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:
Grasping form [that is, attaching itself to a body] it comes into existence; grasping form [that is, attending to thoughts or perceptions of a seemingly external world] it stands [or endures]; grasping form it feeds and grows [flourishes or expands]; leaving [one] form it grasps [another] form. If [we] seek [search, investigate, examine or scrutinise it], it will take flight. Know [that this is the nature of this] formless ghost-ego.
That is, since this ego has no form (no finite or separate existence) of its own, it can seemingly come into existence and endure only when we imagine ourself to be a form (a physical body), and it flourishes when we attend to any form (anything that appears to be separate from ourself). In other words, since this ego is thus just a ‘formless ghost’, it can rise, endure and flourish only by ‘grasping form’, and hence when it tries to ‘grasp’ (or attend to) itself, which is not a form, it will subside and disappear.

The truth that Sri Ramana teaches us here can therefore be rephrased thus: our mind or ego is nourished and sustained by attending to anything other than itself, and hence it will be dissolved and destroyed only by attending to itself. This is a fundamental and extremely important truth, which I have described elsewhere as the ‘first law of consciousness’ or ‘first law of the science of self-knowledge’.

In order to trace our ego back to its source, therefore, all that we need do is to scrutinise it keenly and closely, because as soon as we begin to attend to it, it will begin to subside and sink back into the source from which it originated. Thus we can ‘go back the way we came’ only by being vigilantly self-attentive.

You say that when you try to trace your ego back to its source, ‘there is an arresting of thoughts and a feeling near my chest and I am not able to proceed further’. When we attend to our ego, all other thoughts will naturally be arrested, because thoughts can rise and persist only when we think them, so when our mind is fully engaged in attending to itself (its essential thought ‘I’), no other thought can arise.

However, if we experience a feeling near our chest, our attention has obviously been distracted away from ourself towards our body. Since our body, our chest and any physical sensation are all only thoughts, we will not be aware of them when all thoughts have really been arrested.

That is, any feeling near our chest is only an objective experience — something that the knowing subject, ‘I’, experiences as other than itself — and all objective experiences are only thoughts that we form in our mind by our kalpanā-śakti or ‘power of imagination’ (which is otherwise called māyā), so as long as we experience any such objective phenomenon, we are not actually experiencing a state devoid of all thoughts. In the truly thought-free state, we will be conscious of nothing other than our mere being, ‘I am’.

Therefore, in order to ‘proceed further’, whenever we become aware of our body or of any feeling in it — or of anything else other than ‘I’ — we should regain our self-attentiveness by investigating ‘who am I, who am aware of these things?’

The fact that we can free ourself from all thoughts and return to the source (or ‘birthplace’) from which we arose as this ego only by attending vigilantly to ‘I’ is clearly explained by Sri Ramana in the sixth, eleventh, tenth and thirteenth paragraphs of Nan Yar? (Who am I?):
... If other thoughts rise, without trying to complete them [we] should investigate to whom they have occurred. However many thoughts rise, what [does it matter]? As soon as each thought appears, if [we] vigilantly investigate to whom it has occurred, ‘to me’ will be clear [that is, we will be clearly reminded of ourself, to whom each thought occurs]. If [we thus] investigate ‘who am I?’ [that is, if we turn our attention back towards ourself in order to discover who or what we really are], [our] mind will return to its birthplace [our real self, which is the source from which it arose]; [and since we thereby refrain from attending to it] the thought which had risen will also subside. ...

... As and when thoughts arise, then and there [we] should annihilate them all by vichāraṇā [vigilant self-investigation] in the very place [or source] from which they arise. ...

... Without giving room even to the doubting thought, ‘Is it possible to dissolve so many vāsanās [desires to think and experience objective phenomena] and be only as self?’, [we] should cling tenaciously to svarūpa-dhyāna [self-attentiveness]. ...

Being completely absorbed in ātma-niṣṭha [self-abidance], not giving even the slightest room to the rising of any other chintanā [thought] except ātma-chintanā [self-contemplation or self-attentiveness], alone is giving ourself to God. ...
Therefore in practice ‘tracing the ego back to its source’ means only attending vigilantly to our ego or finite sense of ‘I’ in order to make it subside back into our pristine non-dual self-conscious being, ‘I am’, which is the source or ‘birthplace’ from which it originated.

11 comments:

DRPVSSNRAJU said...

First we imagine that we are the body

because of Self-ignorance.Then we

imagine that ego exists and we have

to drive it to the spiritual which is

supposed to be on the right side of

chest but it is not in our

experience.Then we feel we are

stuck and we ask for the help of

another to push our ego into the

spiritual heart so that we get rid

of the ego.All this is imagination

and inner chattering of the mind.

First this inner chattering should

stop before we find

greater,better,higher than the

mind.When such inner chattering

stops you will find suddenly at

home.You are thinking that your

"Self" is distant from you and

you are trying to reach it.The

goal of Self scrutiny is not to reach the Self but to stop the inner chattering which is interfering continuously of the spontaneous revelation of the Self.
This chattering is converting the Self consciousness as object knowing limited consciousness.
No action will unravel the mystery of Self and all action in the form of mental chattering leads us away
from the Self.Where action ceases
like in Self-scrutiny,existence i.e
Self reveals itself.

