty [Verses] on That Which Is’, is a collection of forty-one Tamil verses that Sri Ramana composed at various times during the 1920’s and 1930’s.

The formation of this work began on 21st July 1928, when Sri Muruganar asked Sri Ramana to write a text to ‘reveal to us the nature of reality and the means by which we can attain it so that we may be saved’ (மெய்யின் இயல்பும் அதை மேவும் திறனும் எமக்கு உய்யும்படி ஓதுக [meyyin iyalbum atai mevum tiranum emakku uyyumpadi oduka], which are words that Sri Muruganar records in his payiram or prefatory verse to Ulladu Narpadu). At that time Sri Muruganar had collected twenty-one verses that Sri Ramana had composed at various times, and he suggested that these could form the basis of such a text.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Ulladu Narpadu – an explanatory paraphrase

In continuation of my previous article, Upadesa Undiyar – an explanatory paraphrase, the following is the second of seven extracts from the introductory page that I have drafted for Sri Ramanopadesa Noonmalai:

உள்ளது நாற்பது (Ulladu Narpadu), the ‘Forty [Verses] on That Which Is’, is a Tamil poem that Sri Ramana composed in July and August 1928 when Sri Muruganar asked him to teach us the nature of the reality and the means by which we can attain it.

In the title of this poem, the word உள்ளது (ulladu) is a verbal noun that means ‘that which is’ or ‘being’ (either in the sense of ‘existence’ or in the sense of ‘existing’), and is an important term that is often used in spiritual or philosophical literature to denote ‘reality’, ‘truth’, ‘that which is real’ or ‘that which really is’. Hence in a spiritual context the meaning clearly implied by ulladu is atman, our ‘real self’ or ‘spirit’.

Though நாற்பது (narpadu) means ‘forty’, Ulladu Narpadu actually consists of a total of forty-two verses, two of which form the mangalam or ‘auspicious introduction’ and the remaining forty of which form the nul or main ‘text’.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Upadesa Undiyar – an explanatory paraphrase

As I mentioned in my previous article, Sri Arunachala Stuti Panchakam – an overview, I am currently preparing to upload four new e-books to the Books section of my website, namely Sri Arunachala Stuti Panchakam, Sri Ramanopadesa Noonmalai, Part Two of The Path of Sri Ramana and Sadhanai Saram, and I am drafting introductory pages for each of these.

The second of these four new e-books, Sri Ramanopadesa Noonmalai (ஸ்ரீ ரமணோபதேச நூன்மாலை), is an English translation by Sri Sadhu Om and me of உபதேச நூன்மாலை (Upadesa Nunmalai), the ‘Garland of Texts of Spiritual Teachings’, which is the second section of ஸ்ரீ ரமண நூற்றிரட்டு (Sri Ramana Nultirattu), the Tamil ‘Collected Works of Sri Ramana’, and which is a collection of the six principal philosophical poems that Sri Ramana composed, namely உபதேச வுந்தியார் (Upadesa Undiyar), உள்ளது நாற்பது (Ulladu Narpadu), உள்ளது நாற்பது – அனுபந்தம் (Ulladu Narpadu – Anubandham), ஏகான்ம பஞ்சகம் (Ekanma Panchakam), அப்பளப் பாட்டு (Appala Pattu) and ஆன்ம வித்தை (Anma-Viddai).

The following is the first of seven extracts from the introductory page that I have drafted for Sri Ramanopadesa Noonmalai that I will be posting here during the next few weeks:

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Sri Arunachala Stuti Panchakam – an overview

I am currently preparing to upload four new e-books to the Books section of my website, namely Sri Arunachala Stuti Panchakam, Sri Ramanopadesa Noonmalai, Part Two of The Path of Sri Ramana and Sadhanai Saram, and I am drafting introductory pages for each of these. The following is an extract from the introductory page that I have drafted for Sri Arunachala Stuti Panchakam:

ஸ்ரீ அருணாசல ஸ்துதி பஞ்சகம் (Sri Arunachala Stuti Panchakam), the ‘Five Hymns to Sri Arunachala’, which is a collection of the principal devotional songs composed by Sri Ramana, is the first section of ஸ்ரீ ரமண நூற்றிரட்டு (Sri Ramana Nultirattu), the Tamil ‘Collected Works of Sri Ramana’. The following are the five main songs that comprise it:

  1. ஸ்ரீ அருணாசல அக்ஷரமணமாலை (Sri Arunachala Aksharamanamalai), the ‘Bridal Garland of Letters to Sri Arunachala’, is a song composed in the metaphorical language of bridal mysticism or madhura bhava (the affectionate attitude of a girl seeking union with her lover, the lord of her heart) and consists of 108 couplets, each of which begins with a consecutive letter of the Tamil alphabet and ends with a vocative case-form of the name ‘Arunachala’.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Ekatma Vivekam – the kalivenba version of Ekatma Panchakam

Sri Ramana composed many of his Tamil works — such as Ulladu Narpadu, Ekatma Panchakam, Devikalottara – Jnanachara-Vichara-Padalam, Atma Sakshatkara Prakaranam, Bhagavad Gita Saram and Atma Bodham — in a four-line poetic metre called venba, which contains four feet in each of the first three lines and three feet in the fourth line.

Since devotees used to do regular parayana or recitation of his works in his presence, he converted each of the six works mentioned above (that is, each of his works in venba metre except Sri Arunachala Pancharatnam) into a single verse in kalivenba metre by lengthening the third foot of the fourth line of each verse and adding a fourth foot to it, thereby linking it to the next verse and making it easy for devotees to remember the continuity while reciting. Since the one-and-a-half feet that he thus added to the fourth line of each verse may contain one or more words, which are usually called the ‘link words’, they not only facilitate recitation but also enrich the meaning of either the preceding or the following verse.

