Friday, 26 September 2014

Metaphysical solipsism, idealism and creation theories in the teachings of Sri Ramana

In a comment that he wrote on one of my recent articles, What should we believe?, Sankarraman referred to an article on David Godman’s blog, Swami Siddheswarananda’s views on Bhagavan’s Teachings on Creation, in which David discussed some opinions that Swami Siddheswarananda (former president of the Mysore branch of the Ramakrishna Math and founder of the Centre Védantique Ramakrichna in France) expressed about Sri Ramana’s views on solipsism and the idealistic theory of creation known as dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda in the third section of an article that he wrote in 1946 for the Golden Jubilee Souvenir, in which he claimed:
The philosophical outlook of Maharshi tends very often to be confused with that of solipsism or its Indian equivalent, drishti-srishti-vada, which is a sort of degenerated idealism. That Maharshi never subscribes to that view can be known if we study his works in the light of orthodox Vedanta or observe his behaviour in life. [...] (Golden Jubilee Souvenir, third edition, 1995, p. 69)
In his article David explains in his own way why Swami Siddheswarananda was wrong to believe that Sri Ramana did not teach dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda, and in his comment Sankarraman expressed his own views on this subject and asked me to explain my understanding in this regard, so the following is my reply to him:

Swami Siddheswarananda had genuine love and respect for Sri Ramana, but from what he wrote in the Golden Jubilee Souvenir it is clear that his understanding of some crucial aspects of Sri Ramana’s teachings (and also of what he called ‘orthodox Vedanta’) was seriously confused. Dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda (or drishti-srishti-vada, as he spelt it) is the argument (vāda) that creation (sṛṣṭi) is a result of perception or ‘seeing’ (dṛṣṭi), as opposed to sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi-vāda, which is any theory (whether philosophical, scientific or religious) that proposes that creation precedes perception (in other words, that the world exists prior to and hence independent of our experience of it). The classic example of dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi is our experience in dream: the dream world seems to exist only when we experience it, so its seeming existence is entirely dependent on our experience of it. Since Sri Ramana taught us that our present so-called waking state is actually just a dream, and that there is no significant difference between waking and dream, it is obvious that he did teach dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda.

To support his belief that Sri Ramana did not teach dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda, Swami Siddheswarananda gave an extremely weak and implausible argument, claiming that when Sri Ramana says that the mind has projected this universe, he is using the term ‘mind’ in some special ‘Vedantic sense’. Quoting several passages from the writings of Gaudapada and Sankara, he then tried to argue that when it is said that the world is a creation of the mind, in the special Vedantic sense in which he claims the term ‘mind’ is used it is ‘equated with Atman’ (p. 70) and ‘an equivalent of Atman’ (p. 71). However, from the passages he quotes it does not seem at all obvious that either Gaudapada or Sankara actually implied that the world is created or projected by ātman (our real self) rather than by the mind as we know it.

In fact Sankara implies quite the contrary in one passage that Siddheswarananda quotes from his commentary on Māṇḍukya Kārikā 4.54: ‘[…] the knowers of Brahman declare the absence of causality with regard to Atman’ (p. 71). Presumably this means that ātman is neither a cause nor an effect of anything, in which case it cannot be the efficient cause (nimitta kāraṇa) or creator of the world. This is also the view of Sri Ramana, as expressed in verse 85 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai:
நானா விதமான நாமரூ பங்களொடு
தானே யுலகாச் சமைவதலாற் — றானோர்
நிமித்தனா யத்தை நிருமித் தளித்துச்
சமித்தல் புரிவா னலன்.

nāṉā vidamāṉa nāmarū paṅgaḷoḍu
tāṉē yulahāc camaivadalāṯ — ṟāṉōr
nimittaṉā yattai nirumit taḷittuc
camittal purivā ṉalaṉ.

பதச்சேதம்: நானா விதமான நாம ரூபங்களோடு தானே உலகா சமைவது அலால், தான் ஓர் நிமித்தனா அத்தை நிருமித்து அளித்து சமித்தல் புரிவான் அலன்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): nāṉā vidamāṉa nāma rūpaṅgaḷōḍu tāṉē ulahā samaivadu alāl, tāṉ ōr nimittaṉā attai nirumittu aḷittu samittal purivāṉ alaṉ.

English translation: Self itself is only what appears as the world with many kinds of names and forms, but it is not one who as a nimitta [an efficient cause] does [any actions such as] creating, sustaining and destroying that [the world].
The intensifying suffix ஏ (ē) in தானே (tāṉē) implies ‘only’ or ‘alone’ in the sense that self alone is what appears as the world, but I have translated it here as ‘itself’ because in English the force of ‘alone’ in this context is lost when the word ‘only’ also occurs in the same clause: ‘self alone is only what appears as the world’. அலால் (alāl) is a poetic abbreviation of அல்லால் (allāl), which is an adversative conjunction that conveys a strong contrast between the two words, phrases or clauses that it links, affirming or accepting an idea in the preceding word, phrase or clause while denying, rejecting or excluding an idea in the subsequent word, phrase or clause. Like equivalent conjunctions such as அல்லாமல் (allāmal), அன்றி (aṉḏṟi) and தவிர (tavira), it can in some contexts be translated as ‘besides’, ‘except’ or ‘unless’, but coming before a negative clause as in this case it means ‘but only’ as in the English constructions ‘not that, but only this’ or ‘only this, but not that’, so to retain the clauses in the order in which they occur in Tamil I have translated it here as ‘only … but …’. Thus the central idea in this verse is that self is only what appears as the world but not the efficient cause (nimitta kāraṇa) that creates, sustains or destroys it.

When causation is analysed in Indian philosophy, three causal factors are generally identified, namely a material or substantial cause (called upādāna kāraṇa in Sanskrit and mudal-kāraṇam in Tamil), an active or efficient cause (nimitta kāraṇa) and in some cases an auxiliary or instrumental cause (sahakāri kāraṇa in Sanskrit or tuṇai-k-kāraṇam in Tamil). For example, wood is the material cause of a table, a carpenter is its efficient cause, and his tools are its auxiliary or instrumental cause; light and a screen are the material causes of a cinema picture, the projector is its efficient cause, and the film and background darkness that is required to produce a picture on the screen are its auxiliary causes; a rope is the material cause of an illusory snake, a person who mistakes it to be a snake is its efficient cause, and the semi-darkness that conceals what it actually is is its auxiliary cause.

The material or substantial cause does not play any active role in the process of causation, but is that on which the efficient cause (with the aid of one or more auxiliary causes if necessary) either acts or seems to act, and that from which the effect is thereby produced. The active causal role is played by the efficient cause, whereas any auxiliary cause is either an instrument used by the efficient cause to produce the effect or a condition that enables it to do so. Though the substance that constitutes the material cause remains essentially unchanged, its form may be altered in some way by the efficient and auxiliary causes, in which case the effect will be a transformation of the material cause (as for example a table is a transformation of the wood of which it is made, or a pot is a transformation of the clay of which it is made), but in some cases not even its form is changed, in which case the effect is merely a false appearance that seems to exist only in the view of a deluded observer (as for example an illusory snake is just a false appearance, being nothing but a rope that remains unchanged even though a deluded observer mistakes it to be a snake).

Since Sri Ramana says in the above verse that self (tāṉ or ātman) alone appears as the world, it is the essential substance or ‘material’ of which the world is made, so it is its ‘material cause’ (upādāna kāraṇa or mudal-kāraṇam), but it does not actually play any active role in the creation of the world, as he explains in the second half of the above verse, in which he explicitly denies that it is in any way a nimitta or efficient cause. Therefore when Sankara wrote in his commentary on Māṇḍukya Kārikā 4.54 that ‘the knowers of Brahman declare the absence of causality with regard to Atman’ (as quoted by Siddheswarananda), what he was denying was not that ātman is the sole substance (or ‘material cause’) of which everything is made, but only that it is the nimitta kāraṇa (efficient cause) of anything such as the mind that perceives or the world that is perceived.

Though ātman is the ultimate substance of the world, it is not its substance in the same way that mud is the substance of a pot or gold is the substance of a necklace, but is instead its substance in the same way that a rope is the substance of an illusory snake, because like the rope but unlike the mud or gold, ātman is not transformed, modified or affected in any way whatsoever by the illusory appearance of this world and the mind that perceives it. Just as the efficient cause of the illusory snake is not the rope but only the person who mistakes it to be a snake, so the efficient cause (nimitta kāraṇa) of the world is not ātman but only the mind that mistakes it to be a world consisting of numerous names and forms. Likewise, just as the auxiliary cause of the illusory snake is the semi-darkness that enables a person to see a rope without seeing what it actually is, so the auxiliary cause of the world is the semi-darkness of self-ignorance that enables the mind to be aware of ātman without being aware of it as it actually is. Thus according to Sri Ramana (and also both Gaudapada and Sankara) it is not ātman but only the mind with the aid of its self-ignorance that creates the world.

Siddheswarananda also quotes Sankara’s commentary on Māṇḍukya Kārikā 3.29: ‘How is it possible for Reality to pass into birth through Maya? It is thus replied; as the snake imagined in the rope is identical with the being of the rope when seen as the rope, so also the mind from the standpoint of knowledge of the ultimate reality is seen to be identical with Atman. […]’ (p. 70). However, this does not imply it is the mind as ātman that has created the world, because from ‘the standpoint of knowledge of the ultimate reality’ in which the mind is seen to be nothing other than ātman, there is no world.

The rope causes fear only when it is mistaken to be a snake and not when it is recognised to be only a rope, so what causes fear is not actually the rope itself but only the illusion that it is a snake. Likewise, the world is not created or projected by ātman itself, but only by the illusion that we (ātman) are this mind. In other words, when (in a state of self-ignorance) we experience ourself as a mind, we thereby create the illusory appearance of this world, but when (in the state of true self-knowledge) we experience ourself as we really are, we experience nothing other than ourself, so there is then no world or anything else other than ourself (ātman).

When the mind rises from ourself (ātman) the world appears, and when it subsides back into ourself the world disappears, so the world seems to exist only so long as the mind is active, and according to Sri Ramana it does not exist at all in the absence of the mind. Therefore the appearance of the world is created only by the mind that perceives it. The mind projects the world from within itself as soon as it rises, and it withdraws it back into itself when it subsides, as he says in the fourth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?):
[...] சிலந்திப்பூச்சி எப்படித் தன்னிடமிருந்து வெளியில் நூலை நூற்று மறுபடியும் தன்னுள் இழுத்துக் கொள்ளுகிறதோ, அப்படியே மனமும் தன்னிடத்திலிருந்து ஜகத்தைத் தோற்றுவித்து மறுபடியும் தன்னிடமே ஒடுக்கிக்கொள்ளுகிறது. மனம் ஆத்ம சொரூபத்தினின்று வெளிப்படும்போது ஜகம் தோன்றும். ஆகையால், ஜகம் தோன்றும்போது சொரூபம் தோன்றாது; சொரூபம் தோன்றும் (பிரகாசிக்கும்) போது ஜகம் தோன்றாது. [...]

