Sunday, 31 May 2015

How is karma destroyed only by self-investigation?

A new friend recently wrote to me asking, ‘When we do meditation on I or atma-vichara will all the previous karma be destroyed? How is that?’ The following is what I replied to him:

What is karma? Karma means action, and it is classified into three categories: āgāmya, sañcita and prārabdha. Āgāmya means fresh action that we do of our own free will, and such action bears fruit, which we must later experience. Sañcita is the store of all the fruits of our past karmas that we have not yet experienced, and prārabdha is that portion of our sañcita that has been selected for us to experience in this lifetime.

For whom is all this karma? Who is it who does āgāmya, and who then experiences the resulting prārabdha? It is only ourself as this ego. In sleep we do not rise as this ego, so we then do not do any karma or experience any fruit. But as soon as we (this ego) wake from sleep or begin to dream, we start doing karma and experiencing the fruit of our past karmas. Therefore there is no karma without our ego, so our ego is the root and foundation of all karma.

However much we may try to cut a tree, so long as its root survives it will continue sprouting again and again. Likewise, so long as our ego, the root of all karma, survives, we cannot destroy our karma. The only way to destroy karma is to destroy our ego.

What is this ego? Is it real? This ego is what we now seem to be, but it is not what we really are. It is like an illusory snake. What seems to be a snake is actually only a rope. So long as we mistake the rope to be a snake, we do not see any rope but only a snake. But if we look at the snake very carefully, we will see that it is actually just a rope, and then we will no longer mistake it to be a snake.

Likewise, what now seems to be this ego is actually only ourself. So long as we mistake ourself to be this ego, we do not see ourself as we really are but instead see ourself only as this ego. But if we look at this ego very carefully, we will see that it is actually just the infinite self-awareness that we really are, and then we will no longer mistake ourself to be this ego.

Looking at ourself or our ego very carefully is what is called ātma-vicāra or self-investigation. Since we are not really this ego, if we persevere in investigating ourself (observing our ego very carefully) until we see what we really are, this illusion called ‘ego’ will cease to exist, and when it ceases to exist all its karma will also cease to exist.

Therefore investigating ourself or meditating on ‘I’, our ego, is the one infallible means to destroy all karma. Indeed, it is the only mean by which we can destroy it, because it is the only means by which we can destroy the illusion that we are this finite thing called ‘ego’.

Since everything that we experience is the fruit of our past karmas, and since the root of all karma and its fruit is only our own ego, this simple path of self-investigation taught to us by Bhagavan Ramana is the solution to all the problems we face and all the problems we could ever face. Indeed according to him it is the solution to all the problems of the world, because the world and its problems seem to exist only in the view of our ego (just as any world or problems that we see in a dream seem to exist only in the view of our dreaming mind), so when our ego is destroyed by self-investigation, this world and all its problems will also cease to exist, and what will then remain is what alone is real, namely ourself, the one infinite and blissful space of pure self-awareness.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

From "In the Fall Issue of Inner Directions, 1995."

Robert Adams: If you are abiding in the Self, there is no ego to watch — there is only the Self. You watch the ego with the mind, not with the Self. If you abide in the Self, there is nothing else. You are finished. You’re cooked. Everything else is of the mind. When I say abide in the Self, I mean for-get everything and be yourself. There is nothing else to know at that point.

Michael James said...

Anonymous, what Robert Adams says in the passage you quote seems a rather confusing way of expressing whatever he is trying to express.

When there is no ego to watch, there is also no ‘you’ to abide in ‘the Self’ — there is only what we really are (which is presumably what he means by the term ‘the Self’). The state that is called ‘self-abidance’ is the state in which we alone exist, so there are not two separate things there, one abiding in the other. Therefore we should understand the term ‘abiding in ourself’ to mean only ‘abiding as ourself’ or ‘abiding as we really are’.

And to say ‘You watch the ego with the mind’ also seems confusing, because the ego is the watching element of the mind — that is, it is the thought called ‘I’, which is the root of all the other thoughts that constitute the mind (as Bhagavan says in verse 18 of Upadēśa Undiyār). Therefore the part of our mind with which we watch our ego is only our ego, because there is no other part of our mind that can watch anything, since the only thought that is endowed with awareness is this primal thought, our ego.

