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).

சாதனை (sadhanai) is a Tamil form of the Sanskrit word sadhana, which in a spiritual context means ‘spiritual practice’ but which more generally means an ‘expedient’ or ‘means to an end’, that is, any means that is adopted to accomplish a particular aim or goal (being derived from the verbal root sadh, which means to ‘go [or lead] straight to a goal’, ‘achieve’, ‘accomplish’, ‘effect’, ‘bring about’ or ‘produce’), and சாரம் (saram) is a Tamil form of the Sanskrit word sara, which means ‘substance’, ‘essence’ or ‘inner core’, or in a literary context a ‘summary’ or ‘epitome’, or the ‘gist’, ‘main point’ or ‘real meaning’ of a subject.

Since people have many different aims — even in a spiritual context (since they espouse many different concepts about the goal or purpose of spiritual or religious endeavour) — they adopt many different practices or sadhanas to achieve whatever goal they are seeking. Therefore in the name of sadhana people do many different forms of meditation, yoga, prayer, worship and other such actions of mind, speech or body.

Each of these actions done in the name of sadhana or ‘spiritual practice’ will no doubt produce some result, but whatever that result may be, is it the real spiritual goal that we should all be seeking? What actually is the real spiritual goal?

One thing that is common to all the many goals or results that we each seek to achieve by all our various spiritual and worldly endeavours is that we regard them as a means to happiness. Ultimately the one goal that we all seek to achieve is to be happy, so the real spiritual goal is happiness — unlimited, unalloyed and everlasting happiness — and only when we achieve such happiness will all our endeavours or sadhanas be fulfilled and finally come to an end.

What is real happiness, and how are we to achieve it? As Bhagavan Sri Ramana has taught us, infinite happiness is our true nature — our own essential self — and our present seeming lack or deficiency of happiness is caused only by our self-ignorance — our lack of clear and certain knowledge about who or what we really are. Therefore he taught us that the one real goal of all spiritual endeavour is only the experience of clear self-knowledge, because only when we know ourself as we really are will we experience the true happiness that we all seek.

Since self-ignorance is the ultimate cause of all forms of unhappiness, a sadhana or ‘means’ can enable us to achieve unalloyed and infinite happiness only if it is able to remove our fundamental self-ignorance. Therefore Sri Ramana taught us that the only true sadhana or ‘spiritual practice’ is atma-vichara — the practice of self-investigation, self-scrutiny or self-attentiveness.

That is, in order to destroy our self-ignorance we must experience ourself as we really are, and we cannot know ourself as we really are without attending to ourself — that is, without keenly and carefully examining or scrutinising ourself with true and all-consuming love to know ‘who am I?’. Only when we withdraw our attention from everything else — from all thoughts, from all objects and from everything that is other than ‘I’ — and focus it keenly and exclusively upon our fundamental self-consciousness, ‘I am’, will we be able to experience ourself without the superimposition of any of the adjuncts that we now mistake to be ourself, such as our body and our thinking mind.

We now mistake ourself to be this body and mind only because we have never tried (or have not yet succeeded in our effort) to know our essential self exclusively — free from even the least consciousness anything other than ‘I’. This self-negligence or habit of ignoring or overlooking our essential self is called pramada (‘negligence’ or ‘carelessness’), and the only means or sadhana by which we can overcome it is vigilant self-attentiveness or self-remembrance, which is the practice of atma-vichara or self-investigation.

This practice of atma-vichara is also called atma-samarpana or self-surrender, because when we investigate and know our real self we will automatically give up or ‘surrender’ our false self, which is our mind or ego, the spurious form of consciousness that experiences itself as ‘I am this body, a person called so-and-so’.

Every religion teaches us that we should deny ourself or surrender ourself to God, but how can we truly surrender or deny ourself when we do not even know what we really are? Until we know ourself as we really are, we cannot know what the ‘self’ is that we should deny or surrender to God.

We can never truly deny or surrender our real self — that which we really are — so the ‘self’ that we are to surrender or efface can only be our false self — that which we are not but merely appear to be. However, we cannot surrender or separate ourself from this false self, our mind or ego, so long as we experience it as ourself. Therefore we can surrender our false self only by experiencing ourself as our real self.