[...] silandi-p-pūcci eppaḍi-t taṉṉiḍamirundu veḷiyil nūlai nūṯṟu maṟupaḍiyum taṉṉuḷ iṙuttu-k-koḷḷugiṟadō, appaḍiyē maṉam-um taṉṉiḍattilirundu jagattai-t tōṯṟuvittu maṟupaḍiyum taṉṉiḍamē oḍukki-k-koḷḷugiṟadu. maṉam ātma sorūpattiṉiṉḏṟu veḷippaḍum-pōdu jagam tōṉḏṟum. āhaiyāl, jagam tōṉḏṟum-pōdu sorūpam tōṉḏṟādu; sorūpam tōṉḏṟum (pirakāśikkum) pōdu jagam tōṉḏṟādu. [...]

[...] Just as a spider spins out thread from within itself and again draws it back into itself, so the mind projects the world from within itself and again dissolves it back into itself. When the mind comes out from ātma-svarūpa [our ‘own form’ or essential self], the world appears. Therefore when the world appears, svarūpa does not appear [as it really is]; when svarūpa appears (shines) [as it really is], the world does not appear. [...]
The world seems to exist only when we experience ourself as the mind, so when it seems to exist we do not experience ourself (ātma-svarūpa) as we really are, and when we experience ourself as we really are it does not seem to exist. Therefore we cannot experience ourself as we really are so long as we perceive the world, as Sri Ramana says in the third paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?):
சர்வ அறிவிற்கும் சர்வ தொழிற்குங் காரண மாகிய மன மடங்கினால் ஜகதிருஷ்டி நீங்கும். கற்பித ஸர்ப்ப ஞானம் போனா லொழிய அதிஷ்டான ரஜ்ஜு ஞானம் உண்டாகாதது போல, கற்பிதமான ஜகதிருஷ்டி நீங்கினா லொழிய அதிஷ்டான சொரூப தர்சன முண்டாகாது.

sarva aṟiviṯkum sarva toṙiṯkuṅ kāraṇam āhiya maṉam aḍaṅgiṉāl jaga-diruṣṭi nīṅgum. kaṯpita sarppa-jñāṉam pōṉāl oṙiya adhiṣṭhāṉa rajju-jñāṉam uṇḍāhādadu pōla, kaṯpitamāṉa jaga-diruṣṭi nīṅgiṉāl oṙiya adhiṣṭhāṉa sorūpa darśaṉam uṇḍāhādu.

If the mind, which is the cause of all [objective] knowledge and of all activity, subsides, jagad-dṛṣṭi [perception of the world] will cease. Just as knowledge of the rope, which is the base [that underlies and supports the imaginary appearance of a snake], will not arise unless knowledge of the imaginary snake ceases, svarūpa-darśana [experiential knowledge of our own real self], which is the base [that underlies and supports the imaginary appearance of this world], will not arise unless perception of the world, which is an imagination [or fabrication], ceases.
If the world were projected by our real self (ātman), as Siddheswarananda claims, there would be no reason why it should not be perceived when we experience our real self. The reason why we cannot experience our real self unless we cease to perceive the world is that the world is a projection of our mind and hence we perceive the world only when we rise as the mind by mistaking it to be ourself. As Sri Ramana says in the extract from the fourth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? cited above, the world appears only when the mind comes out from ourself (ātma-svarūpa), so when it appears the real nature of ourself is concealed, just as the real nature of the rope is concealed when it appears as a snake.

Siddheswarananda concludes his argument by quoting Sankara’s commentary on Māṇḍukya Kārikā 3.35: ‘When the mind becomes free from all ideas of the perceiver and the perceived[,] the dual evils caused by ignorance, it verily becomes one with the Supreme and non-dual Brahman’ (p. 71), and he takes this to be evidence that ‘Sankara and Gaudapada use in many places the term ‘mind’ thus as an equivalent of Atman’. When Sankara says here that the mind becomes one with brahman or ātman, it is like saying that the snake becomes one with the rope when it is seen clearly as it is. Since ātman alone actually exists, what seems to be a mind is in fact only ātman, so if we carefully examine the essential form of this mind (our ego or primal thought called ‘I’) we will find that what it actually is is only ātman.

However, when Sankara says that the mind will eventually ‘become’ (or be recognised to be) one with brahman or ātman, we should not interpret this to mean that when he, Gaudapada or Ramana say that the mind has created or projected the world, what they actually mean is that ātman has created or projected it. This would be a serious misinterpretation, because the world seems to exist only when ātman is mistaken to be the mind and not when it is experienced as it actually is, just as fear arises only when the rope is mistaken to be a snake and not when it is recognised to be what it actually is. Therefore Siddheswarananda’s understanding in this regard is obviously very confused, and his argument that Gaudapada, Sankara and Ramana do not mean that the universe has been projected by the mind as such but only by ātman does not stand up to careful scrutiny.

Therefore whenever Sri Ramana said that the world is a creation of the mind, he was not using the term ‘mind’ in the special ‘Vedantic sense’ of ātman, as Siddheswarananda claimed. The sense in which he actually used the term ‘mind’ is made clear by him in verse 18 of Upadēśa Undiyār, in which he explains that the mind is essentially just the ego, the thought called ‘I’, and in verse 24 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, in which he again explains that it is just the ego, the false ‘I’ that rises ‘as the extent of the body’ between the jaḍa (non-conscious) body, which does not experience itself as ‘I’, and sat-cit (the reality that actually exists and actually is conscious), which does not rise:
எண்ணங்க ளேமனம் யாவினு நானெனு
மெண்ணமே மூலமா முந்தீபற
      யானா மனமென லுந்தீபற.

eṇṇaṅga ḷēmaṉam yāviṉu nāṉeṉu
meṇṇamē mūlamā mundīpaṟa
      yāṉā maṉameṉa lundīpaṟa
.

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

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

English translation: Thoughts alone are mind [or the mind is only thoughts]. Of all [thoughts], the thought called ‘I’ alone is the mūla [the root, base, foundation, origin, source or cause]. [Therefore] what is called mind is [essentially just] ‘I’ [the ego or root thought called ‘I’].

சடவுடனா னென்னாது சச்சித் துதியா
துடலளவா நானொன் றுதிக்கு — மிடையிலிது
சிச்சடக்கி ரந்திபந்தஞ் சீவனுட்ப மெய்யகந்தை
யிச்சமு சாரமன மெண்.

jaḍavuḍaṉā ṉeṉṉādu saccit tudiyā
duḍalaḷavā nāṉoṉ ḏṟudikku — miḍaiyilitu
ciccaḍakki ranthibandhañ jīvaṉuṭpa meyyahandai
yiccamu sāramaṉa meṇ.


பதச்சேதம்: சட உடல் ‘நான்’ என்னாது; சத்சித் உதியாது; உடல் அளவா ‘நான்’ ஒன்று உதிக்கும் இடையில். இது சித்சடக்கிரந்தி, பந்தம், சீவன், நுட்ப மெய், அகந்தை, இச் சமுசாரம், மனம்; எண்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): jaḍa uḍal ‘nāṉ’ eṉṉādu; sat-cit udiyādu; uḍal aḷavā ‘nāṉ’ oṉḏṟu udikkum iḍaiyil. idu cit-jaḍa-giranthi, bandham, jīvaṉ, nuṭpa mey, ahandai, i-c-samusāram, maṉam; eṇ.

அன்வயம்: சட உடல் ‘நான்’ என்னாது; சத்சித் உதியாது; இடையில் உடல் அளவா ‘நான்’ ஒன்று உதிக்கும். இது சித்சடக்கிரந்தி, பந்தம், சீவன், நுட்ப மெய், அகந்தை, இச் சமுசாரம், மனம்; எண்.

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): jaḍa uḍal ‘nāṉ’ eṉṉādu; sat-cit udiyādu; iḍaiyil uḍal aḷavā ‘nāṉ’ oṉḏṟu udikkum. idu cit-jaḍa-giranthi, bandham, jīvaṉ, nuṭpa mey, ahandai, i-c-samusāram, maṉam; eṇ.

English translation: The jaḍa body does not say ‘I’; sat-cit does not rise; [but] in between [these two] one ‘I’ rises as the extent of the body. Know that this is cit-jaḍa-granthi [the knot that binds the conscious and the non-conscious together as if they were one], bandha [bondage], jīva [life or soul], the subtle body, the ego, this saṁsāra [wandering, perpetual movement, restless activity, worldly existence or the cycle of birth and death] and manam [the mind].
The body is jaḍa (non-conscious), so it does not experience anything, and hence it does not experience itself as ‘I’. Therefore when Sri Ramana says that the body does not say ‘I’, that is a metaphorical way of saying that it does not experience itself as ‘I’. What experiences itself as ‘I’ is something that actually exists and is actually conscious of its own existence, so this is what he refers to here as sat-cit, which is a compound of two words, sat (which means ‘what exists’) and cit (which means ‘what is conscious’). The reason this compound word is used to refer to what experiences itself as ‘I’ is that it is both what exists and what is conscious of its existence, so its existence (sat) and its consciousness (cit) of its existence are not two separate things but one and the same. As he says in verse 23 of Upadēśa Undiyār, what exists (uḷḷadu) is what is aware (uṇarvu) that it exists, because the ‘I’ that is aware that ‘I am’ cannot be other than the ‘I’ that exists. When we say ‘I am’, we are expressing not only that we exist but also that we are aware that we exist. Therefore sat-cit denotes our real self, which is what we experience as ‘I am’, and Sri Ramana says that it does not rise or come into existence, because it always exists and is always aware of its existence.

This body comes into existence in waking, when we are aware of it, and ceases to exist in sleep or dream, when we are not aware of it, so it cannot be ‘I’, because we are aware of ourself as ‘I am’ in all these three states: waking, dream and sleep. Thus the body rises and subsides and is not aware of itself as ‘I’, whereas sat-cit does not rise or subside but is always aware of itself as ‘I’. Therefore the body is not sat-cit, and sat-cit is not the body. However, between these two something rises as ‘I’ and experiences itself as the extent of the body. That is, it feels that it is confined within the spatial and temporal limits of the body, and thus it experiences itself as ‘I am this body’.

This spurious body-confined ‘I’ is what is called the ego, mind or soul (jīva), and it is also called cit-jaḍa-granthi because it functions as a knot (granthi) that binds the conscious (cit) and the non-conscious (jaḍa) together as if they were one. Because it rises by attaching itself to a body and other adjuncts, it is a conflated mixture of our pure ‘I’, which is not a thought, and various adjuncts, all of which are mere thoughts or ideas, so in verse 18 of Upadēśa Undiyār Sri Ramana describes it as the ‘thought called I’ and says that it is what the mind essentially is. Therefore when he says that the world is a creation or projection of the mind, what he means by ‘mind’ is only this spurious thought called ‘I’, the ego.

