Sunday, 9 November 2014

Why should we believe that ‘the Self’ is as we believe it to be?

In a comment on my previous article, Our memory of ‘I’ in sleep, a friend called Joel wrote:
Why do you talk of the Self remembering itself? It IS itself, so what is there to remember? The notion of the Self ‘remembering’ the Self during deep sleep when now awake is merely a creation of the mind to justify a continuity through the three states that actually is not in need of justification, because apart from the mind there are no three states.
The following is my reply to this comment:

One of the mistakes you are making here, Joel, is that you are taking an argument, assuming its conclusion to be true, and claiming that the argument is therefore unnecessary. But without the argument, what reason do you have for believing its conclusion to be true? If we believe a certain proposition to be true, but have no reason for believing it, our belief in it is unjustified. An argument is simply a reason or a set of reasons for believing a certain proposition or idea to be true, so when we consider whether or not a certain belief is true or justified, we need to consider whether the arguments or reasons for believing it are sound.

You are expressing a certain belief about ‘the Self’ (whatever you mean by that term), but what justification do you have for such belief? Have you actually experienced this ‘Self’ as it really is? If not, you must have some reason for believing that it is as you believe it to be. Your reason may be faith in the teachings of Sri Ramana, but he never asked us to arbitrarily and blindly believe his teachings (rather than arbitrarily and blindly believing any other metaphysical view, whether based on religion, philosophy or science). There are so many different metaphysical views that people hold, so why should we choose one such view in preference to others?

If Sri Ramana had not given us good reasons (sound arguments) for believing at least tentatively that what he taught is true, his teachings would be no better than any of the numerous religious doctrines that already exist in this world. The only reason that can be given for believing in most religious doctrines, particularly those concerning or related to metaphysical issues, is that they are what is taught in a certain holy book or by a certain holy person, but when such is the case, which holy book or holy person should we believe? Should we believe the Bible, the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Talmud, the Koran, the Vedas, the Upanisads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Pali Canon, the Jain Agamas, the Tao Te Ching or the Guru Granth Sahib, and should we believe the Buddha, Mahavira, Krishna, Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhavacharya, Patanjali, Confucius, Lao Tse, Jesus, Mohammed or Guru Nanak? If their teachings were all the same, we could believe all of them, but their teachings conflict with and often directly contradict each other, so what or whom should we believe?

Why do we choose to believe the teachings of Sri Ramana rather than any other spiritual or religious teaching? What reason do we have for believing what he teaches rather than what any other person or religion teaches? Are we adequately justified in believing his teachings in preference to all the numerous other philosophies, doctrines, religions or sciences that we could alternatively believe? I believe we are, because he did not merely claim that what he taught is what he had experienced (just as many other holy persons or mystics claim that what they teach is what they had personally experienced, or what was divinely revealed to them), but focussed his teachings entirely on ‘I’, our own experience of ourself, and on the basis of a clear and logical analysis of our experience of ourself in our three states of waking, dream and sleep he gave us sound reasons for believing that I am not the person, body or mind that I now seem to be, and that I therefore need to investigate myself in order to experience what I actually am (who am I).

If we are honest with ourself, we must admit that we are metaphysically ignorant: we do not know exactly what we are, or what is real; we are unable with any degree of certainty to distinguish reality from appearance; we do not know for certain whether the world we perceive exists independent of our experience of it, or whether it is just a mental creation, like a dream. Each religion provides its own answers to such questions, but without giving us adequate reasons to believe its answers rather than any alternative ones, and for thousands of years philosophers have tried to find satisfactory answers by relying entirely upon reasoning, but without ever actually finding a convincing solution to any of the numerous doubts that have risen in human minds about metaphysical issues, and without discovering any empirical means by which we could solve such issues.

However, Sri Ramana has taught us that the only way to remove our metaphysical ignorance (ajñāna) is to experience ourself as we really are. But why should we believe this? We must have some reason for believing it, and mere preference or wishful thinking is arbitrary (like Pascal’s wager) and hence not a very good reason for believing anything. Therefore Sri Ramana gave us a set of reasonable arguments that demonstrate that what we call ‘I’ (ourself) cannot be the body or mind that we now mistake ourself to be and that we therefore need to investigate ourself in order to experience ourself as we really are, and other arguments that demonstrate that all our experience and knowledge of anything other than ‘I’ is dependent upon our mistaken experience of ourself as a body and mind.

Sri Ramana gave such arguments in order for us to think carefully and deeply about them and thereby form a strong conviction in the truth of his teachings and a deep interest in and passion for trying to experience ourself as we really are. What I wrote in my previous article was accordingly some reflections on his argument that we do experience ourself in the absence of our mind in sleep, and I wrote those reflections because another friend raised some reasonable questions about how we remember that we experienced ourself in sleep, since memory is generally a function of the mind, which did not then exist to experience or remember anything.

Unless we accept that we do remember having been asleep (that is, in a state in which our mind was absent and in which we therefore experienced nothing other than ourself), what reason would we have for claiming that we experienced ourself being in such a state? And unless we recognise that we did experience ourself being in sleep, what reason would we have for believing that we are anything more than this mind, or that we existed in sleep in its absence?

