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.

25 comments:

Sanjay Lohia said...

Sir, you have quoted in this article verse 25 of Ulladu Narpadu, which contains a very important teaching of Bhagavan. It says:

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].

We are regularly reminded by some of our friends to the effect: ‘whenever any thoughts come to your mind, you should immediately question: who has this thought? ‘Me’ will be the answer. You should again question: who am I? This is the process of self-enquiry which Bhagavan expects us to do.’
In view of verse 25 of Ulladu Narpadu, the above advice of our friends seems ridiculous. Let us examine how.

Until and unless we have attained manonasa or are in a state of manolaya, our ego is always alive and active and is constantly producing and experiencing thoughts, however attenuated these may be. Therefore, even if it were practical to question mentally our each and every thought by questions such as ‘who has this thought; who am I’, will we not be just making our mind or ego endure or flourish by this process?

Each thought is a form, therefore thoughts such as ‘who am I’ is also a form. Therefore if we try to think such thoughts constantly, we will only be making our mind stay afloat, instead of making it subside ‘in its source, our real self – the foundation or underlying reality that we always actually are’.

Thanking you and pranams.

Anonymous said...

Please correct me if I am wrong but
"Who am I" should not be a mental activity, i.e. thinking process. It is a pivot of attention from whatever it is attached to onto its source. The mental question 'Who am I?" should be just a waypoint, a help to turn our attention to "I", its source, to investigate it. With practice the strength of attention grows, but does the time matter?

R Viswanathan said...

According to Sri Nochur Venkataraman who wrote a book Swathma Sukhi exclusively for Ulladhu Narpadhu has this to say on this verse no. 25: In this verse is described the nature of ahankar (ego). It does not have a state or form for itself. Its birth, state, growth, and nurturing all exist by assuming the body form. Because it does not have a form or body, it is difficult to catch it.

The ego always tries to usurp the eternal existence of self to bring its own apparent existence. Furthermore, by remaining in the 'I am the body sprout, it creates so many false assumptions. The question, "who am I" is like a Bhrahmastram for this ego and it is always fearful of this weapon. The fire in the question 'Kohasmi' is what is the question (Kaha; who?). It will annihilate the assumed existence of ego associated with I. At that time, the existence (Sat) alone will shine forth. That is why the ahankar is fearful of the question "who am I?". The ahankar is the enemy of the Vicharam. The Vicharam of 'Who am I?' is the search of or investigation of self. Like the darkness gets removed by light, the ahankar will get removed by the self investigation. Even in Yogavasishtam also, it is said that Atma Vichar will destroy the seed of the poisonous tree of thoughts.

In brief, my understanding from Nochur's discourse and writings as well as the articles of Sri Michael James is that the question "who am I?" can lead to revelation of self or self-attentiveness. Also, it is not an experience like that by ahankar but by the self itself.

Tom Busch said...

This is a great explanation of this "crucial clue". Previously when I've read that quote beginning with "Grasping form, the formless phantom-ego rises into being;", I misinterpreted it quite a bit. But you've really made it clear here. Thank you, Michael.

Michael James said...

Sanjay, the common misunderstanding that you refer to in your comment arises from misinterpretation of Bhagavan’s use of the Tamil verb விசாரி (vicāri), which is derived from the Sanskrit verb विचर् (vicar), which in the sense in which he used it means to examine or investigate. Though in Sanskrit विचर् (vicar) does not mean ‘ask’, in Tamil விசாரி (vicāri) is often used to mean ‘enquire’, either in the sense ‘investigate’ or ‘ask’, so some people have misinterpreted the sense in he used to this verb, taking it to mean ‘ask’.

However, to remove this misunderstanding, he often said that merely asking the question ‘who am I?’ is not ātma-vicāra, but it seems that the idea that vicāra means asking questions such as ‘who am I?’ or ‘to whom does this thought occur?’ is so deeply engrained in some people’s minds that they overlook that fact that he clarified that vicāra is not just asking such questions.