In verse 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu he then says that when this ego rises into existence, everything rises into existence, and when this ego does not exist, everything does not exist, so the ego alone is everything:
அகந்தையுண் டாயி னனைத்துமுண் டாகு
மகந்தையின் றேலின் றனைத்து — மகந்தையே
யாவுமா மாதலால் யாதிதென்று நாடலே
யோவுதல் யாவுமென வோர்.

ahandaiyuṇ ḍāyi ṉaṉaittumuṇ ḍāhu
mahandaiyiṉ ḏṟēliṉ ḏṟaṉaittu — mahandaiyē
yāvumā mādalāl yādideṉḏṟu nādalē
yōvudal yāvumeṉa vōr.


பதச்சேதம்: அகந்தை உண்டாயின், அனைத்தும் உண்டாகும்; அகந்தை இன்றேல், இன்று அனைத்தும். அகந்தையே யாவும் ஆம். ஆதலால், யாது இது என்று நாடலே ஓவுதல் யாவும் என ஓர்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): ahandai uṇḍāyiṉ, aṉaittum uṇḍāhum; ahandai iṉḏṟēl, iṉḏṟu aṉaittum. ahandai-y-ē yāvum ām. ādalāl, yādu idu eṉḏṟu nādal-ē ōvudal yāvum eṉa ōr.

அன்வயம்: அகந்தை உண்டாயின், அனைத்தும் உண்டாகும்; அகந்தை இன்றேல், அனைத்தும் இன்று. யாவும் அகந்தையே ஆம். ஆதலால், யாது இது என்று நாடலே யாவும் ஓவுதல் என ஓர்.

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): ahandai uṇḍāyiṉ, aṉaittum uṇḍāhum; ahandai iṉḏṟēl, aṉaittum iṉḏṟu. yāvum ahandai-y-ē ām. ādalāl, yādu idu eṉḏṟu nādal-ē yāvum ōvudal eṉa ōr.

English translation: If the ego comes into existence, everything comes into existence; if the ego does not exist, everything does not exist. [Hence] the ego itself is everything. Therefore, know that investigating what this [ego] is alone is giving up everything.
This verse is a very clear and emphatic statement of dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda. If the existence of everything is entirely dependent on the existence of the ego, as Sri Ramana asserts in this verse, there is no creation (sṛṣṭi) when there is no perception (dṛṣṭi), because there can be no perception unless there is an ego who perceives. Creation is therefore no more real than the ego who perceives things that seem to have been created or come into existence, and hence we can ascertain the reality of creation only by investigating and ascertaining the reality of this ego.

According to the experience of Sri Ramana, if we investigate this ego we will find that it is unreal — that is, that there is not and never has been any such thing as ego at all. Therefore he concludes this verse by saying, ‘யாது இது என்று நாடலே யாவும் ஓவுதல்’ (yādu idu eṉḏṟu nādal-ē ōvudal yāvum), ‘investigating what this [ego] is alone is giving up everything’, because if the ego is found to be non-existent everything else will also be found to be non-existent.

When he says, ‘அகந்தையே யாவும் ஆம்’ (ahandai-y-ē yāvum ām), ‘the ego itself is everything’ or ‘everything is only the ego’, what he implies is that everything is only an expansion of the ego. The ego is our primal thought called ‘I’, and as soon as it rises it expands as numerous other thoughts, all of which constitute our mind, as he says in verse 18 of Upadēśa Undiyār (which I quoted above). What he means in that verse by the word எண்ணம் (eṇṇam), which literally means ‘thought’ or ‘idea’, is any kind of mental phenomenon — that is, any perception, conception, idea, imagination, memory, belief, feeling, emotion, desire, hope, fear or such like. In other words, everything that we experience other than our pure adjunct-free ‘I’ is what he would call a ‘thought’ or ‘idea’, because it is just a mental phenomenon of one kind or another.

What we experience as the world is just a vast series of sensory impressions or perceptual experiences — sights, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations — all of which are mental phenomena, so he frequently said that the world is nothing but thoughts or ideas. For example, in the fourth and fourteenth paragraphs of Nāṉ Yār? he says:
[...] நினைவுகளைத் தவிர்த்து ஜகமென்றோர் பொருள் அன்னியமா யில்லை. தூக்கத்தில் நினைவுகளில்லை, ஜகமுமில்லை; ஜாக்ர சொப்பனங்களில் நினைவுகளுள, ஜகமும் உண்டு. [...]

[…] niṉaivugaḷai-t tavirttu jagam-eṉḏṟōr poruḷ aṉṉiyamāy illai. tūkkattil niṉaivugaḷ illai, jagam-um illai; jāgra soppaṉaṅgaḷil niṉaivugaḷ uḷa, jagam-um uṇḍu. […]

[...] Excluding thoughts [or ideas], there is not separately any such thing as ‘world’. In sleep there are no thoughts, and [consequently] there is also no world; in waking and dream there are thoughts, and [consequently] there is also a world. [...]

[...] ஜக மென்பது நினைவே. [...]

[...] jagam eṉbadu niṉaivē. [...]

[...] What is called world is only thoughts [or ideas]. [...]
The world (and everything else we experience) is only thoughts, and all thoughts are an expansion of our ego, our primal thought called ‘I’, so in verse 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Sri Ramana says, ‘அகந்தை உண்டாயின், அனைத்தும் உண்டாகும்; அகந்தை இன்றேல், இன்று அனைத்தும். அகந்தையே யாவும் ஆம்’ (ahandai uṇḍāyiṉ, aṉaittum uṇḍāhum; ahandai iṉḏṟēl, iṉḏṟu aṉaittum. ahandai-y-ē yāvum ām), ‘If the ego comes into existence, everything comes into existence; if the ego does not exist, everything does not exist. [Hence] the ego itself is everything [or everything is only the ego]’. Thus he made it abundantly clear that the theory of creation that he taught was only dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda and not any form of sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi-vāda.

Dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda is a form of metaphysical idealism, because it implies that the world and everything else we experience consists only of ideas or thoughts, but it is not ‘a sort of degenerated idealism’, as Siddheswarananda wrote, because there is nothing inherently degenerated about it, and hence by describing it as such he was only expressing his own distaste for it. To say that it is a ‘degenerated idealism’ implies that there is some other form of idealism from which it has degenerated, but it is not at all clear what form of idealism he had in mind when he wrote this. In fact it could be argued that it is the purest form of metaphysical idealism, because unlike many other forms of such idealism, it does not posit the existence of any minds other than one’s own, since it is not motivated by any desire to avoid accepting metaphysical solipsism, the idea that no mind other than one’s own exists.

As Siddheswarananda correctly observed when he wrote, ‘The philosophical outlook of Maharshi tends very often to be confused with that of solipsism or its Indian equivalent, drishti-srishti-vada’ (p. 69), dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda does imply solipsism, the idea that only one self (ego or mind) exists. However, there are different types of solipsism, the most basic distinction among them being between metaphysical solipsism (the idea that my mind is the only mind that actually exists) and epistemological solipsism (the idea that my mind is the only mind that I can actually know exists). Though the former entails that latter, the latter does not entail the former. Since there is no adequate means by which we could logically argue that metaphysical solipsism is actually the case, in western philosophy no major philosopher has tried to defend it. However it is relatively easy to argue that epistemological solipsism is the case, and if we accept this, we have to accept that metaphysical solipsism is a possibility that cannot be disproved.

Since most people do not like to accept that metaphysical solipsism is a possibility, in western philosophy epistemological solipsism is considered to be a major problem (which is often described as ‘the problem of other minds’, that is, the problem of finding adequate justification for our instinctive belief that other people have minds just as I have). Even most metaphysical idealists (that is, those who claim that what seems to be a physical world is actually just ideas) are wary of the implications of epistemological solipsism, so they assume that other minds do exist, even though we cannot actually know that they exist. For example, Bishop George Berkeley, the famous 18th century British empiricist and subjective idealist, believed that everything we perceive is an idea not only in our own mind but primarily in the mind of God. Like Berkeley, most subjective idealists believe in the existence of other minds, so subjective idealism cannot be equated with metaphysical solipsism.

Therefore Sri Ramana did not teach subjective idealism in this sense, because the variety of idealism that he taught was that whatever we experience other than ourself (that is, other than our pure adjunct-free ‘I’) is just an idea in our own mind, and even our own mind is just an idea — the primal idea or thought called ‘I’, the ego. As he says in verse 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, if this one ego comes into existence, everything comes into existence, and if it does not exist, everything does not exist, so it alone is everything. Thus he did teach metaphysical solipsism, which in Indian philosophy is called ēka-jīva-vāda, the argument that there is just one jīva (individual self or ego). As Sri Muruganar recorded in verse 534 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai, he said:
ஏகனே சீவ னெனக்கொண் டிதயத்துள்
ஊகமுள தீர னுறைத்திடுக — ஊகம்
மலராத மாந்தர் மனங்கொள்ளச் சீவர்
பலராவ ரென்னவுடன் பட்டு.

ēkaṉē jīva ṉeṉakkoṇ ḍidayattuḷ
ūkamuḷa dhīra ṉuṟaittiḍuka — ūkam
malarāda māndar maṉaṅgoḷḷac jīvar
palarāva reṉṉavuḍaṉ paṭṭu.

பதச்சேதம்: ஏகனே சீவன் என கொண்டு இதயத்து உள் ஊகம் உள தீரன் உறைந்திடுக. ஊகம் மலராத மாந்தர் மனம் கொள்ள சீவர் பலர் ஆவர் என்ன உடன்பட்டு.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): ēkaṉē jīvaṉ eṉa koṇḍu idayattu uḷ ūgam uḷa dhīraṉ uṟaindiḍuha. ūgam malarāda māndar maṉam koḷḷa jīvar palar āvar eṉṉa uḍaṉpaṭṭu.

English translation: Accepting that jīva is only one, may the courageous person who has discernment subside [penetrate or be firmly established] in the heart. [Only] to suit the mind of dull-witted people in whom such discernment has not blossomed [do sages and sacred texts speak as if] conceding that jīvas are many.
Therefore there is no scope for us to doubt the fact that Sri Ramana has clearly and emphatically taught ēka-jīva-vāda or metaphysical solipsism. However, though he taught this as a provisional theory in order to help us be single-minded in our practice of self-investigation, he also taught that when we investigate this one ego or mind, we will eventually discover that it is unreal as such, and that what really exists is only our one infinite and indivisible self, which experiences nothing other than ‘I am’. As he says in verse 17 of Upadēśa Undiyār:
மனத்தி னுருவை மறவா துசாவ
மனமென வொன்றிலை யுந்தீபற
      மார்க்கநே ரார்க்குமி துந்தீபற.

maṉatti ṉuruvai maṟavā dusāva
maṉameṉa voṉḏṟilai yundīpaṟa
      mārgganē rārkkumi dundīpaṟa.


பதச்சேதம்: மனத்தின் உருவை மறவாது உசாவ, மனம் என ஒன்று இலை. மார்க்கம் நேர் ஆர்க்கும் இது.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): maṉattiṉ uruvai maṟavādu usāva, maṉam eṉa oṉḏṟu ilai. mārggam nēr ārkkum idu.