You ask regarding what you call ‘the Self’: ‘It IS itself, so what is there to remember?’ I assume that what you mean by ‘the Self’ is what we actually are, in which case ‘It IS itself’ simply means that we are what we actually are, which is obviously true and which therefore no one could reasonably dispute, but this then raises the question: what actually are we (or in other words, who am I)? Essentially we are something that is self-aware, so being ourself entails knowing or experiencing ourself, as Sri Ramana says in verse 26 of Upadēśa Undiyār:
தானா யிருத்தலே தன்னை யறிதலாந்
தானிரண் டற்றதா லுந்தீபற
      தன்மய நிட்டையீ துந்தீபற.

tāṉā yiruttalē taṉṉai yaṟidalān
tāṉiraṇ ḍaṯṟadā lundīpaṟa
      taṉmaya niṭṭhaiyī dundīpaṟa
.

பதச்சேதம்: தானாய் இருத்தலே தன்னை அறிதல் ஆம், தான் இரண்டு அற்றதால். தன்மய நிட்டை ஈது.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): tāṉ-āy iruttal-ē taṉṉai aṟidal ām, tāṉ iraṇḍu aṯṟadāl. taṉmaya niṭṭhai īdu.

English translation: Being oneself alone is knowing oneself, because oneself is devoid of two. This is tanmaya-niṣṭha [the state of being firmly established as tat, ‘it’ or ‘that’, the one absolute reality called brahman].
Just as being ourself entails knowing ourself, it also entails remembering ourself, because our self-awareness is not limited or bound in any way by time, since we experience ourself with an experience of time in waking and dream and without any experience of time in sleep. However, when remembering our existence, we are not remembering an experience that is now past, but are remembering our only experience that is always present, so our memory of ourself is not like any other memory, as I tried to explain in my previous article.

Another mistake you make in your comment is that you imply that I was writing about ‘the Self remembering itself’, whereas in fact I was writing just about us remembering ourself, and I never made any mention of ‘the Self’. In fact, though this term ‘the Self’ (with the definite article and a capitalised ‘S’) is used in most English translations of the teachings of Sri Ramana and commentaries on them, I avoid using it, because I believe it is a potentially misleading term and misrepresents the terms used by him while writing or speaking in Tamil.

In Tamil and other Indian languages, there are no capital letters and no definite article (like ‘the’ in English), so in most cases when it is recorded in English that Sri Ramana referred to ‘the Self’, the word he probably used in Tamil would have been தான் (tāṉ), which means oneself, myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself or (in the sense in which he often used it) just self or ourself, though in some cases it might have been ஆன்மா (āṉmā) or ஆத்மா (ātmā), which mean more or less the same as தான் (tāṉ), but which he generally used to refer specifically to what we actually are rather than what we just seem to be. Like ‘oneself’, ‘myself’ or ‘ourself’ in English, in Tamil தான் (tāṉ) can refer either to what we actually are (our real self) or to what we seem to be (our ego), depending on the context. In some contexts it may refer specifically to our real self and in other contexts it may refer specifically to the ego, but in many contexts it is not necessary and may even be wrong to specify which it refers to, because we are always one, whether we experience ourself as we really are or as the ego that we now seem to be.

One reason why I believe ‘the Self’ is a potentially misleading term is that the definite article and capitalised ‘S’ seems to suggest that it refers to something other than ourself — some distant object that is somehow divine or superior to ourself. Just as the Sanskrit term paramātman (which is a superlative noun that literally means the most distant, remotest, highest, ultimate or supreme self) is often used or understood to mean the Supreme Spirit or God rather than our own self, the term ‘the Self’ is easily mistaken to mean some distant or superior thing that we are to reach only in future or that can be experienced only by a privileged few, rather than our own most intimate self — what we actually are and actually experience as ‘I’ here and now.

When we read or are told that we are not what we now seem to be, if we do not think deeply and critically about this idea, we tend to think superficially of our real self and our false self as if they were two separate things, whereas in fact they are one and the same thing. That is, what we now experience as our false self or ego is actually just our real self seeming to be something other than it is actually is. Our false self is merely an illusion, so the dualistic distinction between it and our real self is likewise just an illusion, but this illusory distinction is subtly reinforced when we use terms such as paramātman or ‘the Self’ to refer to what we actually are. If what we mean by ‘the Self’ is simply what we actually are, why should we routinely capitalise the initial ‘s’ and objectify it by prefixing the definite article ‘the’ instead of just referring to it as ‘ourself’?

The habit of translating தான் (tāṉ) or ஆத்மா (ātmā) as ‘the Self’ arose from our tendency to think about ourself in dualistic terms, as if we had two distinct selves, a real self and a false self, and it also tends to perpetuate our tendency to think in such dualistic terms. Therefore if we are to outgrow our dualistic beliefs and patterns of thinking and to learn instead to think about the distinction between our real self and our illusory self in a more nuanced manner, we should avoid the clumsy habit of capitalising the initial ‘s’ in ‘self’ whenever we think it refers to our real self rather than our seeming self.

If it was appropriate in every case to distinguish our real self from our seeming self, using ‘Self’ with a capitalised ‘S’ to denote our real self would perhaps not cause too much confusion, but in many cases it is not appropriate to make this distinction. For example, if we take ‘Self’ with a capital ‘S’ to mean only our real self as opposed to our ego, and if we translate the terms ātma-vicāra or taṉṉāṭṭam (தன்னாட்டம், taṉ-nāṭṭam, a Tamil term often used by Sri Ramana that means the same as ātma-vicāra) as ‘Self-investigation’ or ‘Self-enquiry’, that would imply that what we are to investigate is not our ego but only our real self. However, since our real self is what now seems to be an ego, we could not in practice investigate our real self without starting by investigating what seems to be an ego, just as we could not look carefully at the rope without starting by looking carefully at the illusory snake that it now seems to be.

