Saturday, 31 October 2015

The logic underlying the practice of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra)

In a comment on my previous article, Self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) is just the simple practice of trying to be attentively self-aware, an anonymous friend asked, ‘Does this practice work?’ and went on to explain why he or she asked this question, saying, ‘There are so many Gurus each offering a unique method — a method that might have worked for them. The real question is does it work for others? Michael, from your writings I gather you have been practicing this for more than two decades (?). What is your realization so far? Have you been able to achieve what Bhagavan describes? Honestly, if the answer is no, then I will be very skeptical of this method’.
  1. Should we rely on what others claim to be their experience?
  2. What is the goal that we should aim to experience or attain?
  3. By knowing what goal we should seek, we can logically infer what must be the means to achieve it
  4. No matter how long it may take us to reach our destination, patient perseverance is required
1. Should we rely on what others claim to be their experience?

Last year I answered the same question that this anonymous friend now asks, namely ‘Does this practice work?’, in an article entitled Does the practice of ātma-vicāra work?, but I will now answer it in a somewhat different manner, because what this friend asked about my experience highlights the need for us to address a more fundamental question, namely whether it is wise or realistic to expect to be able to assess the efficacy of any form of spiritual practice or inward investigation on the basis of what others claim to be their experience. In the case of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), what we are seeking to experience is only what we ourself actually are, so since our experience of ourself is something that can be known by no one other than ourself, it cannot be shown, demonstrated or proved in any way to anyone else. I cannot know what is your experience of yourself, and you cannot know what is my experience of myself. Moreover, if I try to know your experience or you try to know my experience, that is not ātma-vicāra (investigation of oneself) but anātma-vicāra (investigation of something that is not oneself).

If I claim that by practising ātma-vicāra I have experienced myself as I really am, why should you believe me? I could be lying, claiming this for my own aggrandisement, and hoping that you and others will admire me, or I could genuinely believe what I claim, but nevertheless be deluding myself. There are so many people who claim that they have experienced or achieved this or that by following some particular kind of spiritual practice, but why should we believe them? If we believe one of them, why should we not believe all of them? But would it not be very gullible on our part to believe whatever anyone else may claim about their spiritual experience or attainment, since we can never know for sure whether or not what they claim is actually the case? Some of them may be telling the truth and may not be self-deluded, but can we reasonably believe that they all are? So if we should not believe all of them, why should we believe any of them? Even if we suppose that some of them are perhaps telling the truth, how can we know whom we should believe and whom we should not?

Moreover, since what one person claims about the efficacy of a certain spiritual practice or about the means to attain a particular type of spiritual experience or goal often conflicts with or even contradicts what others claim, it is not possible for us to coherently believe all of them, because if we did believe all of them, we would be making the fundamental and obviously absurd error of holding mutually contradictory and hence incoherent beliefs. Since we obviously cannot believe what everyone claims, we have to judge for ourself whom we should believe. But by what standard can we decide whom to believe? Since they all claim to have experienced whatever they claim to be the truth, believing what anyone claims to have experienced is obviously not a reliable standard by which we can judge whom or what to believe.

The reason we are faced with this dilemma is because we ourself are spiritually ignorant. If we had experienced or attained whatever we seek to experience or attain, we would not have to decide whom or what to believe, but since we have not yet experienced or attained it, we do need to decide what we should believe.

So what should we decide first: whom to believe or what to believe? Since we can decide what to believe on the basis of our own experience and reasoning logically about it, whereas we can decide whom to believe only on the basis of intuition or gut feeling, the most rational answer would seem to be that we should first decide what to believe. However, as human beings we are complex creatures, so we do not always act and live our life purely in accordance with reason, and we cannot avoid instinctively believing some people and not others, so our beliefs — or at least our initial beliefs — are to a large extent influenced by gut feeling. Nevertheless, though we cannot avoid being influenced by our gut feelings or intuitions, we should not rely on them entirely, because as we should all know from our own experience, they do not always turn out to be correct. Therefore, though we may believe someone or something intuitively, we should always try to test the reliability of such beliefs, assessing them by the standards of our own experience and our powers of logical reasoning.

Many of us intuitively trust Bhagavan Ramana and we are therefore inclined to believe whatever he wrote, said or taught. However, he did not expect us or want us just to blindly believe whatever he taught, because mere belief in anything will not solve our problems, particularly our fundamental problem of self-ignorance, so he asked us to investigate ourself and experience the truth of what he taught for ourself, and to encourage and motivate us to do so, he also explained why it is reasonable for us to accept what he taught on the basis of a logical analysis of our current experience of ourself. He did not merely claim that ātma-vicāra had worked in his case, and that we should therefore believe that it will work in our case, but instead explained to us logically why it is the only direct means by which we can experience what we actually are and thereby destroy our self-ignorance forever.