English translation: When [one] investigates the form of the mind without forgetting, anything called ‘mind’ does not exist. For everyone this is the direct [straight, proper, correct or true] path.
Therefore, when we experience ourself as we really are, it will be clear to us that even ēka-jīva-vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda are not true, because the ego (the ēka jīva, the one finite self) is itself actually non-existent, and hence both its perception (dṛṣṭi) and the creation (sṛṣṭi) that seems to exist because of its perception are likewise non-existent. Thus the ultimate truth is that ‘I’ (our real self or ātman) alone exists and nothing else has ever come into existence, so neither the ego nor the world has ever really existed. This is what is known as ajāta, a term that literally means ‘non-born’, ‘non-originated’ or ‘non-engendered’, and that therefore implies that no creation has ever occurred — that nothing has ever been created or come into existence.

The implication of ajāta is clearly expressed by Sri Ramana in verse 24 of Upadēśa Taṉippākkaḷ (which he composed as a condensation of verse 1227 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai, in which Sri Muruganar expressed the idea in a Sanskrit verse that Sri Ramana often used to quote, which occurs in various texts such as Amṛtabindōpaniṣad Verse 10, Ātmōpaniṣad 2.31, Māṇḍukya Kārikā 2.32 and Vivēkacūḍāmaṇi verse 574):
ஆதலழி வார்ப்பவிழ வாசைமுயல் வார்ந்தாரில்
ஈதுபர மார்த்தமென் றெண்.

ādalaṙi vārppaviṙa vāśaimuyal vārndāril
īdupara mārttameṉ ḏṟeṇ
.

பதச்சேதம்: ஆதல், அழிவு, ஆர்ப்பு, அவிழ ஆசை, முயல்வு, ஆர்ந்தார் இல்; ஈது பரமார்த்தம் என்று எண்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): ādal, aṙivu, ārppu, aviṙa āśai, muyalvu, ārndār il. īdu paramārttam eṉḏṟu eṇ.

English translation: There is no becoming [or coming into existence], destruction, bondage, desire to untie [bondage], effort [made for liberation], [or] those who have attained [liberation]. Know that this is paramārtha [the ultimate truth].
However, though ajāta is the ultimate truth, it is not the teaching that is most useful to us so long as we experience ourself as an ego living in a finite world, because believing that none of this actually exists does not help us to free ourself from the illusion that it does exist. Therefore, though Sri Ramana explained to us that this was his experience, to enable us to experience it he taught dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda, which concedes that the ego and world do seem to exist, but only as an illusion or false appearance. As Sri Muruganar recorded in verses 100 and 83 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai:
அநேகசித் தாந்த மவரவர்க் கேற்பச்
சொனாலுங் குருரமணத் தோன்றல் — தனாது
நிஜாநுபவ மாக நிகழ்த்தயாங் கேட்ட
தஜாதசித் தாந்த மறி.

anēkasid dhānta mavaravark kēṯpac
coṉāluṅ gururamaṇat tōṉḏṟal — taṉādu
nijānubhava māha nigaṙttayāṅ gēṭṭa
tajātasid dhānta maṟi.


பதச்சேதம்: அநேக சித்தாந்தம் அவர் அவர்க்கு ஏற்ப சொனாலும் குரு ரமண தோன்றல், தனாது நிஜ அநுபவம் ஆக நிகழ்த்த யாம் கேட்டது அஜாத சித்தாந்தம் அறி.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): anēka siddhāntam avar avarkku ēṯpa soṉālum guru ramaṇa tōṉḏṟal, taṉādu nija anubhavam āha nigaṙtta yām kēṭṭadu ajāta siddhāntam aṟi.

அன்வயம்: அவர் அவர்க்கு ஏற்ப குரு ரமண தோன்றல் அநேக சித்தாந்தம் சொனாலும், தனாது நிஜ அநுபவம் ஆக நிகழ்த்த யாம் கேட்டது அஜாத சித்தாந்தம் அறி.

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): avar avarkku ēṯpa guru ramaṇa tōṉḏṟal anēka siddhāntam soṉālum, taṉādu nija anubhavam āha nigaṙtta yām kēṭṭadu ajāta siddhāntam aṟi.

English translation: Although the exalted Guru Ramana expressed multifarious conclusions suited to [the beliefs, aspirations and needs of] each person, know that what we heard him explain to be his own actual experience was ajāta siddhānta [the conclusion that nothing has ever come into existence].

நாமுலக மென்ன நயந்துரைத்த தாலுயிர்கட்
காமுறுதி யோதுரம ணாசிரியர் — சேம
விவர்த்தசித் தாந்தமே மெய்யாக விண்டார்
தவிர்த்துப் பிறவற்றைத் தாம்.

nāmulaha meṉṉa nayanduraitta dāluyirgaṭ
kāmuṟudi yōdurama ṇāciriyar — ṣēma
vivarttasid dāntamē meyyāha viṇḍār
tavirttup piṟavaṯṟait tām.


பதச்சேதம்: ‘நாம் உலகம்’ என்ன நயந்து உரைத்ததால், உயிர்கட்கு ஆம் உறுதி ஓது ரமண ஆசிரியர் சேம விவர்த்த சித்தாந்தமே மெய் ஆக விண்டார், தவிர்த்து பிறவற்றை தாம்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): ‘nām ulaham’ eṉṉa nayandu uraittadāl, uyirgaṭku ām uṟudi ōdu ramaṇa āciriyar ṣēma vivartta siddhāntam-ē mey āha viṇḍār, tavirttu piṟavaṯṟai tām.

அன்வயம்: உயிர்கட்கு ஆம் உறுதி ஓது ரமண ஆசிரியர் தாம் பிறவற்றை தவிர்த்து, ‘நாம் உலகம்’ என்ன நயந்து உரைத்ததால் சேம விவர்த்த சித்தாந்தமே மெய் ஆக விண்டார்.

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): uyirgaṭku ām uṟudi ōdu ramaṇa āciriyar tām piṟavaṯṟai tavirttu, ‘nām ulaham’ eṉṉa nayandu uraittadāl ṣēma vivartta siddhāntam-ē mey āha viṇḍār.

English translation: By lovingly saying ‘nām ulaham’ [nām ulaham kāṇḍalāl, ‘because we see the world’, the opening words of the first verse of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu], Ramana-ācārya, who disseminates suitable beneficial teachings to people, taught as true only the protective vivarta siddhānta [the conclusion that everything is an illusory appearance], setting aside others [all other conclusions].
According to ajāta siddhānta nothing other than ‘I’ (our real self or ātman) actually exists or even seems to exist, whereas according to vivarta siddhānta nothing other than ‘I’ actually exists, but other things do at least seem to exist, and hence they are all illusions or false appearances.

Though ajāta siddhānta is the ultimate truth, it is of little use to us so long as we seem to be an ego who experiences itself bound within the limits of a body in a finite world, because according to ajāta siddhānta there is absolutely no ego or world and hence no bondage or anyone who could make any effort to escape bondage. Spiritual teachings and practice are possible only if it is accepted that the ego and world exist at least as an illusory appearance, which is what ajāta siddhānta explicitly denies. Therefore, though ajāta was his actual experience, Sri Ramana did not teach it except by way of intimating us that it is the ultimate truth.

What he taught instead was that though the ego and world do not actually exist, they do at least seem to exist, so they exist only as an illusion or false appearance. This teaching is therefore called vivarta vāda (the theory of false appearance) or vivarta siddhānta (the conclusion or doctrine of false appearance), the word vivarta meaning in this context an illusion or unreal appearance. The classic analogy that is used to illustrate vivarta vāda is the rope that seems to be a snake. The snake is an illusion or false appearance, so it does not actually exist as the snake that it seems to be, but it does exist as the rope that it really is. Likewise, the ego and world are an illusion or false appearance, so they do not actually exist as the finite, differentiated and ever-changing things that they seem to be, but they do exist as the one infinite, indivisible and immutable self or ātman that they really are.

The illusory snake does not exist even as a false appearance when no one sees it, so it is created only as a result of being seen. Likewise, the world does not exist even as a false appearance when the ego does not perceive it, so it is created only by the ego’s perception of it. Thus vivarta vāda is what is also called dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda, the theory that perception (dṛṣṭi) is the cause of creation (sṛṣṭi).

How the terms dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda and vivarta-vāda are two alternative descriptions of the same theory is also illustrated by our experience in dream. The world that we experience in a dream is not real but just an illusory appearance (vivarta), and hence it was created by our perception (dṛṣṭi) of it. Therefore, since Sri Ramana taught that what we take to be a waking state is actually just another dream, it is clear that he thereby taught the view that is called both dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda and vivarta-vāda.

If our present waking state is actually a dream, the obvious and unavoidable implication of this is not only that it is a false appearance and a production of our perception of it, but also that it is perceived by only one ego. Therefore, when Sri Ramana says that this state that seems to be waking is actually just a dream, and that the world we now perceive is therefore no more real than any world that we perceive in a dream, he clearly and unambiguously implies that he is teaching vivarta-vāda, dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda and ēka-jīva-vāda.

Why then did a learned person such as Swami Siddheswarananda, who was undoubtedly a sincere devotee and spiritual aspirant, and who as a senior monk in the Ramakrishna Mission had dedicated his life to teaching and propagating the philosophy of advaita vēdānta, not only fail to recognise but even go so far as to explicitly deny that ēka-jīva-vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda are both an integral part of Sri Ramana’s principal teachings (and are also clearly implied in the writings of Gaudapada and Sankara, which he quotes)? Presumably it was because he was unable to accept the implications of these theories. Like the vast majority of people, he could not bring himself to believe that there is only one ego who experiences this world, and that the world does not exist except when that ego experiences it, and even then it is just an illusory appearance like a dream.

His inability to accept ēka-jīva-vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda is actually typical of most scholars of advaita vēdānta, including many saṃnyasis (renunciates) who either taught advaita vēdānta in past centuries or teach it now. This is particularly true of those who nowadays teach what they claim to be ‘traditional vēdānta’ (by which they mean ‘traditional advaita vēdānta’, but which could be described more accurately as ‘scholastic advaita vēdānta’), because traditionally scholars of advaita vēdānta have had difficulty accepting all the profound and radical implications of advaita vēdānta as it was expounded in the writings of Gaudapada and Sankara, and hence they have turned a blind eye towards, circumvented or argued around any implications that they do not relish.

To accept (from a metaphysical perspective) that I am the only ego or jīva, that this entire world is just a dream that is experienced by no one other than me, and that all my friends, relatives and other people I see in this world are no more real than the people I meet in a dream, or even to accept (from an epistemological perspective) that all these are a possibility that I have no adequate evidence or logical reason to disprove, requires a certain courage and whole-hearted commitment to ascertaining what is actually true or real. As Sri Ramana indicated in verse 534 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai (which I quoted above), we need to be a courageous person (dhīraṉ) to accept that there is only one ego or jīva (which seems to exist only so long as our attention is turned out towards anything other than ourself) and therefore to turn within and to subside into the innermost depth of oneself in order to ascertain that even this one ego does not actually exist.