When we investigate who am I, it obviously does not matter whether we consider the ‘I’ we are investigating to be our real self or our ego, because there is only one ‘I’, which is actually our real self but which now seems to be our ego, so in order to avoid implying that we should investigate only our real self and not our ego (as if they were two entirely separate things), it is more appropriate to translate ātma-vicāra or taṉṉāṭṭam as ‘self-investigation’ (or ‘self-enquiry’) with a lower case ‘s’ than with a capital ‘S’. Likewise, there are many other contexts in which the word ‘self’ is used in Sri Ramana’s teachings to denote ourself in general rather than specifically either our real self or our seeming self. However, if we use ‘Self’ with a capital ‘S’ to denote our real self, it would imply that whenever we use ‘self’ with a lower case ‘s’ it denotes only our unreal self (our ego), so to avoid causing confusion in any of the many contexts in which no distinction should be made between our real self and our ego, it is necessary to avoid using ‘Self’ with a capital ‘S’ in any context whatsoever.

When you ask, ‘Why do you talk of the Self remembering itself? It IS itself, so what is there to remember?’ you seem to imply that we (our real self) do not remember ourself, which is absurd. We always remember ourself (at least in the sense that we never forget ourself), although as I explained in my previous article our memory of ourself is quite unlike our memory of anything else, because in remembering ourself we are not remembering an experience that is now past but an experience that is ever present. Our memory of ourself is therefore nothing other than our awareness of ourself, because we are always aware of ourself, and in being thus always aware of ourself we are so to speak always remembering ourself.

Memory usually entails storing and recalling some experience or information from the past, but we (our real self) are always present, so we are never past, and hence our constant awareness of ourself is not a memory in the usual sense of the word. Indeed, since we are ever present and ever aware of ourself, we have no need to remember ourself in the same sense that we remember other things that we experienced or knew about in the past. However, since we are always aware that I am, we cannot be said to have ever forgotten that I am, so since being always aware that I am entails never forgetting that I am, in that sense it can be said to be constantly remembering that I am. Therefore, when we talk of remembering ourself or our memory of ourself, we should understand in a more nuanced manner the special sense in which the terms ‘remembering’ and ‘memory’ are used in this context.

You also seem to imply that it is somehow wrong to say that we remember ourself having been in the state we call sleep, because you say that ‘apart from the mind there are no three states’. It is true that the appearance of the three alternating states of waking, dream and sleep is a creation of our mind, but our mind actually experiences only two of these three states, because what we call sleep is a state in which the mind has subsided entirely and therefore does not experience anything. That is, whereas waking and dream are created by the presence of the mind, sleep is created by the temporary absence of the mind in the midst of the other two states in which it seems to exist, so though sleep seems (from the perspective of the mind) to be a third state, it is actually the background state in which waking and dream temporarily appear and disappear. Since we experience the appearance and disappearance of waking and dream, we also experience the background state in which they appear and disappear, so though our mind does not experience sleep, we ourself experience it as a state in which our mind is absent, and we are able to remember having experienced it after we have woken from it (that is, after our mind has risen from it).

Since our mind had then subsided, what experienced our existence in sleep was not our mind but only our real self, but paradoxically what now remembers having experienced our existence in sleep is our mind, which was then absent. How is this possible? It is possible only because what we now seem to be (our mind or ego) is actually nothing other than what we actually are (our real self), just as what a rope seems to be (a snake) is actually nothing other than what it actually is (a rope). It was we as we actually are (our real self) who experienced our existence in sleep, and it is we as what we at present seem to be (our mind or ego) who now remembers having experienced it.

That is, our mind or ego is a confused mixture of what we actually are and various extraneous adjuncts — things such as our body which we now seem to be but which are not what we actually are. The self-aware element of our mind (the element that is aware of its own existence, ‘I am’) is what we actually are, and all the other elements are merely extraneous adjuncts, which are not self-aware. Whereas all the other elements of the mind rise and endure only during waking and dream, but subside and cease to exist in sleep, the self-aware element of our mind endures always: in all states, at all times and even when time does not seem to exist. It is this self-aware element (our real self) that experienced itself in the absence of everything else in sleep, and it is because of this self-aware element (the essential element of our mind) that our mind is able to remember ‘I existed and was aware that I existed in sleep’.

In other words, though our mind as mind did not exist in sleep, it did exist as our real self, which is its essence. It is therefore this essential element of our mind, which alone endured in sleep, that experienced its own existence in sleep, and that now seems to be the mind and thereby enables the mind to remember its existence in sleep. Though the actual memory of having been in sleep belongs only to what we actually are (our real self), what is now able to recall that memory is what we now seem to be (our ego or mind).

This is why trying to understand the subtle distinction between what we actually are (our real self) and what we now seem to be (our ego or mind) in the simplistic terms of duality, as if they were two entirely separate things (and as if they could always be readily distinguished simply by either capitalising or not capitalising the initial ‘s’ in the word ‘self’), can never be satisfactory, and why we therefore need to understand this distinction in a far more nuanced manner, not as two entirely separate things but as only one thing that experiences itself either as it actually is (our real self) or as something else that it merely seems to be (our seeming self, the ego or mind). Whether we experience ourself as we really are or as the mind that we now seem to be, we are always the one and only self or ‘I’, and there is no self (or ‘Self’) other than ourself.