Since Sri Ramana formed the kalivenba version of உள்ளது நாற்பது (Ulladu Narpadu) by linking the forty-two verses into a single verse, the term நாற்பது (narpadu) or ‘forty [verses]’ is not appropriate for it, so he renamed it உபதேசக் கலிவெண்பா (Upadesa Kalivenba). Likewise, since he formed the kalivenba version of ஏகான்ம பஞ்சகம் (Ekanma Panchakam) by linking the five verses into a single verse, the term பஞ்சகம் (panchakam) or ‘set of five [verses]’ is not appropriate for it, so he renamed it ஏகான்ம விவேகம் (Ekanma Vivekam).

Friday, 17 April 2009

Why to write about self?

A question that I am asked quite frequently is why I take so much trouble to write about the nature of self and the means by which we can know ourself as we really are, when all that we really need to do is just to be vigilantly self-attentive. For example, a friend wrote to me recently asking:

If we are Infinite Self (Being), without qualities and interests, wherefrom comes the urge or interest to engage in so much writing on the subject of the Self.

If the mind is a myth, is then also all your writing a myth? We can say yes, but this ultimate myth (concept) of Self will destroy all other myths and concepts.

Is then your desire to write so much on the subject of the Self, satisfying your spiritual need, or is a consequence of your compassion for deceived suffering souls?
The following is the reply that I wrote:

Yes, the mind is certainly a myth, māyā, a figment of our self-deceiving power of imagination. Therefore our whole mind-centred life is also just a myth, as is our writing or any other activity that we may do. In fact everything that this unreal mind experiences is a myth, except for its fundamental knowledge ‘I am’, which alone is real.

Why then should there be any urge to write about self and the means to know it as it really is?

Thursday, 16 April 2009

How to start practising atma-vichara?

A friend wrote to me recently asking:

How to start with atma vichara?? Some says, “look at your thoughts”, some says, “see from where it occurs”, some says “see who does all this” — what in this is to be followed??? doesnt the one sees is also mind???

Even though always the grace of guru is showered, why is that we cannot have atma vichara always???

Please kindly clarify me in the approach of atma vichara because I many times doubt whether the way of vichara that I do is right.
The following is the reply that I wrote:

Ātma-vichāra is not looking at any thought other than our primal thought ‘I’, which thinks all other thoughts.

All other thoughts are anātma (non-self), anya (other than ourself) and jaḍa (non-conscious), and hence we cannot know our real self by looking at them. We are constantly looking at our thoughts throughout our waking and dream states, but we do not thereby know our real self. In fact, our attention to thoughts is the obstacle that obscures our knowledge of ourself, because we can attend to thoughts only when we experience ourself as this thinking mind.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Atma-vichara – the practice of 'looking at' or 'seeking' ourself

A friend wrote to me recently asking:

I was wondering if you are familiar with John Sherman (http://www.riverganga.org/) and his teaching and if you think what he says is the same as what you are saying self-inquiry is? John constantly says what he is teaching is to simply look at yourself. I asked you once before about “The Most Rapid and Direct Means to Eternal Bliss,” at that time you had indicated that the approach was the same as what you were saying on your blog and in your book.
The following is adapted from the reply that I wrote:

I had not heard of John Sherman until I read your mail, but I just now looked at his website and read part of one transcript, A Worldwide Meeting with John Sherman - November 1, 2008. To be honest I was not very impressed by what I read, because it appears to me that he does not have a truly deep or subtle understanding of Sri Ramana’s teachings.

For example, in one passage in this transcript he says:

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

What is self-attentiveness?

A couple of weeks ago a person called Jon posted the following comment on one of my recent articles, Self-attentiveness and time:

I’m having a hard time understanding exactly what Self-attentiveness is. I just don’t see where the ‘attentiveness’ part comes from. The way I understand it Self-attentiveness is the practice of simply remaining without thought while not falling asleep (being keen and vigilant to prevent any thoughts from rising). However, as I noticed, Sri Ramana says this isn’t so because if this were the case, one could simply practice pranayama [breath-restraint], and Sri Ramana said that the effect of this was only a temporary subsidence of mind and not the annihilation of it. So getting back to my question, what am I supposed to be attentive to? Self. Well what is Self? Self is the I thought. Unfortunately, I can’t find this I thought anywhere! How am I to be attentive to it? Please elaborate. As I said earlier, the way I understand Self-attentiveness currently is simply being keen and vigilant not to let any thoughts rise. Yet I don’t think that when I remain without thoughts I am being self-attentive, because when I remain without thought I am actually not paying attention to anything! (I believe) Yet, isn’t the goal of self-attentiveness merely to destroy all thoughts? Can’t I do that without focusing on some obscure “Self”? Am I supposed to be additionally Self-attentive? If so, can you please really break it down for me so that there is absolutely no doubt as to whether I’m doing it right?
In reply to this, an anonymous friend wrote another comment:
“Am I supposed to be additionally Self-attentive? If so, can you please really break it down for me so that there is absolutely no doubt as to whether I’m doing it right?”

With reference to the above comment of John, I might state that self-attentiveness and eschewing thoughts would constitute a unitary process, there being no additional self-attentiveness over and above not paying attention to thoughts.
Jon replied to this answer in his second comment, in which he wrote:
Thank you anonymous for your comment. Just to be clear, you’re saying that the sole purpose of self-attentiveness is to ignore thoughts, therefore if I simply ignore thoughts I would be Self-attentive? Michael’s opinion on this would be greatly appreciated as well.