Tuesday, 21 April 2015

What is meant by the term sākṣi or ‘witness’?

When I attended a meeting of the Ramana Maharshi Foundation UK in London earlier this month, one of the questions I was asked was about the concept or practice of sākṣi-bhāva or ‘being a witness’. I do not remember exactly what I replied at the time, but after seeing the video that was made of that meeting, a friend wrote to me saying that he agreed that the term sākṣi or ‘witness’ as it is often used is a misnomer, and he recalled that Bhagavan said in certain contexts that we should take this term to mean just ‘presence’ (as in the presence of our real self) rather than ‘witness’. He also added his own reflections on this subject, saying:
Many gurus ask their disciples to maintain sakshi-bhava towards the events or happenings of the world. They feel that if we do not react to the outside happenings we will become more equanimous, and thereby our vishaya-vasanas will be destroyed. I believe J. Krishnamurti, Nisargadatta and many others recommended second and third person attention in various ways, [claiming that it is the practice of] sakshi-bhava. But how is this possible? How can the ego attend to second and third persons, but refrain from reacting to them or outside events? As long as our ego is active it will react to outside happenings in one way or another.

However by following Bhagavan’s teachings we can achieve the intended goal of sakshi-bhava. That is, as we are more and more deeply attentively self-aware, we will tend to react less and less to outside happenings. When our attention is increasingly focussed on ourself, we will naturally be less concerned about the outside events or about the second and third persons. Eventually when the first person or the ego is destroyed, all the second and third persons or this entire world-appearance will also be destroyed. This is atma-jnana.
In reply to this I wrote:
Yes, I agree. The term sākṣi is unfortunately the cause of much confusion, because it is not very clear what it means, and hence it is liable to be misinterpreted. It seems to imply something that is aware of things other than itself, but if that were what it is intended to mean, then it would only be the ego, because according to Bhagavan it is only the ego that knows anything other than itself.

Some people suggest that it means something (or some state) between ego and ourself, but that suggestion unnecessarily multiplies the number of entities we should be concerned with. Can there be anything between our ego and ourself? No, because we either experience ourself as we really are or as something else, and when we experience ourself as anything else, that is what is called ego.

This is why Bhagavan generally did not use the term sākṣi of his own accord, because it unnecessarily complicates and confuses matters rather than simplifying and clarifying them.
Since so much confusion exists about this term and the practice of sākṣi-bhāva as recommended nowadays by many ‘gurus’, it may be useful to add some further clarification here.
  1. In a literal sense, the only sākṣin is our ego
  2. Can sākṣi-bhāva be an effective spiritual practice?
  3. Afterword
1. In a literal sense, the only sākṣin is our ego

The actual term in Sanskrit is साक्षिन् (sākṣin), which becomes साक्षि (sākṣi) in compound words such as साक्षिभाव (sākṣi-bhāva), and it is both a gerund meaning seeing, observing or witnessing (particularly in the literal sense of seeing with one’s eyes, but also in the more general sense of perceiving or experiencing in any way), and either a concrete or an abstract noun meaning a witness, eye-witness or observer. Like the word ‘witness’ in English, it is often used in the context of law to mean a legal witness (as in either a witness to the signing of a document, or a witness who gives evidence in a court case), and hence as a gerund it can also mean attesting or testifying. Like the word साक्षात् (sākṣāt), which means before the very eyes of, in the presence of, in person, visibly, openly, evidently or directly, साक्षिन् (sākṣin) is derived from साक्ष (sākṣa), which means with eyes or having eyes.

People often assume that when this term sākṣin is used in a philosophical or spiritual context it has a fixed meaning, in the sense that it refers to a particular entity or state. However, this assumption is incorrect, because its exact meaning depends on the actual context in which it is used. For example, in terms such as sarva-sākṣin (the witness of all) or lōka-sākṣin (the witness of the world) it refers to God, whereas in other contexts it refers to the ego, and in some contexts it is used to refer to our real self. However, Bhagavan clarified that when our real self is described as the sākṣin, we should not take it literally to mean that our real self is a witness, observer or experiencer of anything other than itself, but should understand that it is then being used more figuratively to indicate that our real self is the presence in which the seeming existence of other things appears and disappears (though not in its own view, but only in the deluded view of the ego).

When it is used in advaitic or vēdāntic texts the exact meaning of sākṣin is ambiguous, and hence it has provided fertile ground for the breeding of confusion and misunderstanding. For example, ancient texts often give the impression that our real self is a witness to everything, in the sense that it is aware of the entire universe or of whatever manifests or seems to exist within it. However, to put an end to all such confusion and misunderstanding, Bhagavan made it very clear that our real self is never aware of anything other than itself, because it alone actually exists, and that what is aware of anything other than our real self is only our ego.