In your second comment on my previous article you wrote:
I meant that the very notion that there are three states is a creation of the mind in what we refer to as the waking state. There is no waking state, no dream state, and no deep sleep, save as an idea in the mind right now. So the attempt to say that the Self is present during deep sleep is just an idea of the mind in the waking state, the waking state also being an idea of the mind right now. There is no time-line beyond the mind during which these states lie in succession.
Though as you say the three states of waking, dream and sleep are ideas created by our mind, they are states that we actually seem to experience, so as long as we experience them, we need to analyse our experience of ourself in each of them, because only when we do so will we be able to recognise from our own experience that we cannot be the body or mind that we now seem to be, since we experience ourself without either of them in sleep, and without our present body in dream.

According to Sri Ramana, whatever we experience other than our pure adjunct-free self, ‘I am’, is only an idea in our mind, but what experiences all these ideas is only our primal idea called ‘I’, the ego, which is a mixture of our real ‘I’ and various adjuncts. Though our real ‘I’ is not an idea, when it is mixed and confused with adjuncts, which are all ideas, it seems to be an idea. Therefore, though waking, dream and sleep are just ideas from the perspective of our mind, as long as we experience ourself as this mind they seem to be real, and what is most significant about them is that in each of them we experience ourself as something different. Since we cannot be anything that we do not experience permanently, such as our body or mind, our contrasting experiences of ourself in these three states provide us with invaluable evidence that we are not what we now seem to be, and that we should therefore investigate ourself in order to discover what we actually are.

Though we experience all these three states, what is special about sleep is that whereas we experience ourself as our mind during waking and dream, during sleep we experience ourself in the absence of our mind. Therefore, though sleep as a third state that is distinct from waking and dream is created by the mind, what we experience in sleep is ourself devoid of our mind — and hence devoid of all ideas. Thus our experience of ourself in sleep is the only evidence now available to us that we are not this mind that we now seem to be, nor any of its ideas.

From what you write in this second comment of yours, it seems that you believe that you do not experience anything other than your mind and its ideas. If you are unable to recognise and therefore do not believe that that you experienced yourself in sleep in the absence of your mind and its ideas, what evidence do you have that anything other than your mind and its ideas exist? If you only ever experience your mind and its ideas, what reason do you have for believing in the existence of ‘the Self’ that you speak of, or for believing that it is as you believe it to be?

If you believe that you have never experienced yourself as anything other than your mind, what reason do you have for supposing that you are actually anything other than it? If you speak of ‘the Self’ without any evidence from you own experience that you are anything other than your mind, ‘the Self’ that you speak of can only be either your mind or some belief held by your mind without any adequate reason or justification.

Now we experience ourself as our mind, and the only evidence that we as this mind have that we are actually anything other than this mind is our experience of ourself in sleep. Therefore, if you deny that we either experienced ourself in sleep or remember that we experienced ourself in sleep, you do not have any adequate reason for believing that you are not just your mind. This is why it is extremely important that we think deeply and carefully over Sri Ramana’s teaching that we experienced ourself in the absence of our mind in sleep and that we are able to remember our experience of ourself thus.

Recognising that we do experience ourself in the absence of our mind in sleep not only provides us with strong evidence that we are not this mind, but also helps us to understand more clearly and accurately the nature of the state of pure, thought-free self-awareness that we aim to experience when we investigate ourself by trying to be aware of nothing other than ‘I’. That is, it helps us understand how completely devoid our pure self-awareness is of even the slightest awareness of anything other than ourself, which in turn helps us whenever we try to investigate ourself to focus our entire attention on ourself alone to the exclusion of everything else.

33 comments:

Joel said...

Thank you for your long response. I will keep my reply concise and to the point and not concern myself with your suggestion that I am only talking from an accepted belief or over-strong conviction, since that is only your own belief, expounded at length.

To talk about the Self being present during deep sleep is putting the cart before the horse. It may well seem that that was the case, but to what degree can it be said that the Self was present during deep sleep if it has not been recognised that there is no such thing as deep sleep? This is merely a claim made in the supposed waking state, since one could not make it otherwise, but it is valueless if it is not recognised that sleep, dreaming, and waking are simply non-existent appearances, just as is 'the world' in the so-called 'waking state'.

In other words, the supposed awareness of the Self in deep sleep, which is in the past when supposedly 'remembered' now, is a mind-creation or simulacrum of a Self that exists in time, when as you yourself have acknowledged, the Self is not in time. Obviously there is no need to 'remember' an 'experience that is always present' (your words). The only way you could write that is if you did not always 'remember' it but only sometimes did, such that it may seem like 'remembering'.

And who is it that 'remembers' the Self exactly, if not the ego-thought? Does the Self need to remember itself? As I said, it IS itself. The Self is not in any way forgetful, simply because it has nothing to remember. Clumsy words, since the Self is not an object, and only an object could possibly be conceived as having to remember itself.

I don't particularly like the word 'Self' either, I prefer to talk of the unchanging or the void, but chose 'Self' because this word has already been used a great deal in connection with Ramana Maharshi's teachings. I could have used 'I', as you do, but many use that to refer to the non-existent ego, so there is confusion there too. Still, one should not get too fussy about words when all words are inadequate.

Joel said...

Essentially, when talking about 'states', there is no 'other' state than that which one appears to be in at the seeming time of categorising it as a state, should one do so, and that 'state' is actually nothing other than the unchanging so-called 'self', void and formless. If I distinguish one state from another, I am imagining it. If I am 'awake' now, there is no difference to what may be called 'dream' or 'sleep'. They are just words for some imagined difference, when to the unchanging self there is no difference, save what the mind may suggest. It is pointless for 'me' to talk about some imagined experience in 'deep sleep' unless I can say that this is deep sleep right now, and, since I have no way of knowing what state it may be beyond being that of the unchanging self, it makes no difference to 'me'.

