Sunday, 4 January 2015

The fundamental law of experience or consciousness discovered by Sri Ramana

My previous article, Our aim should be to experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from everything else, was adapted from an email I wrote to a friend in reply to some questions he asked me about the practice of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), which led to an exchange of further emails on the same subject. Therefore this article is adapted from the subsequent replies that I wrote to him.
  1. Self-attentiveness is the simplest possible state
  2. Self-attentiveness in the midst of daily activities
  3. Love to experience ourself alone is essential
  4. Investigating ourself is investigating our source
  5. The fundamental law of experience
  6. The importance of grasping this fundamental principle
1. Self-attentiveness is the simplest possible state

In his reply to my first email my friend wrote, ‘My email was about my practice of self-enquiry in formal sitting meditation [...]. I find that doing self-enquiry while going about in one's normal, day-to-day activities in life is even more complicated’, to which I replied that ‘practising vicāra even in the midst of our day-to-day activities is very important’ and commented:

You say that it ‘is even more complicated’, but vicāra (self-investigation or self-enquiry) is actually never complicated, because oneself attending to oneself is the simplest possible state. Complication can arise only when many factors are involved, but in self-attentiveness only one factor is involved, namely ourself. Not only is it just ourself who is both attending and attended to, but even the attention to ourself or awareness that we have of ourself is nothing other than ourself, because self-awareness is our very nature.

2. Self-attentiveness in the midst of daily activities

My friend then relied:
The question is how exactly does one do this in one’s daily activities. In daily life, thoughts arise, situations develop which require immediate response, discussions, arguments, emergencies occur. It is not always possible in such situations, to go back to asking to whom these things are happening, or be just a witness or let the thoughts go.

It is for this reason that I said it is difficult to practise self-enquiry in the midst of daily life, when often one is overwhelmed by external developments, which are beyond one's control and call for immediate response.
To which I replied:

Whatever activities we may be engaged in, and whatever thoughts may be occupying our mind, we are always present there as the ‘I’ that is experiencing all such things. However, though we are always aware that ‘I am’, we are not always attentively aware that ‘I am’, because most of our attention is preoccupied in experiencing things other than ourself.

We attend to other things because of our liking to experience things other than ourself, so we need to cultivate a liking to experience only ourself more than we like to experience anything else. So long as our liking to experience only ourself is still relatively weak, it seems difficult to attend to ourself when other things are occupying all our interest, but if we persevere in our practice of trying to attend to ourself as often as possible, our liking to experience only ourself will increase, and we will then find it easier to attend to ourself even in the midst of other activities. In other words, the frequency with which we remember to attend to ourself will increase.

Even if we sit with closed eyes intending to attend only to ourself, our interest in other things will cause us to think of those things, so it is often no less difficult to attend to ourself during our ‘meditation’ times than it is during other times. Therefore we should try to attend to ourself as frequently as possible, whether we are sitting for ‘meditation’ or engaged in any other activity.

You say, ‘It is not always possible in such situations, to go back to asking to whom these things are happening, or be just a witness or let the thoughts go’, but in fact we spend most our time just letting thoughts go on, and so long as we let them go on, we are witnessing them. Therefore neither letting thoughts go on nor witnessing them is our aim. What we should be aiming for is only to experience ourself (that is, to witness ourself alone and nothing else), and when we turn our entire attention towards ourself alone other thoughts will automatically subside, because they cannot go on if we do not attend to (or witness) them.

3. Love to experience ourself alone is essential

In reply to my friend’s next mail I wrote:

The crux of the matter is love (bhakti): At present our love to experience ourself alone is still woefully insufficient, and the only way to cultivate it so that it grows ever stronger is to persevere in our practice of persistent self-attentiveness.

4. Investigating ourself is investigating our source

My friend then wrote a long email, in which he mentioned among other things that he was confused about the difference between meditating on just ‘I am’ and on either ‘who am I’ or ‘whence am I’, and also about ‘how exactly is this investigation into the source of the I to be undertaken’, to which I replied:

The practice of investigating whence am I is exactly the same as the practice of investigating who am I, as I explained in one of my recent articles: There is no difference between investigating ‘who am I’ and investigating ‘whence am I’. Investigating whence am I means investigating the source from which the ego rises, and that source is obviously only ourself — what we actually are. Just as the source from which the illusory snake appears is only the rope, which is what the snake actually is, so the source from which the illusory ego appears is only our real self, which is what the ego actually is. Therefore investigating what is the source of this ego is exactly the same as investigating what actually am I.

In order to find the source of the snake, we must look at it very carefully, and when we do so we will discover that it is not actually a snake but only a rope. Since it was only the rope that seemed to be a snake, the rope alone is the source of the snake. Therefore only by looking carefully at the snake can we find its source, the rope. Likewise, in order to find the source of our ego, we must look at it very carefully, and when we do so we will discover that it is not actually an ego but only our real self. Since it was only our real self that seemed to be an ego, our real self alone is the source of the ego. Therefore only by looking carefully at the ego can we find its source, our real self.