If there were two things involved in watching our ego, what our ego would be watching would be something other than itself, the ego. Therefore it is only we as this ego who can watch this ego (which is what we now seem to be), so ‘watching the ego’ is just another way of describing self-attentiveness or vigilant self-awareness. In other words, it is only by being vigilantly self-aware that we can ‘watch the ego’.

According to Bhagavan, the only means by which we can abide as we really are (or ‘abide in the Self’, as Robert puts it) is by vigilantly watching our ego, because only when we attend to our ego alone and thereby give up attending to anything else will our ego subside back into ourself, its source, and will we thereby remain as we really are. Robert is of course correct when he says, ‘When I say abide in the Self, I mean forget everything and be yourself’, but how to forget everything else unless we attend only to ourself, whom we now experience as this ego?

R Viswanathan said...

"but how to forget everything else unless we attend only to ourself, whom we now experience as this ego?"

How to forget everything else which the ego experiences? by not paying attention to those things which the ego seems to experience and shifting the attention onto the experiencer (that is the ego itself). The essence of the ego being the self, this amounts to paying attention onto the self.

Surely, everyone is bestowed with the power to know whether our attention is onto something which one experiences (second and third person) or onto the experiencer (first person). Even if one understands this conceptually, unless one loves so dearly to abide in the self, one will stray into experiencing other things. I feel that this is what Sri Robert Adams tries to point out by asking to forget everything.

Noob said...

The ever remaining question is how we "watch the ego'. This is something noone can teach. The only clue is to show what is watching, that is paying attention. And then there comes the question how can you look at you eyes with your own eyes. The clue is attention.

Sanjay Lohia said...

Sir, you have written in the above mentioned comment of yours, ‘The state that is called ‘self-abidance’ is the state in which we alone exist, so there are not two separate things there, one abiding in the other. Therefore we should understand the term ‘abiding in ourself’ to mean only ‘abiding as ourself’ or ‘abiding as we really are’’.

Can we say that during our practice it is more correct to describe our practice as ‘abiding in ourself’, and on attainment it is more correct to describe our state as ‘abiding as ourself’ or ‘abiding as we really are’? Why I say this is because during our practice our ego and its thoughts are still there, however subtle these may be, therefore in effect during this time our ego is ‘abiding in ourself’, however on attainment since the ego is annihilated there is no ego left to abide in ourself, therefore it will be more correct to describe our attainment as ‘abiding as ourself’ or ‘abiding as we really are’.

It will be nice to hear your views and comments on what I have written. Thanking you and pranams.

who? said...

Sanjay

In your comment you opine that during our practice our ego and its thoughts are still there, however subtle these may be, therefore in effect during this time our ego is ‘abiding in ourself’, however on attainment since the ego is annihilated there is no ego left to abide in ourself, therefore it will be more correct to describe our attainment as ‘abiding as ourself’ or ‘abiding as we really are’


'Abiding in ourself' has a connotation of distinction between and objectification of 'ourself as this ego' and 'ourself as we really are' , whereas 'abiding as ourself' is a more accurate conceptual description of our practice. During atma vichara , we are not trying to 'abide in' something that we imagine to be ourself , but we are simply trying to 'abide as' ourself , which means the same as being as we really are by attending to ourself alone.

Regarding your question about the practice of atma vichara and the goal of atma anubhava , Sri Bhagavan categorically states in verse 579 of Guru Vachaka Kovai , that these two are abheda.

The only difference , from the point of view of ourself as this ego , is that the practice seems to involve effort , and the goal is experienced to be sahaja (natural and spontaneous).

Sanjay Lohia said...

Who, I do agree with your view, but do not entirely disagree with my previous comment.

That is, in my view during our practice of vichara we try and abide in ourself, but our aim even then is only to abide as ourself. Therefore our practice can be described as ‘trying to abide in and as ourself’, whereas on atma-anubhava we just abide as ourself. Thanks.

Michael James said...

Sanjay, if we observe Bhagavan’s essential teachings carefully, it is clear that his aim is always to simplify and clarify rather than complicate and obscure, so we should take this as a cue that we should likewise try to keep our understanding as simple and thereby as clear as possible. Therefore when doing manana we should always aim for the simplest and clearest understanding of his teachings, and hence we should avoid complicating matters in any way.