In other words, the seeming existence of anything other than ourself does not ever arise in the clear view of ourself as we really are, but only in the self-ignorant and deluded view of ourself as this ego. That is, when we experience ourself as we actually are, we never experience the existence or even seeming existence of anything else whatsoever (even as an appearance within ourself), so it is only when we seem to experience ourself as this ego that we also experience the seeming existence of anything else.

As far as I am aware, no one before Bhagavan made it so abundantly clear that what experiences or ‘witnesses’ the seeming existence of anything other than what we actually are is only our ego, from which we can infer that in the literal sense of the term the only sākṣin or ‘witness’ is actually our own ego. What we really are cannot be described literally as a sākṣin, because it alone exists, and in its view it never seems to be anything other than what it always actually is, so there is nothing other than itself for it to witness.

This is explicitly affirmed by Bhagavan in verse 98 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai, in which he explains why it is not correct to say that our real self is an actual கரி (kari), which is a Tamil word that means sākṣin or witness:
சரீரமே நானாச் சரித்தாலே யன்றிச்
சராசரமா மன்னியஞ்சா ராதேல் — பராபரமாத்
தோன்று மயல்விடய சூனியத்தா லான்மாதான்
ஏன்றகரி யென்ற லிழுக்கு.

śarīramē nāṉāc carittālē yaṉḏṟic
carācaramā maṉṉiyañcā rādēl — parāparamāt
tōṉḏṟu mayalviḍaya śūṉiyattā lāṉmādāṉ
ēṉḏṟagari yeṉḏṟa liṙukku
.

பதச்சேதம்: சரீரமே நானா சரித்தாலே அன்றி, சராசரமாம் அன்னியம் சாராதேல், பராபரமா தோன்றும் அயல் விடய சூனியத்தால் ஆன்மாதான் ஏன்ற கரி என்றல் இழுக்கு.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): śarīram-ē nāṉ-ā sarittāl-ē aṉḏṟi, cara-acaram-ām aṉṉiyam sārādēl, para-aparam-ā tōṉḏṟum ayal viḍaya śūṉiyattāl āṉmā-tāṉ ēṉḏṟa kari eṉḏṟal iṙukku.

English translation: Since [any] other thing that is moving or unmoving does not appear unless one lives as ‘body alone is I’, [and] because of the non-existence [in the clear view of ātman, our real self] of [any] other thing that seems to be para-apara [superior or inferior, far or near, earlier or later, cause or effect], it is incorrect to say that ātman itself is the actual witness.
However, as I mentioned earlier, people who have not studied or understood Bhagavan’s teachings correctly, but who are aware of the use of the term sākṣin in ancient texts or in the teachings of some modern ‘gurus’, often imagine that this term denotes a particular entity, and since many of them assume that that entity is neither our ego nor our real self, they suppose that it is something that somehow exists behind our ego or between our ego and ourself, and that in order to reach our real self we must pass through a state in which we experience ourself neither as our ego nor as our real self, but only as the sākṣin, which they imagine to be some sort of detached witness of the ego or mind and all that it experiences. They also suppose that the state in which we experience ourself as this detached witness or sākṣin is the state called sākṣi-bhāva, ‘being a witness’ or assuming the attitude that one is a witness.

However, Bhagavan’s teachings give no room for any ideas such as these, because according to him the ego is whatever we experience ourself to be whenever we experience ourself as anything other than what we actually are. Therefore there is no room between our ego and what we actually are for any other entity or state to exist. Even if it were possible for us to experience ourself as a detached witness of whatever else we experience, that witness would be just another form assumed by our ego. So long as we do not experience ourself as we actually are (which entails experiencing nothing other than ourself), whatever we may experience ourself to be is just a form temporarily assumed by our ego.

Moreover, so long as we experience or ‘witness’ anything other ourself, we are not experiencing ourself as we really are but only as this ego. This is very clearly implied by what Bhagavan says in verse 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu:
அகந்தையுண் டாயி னனைத்துமுண் டாகு
மகந்தையின் றேலின் றனைத்து — மகந்தையே
யாவுமா மாதலால் யாதிதென்று நாடலே
யோவுதல் யாவுமென வோர்.

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

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

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

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

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

English translation: If the ego comes into existence, everything comes into existence; if the ego does not exist, everything does not exist. [Hence] the ego itself is everything. Therefore, know that investigating what this [ego] is alone is giving up everything.
The idea that Bhagavan expressed in the second sentence of this verse, ‘அகந்தை இன்றேல், இன்று அனைத்தும்’ (ahandai iṉḏṟēl, iṉḏṟu aṉaittum), which means, ‘If the ego does not exist, everything does not exist’, was also expressed by him in the first sentence of verse 7 of Śrī Aruṇācala Aṣṭakam:
இன்றக மெனுநினை வெனிற்பிற வொன்று மின்று [...].

iṉḏṟaha meṉuniṉai veṉiṟpiṟa voṉḏṟu miṉḏṟu [...]