R Viswanathan said...

Thanks to Michael James and Joel Biroco for a very interesting and beneficial discussion on sleep.

To add to this discussion, I would merely copy-paste Talks with Ramana Maharshi no. 624 here, which I feel is pertinent to the subject being discussed.

4th February, 1939 Talk 624.

A devotee asked Sri Bhagavan: With every thought the subject and the
object appear and disappear. Does not the ‘I’ disappear when the subject disappears thus? If that be so how can the quest of the ‘I’ proceed?

M.: The subject (knower) is only a mode of mind. Though the mode
(vritti) passes, the reality behind it does not cease. The background of the mode is the ‘I’ in which the mind modes arise and sink.

D.: After describing the Self as srota (hearer), manta (thinker), vijnata (knower), etc., it is again described as asrota, amanta, avijnata, non-hearer, non-thinker, non-knower, Is it so?

M.: Just so. The common man is aware of himself only when
modifications arise in the intellect (vijnanamaya kosa); these modifications are transient; they arise and set. Hence the vijnanamaya (intellect) is called a kosa or sheath. When pure awareness is left over it is itself the Chit (Self) or the Supreme. To be in one’s natural
state on the subsidence of thoughts is bliss; if that bliss be transient - arising and setting - then it is only the sheath of bliss (Anandamaya kosa), not the pure Self. What is needed is to fix the attention on the pure ‘I’ after the subsidence of all thoughts and not to lose hold of it. This has to be described as an extremely subtle thought; else it cannot be spoken of at all, since it is no other than the Real Self. Who is to speak of it, to whom and how?

This is well explained in the Kaivalyam and the Viveka Chudamani. Thus though in sleep the awareness of the Self is not lost, the ignorance of the jiva is not affected by it. For this ignorance to be destroyed this
subtle state of mind (vrittijnanam) is necessary; in the sunshine cotton does not burn; but if the cotton be placed under a lens it catches fire and is consumed by the rays of the Sun passing through the lens. So
too, though the awareness of the Self is present at all times, it is not inimical to ignorance. If by meditation the subtle state of thought is won, then ignorance is destroyed. Also in Viveka Chudamani: ativa sukshmam paramatma tattvam na sthoola drishtya (the exceedingly
subtle Supreme Self cannot be seen by the gross eye) and esha svayam
jyotirasesha sakshi (this is Self-shining and witnesses all).

This subtle mental state is not a modification of mind called vritti. Because the mental states are of two kinds. One is the natural state and the other is a transformation into forms of objects. The first is the truth, and the other is according to the doer (kartrutantra). When the latter perishes, jale kataka renuvat (like the clearing nut paste in water) the former will remain over.

The means for this end is meditation. Though this is with the triad of distinction (triputi) it will finally end in pure awareness (jnanam) Meditation needs effort: jnanam is effortless. Meditation can be
done, or not done, or wrongly done, jnanam is not so. Meditation
is described as kartru-tantra (as doer’s own), jnanam as vastutantra
(the Supreme’s own).

Michael James said...

Joel, you continue to assert that waking, dream and sleep do not exist, but you are not offering us any evidence or argument to support this assertion of yours. It may be true that they do not really exist, but they seem to exist, because we experience them, and even if we assert that they do not exist, our experience of them does not cease. Your empty assertions are therefore of no practical use to us, whereas what Sri Ramana taught us is of practical use.

We must proceed of the basis of evidence (rather than on the basis of unjustified assertions, which are merely blind beliefs), and the only evidence we now have is our own experience. Almost everything that we now experience may be an illusion, but we cannot know this for certain until we experience what is real, and in order to discover what is real we must start by analysing what we now experience.

When we analyse our experience, we should be able to understand that the only thing that is certainly real (that is, that certainly exists, and does not merely seem to exist) is ourself, so we should then analyse our experience of ourself. When we do so, we are able to understand that we cannot be the mind or body that we now seem to be, because we experience ourself without experiencing either the mind or body in sleep.

Since we now experience ourself as things that we are not, our present experience of ourself is an illusion. Therefore, since we do not even know what we actually are, whatever else we may believe we know is based on our illusory experience of ourself, so it is probably likewise just an illusion. Therefore, if we want to have certain knowledge about anything, we must first investigate ourself in order to experience ourself as we actually are.

This is the sole purpose of our analysis of our experience of ourself in our three alternating states of waking, dream and sleep. Our aim is not to assert that these states are either real or unreal, but only to discover whether our present experience of ourself is real or illusory. These states may be an illusion, but we could not experience any illusion if we did not actually exist, so whether they are an illusion or not, what we learn by analysing our experience of ourself in each of them is that we are not what we now seem to be, because in each state we experience ourself as something different.

Understanding this gives us sufficient reason to conclude that we must try to experience ourself as we really are, so rather than making metaphysical assertions on the basis of mere belief or supposition, we should investigate ourself by trying to experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from our mind, body or anything else that we may now seem to be.

Steve said...

I thought Michael's 'long response' thoroughly answered Joel's questions and addressed his points.

I thought Joel's 'concise' response was more or less a reiteration of his original comments, not answering any of Michael's questions, and raising even more.

But, I'll leave it at that, and any further discussion to them.

Joel said...

Michael -- If you know yourself, you will know yourself to be the unchanging formless self, then you will equally know that transient states are appearances and have no reality in and of themselves apart from yourself. Their apparent reality is as it were 'borrowed' from your reality. If you regard this as an 'empty assertion', I can only conclude that your 'investigation' has not been thorough enough.