2. What is the goal that we should aim to experience or attain?

However, his teachings do not logically begin by considering what the means is but instead by considering what our goal should be, because whatever means we choose should obviously be suited to whatever goal we are seeking. However before deciding what our goal should be we need to consider why we need to seek any goal in the first place. If our present situation were perfectly satisfactory, and if we could reasonably expect to continue being in a perfectly satisfactory situation forever, there would be no need to us to seek any other goal at all. If we are seeking any goal or trying to decide what goal we should seek, we are obviously not perfectly satisfied with our current situation or our future prospects.

So what is wrong with our current situation or our future prospects? Even if we are quite happy and contented with our present situation, we know that this situation cannot last forever, because sooner or later we will die, and even before dying our present situation is liable to change. Now we may have a loving family, loyal friends, good health, sufficient money, a fulfilling career or whatever else we desire, but any or all of these circumstances may change at any time. Our family or friends may fall sick or die, or they may turn against us or betray us; our health may deteriorate or we may have a serious accident, leaving us crippled or chronically sick; we may lose all our money and wealth; or we may be made redundant or our professional reputation may somehow be ruined, either due to some mistake that we may make or through no fault of our own. Therefore no matter how fortunate we may be at present, there is something profoundly unsatisfactory, fleeting and insecure about our life as a person in this world (or in any other world for that matter), so is it not worth considering what the root cause of this unsatisfactoriness is and whether it can be rectified in any way?

According to Bhagavan, the root cause of all our problems and potential problems is the fact that we experience ourself as a body. Whenever we experience a world or anything other than ourself, whether in our present state (which we now take to be waking) or in any dream (which we also take to be waking so long as we are experiencing it), we always experience ourself as a body, but whatever body we experience as ourself in one state is not the same as whatever body we experience as ourself in another state. Not only do we experience ourself as a body whenever we experience any world, but we also invariably experience another coincidence, namely that we do not experience ourself as a body whenever we do not experience any world, as in sleep. This pair of coincidences, and the fact that one or other of them always occurs without fail, suggests that there is a causal link between experiencing ourself as a body and experiencing a world or anything other than ourself, and since we experience problems of any sort only when we experience ourself as a body and consequently experience a world, we have good reason to suspect that Bhagavan is perhaps correct in saying that experiencing ourself as a body is the root cause of whatever problems we may face or could ever face.

He also points out another important fact, and once it is pointed out to us, if we reflect upon it it is very clear that it must be logically correct. That fact is this: since we experience ourself as one body in one state and some other body in any other state, we cannot actually be any of these bodies, because we are always aware of ourself (that is, we are always aware that ‘I am’), so we cannot be anything else that we are not aware of at all times. For example, since we are aware of ourself in a dream without being aware of this body that we now experience as ourself, we cannot actually be this body. Likewise, since we are aware of ourself now without being directly aware of any of the bodies that we experienced as ourself in any of our dreams, we cannot actually be any of those dream bodies. Simple logic demands that this is the case.

That is, if the terms ‘I’ and ‘this body’ both refer to the same thing, whatever is true of ‘I’ must also be true of this body, so whenever I am directly aware of ‘I’ (as I am at all times) I should be directly aware of this body. If I am at any time aware of ‘I’ (myself) without being aware of this body, something that is true of ‘I’ (namely that I am aware of it) is at that time not true of this body, so this logically implies that these terms ‘I’ and ‘this body’ do not actually refer to the same thing, even though they sometimes seem to refer to the same thing. Therefore it cannot be the case that this body is what I actually am. I am one thing, and this body is something else, even though this body is what I now seem to be.

Therefore since this body now seems to be myself, and since in any dream some other body seems to be myself, the experience ‘I am this body’ must be an illusion. Yet it is only when I experience myself as a body, whether in waking or in dream, that I experience anything other than myself, so as Bhagavan points out, this illusion ‘I am this body’ is the foundation on which my experience of everything else is based. Therefore since the foundation of my experience of everything else is an illusion, it seems reasonable to infer that my experience of everything else is as illusory as its foundation, namely my experience ‘I am this body’.

Therefore Bhagavan first diagnoses that the root cause of all our problems and lack of enduring satisfaction is this illusory experience ‘I am this body’, and on the basis of this diagnosis he then asks us to infer what our goal should be. Obviously it should be to free ourself from this illusory experience, and since this illusory experience is a mistaken experience of ourself, in order to free ourself from it we need to experience ourself as we really are.

If we experienced ourself as we really are, we would not experience ourself as a body or as anything else that is other than ourself, so our illusory experience of ourself as ‘I am this body’ is caused only by self-ignorance — that is, by a lack of clear experiential knowledge of what we actually are. Therefore, since our illusory experience ‘I am this body’ is caused only by self-ignorance, it can be destroyed only by correct knowledge of ourself — that is, by our being aware of ourself as we actually are rather than as we merely seem to be.

Thus on the basis of a simple logical analysis of our own experience Bhagavan shows us that the goal we should set ourself is simply to experience ourself as we really are. Since everything that we experience other than our most fundamental experience (namely our essential self-experience or self-awareness, ‘I am’) is an illusion based upon our primal illusion, ‘I am this body’, experiencing anything other than what we really are cannot be a truly worthy goal. Therefore the only goal that is ultimately worth seeking is to experience what we actually are and thereby to destroy our self-ignorance forever.