That is, though we may be able to surrender (not completely but at least to a limited extent) the desires and attachments of our false self without knowing our real self, we cannot surrender our false self itself until we experience ourself as we really are. Therefore our self-surrender or self-denial will be complete only when we investigate ‘who am I?’ and thereby know what we really are.

Thus atma-vichara or self-investigation is the only truly effective means or sadhana by which we can surrender ourself to God, and this is why Sri Ramana says in the thirteenth paragraph of Nan Yar? (Who am I?):
Being completely absorbed in atma-nishtha [self-abidance], not giving even the slightest room to the rising of any other chintana [thought] except atma-chintana [self-contemplation or self-attentiveness], alone is giving ourself to God. ...
Our mind or false self rises and sustains itself by thinking — that is, by attending to anything other than itself — so when we focus our entire ‘thought’ or attention upon ourself (our essential self-consciousness, ‘I am’) and thereby exclude all other thoughts, our mind will automatically subside and dissolve into our real self, ‘I am’, which is the ‘ground’ or fundamental consciousness of being that underlies and support its false appearance.

In other words, thought or objective attention is the air that our mind must constantly breathe in order to survive. Therefore, by thinking of (or attending to) anything other than ourself, we are feeding and nourishing our mind, whereas by thinking of (or attending to) ourself alone, we are starving or stifling it, thereby causing it to subside or surrender itself to its underlying reality, our pristine non-dual self-consciousness, ‘I am’.

Therefore, as Sri Ramana teaches in this important passage of Nan Yar?, we can surrender ourself effectively and entirely only by being vigilantly self-attentive and thereby excluding not only all other thoughts but even our thinking mind itself.

Conversely, we can be truly self-attentive — that is, firmly established in the non-dual practice of atma-vichara or atma-nishtha — only to the extent that we surrender or deny ourself by refraining from rising as this thinking mind, which is our false self. Therefore self-investigation and self-surrender are truly one and inseparable, like the two sides of a single piece of paper.

The reason why the one true sadhana or means by which we can know ourself as we really are is sometimes described as atma-vichara or self-investigation and sometimes as atma-samarpana or self-surrender is that the former emphasises its jnana or ‘knowing’ aspect while the latter emphasises its bhakti or ‘love’ aspect. We cannot know ourself as we really are and thereby surrender all that we are not unless we have intense and all-consuming love to experience ourself thus, and our love to experience ourself thus will grow and increase to the extent to which we gain true clarity of self-consciousness by constantly practising self-attentiveness.

Therefore the single sadhana or practice of self-investigation and self-surrender is not only the true jnana yoga or ‘path of knowing’ but is also the pinnacle or culmination of bhakti yoga or the ‘path of devotion’. Since God is our own essential self, we can surrender our false self and merge in him only by investigating and knowing who we really are.

Though there are many different forms of sadhana or spiritual practice, among all of them there is ultimately only one true and essential form, and that is this non-dual practice of atma-vichara or self-investigation, because it is the only sadhana by which we can directly and immediately experience ourself as we really are.

As Sri Ramana once said, though various paths may help to purify our mind and thereby lead us close to the citadel of true self-knowledge, in order to actually enter that citadel we must pass through the only gateway, which is the practice of atma-vichara or self-investigation, because we cannot know ourself as we really are unless we keenly scrutinise ourself with an intense love to discover ‘who am I?’.

That is, though other forms of sadhana may purify our mind and thereby give it the clarity to understand that the only true sadhana or means to self-knowledge is vigilant and keenly penetrating self-attentiveness (as Sri Ramana teaches us in verse 3 of Upadesa Undiyar), no other sadhana can enable us to experience self-knowledge directly, because we cannot know ourself as we really are unless we closely and carefully attend to ourself. Attention, which is our ability to direct our consciousness towards something (or rather, our ability to bring something within the centre of our consciousness), is the only means by which we can know anything, so we can know our essential self only by attending to it — that is, by attending to our fundamental self-consciousness, the consciousness that we always experience as ‘I am’.