In this context, a very good example of how much he simplifies things is what he says in verse 579 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai, as ‘Who?’ points out, because there he explains why the means must be essentially the same as the goal, namely just to be ourself, which means to be aware of ourself alone.

Since we know that we are always one, we should understand that self-abidance cannot literally mean one self abiding in another self. Therefore, though we sometimes speak of abiding in ourself, we should understand that this is a metaphorical rather than a strictly accurate description of self-abidance. Hence there is never any difference whatsoever between ‘abiding in ourself’ and ‘abiding as ourself’, because both these terms are describing exactly the same state. The former describes it more metaphorically, whereas the latter describes it more accurately and precisely.

Even during our practice it is not more correct to describe our self-abidance as ‘abiding in ourself’, because even now we are only one and not two. To the extent that we abide in ourself (that is, to the extent that our attention rests in and on ourself alone), to that extent we are abiding as ourself. In other words, the more we hold our attention back within ourself or on ourself, the more we will subside back into ourself, and thus the more we will be remains as ourself.

When you say, ‘during our practice our ego and its thoughts are still there, however subtle these may be’, what exactly do you mean by ‘our ego’? What we call our ego is what we now seem to be, but though what we now seem to be is not what we actually are, the ‘we’ who now seem to be this ego are the same ‘we’ who are always as we actually are. Our ego is never actually anything other than what we really are, any more than an illusory snake is ever actually anything other than the rope that it really is. Therefore we need to get over thinking of our ego as something other than ourself. It is just ourself seeming to be something other than what we actually are, as we will be able to see for ourself if we look sufficiently carefully at this ego that we now seem to be.

Michael James said...

Noob, in answer to your comment, the only way to ‘watch our ego’ is to be attentively self-aware, but this is just another way of saying the same thing, so as you say no one can teach this, because no one can teach us (or need teach us) how to be aware of ourself.

The only way to learn how to watch our ego or be attentively self-aware is to try. If we try with sufficient patience and perseverance, we cannot but succeed. At first we may not be very successful at being aware of ourself alone, but with persistent practice we will gradually learn, until eventually we manage to be aware of nothing other than ourself, whereupon we will find that we alone exist, and that there is no ego or anything else for us to be aware of.

As you say, the clue is attention. By attending to anything other than ourself, we rise as this ego, and by continuing to attend to other things we feed and nourish our ego, but if we attend to ourself alone, our ego will subside and vanish, because it does not really exist, and when it vanishes what remains is only ourself as we really are.

Therefore attention is the key to our prison. It is the key that has locked us into the illusion that we are this ego, and it is therefore the only key that can unlock and free us from this illusion. So long as we attend to anything other than ourself, we are keeping the door firmly locked, so we can unlock it only by trying to attend to ourself alone. There is no other way out.

Sanjay Lohia said...

Sir, I thank you and also thank ‘who?’ for clarifying my understanding on this topic. As ‘who?’ had written:

'Abiding in ourself' has a connotation of distinction between and objectification of 'ourself as this ego' and 'ourself as we really are', whereas 'abiding as ourself' is a more accurate conceptual description of our practice. During atma vichara , we are not trying to 'abide in' something that we imagine to be ourself , but we are simply trying to 'abide as' ourself , which means the same as being as we really are by attending to ourself alone.

As you have written:

Since we know that we are always one, we should understand that self-abidance cannot literally mean one self abiding in another self.

Therefore, as you imply we should try and stick to more accurate and precise descriptions of the intended meaning, and this should be preferred over more metaphorical descriptions.

Thanking you and pranams.

R Viswanathan said...

"the more we hold our attention back within ourself or on ourself, the more we will subside back into ourself, and thus the more we will be remains as ourself"

"Therefore attention is the key to our prison. It is the key that has locked us into the illusion that we are this ego, and it is therefore the only key that can unlock and free us from this illusion. So long as we attend to anything other than ourself, we are keeping the door firmly locked, so we can unlock it only by trying to attend to ourself alone. There is no other way out."

I take these two passages as the most simplified and hence most beneficial ones for anyone who genuinely wants to find eternal peace and happiness which Bhagavan says is our real nature. Thanks so much Sri Muchael James for explaining Bhagavan's core teaching in such great details through so many articles and ultimately narrow it down to very simple and easily understandable statements.