As I explain in many articles in my blog, including Establishing that I am and analysing what I am, there are not two separate ‘I’s, an ego-’I’ and a real ‘I’, but only one ‘I’, namely ourself. Now we experience this one ‘I’ as if it were a person consisting of a body and mind, and when we wrongly experience it thus, it is called ‘ego’. However, even when we experience it thus, what it actually is is only the one real ‘I’, just as the illusory snake is actually only a rope even when it seems to be a snake.

The ego is our real ‘I’ mixed and confused with extraneous adjuncts such as this body and mind, so it consists of a real element, namely ‘I’ (ourself), and an unreal element, namely whatever adjuncts (upādhis) we mistake to be ourself. Since our aim is only to experience what we actually are, when we investigate this ego we should investigate only its real element, namely ‘I’, ourself. Therefore there is no difference between investigating our real ‘I’ and investigating our ego, because even when we investigate this ego we are investigating only the real ‘I’-element in it.

When we investigate ‘I’ (ourself), we are trying to experience what we (this ‘I’) really are, so we can describe it either as investigating ‘I’ or as investigating what am I (or who am I). Therefore investigating what am I or who am I means investigating only ‘I’, ourself, and not anything else.

Hence meditating on ‘I am’ (that is, meditating not on the words ‘I am’ but only on ourself, who are what these words refer to) is the same as investigating what am I, who am I or whence am I, because each of these is just an alternative way of describing the simple practice of self-attentiveness, self-observation or self-investigation.

5. The fundamental law of experience

In the same long email my friend also wrote that during the past forty years he had been practising various forms of meditation, including the kind taught by Nisargadatta, and that he thought that witnessing thoughts as they arise would enable one not to identify with them and would thereby allow them to perish, to which I replied:

The practice of ātma-vicāra taught by Sri Ramana is based upon a crucial but very simple principle [which I also discussed in The teachings of Sri Ramana and Nisargadatta are significantly different (the sixth section of The need for manana and vivēka: reflection, critical thinking, discrimination and judgement) and in several earlier articles such as The crucial secret revealed by Sri Ramana: the only means to subdue our mind permanently, ‘Tracing the ego back to its source’ and Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu — an explanatory paraphrase], and it is important that we should understand this principle, because then only will we be able to understand clearly why ātma-vicāra (investigating ourself by attending only to ‘I’) is the only means by which we can experience ourself as we really are. This principle is that the ego comes into existence only by experiencing things other than itself, and its seeming existence is sustained by its continuing to experience other things, so if it tries to experience only itself, it will subside and dissolve in its source. Without some other thing to cling to for support, it cannot stand by itself, as Sri Ramana says in the fourth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?):
[…] மனம் எப்போதும் ஒரு ஸ்தூலத்தை யனுசரித்தே நிற்கும்; தனியாய் நில்லாது. […]

[…] maṉam eppōdum oru sthūlattai y-aṉusarittē niṯkum; taṉiyāy nillādu. […]

[…] The mind stands only [by] always going after [attending and thereby attaching itself to] something gross [something other than ‘I’]; solitarily it does not stand. […]
This principle is clearly stated by him in verse 25 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu:
உருப்பற்றி யுண்டா முருப்பற்றி நிற்கு
முருப்பற்றி யுண்டுமிக வோங்கு — முருவிட்
டுருப்பற்றுந் தேடினா லோட்டம் பிடிக்கு
முருவற்ற பேயகந்தை யோர்.

uruppaṯṟi yuṇḍā muruppaṯṟi niṟku
muruppaṯṟi yuṇḍumiha vōṅgu — muruviṭ
ṭuruppaṯṟun tēḍiṉā lōṭṭam piḍikku
muruvaṯṟa pēyahandai yōr.


பதச்சேதம்: உரு பற்றி உண்டாம்; உரு பற்றி நிற்கும்; உரு பற்றி உண்டு மிக ஓங்கும்; உரு விட்டு, உரு பற்றும்; தேடினால் ஓட்டம் பிடிக்கும், உரு அற்ற பேய் அகந்தை. ஓர்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): uru paṯṟi uṇḍām; uru paṯṟi niṯkum; uru paṯṟi uṇḍu miha ōṅgum; uru viṭṭu, uru paṯṟum; tēḍiṉāl ōṭṭam piḍikkum, uru aṯṟa pēy ahandai. ōr.

அன்வயம்: உரு அற்ற பேய் அகந்தை உரு பற்றி உண்டாம்; உரு பற்றி நிற்கும்; உரு பற்றி உண்டு மிக ஓங்கும்; உரு விட்டு, உரு பற்றும்; தேடினால் ஓட்டம் பிடிக்கும். ஓர்.

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): uru aṯṟa pēy ahandai uru paṯṟi uṇḍām; uru paṯṟi niṯkum; uru paṯṟi uṇḍu miha ōṅgum; uru viṭṭu, uru paṯṟum; tēḍiṉāl ōṭṭam piḍikkum. ōr.