The evidence you seek can only be in your own experience. What do you expect me to provide for you that your own experience has left wanting? I don't see that the intellectual arrogance you are demonstrating here does much to further discussion, it just emphasises the degree to which you are stuck in a viewpoint you have been unable to overcome. Good luck to you.

Al W said...

Forgive my simple minded intrusion but on what does everything depend for its so called existence or non existence?
Does the Self have attributes now...?
Why do we keep chopping up and complicating reality?
It seems to just lead further from what we should be.
But then I suppose it does not lend itself to discussion & comment so well!

Steve said...

If something is said or written about that which, essentially, nothing can be said or written, some find it helpful when it's done clearly, logically, and convincingly. For some, Sri Ramana did that with his teachings and, as I see it, no one conveys those same teachings today better than Michael. I don't see an ounce of arrogance. Yes, the words will always come up short, but they can be very helpful in leading one to the right place - one's own experience of only oneself.

Sanjay Lohia said...

Sir, you have written in this article as follows:

That is, our mind or ego is a confused mixture of what we actually are and various extraneous adjuncts — things such as our body which we now seem to be but which are not what we actually are. The self-aware element of our mind (the element that is aware of its own existence, ‘I am’) is what we actually are, and all the other elements are merely extraneous adjuncts, which are not self-aware. …

You say here: ‘…our mind or ego is a confused mixture of what we actually are and various extraneous adjuncts – things such as our body which we now seem to be but which are not what we actually are’.

At other places, if I remember correctly, you have just said that our mind or ego is a confused mixture of what we actually are and an imaginary body, which we now seem to be. that is - you have not mentioned the words 'various extraneous adjuncts' in your statements at various other places. Though what you say here is similar, but you have replaced ‘various extraneous adjuncts’ with just ‘a body’ used at many places.

Do these two – ‘various extraneous adjuncts’ and ‘a body’ essentially mean the same thing, or are you trying to say something different in these two descriptions?

Thanking you and pranams.

Michael James said...

Sanjay, everything other than ourself (our pure adjunct-free ‘I’) is extraneous to us, and among all these extraneous things whatever we experience as ‘I’ is an adjunct or upādhi. Since the ego rises and endures only by experiencing itself as a body, whatever body we now experience as ‘I’ is the first and foremost of all our current extraneous adjuncts.

There are of course many other adjuncts that come along with our body, including all the qualities and attributes of the body or mind such as tall, short, young, old, rich, poor, intelligent, dull, happy, unhappy and so on. Basically anything that we can append to ‘I am’ (such as ‘I am English’, ‘I am Indian’, ‘I am a Christian’, ‘I am a Hindu’, ‘I am an atheist’, ‘I am happy’, ‘I am angry’, ‘I am feeling depressed’ or whatever) is an extraneous adjunct, and every extraneous adjunct obscures and conceals what we really are (just as an illusory snake obscures and conceals what the rope really is).

However, though the ego rises and endures only by experiencing itself as various such extraneous adjuncts, none of these adjuncts or any other extraneous thing actually exists independent of the ego. Only when the ego comes into existence does everything else, including all its adjuncts, come into existence, so they are all mental creations or figments of our imagination.

Pancha Mukha said...

R.Viswanathan,
You write "...though the awareness of the Self is present at all times, it is not inimical to ignorance".
Why should we consider such one infinite self to be honest ?
Would not a good mother protect her child from every disadvantage ?

R Viswanathan said...

It is a statement by Bhagavan according to talk 624 (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi) which I copy-pasted.

Sanjay Lohia said...

Sir, you have written in a comment on this article as follows:

‘Sanjay, everything other than ourself (our pure adjunct-free ‘I’) is extraneous to us, and among all these extraneous things whatever we experience as ‘I’ is an adjunct or upādhi. Since the ego rises and endures only by experiencing itself as a body, whatever body we now experience as ‘I’ is the first and foremost of all our current extraneous adjuncts.

There are of course many other adjuncts that come along with our body, including all the qualities and attributes of the body or mind such as…’

Adjunct as per English dictionary, the word ‘adjunct’ means: Something that is an adjunct to something larger or more important is connected with it or helps to perform the same task.

Therefore can we not simply say that our each and every thought or idea is an adjunct to our pure adjunct free ‘I’? Of course, as you say, ‘since the ego rises and endures only by experiencing itself as a body, whatever body we now experience as ‘I’ is the first and foremost of all our current extraneous adjuncts’.

In other words why should we describe only the qualities and attributes of the body and mind and not each and every thought that arises in our mind as 'adjuncts'?

Thanking you and pranams.

Michael James said...

Pancha Mukha, what you say Viswanathan wrote, ‘though the awareness of the Self is present at all times, it is not inimical to ignorance’, was actually part of the long passage he was quoting from section 624 of Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi. Though I suspect that most of what is written in that section of Talks is not a very accurate recording of what Bhagavan said, we have to try to understand each sentence that is recorded there in the light of his central teachings and judge for ourself whether he might have said actually said something to that effect, and if so what exactly he meant by it.

Firstly, in the paragraph in which this statement is recorded he seems to be explaining what is written in Kaivalya Navanītam and Vivēkacūḍāmaṇi, so he is explaining it in terms of the rather abstruse concepts used in such ancient texts, whereas in his own teachings he generally explained things in terms of much simpler and clearer concepts. For example, the term vṛtti-jñānam, which is recorded in that paragraph, is not a term or concept he would use except when explaining some idea expressed in texts that use such terms.