Whereas every other form of sadhana is a karma or action, since it involves some form of objective attention — that is, attention to something other than our essential self — the practice of atma-vichara is not an action or ‘doing’ but is only a state of just ‘being’, since it is an absolutely non-objective attention — that is, an attention to nothing other than our essential self, ‘I am’. Since our goal is not any state of action or karma but only the pristine state of absolutely action-free being, we cannot attain it by any kind or any amount of action, but only by refraining completely from all forms of action, which we can do only by our focusing our entire attention upon our essential self, thereby withdrawing it from everything else and causing our mind to subside without action in our natural state of pure self-conscious being.

Therefore this sadhana or practice of self-investigation and self-surrender that Sri Ramana has taught us is truly sadhana sara — the essence, core or cream of all forms of spiritual practice — and hence this collection of verses composed by Sri Sadhu Om on this essential form of spiritual practice is called Sadhanai Saram, the ‘Essence of Spiritual Practice’.

7 comments:

Prashant Jalasutram said...

Micheal Sir,

You are a Star devotee of Guru Ramana Maharshi.

Thanks a lot for uploading 4 new e-books and i am in the process of downloading books.

I came to know about ramana maharshi only after reading your "Happiness and Art of Living" book.

So i will be grateful to you.

May our Guru Ramana Maharshi blessings be with everyone.

Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya
Prasanth Jalasutram
http://www.prashantaboutindia.blogspot.com/

Aruval said...

The only way to thank you for having done all that excellent work is to oppose all "false" lifestyle.
If we would not be able to keep our way of life always on the road of truth we should hand over us to the REAL SELF. And making that effort your wonderful work can help us more and more.
Many many thanks, Michael

Summa said...

Michael,
Thank you for all the work you have done here. It's a great service you render to all Bhagavan's devotees. I have been looking forward to these translations. Many thanks. Many blessings.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for your excellent translations, Michael.

jimrich said...

re: What is real happiness, and how are we to achieve it? As Bhagavan Sri Ramana has taught us, infinite happiness is our true nature — our own essential self — and our present seeming lack or deficiency of happiness is caused only by our self-ignorance — our lack of clear and certain knowledge about who or what we really are.
.... Gee, I wonder if it is even simpler than that? Is it possible that our beliefs and behaviors, based on early childhood conditioning, is the real cause of our unhappiness and loss of our true, original happiness?


Therefore he taught us that the one real goal of all spiritual endeavour is only the experience of clear self-knowledge, (happinses?) because only when we know ourself as we really are will we experience the true happiness that we all seek.

Since self-ignorance (I'd say it's more about bad or unhappy thinking/feeling/beliefs) is the ultimate cause of all forms of unhappiness, a sadhana or ‘means’ can enable us to achieve unalloyed and infinite happiness only if it is able to remove our fundamental self-ignorance. (Our bad thinking/feeling/beliefs) Therefore Sri Ramana taught us that the only true sadhana or ‘spiritual practice’ is atma-vichara — the practice of self-investigation, self-scrutiny or self-attentiveness.
... Which seems to me to be rather long & difficult process when, as I have recently learned, all that is needed is to simply choose to be happy right now and not unhappy - INSTANTLY - not after years and years of meditating, reading, practicing, guruing, seeking, waiting and waiting for the sudden awakening or grace to finally occur. As much as I respect and admire Ramana's method, it seems to me now that I have wasted a lot of time and effort to get what I now have learned to get instantly - simple happiness, not unhappiness - all by just a shift of mind. Now I consider my mind as a reliable and useful friend instead of the ENEMY advaita teaching has suggested. If happiness is our essential nature, why not just decide to be happy right now using our own mind and intentions to get there?
I choose to be happy.

Anonymous said...

Seikh Abdoulaye Dieye
(a contemporary sufi mystic from Senegal)
"when i got here they gave me the book of Ramana Maharshi--
i devoured it like the popcorn you gave me--his truth is my truth, the truth
of all"

Anonymous said...

For Jimrich. the only choice you have is to examine the nature of the chooser.