English translation: Grasping form, the formless phantom-ego rises into being; grasping form it stands [or endures]; grasping and feeding on form it grows [or flourishes] abundantly; leaving [one] form, it grasps [another] form. If sought [examined or investigated], it will take flight. Investigate [or know thus].
Here உரு (uru) or ‘form’ means anything other than ‘I’ — that is, anything that has any features that distinguish it from what we actually are. Hence by attending to or experiencing anything other than ‘I’ we are ‘grasping form’ and ‘feeding on form’. Therefore if we try to attend only to the ‘I’ that normally attends to things other than itself, it will thereby cease to grasp (attend to) anything else, and hence it will ‘take flight’ — that is, it will subside and disappear.

Since it is formless, this ego cannot rise or stand by itself, but can rise and stand only by ‘grasping form’, so if it tries to grasp itself, it will vanish. This is the essential principle on which the practice of ātma-vicāra is based: If we attend to anything other than ‘I’ alone, we are thereby nourishing and sustaining our ego, whereas if we attend only to ‘I’, we are thereby depriving it of the support that it requires in order to appear as if it were ourself.

In other words, by experiencing (being aware or conscious of) anything other than ourself, we are nourishing and sustaining the illusion that we are this ego or mind, whereas by experiencing (being aware or conscious of) ourself alone, we would be depriving this illusion of the support that it requires into order to endure, and thereby we can dissolve it entirely. Since this principle governs all that we experience or could ever experience, we can call it the fundamental law of experience, awareness or consciousness.

This is why witnessing, observing or attending to any thoughts other than ‘I’ alone is counterproductive. So long as we are aware of any thoughts — anything other than ‘I’ (ourself) alone — we are sustaining the illusory experience that our ego or mind is ‘I’, so we cannot thereby experience ourself as we really are. In order to experience ourself as we really are, we must attend only to ‘I’.

Therefore according to Sri Ramana the only real sādhana or spiritual practice is ātma-vicāra — investigating ourself by trying to experience nothing other than ‘I’ alone. Any other sādhana entails attending to something other than ‘I’, so it will sustain the illusion that this ego is what we really are.

This essential principle or fundamental law of experience was discovered by Sri Ramana when as a sixteen-year-old schoolboy he investigated himself in order to find out whether or not he (his essential self or ‘I’) would cease to exist when his body died, and it is the basis of his teaching that self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) is the only means by which we can experience ourself as we really are and thereby destroy the entire illusion of ego and otherness.

6. The importance of grasping this fundamental principle

After sending the reply that I reproduced in the previous two sections, I wrote another email saying:

In continuation of the reply I just sent, I want to emphasise again how important it is that we should clearly and firmly grasp the simple principle that Sri Ramana teaches us in verse 25 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, because once we have understood this our mind will lose interest in all other sādhanas, and we will not be distracted or confused if we read or hear anyone (no matter who they may be) recommending any other sādhana.

Therefore, until it is firmly and unshakably established in our mind, we should often remember and reflect on this principle, so that we understand it clearly and never forget it. It is like a key to unlock the essence of Sri Ramana’s teaching, because if we understand it and do not forget it, we will be able to understand clearly and without confusion or doubt everything else that he has taught us about both ātma-vicāra and all other sādhanas.

This principle is actually a law of nature, and it is at least as true and inviolable as any other law of nature, such as the law of gravity or the laws of thermodynamics. In fact, it is more true and inviolable than any such law, because whereas those laws are only laws of physics, and therefore hold true only so long as we experience ourself as part of this physical world, this law is the fundamental law of consciousness or experience, so it holds true so long as we experience anything, whether ourself or any other thing.

If we experience anything other than ourself alone, what experiences it is only our ego or mind, so we cannot experience anything other than ourself unless we experience ourself as this ego. Therefore, so long as we experience anything other than ourself alone, we cannot experience ourself as we actually are. Hence, in order to experience ourself as we actually are, we must experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from everything else.

Therefore trying to be exclusively self-attentive — that is, aware of nothing other than ourself alone — is the only sādhana or spiritual practice that can enable us to experience ourself as we actually are.

28 comments:

Papanasana said...

Michael,
it sounds to be an easy task:
To be exclusively self-attentive-that is, aware of nothing other than ourself alone.
I hope (my)ego will have the required perseverance to grasp itself for the purpose to make it vanish or disappear.
Because of permanent indignation and inability I did not practise that sadhana for 10 months.
Now I seem to have again smelt a rat.

Michael James said...

Papanasana, yes, it certainly is an easy task, because what could be easier than being aware of ourself alone?

However, in practice it may seem to be difficult, but that is only because we do not really want to be exclusively self-attentive. We still have so much attachment to other things and consequently so much desire to experience them that we are reluctant to let go of everything in order to be aware of ourself alone. Nevertheless, by patient and persistent practice of being self-attentive as much as possible we will gradually weaken all our desires and attachments, and correspondingly increase our love to experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from everything else.

Papanasana said...