However, we can explain the meaning of this statement, ‘though the awareness of the Self is present at all times, it is not inimical to ignorance’, quite simply in terms of his own teachings. That is, we are always aware of ourself, ‘I am’, but though we are clearly aware that I am, we are not clearly aware what I am, because we now experience ourself as if we were this body and mind, whereas in dream we experience ourself as some other body, and in sleep we experience ourself without experiencing either our mind or any body. Since we cannot be anything that we experience in some states or at some times but not in other states or at other times, we cannot be the body or mind that we now seem to be.

Since we are not this body or mind, our present experience of ourself as this body and mind is ignorance or ajñāna, so since we are now aware of ourself but as something that we are not, our present self-awareness is not inimical to our ignorance. The simple reason for this is that at present our self-awareness seems to be mixed and confused with awareness of other things, which we mistake to be ourself.

Therefore, in order to experience ourself as we really are, we need to be aware of ourself alone, in complete isolation from even the slightest awareness of anything else. This keenly focused and therefore exclusive self-awareness is what Bhagavan illustrated by an analogy in the previous sentence of that paragraph in Talks: ‘in the sunshine cotton does not burn; but if the cotton be placed under a lens it catches fire and is consumed by the rays of the Sun passing through the lens’.

That is, our self-awareness is always present, but it will not destroy our ignorance — the illusion that we are an ego, mind or body — unless it is keenly focused, like sunlight that is focused to a concentrated point after passing through a magnifying lens: that is, unless we are exclusively aware of nothing other than ourself alone. This focused and exclusive self-awareness, which we can experience only by attending to ourself alone, is what is meant by the term vṛtti-jñānam.

You ask, ‘Would not a good mother protect her child from every disadvantage?’ but that is not an appropriate analogy in this case, because what you call the ‘one infinite self’ is nothing other than ourself. The self-ignorance that we now seem to experience exists only because of our self-negligence (pramāda), and if instead of neglecting ourself (our pure self-awareness) we try to focus our entire attention only on ourself, we will discover that we have never actually been self-negligent or self-ignorant, because we alone exist and have therefore never really experienced anything other than ourself — our one infinite and indivisible self.

Michael James said...

Sanjay, yes, as you say in your latest comment, every thought or idea (that is, everything that we experience other than ourself) is an adjunct to our pure adjunct-free ‘I’, but the adjuncts we are most concerned about and that are specifically referred to by the Sanskrit term upādhi (which means a disguise or appearance in the sense of anything that is placed or superimposed upon something else, or in other words, anything that something else is mistaken or seems to be) are those adjuncts that we mistake to be ourself, such as our body and mind.

What is important in the context of Bhagavan’s teachings is not the particular words that are used, but the ideas that are expressed by those words, and in this case the idea we need to understand is that the things that now seem to be ourself are actually extraneous to ourself, because we experience ourself in their absence in sleep, and hence they are not what we really are.

Josef Bruckner said...

Michael,
in the last line of the last sentence of the first paragraph of your yesterday's comment to Pancha Mukha I think the word "said" is unnecessarily used twice.

Michael James said...

Thank you, Josef. Yes, you are correct, one ‘said’ in the second sentence of that comment should be deleted, and the sentence should then read: ‘Though I suspect that most of what is written in that section of Talks is not a very accurate recording of what Bhagavan said, we have to try to understand each sentence that is recorded there in the light of his central teachings and judge for ourself whether he might have actually said something to that effect, and if so what exactly he meant by it’.

Anonymous said...

I do not know if I am right, but if a person (ego) manages to transcend all three states, then there is no question for him if the states exist or not, so he would not even see need to comment on internet.
If we are here, that means that we are still looking/seeking.
The only way to go is to try to find the truth within, that sub layer that allows us to see and argue. And that investigation of all the 3 states.

Joel said...

Seeing the three states as entirely illusory, should one find commenting on the internet real? Is one to believe that not commenting on the internet is somehow more enlightened than commenting on it? It seems even Ramana Maharshi didn't disappear in a puff of smoke. Perhaps, having transcended the three states, he should have found some way not
to still appear to sit on the couch, read the newspaper, and answer people's questions.

Anonymous said...

Did Ramana Maharshi by his will tried to educate people? Did it really matter to him where he sat?
I am going to my computer with the will to load the browser and pay attention to what people reply to my comment, these are all vritties (disturbances caused by my mind processes). The whole Idea to feel the urge to post on a blog when not asked means that my ego is there to feel it.

Joel said...

Anonymous -- Whether you feel there is ego in it or not is irrelevant, is it not, when the ego does not exist. You may imagine something is happening here, but nothing is actually happening. It is simply an echo responding to an echo. An appearance.

Anonymous said...

of course, but then why are you posting here?

Joel said...

Anonymous asked: "of course, but then why are you posting here?"

Joel replied: I haven't the foggiest. Do I need a reason? Invent one for me. Call it prarabdha maybe. Or perhaps none of this is actually happening and you're only imagining it. I might be in the garden, I might be at the shops. What is my reason? Because it appears to be happening, and that is all. Is it happening? No, it's just a dream.

Anonymous said...

And, having understood there is no one but You, who are you writing to?

Joel said...

It's all a love letter to the self, Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

So many invented different words, parabandha, судьба, 運舞, but who is then writing to whom?

Pancha Mukha said...