As you imply, asking any question, whether mentally or orally, entails a mental activity, so it cannot lead to a complete cessation of all mental activity. Any question consists of words, and words originate from thoughts, so attending to any question is attending to thoughts — that is, to something that is other than ‘I’. Hence, so long as we are attending to any question, we are not attending only to ‘I’.

In order to experience ourself as we really are, we must experience ‘I’ alone, in complete isolation from everything else, so we must try to focus our entire attention only on ‘I’, thereby excluding everything else from our awareness. This attempt to attend to and thereby experience only ‘I’ is the actual practice of ātma-vicāra (self-investigation or self-examination).

Michael James said...

In answer to the anonymous comment of 30 August 2014 10:41: Yes, you are correct. Questions such as ‘who am I?’ may sometimes help to turn our attention back to ‘I’, but ātma-vicāra itself begins only when we have left all such questions and thoughts behind us and are attending only to ‘I’.

Time seems to be real so long as we experience any change, and so long as we are experiencing any change, we are attending to something other than ‘I’, because ‘I’ is that which never changes (though when it experiences itself as anything other than ‘I’ alone it seems to change, because everything other than ‘I’ does change). Therefore time does not matter when we are attending only to ‘I’, but it seems to matter whenever we are attending to anything else.

Michael James said...

Viswanathan, regarding your remark (or the remark of Nochur Venkataraman), ‘Because it [the ego] does not have a form or body, it is difficult to catch it’, which you wrote in your comment, it is not possible to catch the ego because if we try to catch it we will find that it is not actually an ego, as it now seems to be, but is only our infinite real self, just as it is not possible to catch an illusory snake, because if we try to catch it we will find that it is not actually a snake, as it seems to be, but is only a rope.

That is, trying to catch the ego, as you put it, means trying to experience it in its formless condition — that is, to experience it without any of the forms that it needs to grasp in order to seemingly exist and flourish — but when we try to catch it thus, it is thereby deprived of the forms on which its seeming existence depends, and hence it vanishes in its source, which is our real self (just as the snake vanishes in its source, the rope). This is what Bhagavan meant by saying ‘தேடினால் ஓட்டம் பிடிக்கும்’ (tēḍiṉāl ōṭṭam piḍikkum), ‘If sought, it takes flight’, in verse 25 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu (which I quoted in this article).

When Bhagavan talks of நான் யார் (nāṉ yār), ‘who am I’, he generally does not intend these words to be understood as a question, but as an investigation (vicāram or vicāraṇai). That is, (as I explained in my reply to Sanjay above) he does not ask us merely to question ‘who am I?’, but to investigate who or what this ‘I’ actually is. Now we experience this ‘I’ mixed with adjuncts (the forms that it grasps as if they were itself), so we must try to experience it alone, in complete isolation from all such adjuncts. This attempt to experience ‘I’ as it actually is (that is, devoid of any adjuncts) is what is denoted by the term நான் யார் (nāṉ yār), ‘who am I’, as it was used by Bhagavan.

Therefore the brahmāstra (supreme weapon) that Bhagavan gave us to destroy our ego was not the question ‘who am I?’ but only the investigation who am I — நானார் என்னும் விசாரணை (nāṉ-ār eṉṉum vicāraṇai), as he called it in Tamil.

Steve said...

I've often thought that much of the misunderstanding and confusion could be eliminated with a simple rephrasing. That is, defining the vicara as investigating or examining 'who I am', rather than what many (including myself, at first) take as questioning 'who am I?'.

R Viswanathan said...

Thanks for your clarification. I agree that "who am I?" is not meant to be just a question, but really an examination of or investigation of who really is angry, who really is happy, who really is tired, and who really is sad ..... and so on. My understanding is that such an investigation at least immediately breaks the link (secondary though if one may use this term) to which the primary thought 'I am this body or I am this mind' is attached to. Perhaps, this process if one takes recourse to continuously. it might help in complete removal of ego, and help in the attention centered only on self. I feel that Bhagavan's grace will certainly help us have our attention centered on self, if we sincerely try to get off our attention from anything away from self.