Thank you Michael for responding.
Do you know some special weapon or trick to weaken all our desires and attachments ?
How can a householder fulfil his duties as a good husband and grandfather and simultaneously catch the train to liberation ?
Would you call it an attachment when I feel myself duty-bound to help my family to overcome difficulties or problems in daily life and to have one's feet firmly on the ground ?
If I spend to much time only for self-investigation and reading Ramana's teachings my family would regard it as a kind of egoism. Day after day I have to keep both efforts well-balanced.
To carry out carefully my family-duties and at the same time to walk meticulously on the path of atma-vicara I do hope with generous circumspection either should be possible. Would you agree with me on that point ?

Palaniappan Chidambaram said...

Hi Michael , if the whole sadhana is in just being one self , more of beingness then why do we use the term vichara or investigation? When thoughts come we don't investigate but just ignore and turn attention to ourselves. So ideally there is no investigation or enquiry?

Michael James said...

Palaniappan, since pure self-awareness is our essential nature, being ourself entails being clearly aware of ourself alone. Therefore trying to be aware of ourself alone is the only means by which we can succeed in being what we really are.

Since we (the ego) have long been in the habit of being aware of things others than ourself, being aware of ourself alone seems (from the perspective of our ego) to be a skill that we can develop only by practice, and the practice of trying to be aware of ourself alone requires trial and error. That is, since we seem now to be unfamiliar with being clearly aware of ourself alone, we must try and fail many times before we eventually succeed, whereupon we will experience ourself as we really are and thereby destroy forever the illusion that we are this ego.

Since this practice entails experimentation or trial and error, it is aptly called self-investigation (ātma-vicāra). That is, we are investigating what we actually are, or in other words, what it is to be what we actually are — or what it is to be clearly aware of ourself alone.

Michael James said...

Papanasana, the only reliable and effective ‘weapon or trick to weaken all our desires and attachments’ is self-investigation (ātma-vicāra).

Whatever external duties we may have, without neglecting them we can investigate what we really are, because whatever else we may be doing, we are always aware that I am, so rather that attending to numerous unnecessary thoughts, we can try as much as possible to be attentively aware that I am. That is, though we may have many external duties, do we not find time in the midst of all our other activities to dwell upon numerous unnecessary thoughts? Therefore, instead of scattering our attention on such unnecessary thoughts, we can try as much as possible to focus it on ourself.

As you say, we need to learn to keep a balance between whatever external activities we are duty-bound to do and our internal self-investigation, and the only way to learn to keep such a balance is by patient and persistent practice. Therefore I agree with you that it is certainly possible to follow the path of ātma-vicāra while also giving due care to carrying out all our family duties.

R Viswanathan said...

"So ideally there is no investigation or enquiry?"

Explanation for the verses 185 and 186 of Guru Vachaka Kovai (page 92 in the recent book edited and annotated by David Godman) specifically contain the words enquiry and investigation, respectively. I reproduce the selected passages for the sake of clarity.

Verse 185: The way to make it [individual consciousness] unite with and subside in one's swarupa [true nature] is to begin taking it, wholeheartedly, as the object of attention through the enquiry 'who is the "I" who is paying attention to sordid sense objects?'

Verse 186: The shrutis [scriptures] and the sages say that the objects are only mental creations. They have no substantive being. Investigate the matter and ascertain the truth of the statement. The result will be the conclusion that the objective world is in the subjective consciousness.

Palaniappan Chidambaram said...

Thank you very much Michael for your answer. Paying attention to oneself not as paying attention to some object but being our self 'alone' is the practice.

Michael James said...

Yes, Palaniappan Chidambaram, we are not an object but only the subject, which is what experiences all objects, so attending to any object is attending to something other than ourself. Therefore we should attend only to ourself, the subject or experiencer, the first person, ‘I’.

When we do so, even the subject (the ego) will subside and disappear in ourself (because it is a subject only in relation to the objects it experiences), and what will then remain is what we really are, which is beyond the dual distinction of subject and object.

As Bhagavan says in verse 26 of Upadēśa Undiyār, ‘தானாய் இருத்தலே தன்னை அறிதல் ஆம்’ (tāṉ-āy iruttal-ē taṉṉai aṟidal ām), which means ‘Being ourself alone is knowing ourself’, so the only way to be what we really are is to experience what we really are, which we can do only by attending to ourself alone.

Papanasana said...

Thanks Michael,
your reply to Palaniappan Chidambaram could not be more excellent.
First we have to attend to ourself as the experiencer - subject (in dual distinction from the experienced objects). After disappearing of the experiencer then ourself will remain alone as beyond the dual distinction of subject and object.

Palaniappan Chidambaram said...

Thanks Michael.

Thanks Viswanathan for your reference as well. It is about experiencing ourselves completely.

When I started reading Bhagavan's work especially with respect to David Godman's chapter on Self enquiry, Sadhu Om Part -I Path of Self Enquiry and Michael's book Happiness and Art of Being, though I understood what they were referring to Bhagavan's teaching, still few words I personally found misleading based on my understanding.