3. By knowing what goal we should seek, we can logically infer what must be the means to achieve it

Having decided what our goal is, or at least what it should be, we are now in a better position to judge what the means to reach or attain it must be. Since what we are seeking is to experience ourself as we actually are, it is logical to infer that the only direct means to do so is to investigate ourself by trying to observe or be aware of ourself alone. Now we confuse ourself with certain other things that we are currently aware of, such as a body and mind, but none of these other things can be what we actually are, because we are always aware of ourself whereas there is no other thing (no phenomenon at all) that we are aware of all times, so in order to experience ourself as we actually are, we must experience or be aware of ourself alone, in complete isolation from even the slightest awareness of anything else.

If we want to know, experience or be aware of anything in this world, we must pay attention to it. Whatever we want to know, whether it be distant phenomena in space, tiny sub-atomic phenomena, historical phenomena, social phenomena, psychological phenomena or whatever, the basic instrument that we must use in order to know it is our attention. To learn about any physical phenomena we need to use one or more of our five senses, and to learn about certain things we also need specialist instruments, such as radio telescopes, electronic microscopes, x-ray equipment, ultrasound scanners or particle accelerators, but even to use our senses or any specialist instruments we need to use our power of attention, so attention is the most basic and essential instrument that we must use in order to know, experience or be aware of anything. Whereas to know anything other than ourself we may need to use our senses and in some cases other instruments also, in order to be aware of what we ourself actually are we cannot use any instrument other than our own power of attention.

Therefore to know ourself as we actually are we must just attend to, observe or be aware of ourself alone. Attending to anything other than ourself may enable us to know other things, but it cannot enable us to experience ourself as we actually are. In order to experience ourself as we actually are, therefore, we must attend only to ourself and to nothing else whatsoever.

As we observed earlier, whenever we are aware of anything other than ourself — whether in waking or in dream, and whether that other thing is something that seems to be a physical phenomenon or just a purely mental phenomenon — we are aware of ourself as a body. Only when we are not aware of anything else, as in deep sleep, are we not aware of ourself as a body. Since this is our invariable experience, it is reasonable for us to infer that we cannot experience or be aware of ourself as we actually are so long as we are aware of anything other than ourself.

This is an inference that we can draw logically from our own experience, and it is also confirmed by Bhagavan from his experience. Therefore one of the most fundamental principles of his teachings is that (as he often stated, and as he implied particularly clearly in verses 25 and 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu) whenever we experience anything other than ourself, we experience ourself as a body, and whenever we experience ourself as a body we experience other things also, and hence the only means by which we can experience ourself as we actually are is by being aware of ourself alone, in complete isolation from even the slightest awareness of everything else.

This state of complete isolation, in which we experience nothing other than ourself, is what is called in Sanskrit kaivalya, which means aloneness, soleness, solitude or isolation (being an abstract noun derived from kēvala, which means alone, sole or isolated), and which is therefore used as a term to describe our ultimate goal, the state of absolute liberation (mōkṣa) or nirvāṇa. Only when we experience ourself in such a state of perfect isolation, being clearly aware only of ourself and of nothing else whatsoever, are we truly experiencing ourself as we actually are, because according to Bhagavan what actually exists is only ourself (as he states unequivocally in the first sentence of seventh paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?), and whatever else seems to exist is only an illusion and seems to exist only so long as we experience ourself as if we were a body.

Since we can experience ourself as we actually are only when we experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from even the slightest awareness of everything else, our goal is to experience or be clearly aware of ourself alone, so the only means to attain this goal is to attend to ourself alone. This is why Bhagavan often used to insist that the nature of the means must be essentially the same as the nature of our goal, as he stated, for example, in verse 579 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai:
மன்னுசொரூ பாத்துவித மாட்சியால் வேறுகதி
தன்னைத் தவிர்த்தில்லாத் தன்மையால் — துன்னு
முபேயமுந் தானே யுபாயமுந் தானே
யபேதமாக் காண்க வவை.

maṉṉusorū pādduvita māṭciyāl vēṟugati
taṉṉait tavirttillāt taṉmaiyāl — tuṉṉu
mupēyamun dāṉē yupāyamun dāṉē
yabhēdamāk kāṇka vavai
.

பதச்சேதம்: மன்னு சொரூப அத்துவித மாட்சியால், வேறு கதி தன்னை தவிர்த்து இல்லா தன்மையால், துன்னும் உபேயமும் தானே, உபாயமும் தானே. அபேதமா காண்க அவை.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): maṉṉu sorūpa adduvita māṭciyāl, vēṟu gati taṉṉai tavirttu illā taṉmaiyāl, tuṉṉum upēyam-um tāṉē, upāyam-um tāṉē. abhēdam-ā kāṇga avai.