Akira said...

Then how would you explain this dialogue below between Mrs.Piggott and Bhagavan?

D.: Thoughts cease suddenly, then ‘I-I’ rises up as suddenly and
continues. It is only in the feeling and not in the intellect. Can it
be right?
M.: It is certainly right. Thoughts must cease and reason disappear
for ‘I-I’ to rise up and be felt. Feeling is the prime factor and not
reason.
D.: Moreover it is not in the head but in the right side of the chest.
M.: It ought to be so. Because the heart is there.
D.: When I see outside it disappears. What is to be done?
M.: It must be held tight.
(Talks, 4th February 1935, p.22)


What is the diffrence between your friend's case and Mrs.Piggott's case?

Anonymous said...

Reading about Abhishiktananda and his interior journey.
The struggle between his Christian background and advaita.
Even someone as ripe as he was had
a mighty battle living in freezing conditions and utter poverty to understand and be the self.

Akira said...

Could you clear my doubt? I think this point is important for spiritual practice.

DRPVSSNRAJU said...

The dynamic part of Self are Prana(Breath) and thought.
They are interrelated and if breath stops,thinking stops
and if thinking stops breath stops.They are used in Ashtanga
yoga,Hatha yoga and Kriya yoga.So the dynamic aspect of Self is the foundation for all forms of yoga.

Whereas Self-inquiry is a quest for the source of the "me"
(whence am i) and inquiry(who am i) into the nature of "me" which is nothing but a bundle of thoughts,memories,dead experiences.The inner quest to know the source of the mind
and to abide there is the Art of Self-Inquiry.Truth is revealed
more in the process of Self-Inquiry.When we posit ourselves in the source of the mind i.e source of thought and breath,
there is an experience of absence of mind(Naiva manasam
as Bhagawan calls it i.e a state of no mind.With Self-Inquiry
we shall know the living truth,an attempt to reach the truth
through thought i.e mental activity is the very denial of truth.
Thinking is a process of going away from the Self.In yoga
they subdue prana so that thought activity subsides paving the way for recognizing the Self.In Self-Inquiry we are
aware of thought,emotion,feelig which compel us to think
about ourselves.The very awareness subdues the thought
process.In Self-Inquiry we understand what we are.
There is no attempt to change it.That very awareness
transforms what we are.In Self-Inquiry there is conscious union of "pure ego" with "Pure consciousness".
In Self-Inquiry we use the tool of "awareness" and we are
blessed with the capacity to see the essential which is eternal.Then pure consciousness remains and limitations become extinct.So in Self-Inquiry we don't use the tools
of the dynamic aspects of Self i.e Prana(breath) and
thought(mind) to recognize our nature of "Pure conscious
being".

Anonymous said...

To Akira,

Reg" your comment between Mrs Piggot and Bhagavan as to the pulling feeling to the right side of chest.

I have always had that pulling feeling in the right side of my chest. It gets intensified when I sleep. It can be unbearable at times when I sleep. I am sure it happens to a lot of people like Mrs. Piggot.

Anonymous said...


Rajiv Kapur,Dr Luthar,Robert Adams speak about the heart at the right

Anonymous said...

Please, do not try to stop your thoughts, it is the best way to go crazy, it is very dangerous. Let them come and go without paying attention to them.
The guy who transcript Maharshi transcript was not very effective... to understand the process very good, read UG Krishnamurti first, you will understand after what Maharshi is saying.

Michael James said...

Anonymous, Bhagavan never asked anyone to try to stop thoughts, because he explained that that would be a futile effort, since the one who tries to stop thoughts is the ego, which is itself just a thought — the primal thought called ‘I’, which is the root of all other thoughts. So long as we experience ourself as this ego, if we try to stop thoughts we will be attending to them and thereby sustaining the illusion that we are this ego.

Therefore Bhagavan taught us that we should try to attend to ourself alone, and thereby ignore everything else. Since the ego rises and endures only by attending to anything other than itself, if we try to attend to ourself alone, our ego will subside, and along with it all its thoughts will also subside. Therefore if we try to attend to nothing other than ourself, all thoughts will stop automatically, whereas if we try to stop all thoughts, we will actually be sustaining both them and their root, the ego.

You suggest that we should let thoughts ‘come and go without paying attention to them’, but if we do not pay any attention to them, they will not come, because they cannot exist unless we attend to them. However, how are we to avoid paying attention to them? The only way is to attend to ourself alone, because according the Bhagavan everything other than ourself is just a thought or idea.

Ramakrishnan said...

Michael, I came across your blog only recently. You are doing/done an excellent job in spreading Bhagawan's teachings. My problem is: How do I practically do self-Investigation as taught by Bhagwan? Though I am aware of the theoretical part, would like to have practical tips on how to exactly proceed. What is "inward looking" exactly? How do I look inward? suppose, if I sit to do self-investigation. How do I start? From where? It is said concentrate on self. But how do I do that? If I am asked to concentrate on an external object, I could do. But how do I practically concentrate on my self? Grateful for practical tips.

anma-jnanam said...

Michael,
may I ask if you are in full agreement with what DRPVSNNRAJU said in both of his comments of July 2009 and June 2010 ?