Therefore, when we study and try to understand the teachings of Sri Ramana, we each have to ask ourself whether we have the courage and singleness of purpose to accept (at least as a tentative theory or working hypothesis to be tested by self-investigation) that we are the only ego and that this entire world and all the other people we see in it are just our own mental creation, like the world we experience in a dream. For many of us it is not easy to accept this even tentatively, but if we are to succeed in our endeavour to turn our attention within and to sink into the uttermost depth of ourself in order to experience ourself as we really are, in complete isolation from everything else, we need to pluck up the necessary inner courage to accept the full implications of what Sri Ramana has taught us.

The difficulty that Swami Siddheswarananda had in accepting that the entire world is a creation of our own individual mind or ego, and that our own mind is the only mind there is, was also experienced by other sincere devotees of Sri Ramana. For example, in section 556 of Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi it is recorded that in October 1938 Alan Chadwick asked him, ‘The world is said to become manifest after the mind becomes manifest. There is no mind when I sleep. Is the world not existent to others at that time? Does it not show that the world is the product of a universal mind? How then shall we say that the world is not material but only dream-like?’ to which he replied:
The world does not tell you that it is of the individual mind or of the universal mind. It is only the individual mind that sees the world. When this mind disappears the world also disappears. [...] when we see our Self there is no world, and when we lose sight of the Self we get ourselves bound in the world.
Because Chadwick was sincerely trying to understand his teachings, when replying to him Sri Ramana maintained his usual stance of ēka-jīva-vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda by insisting that it is only our own individual mind that causes the appearance of the world. However, when replying to others who were obviously not able or willing to accept ēka-jīva-vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda he would often talk as if he accepted that there are many jīvas or that the world was created not by our own mind but by God (which is a form of sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi-vāda, the theory that the world exists independent of our perception of it).

This is why Sri Muruganar wrote in verse 100 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai: ‘அநேக சித்தாந்தம் அவர் அவர்க்கு ஏற்ப சொனாலும் குரு ரமண தோன்றல் […]’ (anēka siddhāntam avar avarkku ēṯpa soṉālum guru ramaṇa tōṉḏṟal […]), ‘Although the exalted Guru Ramana expressed multifarious conclusions suited to each person […]’. Here the words அவர் அவர்க்கு ஏற்ப (avar avarkku ēṯpa), which literally mean ‘suited to them them’ and which in Tamil is a way of saying ‘suited to each person’, imply that the reason why he expressed or spoke as if he accepted so many different conclusions or doctrines was to suit the beliefs, aspirations, intellectual ability, spiritual maturity, mental state and individual needs of each person.

If we read Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi and other such books that record (more or less accurately) conversations with Sri Ramana, it is clear that he expressed and discussed a wide diversity of philosophical views or doctrines, but we should not mistake everything that he said to be an expression of his real teachings, because as Sri Muruganar indicated in verse 100 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai many of the ideas he expressed were only intended to suit the particular beliefs, aspirations and needs of whichever person he was then speaking to. Therefore to understand what his real teachings are, we need to think carefully and critically (that is, with keen intellectual discrimination and discernment) about everything that he wrote and is recorded to have said, and should not blindly accept that whatever he said is his actual teaching.

In other words, we should do not only śravaṇa (hearing, reading or studying) but should also manana (deep thinking, pondering or reflection) upon his teachings. However, even śravaṇa and manana are not sufficient on their own, because to have the required clarity of mind and heart to understand correctly what we study and reflect upon we must also practise what he taught us — that is, we must do nididhyāsana, deep inward contemplation on ourself, which is what is otherwise known as ātma-vicāra or self-investigation.

If we study his teachings thoroughly, reflect upon them carefully and deeply, and practise ātma-vicāra as deeply and frequently as we can, we will understand clearly and be left in no doubt at all that ēka-jīva-vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda are theories that are fundamental and essential to the entire conceptual framework of his actual teachings.

However, we should also understand that whether or not we are ready to accept ēka-jīva-vāda and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda, we cannot know for certain whether either of them is true unless and until we investigate ourself and thereby experience ourself as we really are. When we do experience ourself as we really are, we will discover that neither of these two theories is actually true, because there is no jīva (ego or finite self) and hence no dṛṣṭi (seeing or perception) or sṛṣṭi (creation or coming into existence of anything), but so long as we mistakenly experience ourself as an ego, these are the theories that are closest to the truth and that will be most helpful to us in our practise of self-investigation.

41 comments:

Sankarraman said...

Dear Michael,
By a mere glance at your elaborate explanation of the ' Eka-Jiva-Vada' idea very much recommended by Bhagavan as a precursor to the ' Ajadavada' I have got all my understanding very much confirmed. This transcendental viewpoint is available only in the text of ' Yogavasishta' but of course the subjective idealism of Yogachara Buddhism being mixed.

Sankarraman said...

Unfortunately most of the traditional Advaitins have incorrectly understood the concept of the world being a creation of the mind, making some odd ideas of the cosmic mind being responsible for the creation of the world, that being different from the individual mind, such dualistic ideas hardly finding favour with Bhagavan. That is why I unsubscribe from the advaita yahoo group, not being satisfied with their fanciful, theoretical ideas. A study of Guruvachakakkovai is a sine qua non in understanding the ' Eka-Jiva-Vada' of Bhagavan. I am very happy to find myself comfortable with this teachings of Bhagavan.

Sanjay Lohia said...

Sir, I had difficulty in understanding the meanings of the terms ‘metaphysical’, ‘solipsism’ and ‘idealism’ in the title of this article: Metaphysical solipsism, idealism and creation theories in the teachings of Sri Ramana

I tried finding out the meaning of these words. I discovered that:

Metaphysics is a part of philosophy which is concerned with understanding reality and developing theories about what exists and how we know that it exists.

Solipsism holds that that knowledge of anything outside one’s own mind in unsure; the external world and other minds cannot be known, and might not exist outside the mind.

Idealism is the beliefs and behaviour of someone who has ideals and who tries to base their behaviour on these ideals.

The meaning of ‘metaphysical’ and ‘solipsism’ is clear, but in the context of this article the exact meaning of ‘idealism’ still does not fit into my understanding.

Could you explain its meaning in the context of this article?

Thanking you and pranams.

Michael James said...

Yes, Sanjay, metaphysics is the branch of philosophy concerned with what exists or what is real, and is often distinguished from epistemology, which is the branch of philosophy concerned with knowledge or what we really know (as opposed to what we believe we know). According to Bhagavan, what actually exists is only ‘I’ and what we actually know is only ‘I’, so in this sense in his teachings the metaphysical (what is, uḷḷadu or sat) and the epistemological (what knows, uṇarvu or cit) are inseparable, being one and the same thing.

I explained the meaning of ‘solipsism’ and ‘idealism’ in the relevant places in this article, but for more information about them you can see the Wikipedia articles Solipsism and Idealism.

What you have described is epistemological solipsism, the idea that I cannot know whether or not any mind other than my own actually exists, whereas ēka-jīva-vāda is metaphysical solipsism, the idea that my own mind is the only mind that actually exists.

The meaning of ‘idealism’ depends on the context in which it is used. What you have described is social, political or ethical idealism, which is the sense in which this term is most commonly used, but that is quite different to metaphysical idealism. In a social, political or ethical context idealism is a belief about how things should be, whereas in a metaphysical context idealism is a belief about what things are, namely the belief that everything is just ideas or thoughts.

Metaphysical theories are generally classified into three broad categories: idealism, materialism and dualism. Idealism is the theory that the world and everything else that we experience consists only of ideas or mental substance. Materialism (or physicalism) is the theory the physical world is the only reality, so even the mind and consciousness must somehow be physical phenomena and should therefore be explicable in terms of the laws of physics. Dualism is the theory that there are two independent substances, mental and physical, so mind and body are two independent entities that are temporarily linked together.

There are of course many varieties of each of these three broad categories of theories, and there are theories that do not fit into any of these categories, such as neutral monism, which any theory that says that the reality is neither mental nor physical but something that underlies the appearance of both the mental and the physical, so in this sense Bhagavan’s teachings (and advaita in general) are essentially a form of neutral monism.

What Bhagavan taught actually combines neutral monism with elements of idealism, because he taught that the sole ultimate reality is ourself (ātman or brahman), which is neither mental nor physical, but that from this reality the ego rises and projects the world. The ego is the primal idea or thought called ‘I’, and the world it projects is just a collection of other ideas. Therefore the seemingly physical world consists only of ideas (as idealism postulates), but ideas are not the ultimate reality (as neutral monism postulates), because they originate from the ego or mind, which is not real but just an illusory appearance.

venkat said...

Michael
Thank you very much for taking the time to write this beautiful article, and to post a reply to my question.

In your reply to my question, you said that eka jiva vada postulates the appearance of a creation, though it is unreal, and implying that in ajata vada there is not even the appearance of a creation.

The question that arises is that perception of myself and the world is clearly here. But I guess you would respond that if one seeks the source of the 'I' / ego, then that will disappear and with it the world. And it is ONLY THEN that it can be experienced that there is no perceived world either.

Best wishes
venkat

Michael James said...

Venkat, in reply to your comment I have written a new article, The perceiver and the perceived are both unreal, which I have posted here today.

Wittgenstein said...

Michael, very nice article. I have read scholarly people write about evolutionary theories and this is totally different from all that. The reason that this is different is due to the clear link you show between the creation of the world and the evolution of the I-thought. Evolution of I-thought is indeed the creation of the world and this happens everyday when we 'wake up' from sleep. Only those who experience the evolution of I-thought with keen attention can write something of this sort.

It is very interesting to note that Sri Ramana never brings in unncesssary concepts and confuse the sadhaka in the discussion of creation. For example, maya shakthi never comes into the picture. Rather, he says the mind is a 'wonderous power'. Maya is a redundant concept and one can directly say the mind seemingly arises from the self, cutting down the intermediate entities like maya and assigning all its powers to mind itself, without loss of logical consistency. Sri Ramana always sticks to what the sadhaka knows (like the mind, not maya) and can possibly understand at his level of maturity and proceeds with his simplistic and elegant explanations, always prompting to drive him inwards.

Speaking of evolution of the I-thought, I have comes across Sri Ramana talking about a 'transitional-I' between the self and the ego. For example, in Talk 314 he says, "[...] it [the self] evolves as aham (‘I’) without the idam (‘this’) in the transition stage; and manifests as aham (‘I’) and idam (‘this’) in the waking state. [...] he [sadhaka] must aim at realisation in the way indicated (i.e., by means of the transitional ‘I’) [...]". This is very different from the usual Sri Ramana (simple and beautiful in his explanations) who always avoids any talk of 'intermediate stages'. Not many would know this 'pure transitional-I to begin with. So, why is he talking this here? However, one would know the 'impure-I' certaintly. Is it not enough to keep sniffing this 'impure' scent all way to reach the master? This is the only place where I see this 'transitional-I' appearing and I do not see it (as far as I know) in Ulladu Narpadu. This is not so urgent to be answered immediately [in case you are busy with other things], as knowing the answer is in no way necessary for the ongoing self-investigation.