அன்வயம்: மன்னு சொரூப அத்துவித மாட்சியால், தன்னை தவிர்த்து வேறு கதி இல்லா தன்மையால், துன்னும் உபேயமும் தானே உபாயமும் தானே. அவை அபேதமா காண்க.

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): maṉṉu sorūpa adduvita māṭciyāl, taṉṉai tavirttu vēṟu gati illā taṉmaiyāl, tuṉṉum upēyamum tāṉē, upāyamum tāṉē. avai abhēdam-ā kāṇga.

English translation: Because of the non-dual nature of one’s own enduring self, and because of the fact that excluding oneself there is no other gati [refuge, means or goal], the upēya [aim or goal] to be reached is only oneself and the upāya [means or path] is only oneself. Know them to be non-different (abhēda).
That is, since our aim is only to be aware of ourself alone, the means to achieve this aim must likewise be to try to be aware of ourself alone. This is why in order to be aware of ourself as we really are we must try to be aware of ourself alone. In other words, we must try to focus our entire attention only on ourself.

Therefore, other than just trying to be attentively self-aware as much as possible, there cannot be any means by which we could directly experience what we ourself actually are. Other means may help to purify our mind and thereby prepare us to be attentively self-aware, but whatever other means we may initially adopt, we must sooner or later resort to this means, because we will never be able to experience ourself as we actually are until and unless we turn our entire attention within and thereby become aware of ourself alone.

This simple practice of trying to be attentively self-aware — that is, trying to turn our entire attention back towards ourself alone — is what is called self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), and the fact that this is the only direct means by which we can experience what we ourself actually are can be understood by means of simple logic, as taught by Bhagavan Ramana and as outlined above. However, logical analysis of our own experience of ourself in each of our three states, namely waking, dream and deep sleep, can lead us only as far as understanding what we should seek to achieve (namely to experience ourself as we actually are) and how we should seek to achieve it (namely by trying to be attentively aware of ourself alone). Once we have understood this, we should put our understanding into practice by trying as much as possible to be attentively aware of ourself alone, because until and unless we do so we will never be able to experience what we actually are.

4. No matter how long it may take us to reach our destination, patient perseverance is required

How long it will take us to experience what we actually are by practising self-investigation in this way depends on the extent to which we earnestly practise it, and the extent to which we earnestly practise it depends upon the intensity of our love (bhakti) to be aware of ourself alone and the corresponding degree of our desirelessness (vairāgya) — that is, our freedom from desire to be aware of anything other than ourself. Just because I have been trying to practise being attentively self-aware for the past forty years but have not yet succeeded in experiencing myself as I actually am does not mean that I or anyone else should conclude that this practice of self-investigation does not work. All it indicates is that when I started on this path I still had very strong desires to experience things other than myself and that my love to experience myself alone was therefore correspondingly extremely weak, and hence my attempts to be attentively self-aware have been very feeble and so my progress has been correspondingly slow and faltering.

My desires may still be very strong and my love to experience what I actually am may still be very weak, but that does not mean that I should give up (or that anyone else should be disheartened seeing my sorry condition), because as Bhagavan often used to say, no one has ever succeeded in this path without patient perseverance, and because there is no other means by which any of us can achieve the ultimate goal of experiencing ourself as we really are. If we start our journey near to our goal, we will reach it quickly, and if we start further away it will naturally take us much longer, but however far away we may be, the more we persevere in our attempts to be attentively self-aware the closer we will surely get to our destination and the sooner we will eventually reach it.

What we have set out to achieve is not any trifling or transient thing, but it is to experience ourself as the one infinite and eternal reality, other than which nothing exists, and the price that has to be paid for this is the sacrifice of our own ego (which is our illusory experience ‘I am this body’) and of everything that comes along with it, including the illusion of time itself. Therefore if we are not willing to devote however much time it may require to trying to be attentively self-aware, we are obviously not serious about achieving what we say we want to achieve.

This is not a path or the goal for the faint-hearted or for those who are not ready to do what needs to be done, no matter how much time it may take. If we are to succeed in our efforts to achieve the goal we have set ourself, we must just patiently persevere in trying to be aware of ourself alone until we eventually succeed. There is no other way.

31 comments:

Santosh Rai said...

Most respected Sir, No sincere devotee doubts in all of that...neither in your sincere and continued effort of making Bhagwan's teaching as simple as possible nor he even the least disagrees or disbelieves you... Only he consciously or unconsciously asks or seeks from advanced sadhya like you some simple method of putting ones attention on oneself as much as possible... because it's almost everyone 's experience that self enquiry is most simple to learn but most difficult to follow...

Steve said...

Santosh Rai, the simplest method of putting one's attention on oneself as much as possible is also the only method, and that is to put one's attention on oneself as much as possible. The way to overcome the difficulty in following that method is by perseverance.

"This is not a path or the goal for the faint-hearted or for those who are not ready to do what needs to be done, no matter how much time it may take. If we are to succeed in our efforts to achieve the goal we have set ourself, we must just patiently persevere in trying to be aware of ourself alone until we eventually succeed. There is no other way."

