- We must practise ātma-vicāra for as long as it takes to destroy all our viṣaya-vāsanās
- Persistent effort is required to keep our entire mind fixed firmly and unwaveringly in our pure self-awareness
- Being self-attentive entails keeping quiet, and keeping quiet entails being self-attentive
- We can free ourself from our viṣaya-vāsanās and bondage only by persistently practising ātma-vicāra
- To experience ourself as we actually are is extremely easy, but we must cultivate all-consuming love in order to succeed
- Guru Vācaka Kōvai verse 696: ātma-jñāna can be attained only by those who have made the required effort
- விட்டகுறை தொட்டகுறை (viṭṭakuṟai toṭṭakuṟai): resumption of what was left incomplete
The extract that Viveka Vairagya quoted in the first of these two comments was from the Consciousness page of the Satsang with Papaji website, in which it is recorded that Poonja claimed that ātma-vicāra (self-investigation or self-enquiry) ‘is not a long procedure’ and ‘is not a practice’, both of which are confusing and misleading statements. It is true that ātma-vicāra is not necessarily a long procedure, because if we were actually willing to give up our ego and everything else here and now, just a single moment of keenly focused self-attentiveness would be sufficient to destroy our ego instantly, but since most of us are not yet willing to surrender our ego entirely along with everything else other than ourself, we need to practise ātma-vicāra for as long as it takes to cleanse our mind of all the desires and attachments that are now making us unwilling to let go of this illusory ego and all its progeny.
Bhagavan often referred to ātma-vicāra as a practice and he consistently emphasised the need for us to practise it persistently and repeatedly until our ego is annihilated. For example, in the sixth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? he wrote:
நானார் என்னும் விசாரணையினாலேயே மன மடங்கும். நானார் என்னும் நினைவு மற்ற நினைவுகளை யெல்லா மழித்துப் பிணஞ்சுடு தடிபோல் முடிவில் தானு மழியும். பிற வெண்ணங்க ளெழுந்தா லவற்றைப் பூர்த்தி பண்ணுவதற்கு எத்தனியாமல் அவை யாருக் குண்டாயின என்று விசாரிக்க வேண்டும். எத்தனை எண்ணங்க ளெழினு மென்ன? ஜாக்கிரதையாய் ஒவ்வோ ரெண்ணமும் கிளம்பும்போதே இது யாருக்குண்டாயிற்று என்று விசாரித்தால் எனக்கென்று தோன்றும். நானார் என்று விசாரித்தால் மனம் தன் பிறப்பிடத்திற்குத் திரும்பிவிடும்; எழுந்த வெண்ணமு மடங்கிவிடும். இப்படிப் பழகப் பழக மனத்திற்குத் தன் பிறப்பிடத்திற் றங்கி நிற்கும் சக்தி யதிகரிக்கின்றது. [...]The word பழக (paṙaga), which Bhagavan repeats in this last sentence, is the infinitive form of பழகு (paṙagu), which means to practise, and it is used here in a conditional sense, so ‘பழகப் பழக’ (paṙaga-p paṙaga) means ‘when one practises and practises’ and therefore implies ‘when one persistently practises’. Therefore it is clear from this passage that ātma-vicāra is a practice and that Bhagavan’s advice is that we practise it persistently so long as thoughts about anything other than ourself continue to rise.
nāṉ-ār eṉṉum vicāraṇaiyiṉāl-ē-y-ē maṉam aḍaṅgum. nāṉ-ār eṉṉum niṉaivu maṯṟa niṉaivugaḷai y-ellām aṙittu-p piṇañ-cuḍu taḍi-pōl muḍivil tāṉ-um aṙiyum. piṟa v-eṇṇaṅgaḷ eṙundāl avaṯṟai-p pūrtti paṇṇuvadaṟku ettaṉiyāmal avai yārukku uṇḍāyiṉa eṉḏṟu vicārikka vēṇḍum. ettaṉai eṇṇaṅgaḷ eṙiṉum eṉṉa? jāggiratai-y-āy ovvōr eṇṇamum kiḷambum-pōdē idu yārukkuṇḍāyiṯṟu eṉḏṟu vicārittāl eṉakkeṉḏṟu tōṉḏṟum. nāṉ-ār eṉḏṟu vicārittāl maṉam taṉ piṟappiḍattiṟku-t tirumbi-viḍum; eṙunda v-eṇṇamum aḍaṅgi-viḍum. ippaḍi-p paṙaga-p paṙaga maṉattiṟku-t taṉ piṟappiḍattil taṅgi niṯgum śakti y-adhikarikkiṉḏṟadu. [...]