Ramana_devotee said...

Dear Sir, If metaphysical idealism is accepted as a working hypothesis, who is blogging to whom? Who is replying to whom? same person asking question and replying as well?

Wittgenstein said...

It is said in this article that,"in western philosophy epistemological solipsism is considered to be a major problem". This is very true. I think the problem is due to the fact that it does not analyze dream and sleep states as in Indian philosophy. The one and only mind western solipsism ends up with (rather forced to end up with as a natural corollary of idealism) gets submerged in sleep while we cannot deny our own existence there. Only by understanding this one can move to the next step in Sri Ramana's teaching, as it is very clearly pointed out here ("since it is not motivated by any desire to avoid accepting metaphysical solipsism, the idea that no mind other than one’s own exists").

Wittgenstein said...

"Though ajāta siddhānta is the ultimate truth, it is of little use to us so long as we seem to be an ego [...]". It is true that single-ego theory is very practical for a self-investigator. On the other hand karma theories would not be compatible with this and hence impractical. They would necessarily suppose multiple interacting egos and a god. From this we can conclude that as long as we heed to Sri Ramana's suggestion in accepting single-ego hypothesis, we should not entertain impractical karma theories.

Wittgenstein said...

By 'metaphysical idealism'is 'ontological idealism' meant here?

Wittgenstein said...

1. I-thought is the 'I am the body' idea.
2. Body and world always pair up.
Therefore, world is created SIMULTANEOUSLY with arising of the I-thought. What one observes during self-investigation is the increasing depth of the background awareness while the world takes a back seat. Upon waking up from sleep, it is observed that world arises from the SAME depth one reached during self-investigation and comes to the fore front while the awareness takes back seat and one may seem to lose it (but it can be attended to anytime - it is always there). Of course this depth is dynamic. Therefore, this single-ego theory has got to be true.

Ramana_devotee said...

All these creation theories are simply thought forms that appear and disappear in the Self. Try what may, none of these theories can be proved. Entity that investigates the creation is in the plane of thoughts and part of the dream itself. Best course of action here is to remain silent and abide at the source of all these thoughts.

Michael James said...

Wittgenstein, in answer to your first comment above, as I explained towards the end of this article ‘we should not mistake everything that he [Bhagavan] said to be an expression of his real teachings, because as Sri Muruganar indicated in verse 100 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai many of the ideas he expressed were only intended to suit the particular beliefs, aspirations and needs of whichever person he was then speaking to’.

Moreover, when we read books like Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi we should bear in mind that what is recorded in them is unlikely to be exactly what he said, because whoever recorded such books could only record what they remembered, and they would have remembered what he said only as they understood it, so inevitably their own understanding, interpretation and preconceived ideas would have been mixed in their memory with whatever he actually said. The recorder of Talks, Munagala Venkataramiah, was for some years the main interpreter who translated Bhagavan’s answers from Tamil into English for anyone who did not know Tamil, and he had a reputation for elaborating on whatever Bhagavan said (no doubt believing that by adding his own explanations he was helping others to understand what he thought Bhagavan meant), so when Talks was first published in 1955 many old devotees who were present when those conversations took place were not surprised to find that he likewise mixed his own elaborations into what he recorded Bhagavan as saying.

One day in the late 1930s or early 1940s someone began to ask Bhagavan questions in English, but since Munagala was not there to translate for him, he did not immediately reply, until someone suggested that Devaraja Mudaliar could translate his answers. He then answered a series of questions, and after hearing Mudaliar translate the dialogue he remarked with evident satisfaction, ‘Ah, today what I said was translated as I said it’. Unlike Managala, who had read many books on diverse systems of Indian philosophy, Mudaliar had no interest in such matters, so he made no attempt to explain or elaborate on what Bhagavan said.

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

Michael James said...

In continuation of my reply to Wittgenstein in my previous comment:

Regarding the particular passage in section 314 of Talks that you ask about, it seems that whatever Bhagavan said has not been recorded very clearly there, and I suspect that that entire section is a reflection more of Munagala’s own understanding and interpretation than of what Bhagavan actually said. As Bhagavan says in verse 25 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, the ego comes into being by grasping form, and as he 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), ‘The mind stands only by always going after [or attaching itself to] something gross [something other than ‘I’]; solitarily it does not stand’, both of which clearly imply that ‘I’ (aham) cannot rise without ‘this’ (idam) — that is, without clinging to something other than itself, some ‘form’ or ‘something gross’.

However, if we observe carefully, we can see that the forms that the ego first grasps are those that it takes to be ‘I’, such as the body, and that only after grasping these does it become aware of other forms that seem to be distinct from ‘I’, so on waking from sleep there is a brief moment when the ego is aware of no forms (no ‘this’ or idam) other than the forms that it mistakes to be itself. Perhaps this initial state of the rising of ‘I’ before it expands as the world was what Bhagavan was referring to then as the ‘transition stage’, and because in this state ‘I’ is still relatively isolated from other things it is an ideal opportunity for us to try to focus our entire attention on it, thereby isolating it even from whatever forms it then experiences as itself.

However, though this ‘transition stage’ through which we pass on waking from sleep serves as clue that indicates the nature of the isolated state that we should be trying to experience when practising ātma-vicāra, when we actually wake from sleep we generally pass through this stage too quickly for us to be able to hold on to it, so during the waking state we should try to return to that state by focusing our entire attention only on ‘I’. The more keenly our attention is focused on ‘I’, the more it will be withdrawn from all other things, and thus the more isolated ‘I’ will be. Thus by trying to be vigilantly self-attentive we must attempt to experience ‘I’ (aham) in as much isolation as possible from even the slightest trace of any ‘this’ (idam).

That is, since our aim is to experience ‘I’ in complete isolation from everything else, we must pass through a state that is very similar to the transition stage through which we pass on waking from sleep — that is, a state in which aham (ourself) is isolated from all but the subtlest forms of idam. Eventually, however, we must experience aham in complete isolation from even the most subtle forms of idam, because then only will we experience ourself as we really are.

Michael James said...

Ramana_devotee, in answer to your first comment, if we were having a discussion with other people in a dream, who would be replying to whatever we said, and from where would the questions or ideas expressed by them come? Since the entire dream is created by our own mind, whatever other people say in our dream is actually just our own ideas, even though the person we then take to be ‘I’ may be disagreeing with them.

In the final analysis, therefore, any discussion or conversation we may have in a dream we would be having only with ourself. Likewise, if our present state is just a dream, as metaphysical idealism (of the pure variety that does not try to evade solipsism) postulates, any discussion or conversation we may have in this state would be one that we are having with ourself.

If we are engaging in discussion just to convince others or to defeat them in argument, that would be a futile delusion if this just a dream, but if we are engaging in discussion to clarify our own understanding, that would be worthwhile even if this just a dream. Since I am concerned only to clarify my own understanding and not to convince anyone who does not want to be convinced, the answers to your questions are that in the final analysis I am blogging just to myself and replying to my own questions for my own benefit (even though it may seem to me that I am having these discussions with others and that some of those others seem to find these discussions useful as I do).

Even though we may suspect that our life in this world is just a dream, so long as we are dreaming we must respond to our dream circumstances as if they were real. In a dream, if we are hungry we try to find food to eat, if we are desperate to go to the toilet we try to find one to relieve ourself, if a car is coming towards us we step out of its way, or if a monster is chasing us we run away from it, because so long as we are dreaming all these things seem to be real. Likewise, even if all this is a dream, it seems to us to be real, so we must behave in this dream in whatever way is suitable to the circumstances in which we seem to be.

The reason why Bhagavan taught us that this world and our life in it is all just a dream is that if we believe this it will make it easier for us to free ourself from our attachment to these things and thereby to turn our mind within to try to experience only ‘I’. He did not teach this with an intention that we should in any way try to change our outward behaviour (which he said is anyway determined only by our prārabdha or destiny), but only to help us give up our interest in anything outward so that we can turn within and merge in our source, our real self.

What you write in your second comment is all true, but it seems to miss the point of the creation theory taught by Bhagavan, namely dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda, because the sole purpose of this theory is that believing it will help us to ‘to remain silent and abide at the source of all these thoughts’, as you put it.

No theory can ever be proved, because a theory is just one of various possible interpretations of whatever may be experienced, but it is not necessary to prove any theory so long as it serves its purpose. So long as we experience ourself as an ego, we can neither prove nor disprove the theory that this world is just a dream, but if we believe this theory and therefore lose interest in in all this unreal appearance, that will help us to turn within and thereby experience ourself as we really are, which is the only purpose that this theory is intended to serve.

Michael James said...

Wittgenstein, in your comment of 2 October 2014 10:29, you say that karma theories are not compatible with the single-ego theory, but I do not see why not. Though he did not attach too much importance to karma, Bhagavan did teach a karma theory, and the sole purpose of the karma theory he taught is the same as that of the single-ego theory, namely to help us to give up interest in anything outward so that we can turn within and try to experience ourself as we really are.

In verse 38 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu he says that if we are the doer of actions (as the ego always experiences itself to be), we will have to experience the resulting fruit, so the karma theory does not require many egos but only one ego. The essential point of the karma theory as taught by him is that we cannot change what we are destined to experience outwardly, so the only wise use we can make of our free will is to try to turn within to ascertain what this ‘I’ that seems to do karma and to experience its fruit actually is.

Michael James said...

Wittgenstein, regarding your question about whether ‘metaphysical idealism’ means ‘ontological idealism’, the answer is yes, because basically it is the claim that everything that exists consists only of ideas, or in other words, that what seems to be a physical mind-independent world is actually just a mental creation. That is, since ontology is concerned with what exists, and since metaphysical idealism says that what exists is only ideas, it can also be called ontological idealism.

Though dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda or vivarta vāda is a form of metaphysical or ontological idealism, it does not claim that ideas are ultimately real, because they appear in waking and dream but disappear is sleep, and because they exist only in the view of the ego, which is itself just an idea — the first idea called ‘I’. That is, according to dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda as taught by Bhagavan, whatever seems to be physical is actually just ideas, which are just an expansion of the ego, which seems to be real only so long as it does not investigate itself by attending to itself exclusively. When the ego does investigate itself, it subsides and dissolves in its source, ‘I am’, which is thus revealed to be the sole existing reality.

Therefore dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda, vivarta vāda or metaphysical idealism as taught by Bhagavan is just an interim theory, whose sole purpose is to divert our attention away from all other ideas towards the ‘I’ (the ego) that creates and experiences them, because the ego and its ideas seem to be real only so long as the ego is attending to them, and they cease to exist as soon as the ego tries to attend only to itself.

venkat said...