I don't know how it can be said better than that.

Gargoyle said...

Santosh Rai

As Michael points out and continually points out we must persevere in our practice. I find that perseverance is a key word I use continually to remind me to keep going.

It’s easy to stop and drift back into our old ways but perseverance keep us on the path.

I have stumbled and fallen many times but one thing I have not done and will not allow to happen is to turn around and look back.

Sometimes I compare this to walking up Arunachala (which I have never done or been there) but I see a photo of the path up the hill and I see myself walking up the hill. I get tired and I fall over, however I don’t look down the way I came but towards the summit. I keep going and I fall again and again and each time I get up, brush myself off and look towards my goal and take another step along the path.

Sometimes I think my practice is difficult and sometimes it’s so easy. The key word that always comes back to me in difficult times is perseverance.

I find all my answers reading Michaels blog and his books. There is a wealth of information in all the back articles on Michael’s blog and I find myself reading articles from years ago.

There is always something in every article I read that answers a lingering question I had or clarifies a misunderstanding.

I wish you the best.


Bob

Hill Top said...

I believe this idea of perseverance is what keeps one from not reaching the goal.
The mind attracts those vasanas which are fed (with attention/awareness); so if one wants to persevere that's what gets strengthened.
Basically you get what you ask for. If you want to persevere, that's what will be your reality.

As other sages have said 'summa iru' (just be) is probably the ultimate state/weapon. That is just drop all effort.. all search .. even the search to find who you are.

Steve said...

We are always who we are, Hill Top. There is no need for a search, and atma-vicara is not a search.

Most of us, most of the time, are thinking and doing. Turning our attention from thinking and doing to 'just be' requires effort, and that effort, in order to succeed, requires perseverance. Without it, 'just be' are just words.

Anonymous said...

Hill Top,

I don't think Michael gives here some kind of pop-psychology tip like auto-suggesting ourselves that we should persevere. Such a thing is a thinking activity. If we want to experience ourselves as we are, we cannot be satisfied with ourselves as a thinking being. That would be contradictory and totally against the spirit of what Michael says here.

If one can just be, it would be great. But that is not true. As long as our other efforts are continuing, the effort to remain as we are should also go on.

Hill Top said...

Steve, Anonymous,

yes, true what you are saying. How do we reach the state where 'just be' are not just words?
The effort needs to be dropped; its' like a catch-22 situation.

Even Bhagavan said the 'who am i' is lost at the end -- 'pinanchudu thadi pol' [like the stick used to burn a corpse ..is also dropped into the fire].

From what I see, the effort will drop when it drops; I don't think ego has any control over when it drops. It's That's grace when this drops. again leading to Self-Surrender.

Steve said...

"Even Bhagavan said the 'who am i' is lost at the end -- 'pinanchudu thadi pol' [like the stick used to burn a corpse ..is also dropped into the fire]."

Yes, Hill Top, that's from Nan Yar? (Who Am I?), but Bhagavan said a bit more than that.

Anonymous said...

Hill Top

How do we reach a state where 'just be' are not just words?

The way is to persevere in self-attention; eventually we will experience ourself and the question will be 'answered' through direct experience.

As you say, the effort will drop when it drops, and the ego indeed has no control over when effort need to stop; the only useful occupation that the ego can engage in now is to exclusively seek its source. That's what Bhagavan advises us to do, and he does attests to that grace will eventually consume us whole. Meanwhile, one has to persevere in the path shown by the guru.

R Viswanathan said...

Thanks so much for the excellent article, Sri Michael James. I for one genuinely believe that your admission that you have not succeeded fully in achieving the goal despite forty years of practising Atma Vichara, is actually made out of compassion to carry persons like me along, who is into this path for much much shorter duration.

It would be beneficial for all to read again this previous article of Sri Michael James:
http://happinessofbeing.blogspot.in/2009/04/how-to-start-practising-atma-vichara.html

While the whole article is helpful, the following sentences from this article appealed to me as being relevant to the comments posted for the present article.

"Ātma-vichāra is not looking at any thought other than our primal thought ‘I’, which thinks all other thoughts."

"All other thoughts are anātma (non-self), anya (other than ourself) and jaḍa (non-conscious)"

"Of all the things that we think or imagine, the root is only our thinking thought ‘I’, which is our mind, the ephemeral consciousness that always experiences itself as ‘I am this body, a person called so-and-so’."

"Everything — every thought, word and deed — is done only by this same thinking ‘I’. Even though physical actions may appear to be done by our body, and words may appear to be spoken by our voice, our body and voice are both only instruments by which our mind acts. All bodily actions and words originate from our thoughts, and those thoughts are all thought only by ‘I’, the primal thought, which is our thinking mind."