பதச்சேதம்: இன்று அகம் எனும் நினைவு எனில், பிற ஒன்றும் இன்று. [...]

Padacchēdam (word-separation): iṉḏṟu aham eṉum niṉaivu eṉil, piṟa oṉḏṟum iṉḏṟu. [...]

அன்வயம்: அகம் எனும் நினைவு இன்று எனில், பிற ஒன்றும் இன்று. [...]

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): aham eṉum niṉaivu iṉḏṟu eṉil, piṟa oṉḏṟum iṉḏṟu. [...]

English translation:: If the thought called ‘I’ does not exist, even one other [thought or thing] will not exist. [...]
Whereas in the former verse Bhagavan refers to our ego as அகந்தை (ahandai), which is a Tamil form of the Sanskrit word ahaṁtā, which literally means ‘I-ness’, in the latter verse he refers to it as அகம் எனும் நினைவு (aham eṉum niṉaivu), which literally means ‘the thought called I’. The words பிற ஒன்றும் (piṟa oṉḏṟum) mean ‘even one other’, so in this context they can be taken to mean either ‘even one other thought’ or ‘even one other thing’, but both of these mean essentially the same, because according to Bhagavan everything other than ourself (including our ego) is just a thought or idea. Thus in both of these verses he emphatically asserts that if our ego does not exist, nothing else whatsoever (other than ourself) will exist. Our ego is therefore the seed, root, foundation, origin and substance of everything.

Hence everything other than ourself is just an expansion of our ego, and it seems to exist only so long as we experience ourself as this ego. Therefore, if we are witnessing, experiencing or aware of anything other than ourself, whatever we then experience ourself to be is only our ego. Therefore in its literal sense the term sākṣin or ‘witness’ cannot refer to anything other than our ego. This is a simple, obvious and indubitable inference that we can draw from the explicit teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana in these two verses and in many of his other original writings and reliably recorded sayings (especially in many verses of Guru Vācaka Kōvai).

2. Can sākṣi-bhāva be an effective spiritual practice?

What then is the meaning of the term sākṣi-bhāva in the light of his teachings? Before attempting to answer this question, we should remember that sākṣi-bhāva is not a term that he would normally use of his own accord, because it is ambiguous and can easily give rise to misunderstanding and misconceptions. However, if we are to give a positive meaning to it, we can consider it from at least two angles.

Firstly, if we take sākṣin in the figurative sense that Bhagavan suggested in some contexts, namely in the sense of mere ‘presence’, sākṣi-bhāva would mean just being the presence in which everything seems to arise and happen, but which is itself unaffected by and unaware of any of those seeming things or happenings. In other words, sākṣi-bhāva would simply mean self-abidance or being as we really are — that is, being aware of ourself alone and not anything else whatsoever.

Alternatively, if we consider the sense in which the term sākṣi-bhāva is generally understood, namely to mean a state in which one are detached from whatever may be happening, like an unconcerned witness, we would need to consider how we can be truly detached. Since detachment is the state in which we are free from attachment, in order to understand how we can be detached we need to consider how or why we became attached to anything in the first place.

Attachment or grasping is the very nature of our ego, because this ego comes into existence and endures only by grasping or attaching itself to anything other than itself, as Bhagavan explains 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; grasping and feeding on form it grows abundantly; leaving [one] form, it grasps [another] form. If sought [examined or investigated], it will take flight. Investigate [or know thus].
As a verb பற்று (paṯṟu) means to grasp, seize, catch, hold, embrace, cling to or adhere to (and in some contexts it can also mean to comprehend or become aware of), and as a noun it means attachment or the clinging of the mind to any object of its experience, whether internal or external, so in this context உரு பற்றி (uru paṯṟi) literally means ‘grasping form’ and implies clinging or attaching ourself to (that is, holding in our awareness or attending to) anything other than ourself.

Without grasping or attaching itself to something other than itself the ego cannot either come into existence or endure, so we cannot be truly detached so long as we experience ourself as this ego. Of course we can be more or less strongly attached to other things, and if we are less strongly attached to anything we are to that extent detached, but that is only a partial or relative detachment, and being partially detached means that we are still attached, albeit somewhat less so.

Partial detachment is therefore just a compromise, and hence it is not our goal, nor can it be a direct means to our goal. In order to experience ourself as we really are, we need to be completely detached from everything else, and we cannot be completely detached so long as we experience ourself as this ego. Even if we try to minimise our attachments, we can do so only to a very limited extent. Therefore in order to free ourself from all our attachments, we need to free ourself from their root, namely our ego, because even if we are able to free ourself from some of our attachments, fresh ones will continue sprouting so long as this ego survives.