We human beings, when asked to "pay attention" we are conditioned to look for that object. Like when someone tells me, Palani, pay attention to this tune in the music, my mental eye immediately pay's attention to the tune of the music, pay attention to the passing clouds in sky etc. Pay attention was more like a verb, an action, action for the senses or the mind. That is how the life has been conditioned when people say pay attention to.

SO when I read those works, "I'm planning for tomorrow, I'm reading, I'm getting distracted by thought stories" Now who is this "I'm" It is that I'm you have to focus and pay attention to.

Sounded very simple. But when I started practicing, it was like paying attention made "me" to "attend" to "I'm". It felt like this "I" which is me was trying to search for something called "I'm" to pay attention for. It was looking for some feeling, some kind of myself to focus the attention on. Though I intellectually understood that this Iam not something special apart from me. It was not like one I looking for another I. But the term "pay attention" made me always wanting to attend. Then I came across a line in one of the blogs here where Michael had mentioned Sadhu Om's word which said the whole sadhana is not about doing but just being.

The again and again when I read and simultaneously experiemented doing it, it was like just being self consciousness of oneself. It is just being with yourself. Not enquiring anything, not investigating, not paying attention (in relative sense of words) but just being completely with yourself, there is this I that exists, just being with that I.

The only action if there was anything was to become aware when I'm lost in thoughts and return back to my beingness. But the understanding of this beingness changes, that is what I sense with what michael mentioned in one of the comments above, that investigating is more about exploring our beingness and not the the mind and thoughts.

I keep exploring by mentally saying my name "Palani" which I'm identified with (I'm) and then just see what this Palani (or I'm) is. I keep exploring by asking what is this me, without thoughts, without these body feelings, what is this me and as I ask I turn myself away from question to my beingness. When I get lost in unnecessary thoughts, when I'm aware that I'm lost, for a moment, like a speed breaker I stop myself and just be with myself. Yes in few moments, the thought train starts.

But personally using the word pay attention, makes me to "look" and hence for my practice I have been using is as just being myself completely.

Paying attention helps me .. when I intuitively feel.. where is my attention now? When I ask not mentally but more intuitive knowing, I know my attention is outside and hence turn back to my beingness.

Sundar said...

Palaniappan, Going by your name i'm assuming that your native language is Tamil and if it is, the following might be helpful as it was very helpful to me. Nochur Venkatraman uses two common usages in his Tamil discourses to explain this
a) This I am feeling is nothing but "naan irukken or naan irukkindren yendra unarvu (not unarchi or emotion)"
b) The 2nd e.g. he uses is when someone knocks the door of the house or rings the bell, the person inside asks "who is it?" and in Tamil the reply, if its a familiar person, is "naan thaan" (or naan dhaan as its spoke often). Nochur says that, that "Naan" is the ego and "thaan" is the being. Our goal is to shift our attention from the "Naan" to "Thaan"

Sometimes I feel hearing things in one's native language helps avoid a lot of confusion. The above really helped me to get greater clarity. Initiall I also struggled a bit wondering if this I-thought means, I have to analyze something and then when one after some preliminary questions dismisses after some intellectual analysis that "i'm not the body, mind, intellect etc", i hit a brick wall as to what's next. Then in my case I read in one of Nisargadatta's teachings (or english translation) as to focus on "what's in me thats alive?" and that clarified it and then Nochur said that it is nothing other than focussing on "irukkindren or irukken" yendra unarvu which Michael also clarified in an email. Nochur says all we have to do is keep focussing on this "irukkindren" feeling and whenever we get lost in a flow of thoughts, bring it back by asking "who am i" or somehow and gradually our ability to abide in the feeling becomes greater and greater by practice. For me the most helpful book was Sadhu Om's "the path of sri ramana-part one"
Hope this helps.

Palaniappan Chidambaram said...

Thanks Sundar. Yes I did attend couple of satsanghs of Nochur and as you mentioned, noted that pay attention to Iam is about beingness, not an feeling or emotion or thought but being.

I have been trying that too but the mind is so tricky to think if this is what is beingness, though I ignore and turn back to the beingness, the questions keep popping up.

But I guess as Michael said in one of the above comments, it is about experimenting until we get a knack of it.

Michael James said...

Palani, regarding your comment of 17 January, no words can adequately convey what the practice of ātma-vicāra actually is, so whatever words may be used are only pointers, indicators or clues. Therefore it is only by trying to apply those clues (no matter how clumsily or imperfectly at first) that we can discover for ourself what it is that they are actually indicating, and this discovery is an ongoing process, because when it is complete (that is, when we eventually discover what perfect self-attentiveness actually is) we will merge forever in pure self-awareness, never to rise again as an illusory ego.

Sadhu Om often used to say that the English term ‘paying attention’ is misleading in this context and that it would be more accurate to describe it as ‘being attention’, because self-attentiveness is not an action and does not involve one thing attending to another, but is just a case of our attention or awareness resting calmly in its source, ourself.