Sri Michael James mentions about an illusory prison. Sri Nochur Venkataraman also mentions about an illusory prison, somewhat different one which has a wall of infinite length only in the front, but, totally open in the back. Thus instead of always looking frontwards and at the wall, and trying to get out only through that, if only if one turns 180 degrees, one will readily find that it is all fully opened space that gives one total and unlimited freedom.

Michael James said...

Sanjay, there is not harm in using metaphorical descriptions, provided that we understand what they mean and do not interpret them too literally. Bhagavan often spoke metaphorically, because what he was trying to communicate through words is beyond words, so metaphors are often the most effective way to communicate it.

Śrī Aruṇācala Stuti Pañcakam, for instance, is full of metaphorical teachings, and most of his other writings are also rich in metaphors, including even such clear texts as Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu and Nāṉ Yār?. For example, when he says in verse 25 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu that the ego comes into existence, stands, feeds and grows abundantly by grasping form, the words ‘grasping form’ are a metaphorical description of attending to anything other than ourself. Likewise, when he describes the ego as a ‘phantom’ in the same verse, that is also a metaphor, as also is his statement, ‘If sought, it takes flight’.

It would be hard to imagine his teachings without all the wonderful and varied metaphors that he used, because there is often no clearer or more effective way of conveying what he was alluding to than through the metaphors that he used. Therefore when we read his teachings, we should not take every word literally, but should try to understand what he is indicating through such words.

Bob - P said...

"because what he was trying to communicate through words is beyond words"

Yes I apprecite it is very difficult to write about these things.

We can convey a 3 dimensional object such as a peacock on paper with shading and the clever use of perspective but the peacock is still just a poor representation. If we were well skilled in origami we could actually make a more realsitic 3 dimensional model of a peacock with the paper but it would still be sadly lacking compared to the original.

I think Bhagavan did the best he could with language and I am so thankful for it but I understand why he prefered silence.

But I find reading very helpful and the metaphors used although just that are still very valuable in helping me try to understand.

In appreciation
Bob

Sanjay Lohia said...

Sir, thank you explaining the importance of metaphorical descriptions by Bhagavan in his teachings, but what is important is, as you say, when we read his teachings, we should not take every word literally, but should try to understand what he is indicating through such words.

Yes, sometimes metaphors could be a better means to convey deep, subtle truths. Moreover metaphors are easy to remember than more literal teachings. For example when he says, 'Grasping form, the formless phantom-ego rises into being...', it is very easy to imprint this message in our memory. Since we are in so much love with all the drama, theatre, movies etc, Bhagavan thought it best to teach us through our this love for drama and stories. Do you agree?

Thanking you and pranams.

Michael James said...

Sanjay, I had not thought of Bhagavan’s teachings in terms of drama or stories, but he was a poet, and most of his original writings (and also many of his other writings) were written in verse, so as a poet he expressed his teachings in very vivid and powerful language, making abundant use metaphors and analogies, some of which did allude to stories, such as the analogy of the ‘missing’ tenth man in verse 37 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu. He also often used stories to illustrate and explain his teachings, such as the story of the spurious bridegroom’s friend that he used to illustrate his teaching in verse 25 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, ‘If sought, it takes flight’.

Josef Bruckner said...

Michael,
in your comment (nr.8)dated 2 June 2015 at 14:58 in reply to Sanjay at the end of the 4 th paragraph you write "...we will be remains as ourself".
I think you wanted to write the infinitive of the verb "remain" instead of the noun plural "remains".

Michael James said...

Thank you, Josef. Yes, what I wrote does seem rather garbled, but what I think I meant to write was ‘the more we hold our attention back within ourself or on ourself, the more we will subside back into ourself, and thus the more we will be (or remain as) ourself’.

Josef Bruckner said...

Yes Michael,
"...the more we will be ourself." or "...remain as ourself." sounds clearer.

All or nothing said...

Michael James,
can we really be partially ourself and partially not ?

Sanjay Lohia said...

All or nothing, you have asked Michael the following question, 'can we really be partially ourself and partially not'? With Michael's permission I would like to respond to this. Of course whenever he is free he would surely answer it more accurately.