Imagining that we are a detached witness, aware of what is happening but not attached to anything, is no way to destroy our ego, because what would be imagining thus would only be our ego, and since the very nature of this ego is to be attached, we would be deluding ourself if we were to imagine ourself to be a detached witness. If we are aware of anything, we must be attending to it, and by attending to it we are grasping it — that is, we are attaching ourself to it.

When Bhagavan says, ‘உரு பற்றி உண்டாம்; உரு பற்றி நிற்கும்; உரு பற்றி உண்டு மிக ஓங்கும்; உரு விட்டு, உரு பற்றும்’ (uru paṯṟi uṇḍām; uru paṯṟi niṯkum; uru paṯṟi uṇḍu miha ōṅgum; uru viṭṭu, uru paṯṟum), ‘Grasping form, it rises into being; grasping form it stands; grasping and feeding on form it grows abundantly; leaving [one] form, it grasps [another] form’, the ‘grasping’ or பற்று (paṯṟu) he refers to occurs in our awareness, and it is by attending to (that is, by choosing to be aware of) anything other than ourself that we grasp it. Therefore there is no such thing as detached awareness, because we become aware of anything only by grasping it in our attention. Attachment therefore lies at the very root of our awareness of anything other than ourself.

When he says, ‘உரு பற்றி நிற்கும்’ (uru paṯṟi niṯkum), ‘grasping form it stands’, and ‘உரு பற்றி உண்டு மிக ஓங்கும்’ (uru paṯṟi uṇḍu miha ōṅgum), ‘grasping and feeding on form it grows abundantly’, what he clearly implies is that our ego is nourished and sustained by attending to (and hence being aware of) anything other than ourself. Therefore we cannot annihilate our ego by any means other than simply being self-attentive — that is, trying to be aware of ourself alone, in complete isolation from any awareness of any other thing.

Since this ego can stand or endure only by ‘grasping form’ (that is, by attending to anything other than itself), and since it is itself formless (that is, since it has no form of its own, but seems to be a form only when it attaches itself to one, like a ghost possessing a corpse), if it tries to attend only to itself, it will have no support to cling to, and hence it will subside and disappear. This is what Bhagavan implies when he says, ‘தேடினால் ஓட்டம் பிடிக்கும்’ (tēḍiṉāl ōṭṭam piḍikkum), which literally means, ‘If sought [examined or investigated], it will take flight’

Since our ego rises and stands only by attaching itself to something other than itself, it is born and survives only in a state of attachment, so we cannot free ourself from all our attachments unless we free ourself from our ego. Therefore, since our ego will dissolve and cease to exist only when it tries to attend to itself alone, being self-attentive is the only means by which we can give up or free ourself from all our attachments. This is why Bhagavan concluded verse 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu (which I cited earlier in this article) by saying: ‘ஆதலால், யாது இது என்று நாடலே ஓவுதல் யாவும் என ஓர்’ (ādalāl, yādu idu eṉḏṟu nādal-ē ōvudal yāvum eṉa ōr), which means, ‘Therefore, know that investigating what this [ego] is alone is giving up everything’.

That is, since our ego is merely a formless phantom — an illusory appearance, something that seems to exist but does not actually exist — if we investigate it by trying to attend to it alone, it will disappear entirely, like an illusory snake when it is recognised to be just a rope, and since everything else seems to exist only so long as we experience ourself as this ego, by investigating and experiencing what this ego actually is we will not only give up this ego but also everything else, including all our attachments.

In the final analysis, we are faced at each moment with just two options: either we try to investigate and experience what we actually are, or we allow our attention to continue grasping other things. So long as we allow our attention to grasp anything other than ourself, we are thereby nourishing and sustaining not only our ego but also all its attachments, so by choosing the second option we can never experience real detachment. Therefore the only effective means by which we can experience real detachment is self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) — that is, trying to be exclusively self-attentive.

Hence, if we interpret the term sākṣi-bhāva to mean an attempt to be detached even while we are aware of whatever seems to be happening, either within ourself or outside in the world in which we now seem to be living, that would be a self-deluding and futile attempt, and therefore not a proper spiritual practice. Therefore, if we want to interpret this term sākṣi-bhāva to mean an effective spiritual practice, we have to interpret it to mean only self-investigation, the simple practice of trying to be aware of ourself alone.

So long as we are aware of anything other than ourself, we are grasping it (holding it in our awareness) and thereby attaching ourself to it. Therefore we cannot be genuinely detached from anything so long as we are aware of it, and hence the only way in which we can be truly detached from everything is by being self-attentive — that is, by grasping nothing other than ourself alone.