When we attend to anything other than ourself, our attention is (so to speak) moving away from ourself towards that other thing (and hence that is aptly called ‘paying attention’), whereas when we attend only to ourself, our attention is not moving away but remaining or resting in ourself (so this is more aptly called ‘being attention’).

Michael James said...

Sundar, regarding your comment of 17 January, I agree with you when you write that ‘hearing things in one’s native language helps avoid a lot of confusion’, and this is particularly true for those like you who are fortunate to have Tamil as their native language, because you have direct access to the actual words in which Bhagavan gave us his teachings.

However, there seems to be some confusion in what you write about what Nochur said about the term நான் தான் (nāṉ dāṉ), for which an exact English translation is ‘I myself’. In this case தான் (tāṉ) acts simply as an intensifier, adding emphasis to நான் (nāṉ), just as in English ‘myself’ adds emphasis to ‘I’. It does not refer to anything other than what நான் (nāṉ) or ‘I’ refers to. In the context that Nochur mentioned, நான் (nāṉ) or ‘I’ refers to myself, the person who is talking, and தான் (tāṉ) or ‘myself’ does not refer to anything different, but just emphasises that reference to myself. Therefore it cannot be correct to say that நான் (nāṉ) or ‘I’ refers to the ego whereas தான் (tāṉ) or ‘myself’ refers to being.

In such a context நான் (nāṉ) or ‘I’ refers to ourself as the ego because we now mistake ourself to be this ego, but if we analyse this ego we can understand that it is actually a confused mixture of ourself (the நானெனுஞ் சொற்பொருள் or true import of the word ‘I’) and various adjuncts such as our body. What is real in this confused mixture is only ourself, because all the adjuncts that we mistake to be ourself are just an illusion and hence unreal, so the essence of the ego is only ourself, who alone are the real ‘being’ that Nochur referred to.

In this sense, though நான் தான் (nāṉ dāṉ) or ‘I myself’ refers superficially to the ego, what it essentially refers to is only ourself, who are pure ‘being’ or ‘what is’ (iruppu or uḷḷadu). However, in this term நான் தான் (nāṉ dāṉ) or ‘I myself’ we can never separate the meaning of தான் (tāṉ) or ‘myself’ from the meaning of நான் (nāṉ) or ‘I’, because in such a phrase both words must always refer to the same thing.

StillSeeking said...

Hello Michael,

The problem is that we could spend an entire lifetime self-enquiring with no guarantee of self realization. A couple of questions:

1. When in deep sleep, there is no ego and therefore no world, there is only the Self. Why don't we spend as much time as possible sleeping then?

2. Three points to note: (A) The ego ends when the body dies. (B) The ego is an illusion and the world a dream. (C) According to Ramana Maharshi, there is no reincarnation. Given those 3 points, why is suicide not a recommended option for liberation?

Thank you in advance for your response.

Michael James said...

StillSeeking, there may be no guarantee about how soon we will experience what we really are, but if we persevere in practising self-investigation we are guaranteed to succeed sooner or later. In the final sentence of the tenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? Bhagavan assured us:

ஒருவன் எவ்வளவு பாபியாயிருந்தாலும், ‘நான் பாபியா யிருக்கிறேனே! எப்படிக் கடைத்தேறப் போகிறே’ னென்றேங்கி யழுதுகொண்டிராமல், தான் பாபி என்னு மெண்ணத்தையு மறவே யொழித்து சொரூபத்யானத்தி லூக்க முள்ளவனாக விருந்தால் அவன் நிச்சயமா யுருப்படுவான்.

oruvaṉ evvaḷavu pāpiyāy irundālum, ‘nāṉ pāpiyāy irukkiṟēṉē; eppaḍi-k kaḍaittēṟa-p pōkiṟēṉ’ eṉḏṟēṅgi y-aṙudu-koṇḍirāmal, tāṉ pāpi eṉṉum eṇṇattaiyum aṟavē y-oṙittu sorūpa-dhyāṉattil ūkkam uḷḷavaṉāha v-irundāl avaṉ niścayamāy uru-p-paḍuvāṉ.

“However great a sinner one may be, if instead of lamenting and weeping ‘I am a sinner! How am I going to be saved?’ one completely rejects the thought that he is a sinner and is zealous [or steadfast] in svarūpa-dhyāna [self-attentiveness], he will certainly be reformed [transformed into what we each actually are].”

Likewise in the final three sentences of the eleventh paragraph he assured us:

ஒருவன் தான் சொரூபத்தை யடையும் வரையில் நிரந்தர சொரூப ஸ்மரணையைக் கைப்பற்றுவானாயின் அதுவொன்றே போதும். கோட்டைக்குள் எதிரிக ளுள்ளவரையில் அதிலிருந்து வெளியே வந்துகொண்டே யிருப்பார்கள். வர வர அவர்களையெல்லாம் வெட்டிக்கொண்டே யிருந்தால் கோட்டை கைவசப்படும்.

oruvaṉ tāṉ sorūpattai y-aḍaiyum varaiyil nirantara sorūpa-smaraṇaiyai-k kai-p-paṯṟuvāṉāyiṉ adu-v-oṉḏṟē pōdum. kōṭṭaikkuḷ edirigaḷ uḷḷa-varaiyil adilirundu veḷiyē vandu-koṇḍē y-iruppārgaḷ. vara vara avargaḷai-y-ellām veṭṭi-k-koṇḍē y-irundāl kōṭṭai kaivaśa-p-paḍum.