Anonymous said...

I am afraid Mr. Viswanathan here is bit deviating from the core teachings of Sri Ramana. There is no need to focus on 'secondary thoughts', with questions like, 'Who am I?'. This is like cutting branches of a tree, while we should be interested in uprooting it, even from the beginning. Irrespective of whether one is a beginner or a seasoned self-investigator, the focus is only on 'I am', from beginning to end, without disturbing the investigation with questions of any kind. Questions of this sort will not cut the 'secondary thoughts' and completely remove the ego. They would instead fatten up the ever-hungry ego. 'Who am I?' represents the spirit behind the investigation, while the investigation itself involves the keen attention on our self-awareness, irrespective of the 'secondary thoughts' we might seem to be having. 'Secondary thoughts' will die by themselves, if the focus is on 'I am'- that's the 'secret' taught in public to all public by Sri Ramana, which is reinforced in this article beautifully by our Michael.

Michael James said...

Viswanathan, the understanding you describe in your latest comment is not very clear to me, but it seems to me to be more complicated than it should be. Essentially the practice taught by Bhagavan is very simple, because as another friend pointed out in the anonymous reply to you it entails only attending to ‘I’ from the very outset until our ego finally merges forever in its source.

The questions you mention (‘who really is angry, who really is happy, who really is tired, and who really is sad’) should be understood as denoting the turning of our attention away from whatever is experienced (anger, happiness, tiredness, sadness or whatever) towards the ‘I’ who is experiencing it. Such turning of our attention back towards ‘I’ is the starting point of our investigation, and having turned we should then try to focus our attention more and more keenly on ‘I’ alone in order to experience it as it actually is.

When ‘I’ experiences anger, happiness, tiredness, sadness or anything else other than itself alone, it is experiencing itself mixed with adjuncts (‘I am angry’, ‘I am feeling happy’, ‘I am feeling tired’, ‘I am overcome by sadness’ and so on), so as such it is the ego. However, when this same ‘I’ tries to experience itself alone, its adjuncts begin to drop off, because its attention is withdrawn from them, and when it manages to experience itself alone, it will thereby experience itself as it really is — that is, as our pure adjunct-free self.

In other words, when we attend to anything other than ourself alone, we seem to become the ego, but when we try to attend to ourself alone, we cease to be this ego (the ‘I’ that is seemingly mixed with adjuncts) and remain as we always actually are.

To re-express this in the terms you have used, everything that we experience other than ‘I’ is a ‘secondary thought’, as you call it, and the only way to break our link with these secondary thoughts is to attend only to ‘I’, thereby withdrawing our attention from everything else. Since our primary thought (namely our ego, the adjunct-mixed ‘I’) cannot stand alone without any secondary thought to cling to, it will subside when we try to attend only to ‘I’, and it will merge forever in its source when we finally manage to attend only to ‘I’.

Therefore it is not just a case of ‘it might help in complete removal of ego’, as you say, because this simple practice of trying to attend only to ‘I’ is the infallible and only means to completely remove the ego, so it will certainly do so.

You also say that it might ‘help in the attention centered only on self’, but we should understand that centring our attention only on self is not only our goal but also the only means to achieve that goal. That is, we can experience ‘I’ alone only by trying to experience ‘I’ alone. There is no other way.

You end by saying, ‘I feel that Bhagavan's grace will certainly help us have our attention centred on self, if we sincerely try to get off our attention from anything away from self’, but merely getting our attention off other things is not the means taught by Bhagavan. It is certainly necessary for us to withdraw our attention from everything else, but it is not sufficient, because we withdraw our attention from everything else every time we fall asleep. Therefore we should not think that withdrawing our attention from everything else is either our goal or the means to achieve our goal. To experience ourself as we really are, we much not only withdraw our attention from everything else, but must focus it only on ‘I’.