______________

Afterword

At the beginning of this article I referred to a video of a discussion in which I participated earlier this month with a group of friends in London. At the beginning of that discussion I spoke for a while about the importance of verses 25 and 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, saying that they can be used to answer many questions that arise about the teachings of Bhagavan Ramana and the practice of self-investigation, and in particular to explain the unique efficacy of this practice and why it is the only means by which we can experience what we actually are. This article I hope illustrates this point, because most of ideas I have discussed and arguments I have offered here are based largely upon what Bhagavan taught us in these two crucial verses.

In case any readers are interested to see this video and to hear what I said in it about these two verses or how I answered the question I was asked about sākṣi-bhāva, I have embedded it here:

An audio copy of this video can also be listened to or downloaded from 11th April 2015: Discussion with Michael James on the ego and how to annihilate it.

27 comments:

Michael James said...

While writing this article I noticed a serious printing error in both the printed book and the PDF copy of our English translation of Guru Vācaka Kōvai. That is, in Sadhu Om’s explanation of verse 674, in which Bhagavan says that whatever may happen in whatever way, we should separate ourself and remain as the witness of it, it is printed (in the last sentence on page 206), ‘Therefore, when Sri Bhagavan says in this verse that we should simply be a witness to all things, he does not mean that we should remain like the sun, unattached to and unconcerned with whatever happens or does not happen in our presence’, whereas what he actually wrote was:

‘Therefore, when Sri Bhagavan says in this verse that we should simply be a witness to all things, he does not mean that we should attend to them. He simply means that we should remain like the sun, unattached to and unconcerned with whatever happens or does not happen in our presence.’

Michael James said...

Incidentally, the following is an accurate translation of verse 674 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai, which I referred to in my previous comment:

எவ்வெது வெவ்வா றியங்கினு நீபிரிந்
தவ்வதன் சான்றா யமர்.

evvedu vevvā ṟiyaṅgiṉu nīpirin
tavvadaṉ sāṉḏṟā yamar
.

பதச்சேதம்: எவ் எது எவ்வாறு இயங்கினும், நீ பிரிந்து அவ் அதன் சான்று ஆய் அமர்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): e-vv-edu e-vv-āṟu iyaṅgiṉum, nī pirindu a-vv-adaṉ sāṉḏṟu āy amar.

English translation: Whatever happens in whatever way, separating yourself remain as the witness of each such thing.

The words நீ பிரிந்து (nī pirindu), which mean ‘separating yourself’, are crucial in this context, because they imply that by withdrawing our attention back towards ourself alone, we should isolate ourself from whatever may happen.

who said...

Michael

Thank you for pointing out and clarifying the printing errors in Guru Vācaka Kōvai.

This error reminds me of some other printing errors that i came across while reading various books on the teachings of Bhagavan whose PDF versions you have posted here for our benefit.

I ignored them at that time , feeling that any discriminating student will doubtlessly see through those printing errors. However , if you suggest so (and deem it necessary) , i can bring to your notice any of those mistakes if and when i come across them while reading those books.

Sanherib said...

Every kind of error without exception should be corrected if possible.
Particularly serious printing errors in spiritual books sometimes create confusion.Only little and slight typos are harmless.
So let us be vigilantly read and write any text. Meticulousness is necessary everywhere and sharpens our attentiveness not least our self-attentiveness.

Bob - P said...

Thank you Michael.
This post and your other posts keep hammering away that all I need to do is investigate myself fully and earnestly and not be distracted by anything other than myself. It is much appreciated.

Thank you for uploading the video even though I admit it will distract me from investigating myself I am very much looking forward to watching it as like your other videos & writings it will keep hammering away Bhagavan's simple message over and over again and what I need to do.

So simple but it is difficult for me to surrender completely .... I must keep going.

In appreciation.

Bob

Kafarnaum said...

Regarding Michael’s second comment,accurate translation of verse 674 of Guru Vacaka Kovai:
„Whatever happens in whatever way, separating yourself remain as the witness of each such thing".
I think that recommendation can practiced sensibly or meaningfully only by a man living on his own.
Having a family with 2 children and one granddaughter , Michael, why should I isolate myself from whatever may happen ? Why should I remain like the sun, unattached to and unconcerned with whatever happens or does not happen in my presence ?
Where in this Bhagavan’s saying is imposed the border to blind egoism and sheer selfishness ?
Please Michael, do explain that point furthermore.

Anonymous said...

Dear Kafarnaum,

http://bhagavan-ramana.org/janakimata.html


Sivanarul said...

Kafarnaum,
Unattached or unconcerned does not mean isolating oneself from family or friends. The words unattached or unconcerned may seem to imply an attitude of coldness towards others. But that is certainly not the intent, at least to me. The way I typically interpret such statements is to fulfill one’s duties and responsibilities without the sense of doer ship. It is generally stated that as the sense of doer ship diminishes, love and compassion increases and one becomes more involved not less.