Dear Michael

Wonderful series of articles on creation theories, and elucidatory response to Ramana_devotee's comments.

Thank you.

venkat

Wittgenstein said...

Regarding your reply on 5 October 2014 11:57, you say Sri Ramana said, “Ah, today what I said was translated as I said it”. I think that statement of Sri Ramana was probably true for that particular day. As we now know, Mudaliar wrote in his DDB on some other day that vichara continues even in sleep, where he was writing what Sri Ramana could not have said (leave alone translating what he said). Being a philosophically oriented person or not has its own pros and cons.

Regarding your reply on 5 October 2014 12:03, what I gather from your reply is that the ‘transitional-I’ seems to be something one would reach just before ‘reaching the goal’ (after turning-in) with very subtle vasanas, as it was the first to emerge while ‘turning-out’. Persons like you with much deeper practice should know this (not for me!).

Regarding your reply on 5 October 2014 17:25, you say, “In verse 38 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu he [Sri Ramana] says that if we are the doer of actions (as the ego always experiences itself to be), we will have to experience the resulting fruit, so the karma theory does not require many egos but only one ego”. Even though I am the doer of my action, who am I acting on? Further, who arranges the fruits of my action? The answers would assume other egos and a god. I am not so sure if these other egos and god are considered as projections of my mind in karma theory. But they are surely my own projections in the single-ego theory. If karma theory posits that the other egos and god are the projections of my mind, then, yes, it is compatible with the single-ego theory. I am not sure about this. I thought karma theory (but not the single-ego theory) was accepted even by followers of Sri Madhva.

Wittgenstein said...

Michael, I seem to understand the compatibility of karma and single-ego theories. The latter says everything is an unreal projection of the mind. What is projected? It is the karma getting projected all the time. You are very right about the compatability.

Truth said...

Ramana_devotee, I agree. It kinda makes sense. But you said -"Entity that investigates the creation is in the plane of thoughts and part of the dream itself". By dream you mean "Eka jiva"?

Ramana_devotee said...

Truth,

By dream, I mean that which is unreal. Anything that has beginning and end is unreal.

For eg, when a tree is perceived and enquired, sequence would be:

1. Perception of a tree - Tree is a thought. Any sense perception is a thought. Bhagavan once mentioned toothache is nothing but a thought.

2. I see a tree - This is another thought.

3. Who created this tree? - Another thought.

4. Was it materialistic or idealistic? - Another thought.

5. What did Bhagavan say? - Another thought.

As we can see in the above sequence, thoughts - 2,3,4 and 5 are all thoughts like thought 1. Any investigation is just another fresh thought. Any fresh thought can't enquire into thought 1.

All these series of thoughts appear and disappear in your presence. They give an illusion of continuity. Unless all these thoughts are transcended by remaining as presence, there won't be end to these thoughts.

Drishti Srishti Vada helps to keep us in the present moment and leads to Ajati Vada to realize the contents of the present moment are not real but thoughts.



Sanjay Lohia said...

Sir, you have written in one of your above comment dated 5 October 2014, in response to a comment by Ramana_devotee, as follows:

If we are engaging in discussion just to convince others or to defeat them in argument, that would be a futile delusion if this [is] just a dream, but if we are engaging in discussion to clarify our own understanding, that would be worthwhile even if this [is] just a dream.

May be when I start my discussion it is not to convince others, but as I gradually proceed in my discussion I do try to convince others, though I will not go so far as to say that I engage in discussion to defeat them in argument. But even this could be a hidden motive at times. This happens more in my verbal discussion, rather than in my written discussion.

What is the way out? Should I simply not discuss spiritual matters with others and just stay quiet, because if I start discussing I do at times tend to show off my knowledge?

Thanking you and pranams.

Michael James said...

Wittgenstein, in reply to your comment of 6 October 2014 11:11:

Yes, we obviously should not try to read too much into that comment that Bhagavan made about Devaraja Mudaliar translating what he said as he said it. What he implied was only that Mudaliar had not elaborated on anything he said, as Munagala Venkataramiah tended to do, and not that Mudaliar would necessarily record it accurately if he were to try to do so afterwards from his memory, or that he would always understand what he said correctly.

Regarding what you write in your second paragraph about the ‘transitional-I’, I doubt whether Bhagavan would have actually used such a term, because there is actually only one ‘I’. When this one ‘I’ is experienced without any adjuncts, it is called ‘self’ (because it is what we really are), and when it seems to be mixed with any adjuncts, the resulting mixture is called ‘ego’ or ‘mind’. As it really is, ‘I’ does not rise, subside or undergo any sort of change, so when it seems to rise from sleep it does so by seemingly mixing itself with adjuncts.

The transitional stage between waking and dream is the state in which the ego is just beginning to rise, so in that state what is experienced as ‘I’ (which is what is called “the transitional ‘I’” in section 314 of Talks) is the ego in its nascent condition. Though ‘I’ is already mixed with adjuncts in this state, the adjuncts with which it is then mixed are relatively subtle, having not yet formed into their fully developed concrete forms such as the physical body, but due to the strength of our attachment to them they usually develop very rapidly to become this body, through the senses of which they then expand outwards to become this entire world.

When we try to attend to and thereby experience ‘I’ alone, the adjuncts to which we were attached (which were brought into existence and formed only by our attachment to them) begin to dissolve and drop off us (like mist dissolving and dropping off a mountain), so we pass back through the transitional state through which we had emerged from sleep — that is, the state in which the remaining adjuncts are dissolving and are therefore in a relatively subtle or ethereal form.

This is what I meant when I wrote in my earlier reply: “That is, since our aim is to experience ‘I’ in complete isolation from everything else, we must pass through a state that is very similar to the transition stage through which we pass on waking from sleep — that is, a state in which aham (ourself) is isolated from all but the subtlest forms of idam. Eventually, however, we must experience aham in complete isolation from even the most subtle forms of idam, because then only will we experience ourself as we really are”.

As Bhagavan used to say, we must go back the way we came. Since we became the ego by adorning ourself with adjuncts, we must now return to our real state by the dissolution and shedding of these adjuncts. The shell of our adjuncts was formed by our rising as an ego that experiences things that seem to be other than ‘I’, so it will dissolve and be shed only by our trying to experience nothing other than ‘I’ and thereby subsiding back into the source from which we arose.

Michael James said...

Wittgenstein, regarding the last paragraph of your comment of 6 October 2014 11:11 and your next comment, there are many different interpretations or variations of the karma theory, and most of them are based on the common assumption that there are many egos. However, though it seems to the outward-looking and karma-engaged ego that there are many other egos out there acting in a similar way, the karma theory (at least in the form in which it was explained by Bhagavan) does not actually depend in any way upon the existence of more than one ego.

In a dream there is only one ‘I’ who experiences it, but that one ‘I’ experiences itself as a person and sees many other similar persons in that dream world. The person we take to be ‘I’ in our dream is no more real than any of the other persons we see there, and the only difference between them is that one is experienced as ‘I’ whereas the others are experienced as ‘others’. Whether there is actually any ego in those others or not makes no significant difference to the karma theory, because the karma theory only entails that I experience myself as a person who does actions (karmas) and who experiences the fruits or moral consequences of my actions.

As for God, even though positing the existence of God is necessary to explain how the fruit of each karma is determined and allotted, that does not mean that God is any more real than the karmas or the ego who does them and experiences their fruit, so positing the seeming existence of such a God does not conflict with the single-ego theory (ēka-jīva-vāda).

Michael James said...

Sanjay, in reply to your latest comment, whatever we may be doing we should always be careful to keep a watch on our ego, because if we do not watch it will definitely be asserting itself in one way or another. Often we neglect to watch it, so it starts to assert itself, but as soon as we notice this we should try to watch it.

When we are engaged in discussions with others, particularly verbal discussions, we tend to neglect watching our ego, and hence without our noticing it it begins to assert itself by trying to show off its knowledge or persuade others that its view is correct. Therefore at such times we should be particularly vigilant.

As you say, we may begin the discussion just because of our interest in the subject, but if we are not vigilant our ego will take it as an opportunity to rise and boost its self-conceit. To avoid this, it is not necessary to avoid discussing spiritual matters, but it is necessary to be vigilantly self-watchful (that is, attentive to ‘I’).

Anonymous said...

Michael,
Interesting article, very well written.

The eka-jiva doctrine, while adequately explains the Advaita position, contradicts Bhagavad Gita Ch 2 verse 12: Natvevaham..(there was never a time when I (Krishna), you (Arguna) and all these kings did not exist. And they will continue to exist in the future). In the next verse it says, dehi will get rid of old body and accept new body. Both verses taken together mean all the individuals are jivas.

If the kings and Krishna are Arjuna's mental creations, then they won't be existing in the past or future and won't be changing bodies.

It appears that multiple jivas are under similar illusions. This is why when one jiva gets rid of its ego and illusion, others don't get liberated.

Any thoughts?

Michael James said...

Anonymous, though it may sometimes seem to, advaita does not actually contradict any teaching in the Bhagavad Gītā, because advaita alone is the true and ultimate import of the Gītā. When we read a text such as the Gītā, we should consider the meaning of each verse carefully in the context of the entire text and of other verses in it, because the inner meaning of many verses is not what they superficially seem to mean.

For example we should consider the verse you refer to (2.12) in the light of verse 2.16 (which Sri Ramana has translated as verse 9 of Bhagavad Gītā Sāram), in which Sri Krishna says that there is no existence (bhāva) of the non-existent (asat) and no non-existence (abhāva) of what exists (sat). From this we can infer that what actually exists must always exist, and that what does not always exist does not actually exist even when it seems to exist.

Therefore, since the ego or mind (the jīva) seems to exist only in waking and dream but not in sleep, we can infer that it does not actually exist even when it seems to exist. Likewise we can infer that the physical world (of which our body is a part) also does not actually exist, because it seems to exist only in this waking state, and in dream another world seems to exist, whereas in sleep no world or body seems to exist at all.

If we apply the meaning of verse 2.16 when considering the meaning of verse 2.12, we can infer that when Sri Krishna said in the latter that at no time did I not exist, nor you, nor all these kings, and that none of us will cease to exist in future, what he meant was that we are all only the one eternal thing that actually exists, and that we are therefore not the transient and perishable jīvas that we all now seem to be.

Therefore as Sri Krishna says in 6.25 and 26 (which Sri Ramana has translated as verses 27 and 28 of Bhagavad Gītā Sāram), we should gently and gradually withdraw our mind from everything else and fix it firmly on ourself alone. In other words, we should try to experience ourself alone by attending to nothing other than ourself. Then only will we experience ourself as the one infinite reality that alone actually exists, and that never ceases to exist.

Anonymous said...

Michael,
I wasn't saying Advaita contradicts Bhagavad Gita, but that the eka-jiva doctrine does not seem to agree with this verse.

I agree with your statement:"we all are one brahman, not the individual jivas that we appear to be". It also agrees with Sankara's commentary.