Only by the investigation who am I will the mind subside [in the sense of ceasing to exist]. The thought who am I [that is, the attentiveness with which one investigates what one is], having destroyed all other thoughts, will itself also in the end be destroyed like a corpse-burning stick [a stick that is used to stir a funeral pyre to ensure that the corpse is burnt completely]. If other thoughts rise, without trying to complete them it is necessary to investigate to whom they have occurred. However many thoughts rise, what [does it matter]? As soon as each thought appears, if one vigilantly investigates to whom it has occurred, it will be clear that [it is] to me. If one [thus] investigates who am I, the mind will turn back [or return] to its birthplace [oneself]; the thought which had risen will also subside. When one practises and practises in this manner, for the mind the power to stand firmly established in its birthplace will increase. [...]
He also clearly implied this in the eleventh paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:
மனத்தின்கண் எதுவரையில் விஷயவாசனைக ளிருக்கின்றனவோ, அதுவரையில் நானா ரென்னும் விசாரணையும் வேண்டும். நினைவுகள் தோன்றத் தோன்ற அப்போதைக்கப்போதே அவைகளையெல்லாம் உற்பத்திஸ்தானத்திலேயே விசாரணையால் நசிப்பிக்க வேண்டும். […]Unless we have already practised ātma-vicāra for a prolonged period of time, our viṣaya-vāsanās will still be very strong, so whenever we try to be self-attentive they will rise with great force in the form of thoughts, which will constantly distract our attention away from ourself, so the only way to succeed in this practice is to persevere tenaciously, as Bhagavan clearly indicated in the tenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:
maṉattiṉgaṇ edu-varaiyil viṣaya-vāsaṉaigaḷ irukkiṉḏṟaṉavō, adu-varaiyil nāṉ-ār eṉṉum vicāraṇai-y-um vēṇḍum. niṉaivugaḷ tōṉḏṟa-t tōṉḏṟa appōdaikkappōdē avaigaḷai-y-ellām uṯpatti-sthāṉattilēyē vicāraṇaiyāl naśippikka vēṇḍum. […]
As long as viṣaya-vāsanās [propensities, inclinations, impulses or desires to experience anything other than oneself] exist in the mind, so long the investigation who am I is necessary. As and when thoughts arise, then and there it is necessary to annihilate them all by vicāraṇā [self-investigation] in the very place from which they arise. […]
தொன்றுதொட்டு வருகின்ற விஷயவாசனைகள் அளவற்றனவாய்க் கடலலைகள் போற் றோன்றினும் அவையாவும் சொரூபத்யானம் கிளம்பக் கிளம்ப அழிந்துவிடும். அத்தனை வாசனைகளு மொடுங்கி, சொரூபமாத்திரமா யிருக்க முடியுமா வென்னும் சந்தேக நினைவுக்கு மிடங்கொடாமல், சொரூபத்யானத்தை விடாப்பிடியாய்ப் பிடிக்க வேண்டும். [...]From these passages it is clear that what Bhagavan taught us is that we need to practise ātma-vicāra for as long as it takes to destroy all our viṣaya-vāsanās, so Poonja’s claim that ātma-vicāra ‘is not a long procedure’ and ‘is not a practice’ was obviously contrary to the basic teachings of Bhagavan.
toṉḏṟutoṭṭu varugiṉḏṟa viṣaya-vāsaṉaigaḷ aḷavaṯṟaṉavāy-k kaḍal-alaigaḷ pōl tōṉḏṟiṉum avai-yāvum sorūpa-dhyāṉam kiḷamba-k kiḷamba aṙindu-viḍum. attaṉai vāsaṉaigaḷum oḍuṅgi, sorūpa-māttiram-āy irukka muḍiyumā v-eṉṉum sandēha niṉaivukkum iḍam koḍāmal, sorūpa-dhyāṉattai viḍā-p-piḍiyāy-p piḍikka vēṇḍum. [...]
Even though viṣaya-vāsanās, which come from time immemorial, rise [as thoughts] in countless numbers like ocean-waves, they will all be destroyed when svarūpa-dhyāna [self-attentiveness] increases and increases. Without giving room even to the doubting thought ‘Is it possible to dissolve so many vāsanās and remain only as svarūpa [my own actual self]?’ it is necessary to cling tenaciously to svarūpa-dhyāna. [...]