When a western reporter suggested to Mahatma Gandhi, that he should take a vacation, since he has been working nonstop for so many years, Gandhiji replied that he is always “vacant” inside and does not a vacation. Gandhiji had lost his sense of doer ship, but his love for fellow human beings only increased.

Bhagavan himself can be viewed with many lenses. The lens of Nan Yaar and Ulladu Narpadu, may be his highest teaching and may be the one he recommended for the most ardent devotees to see him with. But for the vast majority of us, it is Bhagavan the super compassionate human being that attracts us and sustains us. His compassion to his Mother, to his childhood friend Rangan is heartwarming to read. His talking to Nondi, the monkey, treating the monkey as his equal, his emphasis that when a medicine is given to him, it should be given to everyone (if it is good for me, it must be good for everyone) are all just a tiny sample of his love and compassion to everyone.

One way is to contract the ego such that ego vanishes leaving the Self alone (path of Jnana). Other way is to expand the ego to include everything such that it vanishes leaving the Self alone (path of Bhakthi). Depending on our vasanas, we may be interested in one or the other or both. If your way is of Bhakthi, then in addition to including your children and grandchild, the path of Bhakthi says to slowly add all sentient beings to the fold.

Kafarnaum said...

Dear Anonymus,
thank you for your advice to the "bhgavan-ramana.org".
But this is not the official website of Sri Ramanasramam. Who runs the home-Page ?

Kafarnaum said...

Sivanarul,
thanks for your comment.
Hopefully your way of interpretation is correct in the sense of Sri Ramana's teachings.

R Viswanathan said...

" Michael, why should I isolate myself from whatever may happen "

A question somewhat similar to the above was posted two days ago to Sri David Godman as a comment on his series of new videos on Sri Ramana Maharshi:

http://sri-ramana-maharshi.blogspot.com/2015/01/a-series-of-new-videos-on-ramana.html

"What was Bhagavan's response/reaction in general to people/animals who were in the midst of deep suffering (mentally/physically)? Did he ever give advice in this aspect (even if it is all just an illusion to a realized being)?"

This was the reply By Sri David Godman:

"Bhagavan spontaneously manifested compassion to all those in his vicinity who needed his help. It was his nature to do so, rather than his choice.

Generally, he would say that suffering arose on account of a wrong identification with the body and the mind, and his advice was to do enquiry to find out the nature and origin of the one who thought he or she was suffering. Alternatively, he said that surrendering all one's problems to a higher power would also work."

Sivanarul said...

“Generally, he would say that suffering arose on account of a wrong identification with the body and the mind, and his advice was to do enquiry to find out the nature and origin of the one who thought he or she was suffering. Alternatively, he said that surrendering all one's problems to a higher power would also work."

It is the compassion and genius of Bhagavan to recognize that enquiry cannot be done by most people when they are under intense pain and/or suffering and hence offering “surrendering all one’s problem to a higher power” as the alternate solution. For the people of Nepal, who have been impacted deeply by the earthquake, enquiry is not an option (unless they are very advanced sadhakas). But surrendering to the compassion of humanity at large to help them in their time of need and surrendering to a higher power to grant them the strength to handle a problem of this magnitude, is certainly an option.

Sankarraman said...

I wouldn't say that JK advocated witnessing of thoughts, since he has said that the witness being the ego is tied to thoughts. So that position extenuates him from that charge. But he speaks of the observation without the observer, which is similar to Patanjali's extnction of thoughts as paving the way for liberation, which is called transcendental aloneness. There are a lot of parallels one can find in the two teachings except that they don't constitute the flight of the Ajada.

Michael James said...

Sankarraman, the crucial question about the teachings of J. Krishnamurti is not which verb he chose to use, whether either ‘witness’ or ‘observe’ (because in the context of spiritual practice they mean essentially the same), but what he actually advised us to witness or observe. If he advised us to observe thoughts or anything else other than ourself — that is, anything that is not permanent and unchanging — that is diametrically opposite to what Bhagavan advised us to observe, namely ourself alone. Bhagavan taught us that we should try to observe ourself alone because according to him observing anything other than ourself nourishes and sustains the illusion that we are this ego or mind, whereas observing ourself alone will dissolve and destroy this illusion.

If as you say JK speaks of ‘observation without the observer’, that is a patently absurd proposition, because no observation can occur in the absence of any observer. If we observe anything, we become the observer of that thing, because we obviously cannot observe anything without being the observer. This is a simple fact that even a child can understand.

Therefore I fail to understand how anyone could seriously believe that there could ever be any observation without an observer. If anyone claims that they do believe this, they would be wilfully fooling themselves, like the crowd of people who claimed that they could see the fine robes that the emperor was wearing, when in fact everyone could see that he was actually naked.