"Yes, that which makes effort to see itself, the false thinking ‘I’, is only our mind, which is nothing other than this thinking ‘I’ itself. Our real being ‘I’ always knows itself perfectly clearly, because its nature is absolutely pure self-consciousness, so it does not need to make any effort to practice ātma-vichāra. That which needs to make effort to know itself as it really is is only our mind, the false thinking ‘I’."

"Grace is always abundantly available in our heart, where it shines clearly as our real consciousness, ‘I am’, but to benefit from it fully we must surrender ourself to it entirely by making our attention ahamukham (turning it to face selfwards) and thereby subsiding within."

"Grace is certainly doing its part, as it always has and always will, so it is up to us to do our part by surrendering ourself to it, attending to it exclusively and thereby allowing it to swallow us in the perfect clarity of pure self-consciousness, which is its true form. The more we persevere in our effort to attend only to self, the more clearly the light of grace will shine in our heart as ‘I am’, and the more it will thereby enkindle our love to be ever self-attentive."

Bob - P said...

Thank you very much for posting this article Michael. As usual it was extremely helpful to read.
I am so thankful I have met you.
In appreciation.
Bob - P -

Mouna said...

Hilltop, Pranams

"Even Bhagavan said the 'who am i' is lost at the end..."

Agreed, but at the end of what? Think about it...

M.

Hill Top said...

Mouna,

My concern is one may be prolonging the realization just because of his/her effort. While atma-vichara may be [likely 'is' since stated so by Bhagavan] necessary to reach the goal; it may not be necessary to be practiced continuously for a long time. Surely I don't see a reason why it should be done for years or even months. In Bhagavan's case, I think it happened in just a few seconds [in his near-death/death experience].

It's like doing say 12 hours internet research every day on how to get out of internet addiction. Or continuously searching and watching youtube videos on how to stop watching youtube videos. Each video can give more fascinating way to stop watching (various spiritual sadhanas on how to get out mind) -- none saying that you need to get out of your chair.

Another well known analogy is trying to clear up a bucket of muddy water by stirring with hand; as long as hand is inside, the water never becomes clear. We just need to get the hand out and be still and watch.

I think the 'end of what' answer could be 'end of our effort' -- a case of peaceful/graceful giving up; surrendering.
[I think Gautama felt this when he sat down under the bodhi tree after i think 6 years of intense effort and realized nothing worked. He then instantly arrived.]

Sivanarul said...

Hill Top,

“a case of peaceful/graceful giving up; surrendering.
[I think Gautama felt this when he sat down under the bodhi tree after i think 6 years of intense effort and realized nothing worked. He then instantly arrived.]”

I think your concern is valid and I really like the way you express it as “a case of peaceful/graceful giving up; surrendering”. Since Surrender is my primary Sadhana, it resonates very well with me. But here is the rub. There is the beginner’s surrender (like mine) versus the fully ripe person’s surrender (Odum Semponnum Okaway Nookuvar, Avar Kaydum Akkamoom Ketta Pirivinar, they look at clay and gold the same, they treat poverty and wealth the same). I do not see poverty and wealth the same. Such being the case, stopping Sadhana, by me, would not be wise.

The surrender has to mature (by effort – which could mean repeatedly taking everything that happens in life, as the will of Ishvara (Irai Pani Nittral)). Once it matures to a point (as decided by grace), then your concern comes into play. For you, if you think you have arrived at that juncture, and believe that grace itself is indicating as such to you, then “a case of peaceful/graceful giving up; surrendering” sounds really wonderful.

In the case of Gautama Buddha, for him to “realize” that nothing worked, the 6 years of intense effort was necessary. So the 6 years of intense effort was the cause and nothing working was the effect that led to final absorption.

I often read in Spiritual circles, the guru telling how all other Sadhana is more or less a waste of time and the only thing that matters is what finally helped the guru. The key point missed here is that for the final thing to have helped the guru, all other Sadhana paved the way. It is like telling that only college studies matters, since it is the only thing that offers the final degree. Yes that may be true, but to do college, one needs to start at Kindergarden and finish high school first.

Mouna said...

Hilltop,

Bhagavan himself said that his self-realization was because of his continuous efforts on atma-vichara in other lifetimes, that’s why his level of ripeness in this one.

He also said that as long as vishaya vasanas are there we need to continue making efforts.

There is a trend in western advaita movements to "call off the search”, but that message was misunderstood by many. Call off the search means to call it off for objects other than yourself, but continue the one (that at this point may not be called search anymore), that lovingly and tenaciously, try to unmask the ego, that in the end will be understood to be non-existent..

Summa iru means abidance in what is, but is not an action. Turning our mind inwards it is, and it is an ego action, and it is this action that is called the burning stick that has to be discarded in the fire as well.

But also I understand your concerns, and they are well founded since no action can bring about self-realization, it can only take us there where the inner guru takes over for the final blow. But all efforts are necessary nevertheless, no matter how non-existent they might be.

M.

Sivanarul said...

Mounaji,

“Bhagavan himself said that his self-realization was because of his continuous efforts on atma-vichara in other lifetimes, that’s why his level of ripeness in this one.”