2. Persistent effort is required to keep our entire mind fixed firmly and unwaveringly in our pure self-awareness
Another incorrect idea that Poonja expressed about the practice of ātma-vicāra in the same paragraph was: ‘No effort or thought is involved’. Since ātma-vicāra is the practice of turning our attention back towards ourself, away from all thoughts of anything other than ourself, it obviously does not entail giving any room to such thoughts, but Bhagavan often referred to this practice as ātma-cintanā or ‘thought of oneself’ and in the second sentence of sixth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (which I cited in the previous section) he described it as ‘நானார் என்னும் நினைவு’ (nāṉ-ār eṉṉum niṉaivu), which means ‘the thought who am I’, saying: ‘நானார் என்னும் நினைவு மற்ற நினைவுகளை யெல்லா மழித்துப் பிணஞ்சுடு தடிபோல் முடிவில் தானு மழியும்’ (nāṉ-ār eṉṉum niṉaivu maṯṟa niṉaivugaḷai y-ellām aṙittu-p piṇañ-cuḍu taḍi-pōl muḍivil tāṉ-um aṙiyum), which means ‘the thought who am I, having destroyed all other thoughts, will itself also in the end be destroyed like a corpse-burning stick’. However, when he described ātma-vicāra as ‘thought of oneself’ in this way, he was using the term ‘thought’ is a special sense to mean just attention or attentiveness, as I explained in one of my recent articles, Thought of oneself will destroy all other thoughts, but usually the term ‘thought’ refers to thoughts about things other than ourself, so if Poonja was using ‘thought’ in this more usual sense he was correct in saying that no thought is involved in ātma-vicāra.
However, he was certainly not correct in saying that no effort is involved in ātma-vicāra, because so long we experience ourself as this ego, our viṣaya-vāsanās will be constantly impelling our attention to go outwards, away from ourself and towards viṣayas (phenomena or things other than ourself), so effort is required in order for us to turn our attention back within and to keep it fixed steadily on ourself. That is, since the nature of our ego or mind is to cling (attend) to things other than itself (as Bhagavan points out in verse 25 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu), and since clinging to other things is what nourishes and sustains it, we can annihilate it only by training it to cling to itself alone, and in order to make it cling only to itself we must make effort to do so.
Attending to things other than ourself (which is what Bhagavan called சுட்டறிதல் (suṭṭaṟidal) or knowing transitively) is the natural மனப்போக்கு (maṉa-p-pōkku), the flow, current, direction, inclination or propensity of our mind, so being self-attentive is reversing this flow and hence it requires effort on our part. If we were floating in the middle of a swift flowing river and made no effort, we would be swept along with its current, so if we wanted to swim back to its source, we would have to make effort to swim against its current. Likewise, in order to return to the source of our mind (which is our actual self) we must make effort to swim against its current by constantly turning our attention back to ourself and trying to keep it steadily poised as ourself (that is, as pure self-awareness).
This is a fact that will be obvious to anyone who has seriously tried to practise ātma-vicāra, and it was often confirmed by Bhagavan. For example, in the second chapter of Upadēśa Mañjari it is recorded that in answer to the fourth question, ‘சும்மாவிருக்கை யென்பது முயற்சியுள்ள நிலையா? முயற்சியற்ற நிலையா?’ (summā-v-irukkai y-eṉbadu muyaṟci-y-uḷḷa nilai-y-ā? muyaṟci-y-aṯṟa nilai-y-ā?), which means, ‘Is what is called summā-v-irukkai [just being] a state in which there is effort? [Or] is it a state in which effort has ceased?’, he said:
அது முயற்சியற்றதோர் சோம்பல் நிலை யன்று. வெளிமுகத்தில் முயற்சிகளென்று சொல்லப்படுகிற உலக வ்யவகாரங்க ளவ்வளவும் பரிச்சின்ன மனத்தாலும் இடைவிட்டும் செய்யப்படுகின்றனவே. அகமுகத்தில் சும்மா இருக்கை யென்னும் ஆன்மவ்யவகாரமோ முழு மனத்துடனும் இடையின்றியும் செய்யப்படும் பூர்ண முயற்சியாகும்.The Tamil noun முயற்சி (muyaṟci), which Bhagavan used four times in this answer, means effort, exertion or perseverance, being derived from the verb முயல், which means to practise, persevere or make persistent effort, so from this answer it is clear that according to Bhagavan it is necessary for us to make persistent effort to be self-attentive and thereby to just be.