I have never heard anyone suggest that Patanjali believed that there could be any observation without an observer, and I doubt whether he could have actually believed it. I have heard that some Buddhists claim that Buddha taught that there is only seeing but no seer, only experiencing but no experiencer, but they are doing a disservice to his reputation by making such an absurd claim, because the idea that there could be any seeing without anything that is seeing is so obviously self-contradictory.

You refer to a state called ‘transcendental aloneness’, but if there is such a state, in it there must be something that exists alone (because nothing could not exist alone, since it does not exist at all), and in order to know that it exists alone that something must be self-aware. Since it exists alone, there would be nothing else for it either to transcend or to observe, so we could argue that in one sense there is no observer in such a state — because there is nothing for it to observe — and hence there is observation either. However, it could also be argued that, if the meaning of ‘observation’ is taken to include self-observation, what exists in that state is always observing itself, so in that sense it is a self-observer, and hence there is both self-observation and a self-observer in that state.

Either way, whether we take ‘observation’ to include self-observation or restrict its meaning only to the observation of other things, there can never be any observation without an observer.

Chinmaya said...

In my opinion self-observation can only mean (the same as) self-awareness.

Michael James said...

Yes, Chinmaya, as you say, self-observation is nothing other than self-awareness, or rather being attentively self-aware (since we are always self-aware, even when we neglect our self-awareness and attend instead only to other things).

Chinmaya said...

Michael, you are right,
self-observation in the above sense of your reply to Sankarraman is being aware attentively self-aware. We should never forget that we are always aware, even when we misuse our self-awareness to attend to other things.
That appeal becomes not invalid when we consider all (other) things as a manifestation of the universal consciousness/chit or brahman.

Michael James said...

Chinmaya, yes, even if we consider other things to be a ‘manifestation of the universal consciousness/chit or brahman’, so long as we experience them as being anything other than ourself (that is, so long as we experience any multiplicity, difference or otherness at all), by attending to them we are misusing our attention by directing it away from ourself, and thus we are allowing our pure self-awareness to be seemingly mixed with and contaminated by awareness of other things.

Chinmaya said...

oh Michael, are you implying that it is up to us to experience any multiplicity etc. at all ?
Is it not strange enough that we as the ego are at all in the position to allowe our pure self-awareness to get (seemingly) mixed with and contaminated by awareness of other things ?

Michael James said...

Yes, Chinmaya, it is very strange that we seem to have risen as this ego and to be experiencing all this multiplicity — too strange to be true. Therefore we should investigate ourself to see whether we have ever actually risen as this ego.

It is up to us to decide whether we want to experience multiplicity, or whether we want to try to experience only ourself. Until we decide the latter and actually try — not just once or twice, but persistently for as long as it takes — we cannot know the power that lies within us, because as I said in another comment that I wrote earlier today, the power to experience ourself as we really are does already lie within us, so we can utilise it properly if we want to.

venkat said...

Hi Michael,

Just to clarify, when JK speaks of "observation without the observer", I think he means a state of being in which one does not bring the accumulated baggage of the past (and future expectations), i.e. the ego, into the present.

When he talks of choiceless awareness, it is a similar point. His 'advice' was to be attentively aware to your own thoughts and feelings as they arise in reaction to external interactions - and thereby see that 99% of these thought / feelings are attributable to the ego, to selfishness. And by being choicelessly attentive to this (not thinking about it, or trying to remove such thoughts/feelings) they will evaporate by themselves.

I don't think it is that very different from Bhagavan - though Bhagavan said it most simply and clearly - just a different way of pointing in the same direction. I think JK sets us down a path of becoming aware of how destructive the ego is - Bhagavan's teaching then takes us to the end.

Sankarraman said...

I would suggest that you go through the yoga sutras, especially the first chapter, wherein Samadhi is described as one of seeing the object alone without the obsever's conventional sense of memories. In that state the object's intrinsic nature is revealed. If you go through verses 17 to 43 of Samadhipada, you could appreciate it. But what Bhaghavan speaks is pure Advaita, which is a different matter, being meant for those who are finished with these earlier stages, and are ready for the extreme subjective Self which doesn't admit of anything alien.

Sankarraman said...

The pure observation bereft of the observer has been called by Patanjali as ' Swarupa Soonya.' The Vippasana taught by buddha, to my knowledge, is not a disservice to truth, but has got a validity at that level of enabling one know the fact of all our perceptions being only ego- centric, revealing also the fact of the ego being only a constuction of thought and not a substantial reality.

Michael James said...

Venkat, I have replied to your comment in a separate article, ‘Observation without the observer’ and ‘choiceless awareness’: Why the teachings of J. Krishnamurti are diametrically opposed to those of Sri Ramana.