We have repeatedly learned from Michael that we, as this ego, are always partially ourself and partially not. We all know or experience 'I am', but this 'I am' is confused with our body and mind, and all the other adjuncts which necessary accompany our body and mind, like we may feel we are happy, tall, poor, fat, old etc. Thus this body, mind and all these adjuncts are the unreal elements of our ego. Michael has explained that the ego is a complete package - it is a package or a mixture of reality and unreality.

In other words, we are always aware of ourself, but this awareness is clouded over or obscured by all our thoughts, beginning from the thought called 'I'. The more we try to focus our attention on ourself alone, the more these adjuncts or upadhis will start dissolving, and a time will come when we will exist only as pure self or pure 'I am'.

All or nothing said...

Sanjay Lohia,
thanks for your response.
It is surely not wrong that our experience 'I am' is confused with the already "notorious" adjuncts.
It is also accurate that our awareness is clouded by thoughts...
But my doubt of the mentioned formulation was if we as our real undivided being/ourself could be in certain respects incomplete.
I do not think that we can really be ("partially")gradual more or less.
However, as Michael writes in his reply to you - our self-abidance/abiding/attention maybe rest to a greater or lesser extent on ourself alone.

who? said...

Sanjay , you begin your reply to All or nothing by saying We have repeatedly learned from Michael that we, as this ego, are always partially ourself and partially not.

Michael is always particular to qualify the ego's becoming as a seeming becoming.

Thus , you can rephrase your statement as We have repeatedly learned from Michael that we, as this ego, seem to be partially ourself and partially not.

Even as this seeming ego , our being is the same single infinite undivided unchanging whole , other than which nothing else exists. However , our seeming being can be any of the various adjuncts that we experience.

Sanjay Lohia said...

Who?, when I wrote, 'We have repeatedly learned from Michael that we, as this ego, are always partially ourself and partially not', I meant by 'partially ourself' to mean our experience of our real self-awareness, and when I when wrote 'partially not' I meant all the other adjuncts like body and mind that we confuse with our self-awareness or self-consciousness.

That is, we are never not in touch with our essential self-awareness, so we always experience our self-awareness, because in order to experience anything we first have to experience ourself as this self-awareness. But we superimpose all the adjuncts on this awareness, and this makes our light of self-awareness polluted, dim and unclear.

But as you righty point out, the coming into existence of our ego is not an actual coming into existence, but only a seeming coming into existence. Therefore in actual truth our absolute clarity of our self-consciousness has never become polluted, dim or unclear, but this pollution to our self-awareness is true from the perspective of our ego or mind. Therefore when are ego is destroyed by absolutely clear experience of self-awareness, this seeming clouding of our consciousness will end forever.

It is nice to repeatedly remind ourself of this truth, because otherwise by our constant actions of mind, speech and body we are constantly reminding ourself that we are this ego, a limited being.

All or nothing said...

Sanjay Lohia,
you write indefatigably and sometimes in a talkative way about the seeming existence of the ego.
Would not it be nice at last to comprehend that the ego does not actually exist ?

Michael James said...

‘All or nothing’, regarding your question ‘can we really be partially ourself and partially not?’, obviously not. We are always wholly ourself, and nothing but ourself.

However, what we now seem to be is a mixture of ourself and various adjuncts, and this mixture is what is called ego, so we could say that this ego is partly ourself and partly not ourself, or that as this ego we are partly ourself and partly not ourself. It may seem confusing to say so, but confusion is the very nature of this ego, because it is a confused mixture of things that are totally opposite in nature. What we actually are is pure self-awareness, but the body that we now seem to be has no awareness of its own, yet as this ego we mix these two things together as if they were one.

Thus this ego is a confused mixture of what is conscious (cit) and what is non-conscious (jaḍa), of what is real and what is unreal, of what is eternal and what is ephemeral, and of what is infinite and what is finite, so it is neither this nor that, but seems to be partially this and partially that. Therefore, though we obviously cannot really be partially ourself and partially not ourself, what we now seem to be is partially ourself and partially not ourself.

All or nothing said...

Michael,
thank you for your clarification.
As long as we become aware of or distinguish between our really being and of our seeming being then your explanation has brought forward convincing arguments.