If we are intent on focusing our attention only on ‘I’, we need not be concerned about withdrawing it from everything else, because by focusing it only on ‘I’ we automatically withdraw it from everything else.

R Viswanathan said...

Thanks for the clarification from Anonymous and Sri Michael James. Sri Nochur also always said that just because in the Sushupthi state neither the mind nor the body awareness exists (rather the non-existence of false assumption that I am the mind or I am the body), one has not necessarily attained Atma Satshakaram. He used to say that mainly because the problems exist or are experienced by many people in Jagrat state, if they want to have their problems permanently removed, atma sakshathkaram is the only means, and for that "who am I?" investigation is necessary. It is in this context that I understand that it is often proposed that the questions like who is angry or who is unhappy or who has this problems should be asked within. This practice at least helps me personally, and I can't speak for others. At the same time, I now fully realize and completely agree that this is the not primary teaching of Bhagavan, and hence I should try to practice keeping my attention solely on the self.

Michael James said...

Viswanathan, there is no wrong in sometimes asking yourself questions such as ‘who is angry?’ or ‘who is unhappy?’ so long as you use this as a means to turn your attention back towards ‘I’ (and hence away from the anger, unhappiness or whatever else you might have been experiencing).

Whatever may be experienced, it is always experienced only by ‘I’, so every experience should remind us of the ‘I’ who is experiencing it. However, we are generally more interested in experiencing whatever we happen to be experiencing than in experiencing only the ‘I’ who is experiencing it, so when this is the case, what we experience will not remind us of ‘I’. Therefore by persistent practice we need to cultivate a greater interest in experiencing only ‘I’ than in experiencing anything else.

The persistent practice that is required for this is the practice of turning our attention back to ‘I’ whenever we notice that it has drifted away towards anything else. To turn our attention back to ‘I’ in this way it is not necessary to mentally ask ourself any question such as ‘who is experiencing this?’, but sometimes asking such a question may help, particularly during the early stages of practice. However, once we have become accustomed to this practice, we will find that asking any such question becomes superfluous.

In this connection you may find it helpful to read again one of my earlier articles: Spontaneously and wordlessly applying the clue: ‘to whom? to me; who am I?’

Sankarraman said...

Michael, you say that apart from withdrawing our attention from everything else, we must attend to to our self, lest we end up in sleep. Isn't the abstinence of attention to the externals done with awareness psychologically tantamount to attending to the Self. I think that deep sleep is the reverse side of the coin of the paying of attention to the externals, and it isn't as if the mere abstinence from paying attention to the externals, bereft of the additional attendance to the Self, would lead to deep sleep. But I think thee things can be understood only in real enquiry.

Michael James said...

Sankarraman, what do you mean in your comment when you write ‘done with awareness’? Done with awareness of what?

We cannot be aware of nothing, so awareness is either pure self-awareness (awareness only of ‘I’) or self-awareness mixed with awareness of other things. Therefore there are only two ways in which we can withdraw our attention from everything else: we must do so either by trying to be aware only of ‘I’ or by falling asleep or into some other similar state of laya. Since laya cannot be a means to attain true self-knowledge (that is, to experience ourself as we really are), the fact that we must try to be aware only of ‘I’ is a fundamental principle of the practice ātma-vicāra as taught by Bhagavan.

If we try to be aware only of ‘I’, that is self-attentiveness or self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), whereas if we try to be aware of anything else, that is what Bhagavan used to call anātma-vicāra: investigation of the non-self.