“If one clings fast to uninterrupted svarūpa-smaraṇa [self-remembrance] until one attains svarūpa [one’s own essential self], that alone will be sufficient. So long as enemies [outward-going propensities, thoughts, desires and attachments] are within the fort, they will continue coming out from it. If [one] continues cutting down [or destroying] all of them as and when they come, the fort will [eventually] come into [one’s] possession.”

Regarding your question, ‘Why don't we spend as much time as possible sleeping then?’ sleep is not a solution to our fundamental problem, which is self-ignorance, and hence we cannot sleep forever. Sooner or later our ego will rise again — either in a dream or in this so-called waking state (which according to Bhagavan is just another dream). In order to remove our self-ignorance, we must try to be vigilantly self-attentive, which is an effort that we are unable to make in sleep. Therefore it is only when the ego is active (as it is in waking and dream) that we are able to attempt to be clearly and exclusively self-attentive.

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

Michael James said...

In continuation of my previous comment in reply to StillSeeking:

You say, ‘The ego ends when the body dies’, but that is not actually the case, because though our ego now experiences itself as a particular body, it is equally well able to experience itself as another body, as it does whenever it dreams. Just as the ego creates a body for itself in a dream and experiences it as itself, it has created this body that it now experiences as itself. Therefore at the end of the life of our present body, our ego may subside temporarily in sleep, but whether it does so or not, it will sooner or later project another body to experience as itself. This is how the illusion of repeated births and deaths (or ‘reincarnation’ as you call it) occurs.

Therefore it is not quite correct to say as you did, ‘According to Ramana Maharshi, there is no reincarnation’. According to him neither birth nor rebirth (or reincarnation) is real, because the ego itself is not real, but so long as the ego seems to exist, the oft-repeated cycle of birth, death and rebirth will also seem to occur. Therefore we cannot attain liberation from this cycle of birth and death merely by killing our present body.

The real culprit is not this or any other body, because they are all just a creation of our own mind, like any body that we experience as ourself in a dream. The real culprit is only our ego, which gives rise to the illusion of mind, body and world, so what we need to kill is not our present body or any other body, but only our ego. And since our ego is only mistaken experience of ourself, the only way to kill it is to experience ourself as we really are — and the only way to experience ourself as we really are is to investigate ourself by trying to be exclusively and clearly self-attentive.

Jacques Franck said...

Michael, you said :
"it is only when the ego is active (as it is in waking and dream) that we are able to attempt to be clearly and exclusively self-attentive."

My question is : is it possible to be self attentive in dream and to have the full experience of consciousness permanently?
Sometimes I dream that I am fully aware. That my self-attentiveness is complete... certainly a mind trick...but...
Thanks.

Michael James said...

Yes, Jacques, it is certainly possible for us to try to be self-attentive while we are dreaming, but since dream is generally a less stable state than waking (because in dream we are usually less strongly attached to our then body than we are in waking), what often happens when we attempt to be self-attentive while dreaming is that we wake up.

When you write ‘to have the full experience of consciousness permanently’, what exactly do you mean? Do you mean to experience ourself as we actually are? If so, that would result in the permanent dissolution of our ego, which can happen at any time when we are really ready for it. Whatever dream we may be dreaming, whether this dream that we now take to be waking or any other dream, we are always free to turn our attention back to ourself who is experiencing it, and if we do so with sufficient love and intensity, we will experience ourself as we actually are and thereby dissolve our ego forever.

Regarding tricks played by our mind, our entire waking and dreaming lives are a series of tricks that māyā, our mind, is playing upon us. Our mind may play all sorts of tricks on us, but so long as it is doing so we are not yet sufficiently self-attentive.

Jacques Franck said...

Yes I mean to experience ourself as we actually are?

Thank you :)

Chimborazo said...

Michael,
sometimes it is said that the source of the ego (all thoughts,'I'-thought) is the heart. And the same heart is said to be the source of the breath.
Therefore thoughts and breath have the same source. So if one holds one's breath no thoughts would rise.
I cannot confirm that and I did not learn it in my experience of meditation.
Please could you comment on this or clarify.

Chimborazo said...

Michael,
may I repeat my question put in the above comment ?
Please - if you may find time - write some short explanatory note.

Michael James said...

Chimborazo, I am sorry that I could not reply to your question earlier. Often I receive so many comments and/or emails that require an answer that I do not have time to reply to them all promptly, and if I cannot reply soon they join the large backlog of unanswered correspondence that I intend to reply to whenever I can. Unfortunately your comment had joined that backlog.