வேறெவ் வகையானும் நாசமாகாத மாயையானது முழுமுயற்சி யென்னும் இம்மோனத்தாற்றான் நாசமாக்கப்படுகிறது.
adu muyaṟci-y-aṯṟadōr sōmbal nilai y-aṉḏṟu. veḷi-mukhattil muyaṟcigaḷ-eṉḏṟu solla-p-paḍugiṟa ulaha vyavahāraṅgaḷ avvaḷavum paricchiṉṉa maṉattāl-um iḍaiviṭṭum seyya-p-paḍugiṉḏṟaṉavē. aha-mukhattil summā irukkai y-eṉṉum āṉma-vyavahāram-ō muṙu maṉattuḍaṉ-um iḍai-y-iṉḏṟi-y-um seyya-p-paḍum pūrṇa muyaṟci-y-āhum.
vēṟev vahaiyāṉum nāśam-āhāda māyai-y-āṉadu muṙu-muyaṟci y-eṉṉum i-m-mōṉattāṯṟāṉ nāśam-ākka-p-paḍugiṟadu.
That is not a state of sōmbal [idleness, lethargy, drowsiness or dullness], one in which effort has ceased. The entire extent of worldly activities, which are described as efforts in facing outwards, are only done intermittently and by paricchinna maṉam [a divided mind or limited part of the mind]. In contrast, the ātma-vyavahāra [spiritual practice] called aha-mukhattil summā irukkai [just being in facing inwards or selfwards] is a full effort done with the entire mind and without interruption.
What is māyā, which cannot be destroyed by any other means, is destroyed only by this mauna [silence], which is called complete effort.
However, as I explained in another article, Just being (summā irukkai) is not an activity but a state of perfect stillness, in Spiritual Instructions, which is the most widely available English translation of Upadēśa Mañjari and which is included in all or most editions of The Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, three of the four instances of முயற்சி (muyaṟci) in this answer were translated as ‘activity’ instead of ‘effort’, which is misleading, because though முயற்சி (muyaṟci) can mean ‘activity’ (since most efforts that we make are efforts to do something), this is obviously not the sense in which Bhagavan used it here, because just being (summā irukkai) is obviously not an activity but a state completely devoid of activity.
A similar inappropriate translation occurs in the first chapter of the second part of Maharshi’s Gospel (2002 edition, page 50), where is it recorded that Bhagavan said that ātma-vicāra ‘involves an intense activity of the entire mind to keep it steadily poised in pure Self-awareness’. Since in Spiritual Instructions the terms பூர்ண முயற்சி (pūrṇa muyaṟci) and முழுமுயற்சி (muṙu-muyaṟci), both of which mean full or complete effort, were both translated as ‘intense activity’ (The Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, a recent undated edition, page 56), I suspect that the term used by Bhagavan that was translated here in Maharshi’s Gospel as ‘intense activity’ might have been one of these two terms, or perhaps some other term that included முயற்சி (muyaṟci) used in the sense of ‘persistent effort’.
In Maharṣi Vāymoṙi (2004 edition, page 53), the Tamil version of this sentence from Maharshi’s Gospel is ‘இது சுத்தமாம் தன்னறிவில் முழு மனத்தையும் அசைவின்றி நிலைநிற்கச் செய்கிற நிதித்தியாஸனமே’ (idu śuddham-ām taṉ-ṉ-aṟivil muṙu maṉattaiyum asaiviṉḏṟi nilai-niṟka-c ceygiṟa nididdhiyāsaṉamē), which means ‘This is only nididhyāsana [deep, intent and persistent contemplation or meditation] done to make the entire mind stand motionlessly firm [or constant] in pure self-awareness’. Though there is no word in this sentence that means either ‘persistent effort’ or ‘intense activity’, intense and persistent effort is implied by the term nididhyāsana, because it means profound and persistent contemplation, which obviously requires effort on our part in order for us to keep our entire mind or attention fixed firmly and unwaveringly in pure self-awareness.
However, though Bhagavan generally answered questions only in Tamil (or occasionally in Telugu or Malayalam), and though Maharṣi Vāymoṙi was published during the lifetime of his body, the dialogues in it were not originally recorded in Tamil, but were recorded in English (as they appear in Maharshi’s Gospel) and later translated back into Tamil, so we should not assume that the answers published in it are the exact words that Bhagavan spoke. In many cases Maharṣi Vāymoṙi gives us a clearer idea of what he meant than Maharshi’s Gospel, and the wording in Maharṣi Vāymoṙi is in most (but by no means all) cases similar to the type of words that he generally used, but since it is a translation of a translation, it is less reliable than it would have been if it had been recorded directly in Tamil. However Maharṣi Vāymoṙi and Maharshi’s Gospel are both useful books and in most cases give us a reasonably clear idea of what Bhagavan meant, even though not his actual words.