I was pointing out that there is no difference between Arjuna and others in terms of birth, death and re-birth and hence they are all "jivas" - instead of Arjuna being the only jiva (eka-jiva) and others being imaginations of Arjuna's mind. If they were imaginations of Arjuna's mind, they wouldn't have re-birth etc.

Michael James said...

Anonymous, ēka-jīva-vāda is an advanced teaching, and advanced teachings superficially seem to contradict less advanced ones. However, it is not really a case of contradiction, because less advanced teachings are generally simplified or diluted versions of the more advanced teachings. During the early stages of our journey along the path to true self-knowledge, we will not be ready to accept advanced teachings like ēka-jīva-vāda, and initially it is not necessary to do so, so the teachings are presented as if there were many jīvas. Only when we are more advanced along the path and therefore not so attached to the idea that our present life and the world we experience in it is anything but a dream will we be ready to accept ēka-jīva-vāda, the argument that we are the only one who is experiencing this dream.

If we read verse 2.12 superficially, it seems that Sri Krishna is talking about distinct individuals (jīvas) when he refers to ‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘these kings’, but if we consider it more carefully, it is clear that what he implies is that all these individuals are not actually individuals but only the one imperishable reality. If we were to assume that he meant that all these individuals are actually individuals, that would imply that he is saying that jīvas are eternal, in which case that would mean that jīvas are real and that they would not cease to be jīvas even if they were to attain liberation, which would be a contradiction of advaita.

Advaita can be true only if all diversity, multiplicity and differences are just a false appearance, so we cannot accept that both advaita and the idea that jīvas are many and eternal are true. If advaita is true, the appearance of many jīvas must be false, and if the appearance of many jīvas is true, advaita must be false.

According to advaita, even the one jīva that we now seem to be is not real. However, since it seems to us that this jīva is real and that it is experiencing a world full of other jīvas, advaita teaches us vivarta vāda, the view that all this is just an illusion or false appearance, like a dream. In a dream we experience ourself as a person and we see a world in which other people also exist, and those other people seem to be experiencing that world just as we do. But when we wake up, we realise that we were not the person that we then seemed to be, and that we were the only one who was experiencing that imaginary world.

Likewise, though it seems to us now that all the other people we see in this world are experiencing it just as we do, if this is all a dream, all these other people are no more real than all the other people we saw in a dream, and just as no one else was actually experiencing our dream, no one else is experiencing this dream. If we are ready to accept this, then we should cease to concern ourself with the world or anything else other than ourself, and should therefore turn our attention inwards in order to experience ourself alone and thereby to discover what we really are.

Regarding your final statement, ‘If they were imaginations of Arjuna’s mind, they wouldn’t have re-birth etc.’, that is true, but just as they seemed to exist, they can also seem to be reborn. When we wake up from a dream, all the people we saw in it will have ceased to exist, but if we have another dream the next night, we may see the same people in it, so in that sense it could be said that they seem to have been reborn. If the existence of those people was real, their birth and rebirth would also be real, but since their existence is just an illusion, their birth and rebirth must also be an illusion. Even our own existence as an individual and our consequent birth and rebirth are just an illusion, so the only way for us to free ourself from this illusion is to investigate ourself and thereby experience ourself as we really are.

Ellu Vellu said...

Michael,
regarding your reply to Anonymus:
Although you are not intersted "in not very much advanced" opinions I want to speak for the majority of people : We do(can) not understand "advanced teachings".
To draw certain conclusions from the experiences made in dream state to experiences in waking state maybe is allowed to advanced disciples.
We are not ready to accept anything other than our daily experience of a world full of other jivas.
Our experience is not "like a dream ".
The remark that "even our own existence as an individual...is just an illusion..." is no great help to us.
But I agreee with you that the only way for us to free ourself from this "illusion" is to investigate ourself and thereby experience ourself as we really are.

Michael James said...

Ellu Vellu, it is not so much a matter of not being unable to understand more advanced teachings as of being unwilling to understand them. For example, it is not too difficult for us to understand at least the possibility that everything that we experience in this supposedly ‘waking’ state may be just a dream, but generally we do not want to believe this because we are attached to the idea that we are the person we seem to be and that the world we experience and all the other people in it are real.

It is up to us to choose what we want to believe. No one else can prove to us either that everything that we now experience is real or that it is just a dream. Our experience of ourself as a person and of this world does not give us sufficient evidence for us to conclude either that it all exists independent of our experience of it, or that it is all a mind-created illusion, like a dream. While we are dreaming, everything that we experience then seems as real as everything that we experience now in this waking state, so it is reasonable for us to doubt whether what we now experience is anything but a dream.

Our inability to know for certain whether or not this world is real (that is, whether or not it exists independent of our experience of it) is rooted in our present lack of clear and certain knowledge about what we ourself actually are. We now seem to be a person consisting or a mind and a certain body, but in dream another body seems to be ourself, and in sleep we experience ourself without experiencing any body or mind. Therefore our present experience of ourself is clearly confused and mixed up with our experience of other things such as this body and mind. If we were really this body and mind, we could not experience ourself at any time or in any state without experiencing them.

Therefore, to clear up all our confusion and uncertainty, we need to investigate ourself in order to experience ourself as we really are. To help us in such self-investigation, Bhagavan has given us some advanced teachings, so if we really want to free ourself from all confusion and uncertainty, we should consider the possibility that his advanced teaching are true, and when we recognise that they could be true, we should be willing to accept them at least tentatively.

Bhagavan never asked us to blindly believe all that he taught us, but instead advised us to investigate ourself in order to find out for ourself whether or not what he taught us is true. Merely believing his teachings is not sufficient. Believing them at least tentatively may help us to investigate and experience what we really are, but it can never be an adequate substitute for self-investigation.

If we understand the need for us to investigate and experience what we really are, we should aim to do so. This is the highest aim we can set ourself, because any other aim would entail remaining in confusion and uncertainty about both ourself and everything else that we experience. Therefore, if we are aiming to achieve this highest goal, we should be willing to accept the most advanced teachings, because if we do not accept them at least tentatively, we will be setting limits on our aspirations. Since we have nothing to lose but our own self-ignorance, why should we not aspire for the highest, and why should we limit our aspiration by being unwilling to accept the most advanced teachings?

You say that ‘The remark that “even our own existence as an individual ... is just an illusion ...” is no great help to us’, but that would be true only if we were not aspiring to investigate and experience what we really are. If we are aspiring to experience what we really are, understanding the reasons for believing that our present experience of ourself is just an illusion is essential.

Josef Bruckner said...

Michael,
in your reply to Ellu Vellu in the first sentence I think you wanted to write :
"Ellu Vellu, it is not so much a matter of being unable...".
So it seems that the second word "not" is dispensable and nonsensical.
Further down, third paragraph, second sentence, I think we should read:"We now seem to be a person consisting of a mind..." instead of "or a mind...".

Ellu Vellu said...

Thanks Michael for your well-meaning reply.
What I wanted to express in my comment is just the fact that the majority of mankind does not need any proof or evidence whether the world is existing independent of its experience.
That all should be a mind -created illusion, like a dream, is not at all an object of everyday life.
The highest aim for the most people is only the fight for survival. Surviving the next day with or without confusion and uncertainty is the aim.
That is not a matter of being unwilling to accept the most advanced teachings.
The attachment of the majority of humanity to the idea that we are the person we seem to be and that the world we experience and all the other people in it are real is hard fact.
For us - that majority - there is no reason to doubt whether what we now experience in waking state is anything but a dream.
But you are right, Michael, there is need to lose our own self-ignorance by aspiration for the highest goal !!!

Michael James said...

Thank you, Josef, what you write in your comment is correct. In my latest reply to Ellu Vellu the second ‘not’ in the first sentence should be deleted, so the whole sentence should read:

‘Ellu Vellu, it is not so much a matter of being unable to understand more advanced teachings as of being unwilling to understand them.’

I probably wrote initially ‘not being able’ and then decided to change it to ‘being unable’ (to contrast more clearly with ‘being unwilling’), but forgot to delete the ‘not’.

Michael James said...

Ellu Vellu, I agree with you that the majority of people are not concerned with the metaphysical or epistemological issues that are highlighted by Bhagavan’s teachings (such as whether or not we are what we now seem to be, and whether or not the world actually exists independent of our experience of it, or how we can know the truth any such things for certain), but for a few of us these issues are of overwhelming concern, and hence we are unable to free our mind from our preoccupation with them.

Though you seem to include yourself with the majority of people, the fact that you bother to read anything on this blog and to write comments about it shows that you have at least some interest in these matters, so perhaps you are closer to being one of us minority more than you think yourself to be. The fact that you ended your first comment saying ‘But I agree with you that the only way for us to free ourself from this “illusion” is to investigate ourself and thereby experience ourself as we really are’ and your second comment saying ‘But you are right, Michael, there is need to lose our own self-ignorance by aspiration for the highest goal’ shows that you are not actually one of the majority.

If we are honest with ourself, I think most of us — myself included — will admit that our interest to know who am I or what is real is still not sufficient, which is why our mind is still coming out to think about and discuss these issues rather than quietly subsiding and merging within, but we are like a moth flying around a candle flame. We cannot leave the fatal attraction of Bhagavan’s teachings, so we fly round and round them, but we are not yet ready to take the final fatal plunge into them. However, sooner or later we will each fly too close to the flame, whereupon we will be instantly consumed by it, but until then we just cannot leave it, in spite of its obvious danger to our ego.

Josef Bruckner said...

Michael,
because you did not say anything till now perhaps you may have overlooked the third sentence of my comment, dated 7 January 2015 at 23:01, regarding a typo.

Ellu Vellu said...

Thanks Michael for your reply.
Yeah, still mind likes coming out of its hiding place.
As far as I'm concerned it's only a phase of thinking about and discussing these issues. After it comes again an other phase of quietly subsiding and merging within. Readiness to take the final plunge into Bhagavan's teachings will come when the moth is flying too close to the flame as you say.
May Arunachala make my circling around the flame become smaller and smaller.

Michael James said...

Yes, Josef, you are right, when replying to your earlier comment pointing out the two typos in my first reply to Ellu Vellu I did overlook the second typo you referred to. I am sorry about that. As you said, what I meant to type in the second sentence of my third paragraph was ‘of’ not ‘or’, so that sentence should have been:

‘We now seem to be a person consisting of a mind and a certain body, but in dream another body seems to be ourself, and in sleep we experience ourself without experiencing any body or mind.’

May said...

Michael,
since there is only one ego (metaphysical solipsism), and I'm always "talking to myself", in my dream, and you are just a character in my dream (as I am), doesn't this imply the existence of parallel universes / different dreams had by the one ego, from the different space-time "camera locations" (or otherness) that we appear to be? Space-time is illusory, it's here and now, so its linear causality must as well be seen as an illusion... One ego, doesn't mean one dream/world. (And it actually doesn't make much sense for illusion to be one and only, that's reality's quality). Do you find this idea of multiple dream/universes compatible or incompatible with Ramana's teaching?