Vanakkam. Do you remember where Bhagavan has said this? In the literature I have read, Bhagavan usually dismisses questions about previous lifetimes, by asking back the questioner to find out whether this lifetime is real. Your above quote is from a very conventional point of view (and more to my level :-)). Hence it would be nice to know where Bhagavan quoted it.

“There is a trend in western advaita movements to "call off the search”, but that message was misunderstood by many. Call off the search means to call it off for objects other than yourself, but continue the one (that at this point may not be called search anymore), that lovingly and tenaciously, try to unmask the ego, that in the end will be understood to be non-existent..”

I don’t think calling off the search in Neo Advaita movement is misunderstood either by the proponents or followers. They truly believe the “end” to be the “start” also. Since the Self is always realized, whether the ego is alive or dead, and the ego is finally found to be non-existent anyways, a strong intellectual understanding of it can make one believe that there is nothing to search and no one doing the search. That which is not real in the beginning or end was never real in the middle also. I am just stating the rationale used by the Neo Advaita movement, without any judgement.

Mouna said...

Dear Sivanarul,

I must concede regarding the two points you made.
The first one, I can't search all Bhagavan bibliography (or remember where) to sustain my claim that he actually said that his realization was due to efforts in past lifetimes, even if it was implied.

The second regarding "call off the search", I also agree with what you said. I was ventilating my own thoughts rather than quoting some valuable sources.

Thanks
M

Sivanarul said...

Mounaji,

Thanks for the reply. Too bad, I was really hoping that Bhagavan did make that down to earth statement. I will look through Talks and Day by Day and see if I can find it. I hold the exact same view you quoted whether Bhagavan said it explicitly or not. Otherwise there is no explanation as to how one could do vichara that intensely and have the entire Sadhana over in just a minute.

Mouna said...

Sivanarulji, Pranams again

I shall also post it if I come across some
quote to sustain this position.

The closest I came making a quick search was an interesting interview of David Godman. (http://davidgodman.org/interviews/al1.shtml)
Although not Bhagavan's words, here is what he had to say regarding the topic:

"The disciples of Sri Ramana I have been with, such as Lakshmana Swamy and Papaji, have all said that spiritual effort in past lives is carried forward, making it possible for enlightenment to happen relatively quickly in the final birth. When I asked Lakshmana Swamy why he had realized the Self so quickly in this life, he said that he had finished his work in previous lives, and Papaji said he had memories of being a yogi in South India in his previous life.
Sri Ramana never talked about his previous lives, although he did concede once that he must have had a Guru in some other life. I personally feel that he completed all his spiritual work in some other body and arrived in his final birth in a state of such utter purity and readiness that enlightenment came to him virtually unasked while he was still in his teens. "

R Viswanathan said...

Taken from:
http://sri-ramana-maharshi.blogspot.in/2008/04/revisions-to-spiritual-instruction.html

"jnana is the annihilation of the mind in which it is made to assume the form of the Self through the constant practice of dhyana or enquiry (vichara). The extinction of the mind is the state in which there is a cessation of all efforts. Those who are established in this state never swerve from their true state. The terms ‘silence’ (mouna) and ‘remaining still’ (summa iruttal) refer to this state alone."

"Is the state of ‘being still’ a state involving effort or effortless?

It is not an effortless state of indolence. All mundane activities which are ordinarily called effort are performed with the aid of a portion of the mind and with frequent breaks. But the act of communion with the Self (atma vyavahara) or remaining still inwardly is perfect effort, which is performed with the entire mind and without break.

Maya (delusion or ignorance) which cannot be destroyed by any other act is completely destroyed by this perfect effort, which is called ‘silence’ (mouna)."

Anonymous said...

Hill Top,

Please go ahead and just call off the search right now, if you think it is not for you (no books, no forums, no practice etc.). What happens to you after that will be interesting to see. More interesting will be to see for yourself how you deal with it.

Bob - P said...

It is my understanding that effort is only related to us not abiding as what we are and instead attending to things other than ourself ... which does take effort.

I hope Michael / someone more knowledgable than me clarifies here but If I understand rightly then turning inward and abiding as what we are or investigating earnestly what we are requires no action/ effort? Along with surrendering our false illusory knowing counciousness requires no effort. It only appears an effort from our own limited view.

Mouna even if Sivanarul searches and finds no evidence to support your below statement.

[Bhagavan himself said that his self-realization was because of his continuous efforts on atma-vichara in other lifetimes, that’s why his level of ripeness in this one.]

It does make perfect sense to me even if he didn't actually say it as it doesn't conflict with his teaching. Thank you for sharing.

In appreciation.
Bob

Hill Top said...

Hi all,
I do find the quote of Bhagavan on effort [muyarchi] in question 20 of 'Nan yar?' where He says God/Guru cannot bring about realization; but each one through his/her own effort following Guru's advice has to reach.
My point is there may be a time when we should call-off-the-search; because this may be the last hurdle to jump [see the mind will lose its job totally if it's told that it's not needed any more -- when effort is happening, the mind has a reason for its existence].