Michael James said...

In my reply to Sankarraman above, there is a typo in the second sentence of the second last paragraph. I meant to type: ‘Since it exists alone, there would be nothing else for it either to transcend or to observe, so we could argue that in one sense there is no observer in such a state — because there is nothing for it to observe — and hence there is no observation either’, but by mistake I omitted the ‘no’ in the final clause. I spotted this when I quoted that reply in my latest article, ‘Observation without the observer’ and ‘choiceless awareness’: Why the teachings of J. Krishnamurti are diametrically opposed to those of Sri Ramana, so I corrected it there, but I cannot correct it here because there is no edit facility for comments.

Michael James said...

Sankarraman, in your second comment above you say that in the first chapter of the Yōga Sūtra ‘Samadhi is described as one of seeing the object alone without the observer’s conventional sense of memories’, but seeing without the observer’s memories is quite different to the seeing without the observer. There is no logical contradiction in the idea that the observer could observe or see anything without its memories, because even if all our memories were wiped out, there is no reason why we should not still be able to observe or see, since memories are not essential to the process of seeing. However, there is a logical contradiction in the idea that there could be any observation without the observer, because who would there be to observe anything if there were no observer? Logically an observer is essential to the process of observing.

What do you mean when you say, ‘In that state the object’s intrinsic nature is revealed’? What is the intrinsic nature of an object? According to Bhagavan all objects are just thoughts or ideas, and as such they are just a projection of the ego, which is the thought called ‘I’, the first thought and the root of all other thoughts. Since the ego is just an insubstantial phantom — something that seems to exist even though it does not actually exist — and since it therefore disappears if we try to investigate it, it does not have any intrinsic nature of its own, because it does not actually exist, but is just what we seem to be when we do not experience ourself as we actually are. Therefore, since this ego (the subject) itself is actually non-existent, all its progeny (the objects that it experiences) are also non-existent, and hence they do not have any intrinsic nature.

As I explained in this article, and also in other recent articles such as Witnessing or being aware of anything other than ourself nourishes our ego and thereby reinforces our attachments and ‘Observation without the observer’ and ‘choiceless awareness’: Why the teachings of J. Krishnamurti are diametrically opposed to those of Sri Ramana, so long as we observe, attend to or experience any object (that is, anything other than ourself), we are perpetuating the illusion that we are this ego, and thereby we are also perpetuating the secondary illusion that objects exist, so if the intrinsic nature of an object is that it does not actually exist, its intrinsic nature will not be revealed until we cease attending to it and try instead to attend to ourself alone.

This is what we can infer by reflecting on the meaning of verses 25 and 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, so if we accept what Bhagavan says in those two verses, we need not be concerned with whatever Patanjali, JK or anyone else may say in this regard, particularly if what they say conflicts logically with what Bhagavan has taught us so unequivocally.

Michael James said...

Sankarraman, regarding your third comment, I checked and found that Patanjali uses the term svarūpa-śūnya in sūtra 1.43, but as is the case with many of the other sūtras, the exact meaning of this one is not very clear and is certainly not unambiguous. However, it seems that what he says shines ‘devoid of its own form’ (svarūpa-śūnya) is not the mind or observer but only the object (artha-mātra), and he does not say that it is actually devoid of its own form, but only that it shines ‘as if devoid of its own form’ (svarūpa-śūnya iva). Therefore in this sūtra there does not seem to be any evidence that he was describing a state in which there is observation without any observer, so to interpret it as implying that seems very far-fetched.

Regarding what you write about vipassanā, I did not say it is a ‘disservice to truth’, nor did I even mention it in my reply to your first comment. What I actually wrote there about Buddhism was: ‘I have heard that some Buddhists claim that Buddha taught that there is only seeing but no seer, only experiencing but no experiencer, but they are doing a disservice to his reputation by making such an absurd claim, because the idea that there could be any seeing without anything that is seeing is so obviously self-contradictory’. This does not mean that what Buddha actually taught (whatever that was) was a ‘disservice to truth’, but only that to attribute to him the idea that there could be seeing without any seer is doing a disservice to his reputation, because such an idea is so obviously a logical contradiction.

Regarding vipassanā meditation as it is taught and practised nowadays, what I have written about it elsewhere (such as here and here) is that it cannot be a means to nirvāṇa, or at least not a direct means to it, because nirvāṇa is the destruction of our ego, and as Bhagavan taught us, if we attend to anything other than ourself we are ‘grasping form’ and thereby nourishing and sustaining our illusion that we are this ego, so the only way in which we can destroy this illusion is by trying to attend to ourself alone. Therefore ātma-vicāra is the only means by which the fact that this ego is ‘not a substantial reality’ can be effectively revealed.