Thanks Michael for your thorough instruction.
Maybe all what you say is true.
But you take the viewpoint of jnana.
A jnani knows that the world is never created. Whatever is there is all his own self, one and undivided.
Maybe there is only one 'I' and it is the same in all people so that the different 'I's are not real.

You write "..., and if instead of neglecting ourself(our pure self-awareness) we try to focus our entire attention only on ourself, we will discover that we have never actually been self-negligent or self-ignorant, because we alone exist and have therefore never really experienced anything other than ourself...".
So the discovery is conditional on focusing.....will happen only if this focusing happens.
But what gain is it to me as the reflected consciousness (that is the ignorant anatman) to take over the view of a jnani ?
What right has a ajnani to anticipate the knowledge of a jnani ?

Anonymous said...

Dear Michael,
Your poetry translations are so good... why then, tell me why do you spend your time in publishing your own comments on this blog instead of carrying on your work translations ? There are so many verses which are waiting for you, from Sri Bhagavan, Sri Muruganar, Sri Sadhu Om... Instead of writing dry and tasteless comments, why don't you put fresh translations of verses on your blog ? Or why don't you try to perfect already existing translation as Guru vachaka Kovai, Ulladu Narpadu, etc. ?
The purpose of poetry is to push us in the Heart, not to accumulate ideas and comments.
Bye !

Robert said...

This is a response to:

Anonymous who said...
"Dear Michael,
Your poetry translations are so good... why then, tell me why do you spend your time in publishing your own comments on this blog instead of carrying on your work translations ? There are so many verses which are waiting for you, from Sri Bhagavan, Sri Muruganar, Sri Sadhu Om... Instead of writing dry and tasteless comments, why don't you put fresh translations of verses on your blog ? Or why don't you try to perfect already existing translation as Guru vachaka Kovai, Ulladu Narpadu, etc. ?
The purpose of poetry is to push us in the Heart, not to accumulate ideas and comments.
Bye !"

Forgive my frankness. I think your comment is inappropriate to say the least. You may be a 'genius', but have you thought of those who need detailed explanations and insights from those who have deeply studied and understood the teachings of Sri Ramana like Michael? Poetry may titillate and fascinate the intellect, but, I believe, what most of us need are clear practical steps to apply the teachings of Sri Ramana to establish ourselves in our natural state. Such steps for most may, I believe, need to be repeated and explained from different angles / aspects. If you already know, understand and are applying them, that is great. Maybe you can share what you understand with the rest of us. There is nothing wrong with encouraging Michael to continue his translations and refinements of some translations (I believe he is keen on doing that), but describing his writings and comments as 'dry and tasteless' is uncalled for.

Josef Bruckner said...

Robert,
I agree fully with your comment on
the inappropriate and uncalled-for message of Anonymus.

Steve said...

If Anonymous read more of Michael's 'own comments', Anonymous would know that every word has its foundation in Sri Ramana's teachings, such as Guru Vachaka Kovai, Ulladu Narpadu, etc., and that the purpose of all these 'dry and tasteless comments' is to 'push us in the Heart', as well.

Michael James said...

Pancha Mukha, in your latest comment you write, ‘So the discovery [that we have never actually been self-negligent or self-ignorant, because we alone exist and have therefore never really experienced anything other than ourself] is conditional on focusing ... will happen only if this focusing happens’. Yes, from the perspective of our ego, discovering what we actually are is conditional on our focusing our entire attention on ourself, but when we manage to focus our entire attention on ourself and thereby experience ourself as we really are, it will be clear to us that we alone exist and have always been clearly aware of ourself, so it is actually not conditional on anything.


You also ask, ‘But what gain is it to me as the reflected consciousness (that is the ignorant anatman) to take over the view of a jnani?’ The ‘reflected consciousness’ (the ego or self-ignorant anātman) can never ‘take over the view of a jñāni’ because (as I explain in my latest article, Is there any such thing as a ‘self-realised’ person?) the jñāni is nothing but our real self, which always experiences itself as it is (since it is pure self-awareness), whereas the ego is the adulterated and confused self-awareness ‘I am this’ (in which ‘this’ represents anything other than our pure self-awareness ‘I am’), so our ego cannot know our real self unless it ceases to be the ego and remains instead as our real self alone. In other words, though the ego can never ‘take over the view of a jñāni’, the view of a jñāni (which is nothing but pure self-awareness) can take over the ego by consuming and absorbing it into itself. However, in order to be taken over thus, the ego must withdraw its attention from everything else and try to experience only itself (its essential self-awareness ‘I am’).

You finally ask, ‘What right has an ajnani to anticipate the knowledge of a jnani?’ As I have just explained, the ajñāni cannot ‘anticipate the knowledge of a jñāni’, because an ajñāni is nothing but an ego whereas the jñāni is our real self, and the ego cannot know our real self without merging in it and thereby ceasing to be an ego. The knowledge of the jñāni is pure self-awareness, whereas the ego is just adulterated self-awareness, so to experience the knowledge of the jñāni the ego must get rid of its adulteration (its experience of anything other than pure self-awareness), which it can do only by trying to experience itself alone.

Pancha Mukha said...

Thank you Michael for your reply,
in which you have explained
1. that and why the ego can never take over the view of a jnani and
2. that and why the ajnani cannot 'anticipate the knowledge of a jnani.

Perhaps because of the difficulties to find the correct English vocabulary my questions are not to my full satisfaction answered. What I tried to ask was only in the sense :
What/How can an ajnani/ego at least mentally benefit from the knowledge of a jnani, even though he is not able to comprehend the state of a jnani ?

I would really appreciate if you could find some time to answer again.