In verse 16 of Upadēśa Undiyār, வெளி விடயங்களை விட்டு (veḷi viḍayaṅgaḷai viṭṭu), ‘leaving external things’, means withdrawing our attention from everything other than ‘I’, while மனம் தன் ஒளி உரு ஓர்தலே (maṉam taṉ oḷi-uru ōrdalē), ‘the mind knowing its own form of light’, means being aware only of ‘I’. These are the two conditions that he implies are necessary for உண்மை உணர்ச்சி (uṇmai uṇarcci), ‘true knowledge’ or ‘experience of reality’.

Though both these conditions are necessary, the latter (being aware only of ‘I’) is not only necessary but also sufficient (since if we are aware only of ‘I’ our attention is necessarily withdrawn from everything else), whereas the former (withdrawing our attention from everything other than ‘I’) is necessary but not sufficient (because it is a condition that we meet whenever we are asleep). This is clearly indicated by the fact that the subject of this sentence is மனம் தன் ஒளி உரு ஓர்தலே (maṉam taṉ oḷi-uru ōrdalē), ‘the mind knowing its own form of light’, whereas வெளி விடயங்களை விட்டு (veḷi viḍayaṅgaḷai viṭṭu), ‘leaving external things’, is only a subordinate clause.

For those who are not familiar with Tamil grammar, ஓர்தலே (ōrdalē) is an intensified form of ஓர்தல் (ōrdal), which is a verbal noun that means ‘investigating’ or ‘knowing’, so it stands here as the subject, whereas விட்டு (viṭṭu) is a verbal participle that means ‘leaving’, so in this context it expresses a condition that is subsidiary to ஓர்தலே (ōrdalē).

Sankarraman said...

The word Awareness, Michael, implies only the Self, it being synonymous with the Self as clearly pointed out in the benedictory verse of ' Ulladu Narpadu' as well as as stated in the Mahavakya ' Prajnanam Brahman' in the ' Aytreya Upanishad' of Rig Veda, there being no question of awareness about something, which is only phenomenal.

Michael James said...

Sankarraman, as is the case with so many other words, the meaning of ‘awareness’ is not fixed but is determined by the context in which it is used. In some contexts it does imply our real self, uḷḷadu or brahman, as you say, but this is not what it generally implies in most contexts.

When you wrote ‘done with awareness’, did you mean ‘done with self’ or ‘done with brahman’? In that sense, whatever is done is done with awareness, because self or brahman is the inseparable basis of everything that we experience. Therefore even falling asleep is ‘done with awareness’ in this sense, so what you call ‘the abstinence of attention to the externals done with awareness’ could be a description of falling asleep, which is certainly not ‘psychologically tantamount to attending to the Self’.

In the context of your original question, ‘Isn’t the abstinence of attention to the externals done with awareness psychologically tantamount to attending to the Self?’, this is not just a trivial matter about the meaning of words, because in order to practise ātma-vicāra it is essential that we clearly understand the importance of not just withdrawing our attention from other things but crucially focusing it only on ‘I’.

That is, our sole aim is to experience ourself as we really are, and in order to do so we must experience ourself clearly in complete isolation from everything else, because so long as we experience anything other than ‘I’, we are experiencing ourself as the adjunct-bound ego and not as we really are (since what we really are does not experience anything other than itself). In order to experience ourself clearly in complete isolation from everything else, it is not sufficient just to experience nothing else, as we do in sleep, because sleep is a state lacking in clarity of self-awareness, whereas we need to experience ourself perfectly clearly, which we can do only by attending keenly to ‘I’ alone.

This is the crucial point that Bhagavan emphasised in verse 16 of Upadēśa Undiyār, as I explained in my first reply to your previous comment.

Sankarraman said...

Michael, since from the present state of my understanding of the teachings of Bhagavan, I am not able to correctly appreciate the import of your statement that awareness being the inseparable base of everything, deep sleep is also done with awareness- a transcendental view point of the Knowledge of the Knower knowing no end- I feel that bereft of deep inner probing I won't be able to say anything with a clear inner certitude. Hence all that I can do is to know as to what constitutes attendance to the Self at the non-conceptual level. I can only make a small correction to your statement, which is that it it is not that deep sleep is done with awareness, but it it is that awareness is not absent in deep sleep. As against awareness deliberate constituting ' Vritty-Jnana' productive of Self-realisation, the natural awareness existing in deep sleep is not inimical to ignorance.