I do remember Bhagavan did say about past-birth; but I think it may be a tailored reply to a specific questioner (based on his/her maturity) - I think it will be safe for us to rely on his teachings only based on formal texts/works by Him (like nan-yar, ullathu-narpathu and other works].

The main reason I raise this ending-effort is that it may give someone clue on where they are stuck and/or can confirm my own understanding .. eg if I receive a very valid counter-point. I do believe whether one does 1 second or 100 year sadhaana is purely based on powers outside the finite-ego; and each ego is just a remote-controlled puppet [which is first made to believe it has free-will and then made to do sadhana :)]

Anonymous said...

Hill Top,

You may once patiently read the entire essay, ‘Nan Yar?’ at http://www.happinessofbeing.com/nan_yar.html.

As to the point till we have to continue self-investigation/self-remembrance, it is stated in paragraph 11, “ஒருவன் தான் சொரூபத்தை யடையும் வரையில் நிரந்தர சொரூப ஸ்மரணையைக் கைப்பற்றுவானாயின் அதுவொன்றே போதும்” [Michael’s translation: If one clings fast to uninterrupted svarūpa-smaraṇa[self-remembrance] until one attains svarūpa [one’s own essential self], that alone [will be] sufficient].

Now, if we ask what is svarūpa, the definition of that is given in paragraph 6: “நான் என்னும் நினைவு கிஞ்சித்து மில்லா விடமே சொரூபமாகும்” [Michael’s translation: The place [space or state] devoid of even the slightest thought called ‘I’ is svarūpa [our ‘own form’ or essential self].

The investigation ends when one attains svarūpa. Sri Ramana is nowhere talks about 'calling-off-search'. Now you may please decide for yourself what is to be done.

Hill Top said...


Thanks Sivanarul for your comments.

I do feel dropping-effort is just the final step of a series of effort-based sadhaana. Yes as you say it has to be mature. You have to be convinced that it is the one last unopened door and you are ready to open it.

So I would say in that state one has no other option to try except to drop-the-effort.

Also I have heard from other Masters too that Surrender is the ultimate technique; if one can do it, its the easiest and likely fastest. But I think the ego [with its strong notion of free-will/ "I am the doer" vasana] will not let one to Surrender completely.

And I believe both self-enquiry and Surrender merge finally and become indistinguishable [as stated by first two songs of ullathu-naarpathu].

Steve said...

Bob - P (and anyone else who might be interested), in the left-hand column of this page, under 'Index of Topics', you'll find the topic 'effort', which references 37 articles. Knock yourself out!

Bob - P said...

Thank you Steve.
I have been going through Michael's blog articles from the very begining since I was first fortunate to find his blog.

I am up to the 2008 "Experiencing God as he really Is" article.

I will eventually get through all the artciles on effort you mention, I don't know when as I am a slow reader, not long found Bhagavan and am still very ignorant of his teaching.


This blog and all its contents is absolutely invaluable I am so blessed to have found it !!

In appreciation Steve
All the best.
Bob

Itinerant Yogi said...

Great post Michael. Just shared it on G+. Please join our google group as well if possible. Thanks and peace!

Anonymous said...

Staying passively attentive to the sense of I am - excluding all thoughts - is the only effort one can make. Problem lies in locating the sense of I am in it's proper perspective. In most cases, the sense of I am is taken as a mental feeling. Which is the cause of failure(so to say) even after years of practice. One can never imagine(or bring into the ambit of experience) the state of pure I amness though it is ever present but clouded by the awareness of 'other' objects (non-self). In rare cases (especially in the presence of a Jnani) this 'place' gets exposed in it's pure form and you realize that your focus has been totally wrong. Only then one will realize that no effort is necessary in being that because that has been the case always irrespective of temporary identifications with the body/mind as the self.

-M-

Rattlesnake said...

Anonymus,
even the rare cases pass by and then we have to be keenly attentive to prevent that the "temporary identifications" of the mind with the body/mind complex will gain the upper hand over our real self and cover over it catching us unawares.
But are we not permanent in the presence of own Jnana ?
It is an absolute disgrace that we allowed to degenerate to complete dull worms.

Anonymous said...

Q: What happens to the consciousness of a realized one in sleep?

M: Such a question arises only in the minds of the unrealized. A jnani has only one state, which is unbroken throughout the 24 hours, whether in what you call sleeping or waking. As a matter of fact, the majority of people are asleep, because they are not awake to the Self. In the deep sleep state we lay down our ego, our thoughts and our desires. If we could only do all this while we are conscious, we would realize the Self. The best form of dhyana or meditation is when it continues not merely while awake, but extends to dream and deep sleep states. The meditation must be so intense that there is not even room for the idea, 'I am meditating.' As waking and dreaming are fully occupied by the dhyana of such a person, deep sleep may be considered to be part of the dhyana.

- Conscious Immortality, by Paul Brunton