When it is said that the source of the ego and the source of the breath are both only ‘the heart’ (which does not mean any physical organ or location in our body, but only the core of ourself, which is what we really are), and that therefore when either the ego or the breath subsides, the other will also subside, what is meant by the word ‘breath’ or prāṇa is not just the physical act of breathing but the urge to breathe. Since we cannot stop the urge to breathe merely by holding our breath for a while, holding our breath forcibly will not cause our ego and its other thoughts to subside.

When yōgis practise prāṇāyāma (breath-restraint) for a long time, what they are gradually training themselves to do is to restrain their urge to breathe, and this is how they manage to thereby bring about a temporary subsidence of their mind. However, since they cannot completely subdue all urge to breathe, they cannot bring about the permanent subsidence of their mind or ego by such means. This is why Bhagavan said in the eighth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:

மனம் அடங்குவதற்கு விசாரணையைத் தவிர வேறு தகுந்த உபாயங்களில்லை. மற்ற உபாயங்களினால் அடக்கினால் மனம் அடங்கினாற்போ லிருந்து, மறுபடியும் கிளம்பிவிடும். பிராணாயாமத்தாலும் மன மடங்கும்; ஆனால் பிராண னடங்கியிருக்கும் வரையில் மனமு மடங்கியிருந்து, பிராணன் வெளிப்படும்போது தானும் வெளிப்பட்டு வாசனை வயத்தா யலையும். […] ஆகையால் பிராணாயாமம் மனத்தை யடக்க சகாயமாகுமே யன்றி மனோநாசஞ் செய்யாது.

maṉam aḍaṅguvadaṯku vicāraṇaiyai-t tavira vēṟu tahunda upāyaṅgaḷ-illai. maṯṟa upāyaṅgaḷiṉāl aḍakkiṉāl maṉam aḍaṅgiṉāl-pōl irundu, maṟupaḍiyum kiḷambi-viḍum. pirāṇāyāmattāl-um maṉam aḍaṅgum; āṉāl pirāṇaṉ aḍaṅgi-y-irukkum varaiyil maṉam-um aḍaṅgi-y-irundu, pirāṇaṉ veḷi-p-paḍum-bōdu tāṉum veḷi-p-paṭṭu vāsaṉai vayattāy alaiyum. […] āhaiyāl pirāṇāyāmam maṉattai y-aḍakka sahāyam-āhum-ē y-aṉḏṟi maṉōnāśam seyyādu.

“To make the mind subside [entirely and permanently], there are no adequate means other than vicāraṇā [self-investigation]. If restrained by other means, the mind will remain as if subsided, [but] will emerge again. Even by prāṇāyāma [breath-restraint] the mind will subside; however, [though] the mind remains subsided so long as the breath remains subsided, when the breath emerges [or becomes manifest] it will also emerge and wander under the sway of [its] vāsanās [inclinations, impulses or desires]. […] Therefore prāṇāyāma is just an aid to restrain the mind, but will not bring about manōnāśa [annihilation of the mind].”

Chimborazo said...

Thank you Michael for your explanation.
As soon as I come again across that point of a definite script text I will compare it with your given explanation. Perhaps I have misunderstood a specific clause in literature (of secondary importance).
But somehow the unclear and vague idea/imagination buzzes through my head/memory/mind that I have read anywhere in (secondary) Ramana literature about a deeper connection between the origin of breath /prana and the heart as the core of ourself.

Sanjay Lohia said...

Sir, you write in your comment addressed to Chimborazo dated 7 June 2015 11:58, as follows:

When it is said that the source of the ego and the source of the breath are both only ‘the heart’ (which does not mean any physical organ or location in our body, but only the core of ourself, which is what we really are), and that therefore when either the ego or the breath subsides, the other will also subside, what is meant by the word ‘breath’ or prāṇa is not just the physical act of breathing but the urge to breathe. Since we cannot stop the urge to breathe merely by holding our breath for a while, holding our breath forcibly will not cause our ego and its other thoughts to subside.

You write, 'what is meant by the word ‘breath’ or prāṇa is not just the physical act of breathing but the urge to breathe'. I am hearing about this concept of 'urge to breath' for the first time. How can the yogis train themselves to restrain their urge to breathe? I believe it should be some sort of watching of their breath, or controlling their breathing to follow a certain inward/outward retention pattern.

Ultimately even if their aim is to restrain their urge to breath, how can they do this until they do not give up their urge to live (as an ego)? Therefore, as you imply, only vichara can make the yogi give up his urge to breathe, and more importantly his urge to survive as an ego.

Thanking you and pranams.

Michael James said...

Chimborazo, I have replied to your latest comment in a separate article, Prāṇāyāma is just an aid to restrain the mind but will not bring about its annihilation, which I began to write just as a brief reply to your remark, ‘As soon as I come again across that point of a definite script text I will compare it with your given explanation’, but which somehow grew into a very long article.

Chimborazo said...

Many thanks to you, Michael,
for replying in such a long separate article.
Hopefully all the vagueness of my ideas and memories which I had connected with breath, mind and the heart will be vanished after studying your new article.