Josef Bruckner said...

Michael,
in comment (nr.11) dated 1 September 2014 13:17,
paragraphe before last, line before last,
there is a little typo:
In the sentence beginning with "To experience ourself as we really are, we..." the word "much" in the second half-sentence should be substituted by the word "must".

Michael James said...

Thank you, Josef.

Yes, as you say, in that second last sentence of my comment dated 1 September 2014 13:17 the word ‘much’ was a typo and should have ‘must’. I also notice that in the final clause an ‘also’ is missing, so the correct version of that sentence is:

To experience ourself as we really are, we must not only withdraw our attention from everything else, but must also focus it only on ‘I’.

Anonymous said...

Michael,

In one of the comment to this article you say:
Questions such as ‘who am I?’ may sometimes help to turn our attention back to ‘I’, but ātma-vicāra itself begins only when we have left all such questions and thoughts behind us and are attending only to ‘I’.

In the comment to one of the other articles (http://happinessofbeing.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/why-is-atma-vicara-necessary.html) you said:
When practising ātma-vicāra, we are trying to experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from all thoughts or other experiences, and if we manage to experience ourself thus for just a moment, we will thereby experience ourself as we really are, and thus the illusion that we are this ego will be destroyed forever.

Sorry, but I can follow your logic here.

If you say, that ātma-vicāra begins only when all thoughts cease (statement 1) and at the same time you say, that if all thoughts cease just for a moment then ego will be destroyed forever (statement 2), it means that there is no place for ātma-vicāra at all, because:

a)if there is any, even very subtle thought it is not ātma-vicāra yet according to what you said, as it begins only when all such thoughts are left behind us (conclusion from your statement number 1)
b)if we manage to achieve thoughts-free-state even for a millisecond, we get liberated and ego is destroyed (conclusion from your statement number 2). So there is no need for ātma-vicāra in our natural state.

Where is the place for ātma-vicāra then?

Can you elaborate on this?

In my opinion, we must admit either that:
-practising ātma-vicāra we are trying to experience ourself alone, but there are still some subtle thoughts appearing during this practice, so it doesn’t really start only when we left al thoughts behind, or
-we achive thoughts-free-state still during the stage of the practice and we don’t get liberated immediately when we experience this thoughts-free-state for just a moment.

Michael James said...

In reply to the anonymous friend who wrote the latest comment above, you are comparing two statements that were made in two different contexts, so the meaning of each needs to be understood according to the context in which it was made.

In the second of those two statements (which I wrote in this comment on Why is ātma-vicāra necessary?), ‘When practising ātma-vicāra, we are trying to experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from all thoughts or other experiences, and if we manage to experience ourself thus for just a moment, we will thereby experience ourself as we really are, and thus the illusion that we are this ego will be destroyed forever’, when I wrote ‘experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from all thoughts or other experiences’ I was talking in precise and absolute terms, so in that context ‘ourself alone’ should be taken quite literally. However, as I wrote there, the practice of ātma-vicāra does not entail experiencing ourself alone, but only trying to experience ourself alone.

In the first of the two statements you compared (which I wrote in this comment above), ‘Questions such as ‘who am I?’ may sometimes help to turn our attention back to ‘I’, but ātma-vicāra itself begins only when we have left all such questions and thoughts behind us and are attending only to ‘I’’, I was not talking in such precise or absolute terms, so in that context the word ‘only’ need not be taken so literally.

That is, when I wrote ‘attending only to ‘I’’, in that context I meant ‘only’ in a relative sense, and in that sense the ‘I’ that we are attending to is our ego, which is a mixture of ourself and whatever adjuncts we currently mistake to be ourself. Since those adjuncts are all thoughts, as indeed is this adjunct-mixed self-awareness that we call ‘ego’, such a state of relative self-attentiveness is not completely free of all thoughts. This is why I did not say that we have then left all thoughts behind us, but only that ‘we have left all such questions and thoughts behind us’, by which I meant that we have left behind all our grosser thoughts such as the mentally articulated question ‘who am I?’.

Therefore, if each of these statements is understood according to its own context, and if the exact words that I used are carefully considered, it should be clear that there is no contradiction between them, and that in neither of them (nor in both of them taken together) do I imply that there is no place for ātma-vicāra. In order to experience ourself as we really are, we need to experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from all thoughts or other experiences, and in order to experience ourself thus, we need to try to do so. Our trying to do so is what is called ātma-vicāra.

(I will continue this reply in my next comment.)

Michael James said...

In continuation of my previous comment in reply to the anonymous comment above:

The confusion in what you write arises because you read more into my first statement than was intended, because you take its conclusion to be that ‘if there is any, even very subtle thought it is not ātma-vicāra’. This is not what I wrote, nor what I meant. Subtle thoughts remain there till the end, because the last thought to go is the first thought to arise, namely our ego, the thought called ‘I’. Since this thought cannot rise or stand without the support of other thoughts, it will always be accompanied by other thoughts, though those other thoughts may sometimes be very subtle. When practicing ātma-vicāra, we are trying to attend to ourself alone, and the more we succeed in doing so, the less room we will leave for any other thought — even of the most subtle variety — to arise.

The point I was trying to make in my first statement is that ātma-vicāra is something much more subtle and deep than simply mentally asking ourself questions such as ‘who am I?’, because such mentally articulated questions are relatively gross thoughts. Though we may not be able to attend to ourself alone, we must at least attempt to do so, and in order to attempt to do so we must cease clinging to any of the more gross and obvious kinds of thoughts, such as the question ‘who am I?’.

I hope this explanation clarifies what I meant.

Anonymous said...

Michael,

Thank you for your explanation.

In Nan Yar describing ātma-vicāra Bhagavan says: “Of all the thoughts that rise in the mind, the thought ‘I’ (the feeling ‘I am the body’) is the first thought, it is only after the rising of this that all other thoughts rise (…) It is only after the rising of the first person that the second and third persons appear.
If other thoughts rise, one should, without attempting to complete them, enquire...(...) As and when thoughts rise, one should annihilate all of them through enquiry then and there in their very place of origin”.

Base on that I see the ātma-vicāra practice described by Bhagavan in the following way:

If one, instead of clinging to other thoughts (second and third person) clings only to I-thought (the first person), then the ego will die. In order to cling only to I-thought, one should not let to rise and develop the thoughts other then I; when they try to rise, one should anihilate them then and there in the very place of orgin and dosn`t let them to rise and develop.

The important points are:
“other thoughts” - thoughts other then I-thought
“ if other thoughts rise... anihilate them then and there in the very place of orgin”.

In other words:

1) one clings to the I-thought (first person); as and when the other thoughts (second and third person) try to rise one noticees it and doesn`t let them to rise but anihilate them in the place fo orgin – it is ātma-vicāra

2)one clings to the I-thought(first person); as and when the other thoughts (second and third person) try to rise one dosn`t notice it but let them to rise and develop – it is not ātma-vicāra.

Do you agree with such describtion of ātma-vicāra? If not, what is wrong?

Thank you.

Michael James said...

In answer to the latest anonymous comment, yes, I think your understanding seems to be correct. So long as we are attending only (or at least mostly) to ourself (whom we now experience as the first person, this ego or thought called ‘I’), that is ātma-vicāra, whereas if we allow our attention to be distracted away from ourself towards anything else, that is not ātma-vicāra.