If we overlook the confusion that could be caused by the use of the term ‘intense activity’ in this context and assume that Bhagavan actually used a Tamil term that either meant or implied intense and persistent effort, as he almost certainly would have done, it is clear from this sentence in Maharshi’s Gospel and Maharṣi Vāymoṙi, particularly when read in conjunction with his above-cited answer recorded in Upadēśa Mañjari, that he was affirming that ātma-vicāra entails intense and persistent effort to keep our entire mind or attention fixed firmly and unwaveringly in pure self-awareness. Therefore we should be in no doubt that when Poonja said that no effort is involved in ātma-vicāra he was directly contradicting one of Bhagavan’s important and consistent teachings.
3. Being self-attentive entails keeping quiet, and keeping quiet entails being self-attentive
Later in the same paragraph Poonja said, ‘After having made this inquiry, keep quiet’, which is again misleading, firstly because it implies that practising ātma-vicāra and keeping quiet are two distinct practices or conditions, and secondly because it implies that we should keep quiet only after doing ātma-vicāra rather than while doing it. Keeping quiet is what Bhagavan calls ‘மௌனமா யிருக்கை’ (mauṉamāy irukkai), ‘silently being’ or ‘being silent’ (which is a term that he used in the final sentence of the note he wrote for his mother in December 1898), and also ‘சும்மா விருக்கை’ (summā-v-irukkai) or ‘சும்மா விருப்பது’ (summā-v-iruppadu), both of which mean ‘just being’, ‘being without activity’ or ‘being still’. Since the noise of mental activity arises whenever our ego rises, and since it persists so long as our ego endures, we cannot keep quiet or just be unless we make our ego subside, and the only effective means to make it subside is ātma-vicāra, so ātma-vicāra and keeping quiet are in effect synonymous.
That is, our ego rises and endures only by attending to phenomena (things other than ourself), and attending to any phenomenon is a mental activity, which is the antithesis of keeping quiet or just being. Therefore, since our ego will endure so long as we attend to anything other than ourself, the only adequate means to make it subside and thereby to keep quiet is to attend to ourself alone. As soon we turn our attention back towards ourself, our ego begins to subside, so subsiding and thereby keeping quiet is an automatic and instantaneous effect of being self-attentive, and is therefore not some further condition that we should try to achieve after being self-attentive. In other words, we cannot practise ātma-vicāra without keeping quiet, and we cannot effectively keep quiet without practising ātma-vicāra, because they are in practice one and the same thing.
Though we are keeping quiet while sleeping, our ego subsides into sleep due to exhaustion, not due to our being self-attentive. However, while either being awake or dreaming we can make our ego subside and thereby keep quiet only by being self-attentive, because so long as we attend to anything else our ego is active and hence creating mental noise. Therefore just as being self-attentive entails keeping quiet, keeping quiet in waking or dream entails being self-attentive.
Moreover, though we subside into sleep without being self-attentive, what we are actually aware of while sleeping is only ourself, so whenever we are actually keeping quiet, whether in waking, dream or sleep, we are so only due to being aware of nothing other than ourself. In sleep our ego has subsided entirely, so we cannot be aware of anything other than ourself, and hence there is no need or scope for us to be self-attentive, but in waking and dream our ego is not entirely subsided, so we are liable to be aware of other things, and hence in order to keep quiet we must try to attend to ourself alone.
When we manage in waking or dream to be so keenly self-attentive that we are aware of absolutely nothing other than ourself, we will thereby experience ourself as we really are, and thus our ego will be annihilated. Until then we are never completely unaware of all other things in waking or dream, so we are not entirely keeping quiet, but to the extent that we manage to focus our attention only on ourself we are also managing to keep quiet.
4. We can free ourself from our viṣaya-vāsanās and bondage only by persistently practising ātma-vicāra
In the second of the two comments by Viveka Vairagya that I referred to at the beginning of this article he quoted an extract from another page on the Satsang with Papaji website, namely Just to Pluck a Rose Petal, in which it is recorded that Poonja said, ‘If you abandon vasanas right now you can be free and happy […] No time is needed, it is as easy as plucking a petal from a rose flower. It doesn’t take time. You can attain freedom, light and wisdom now — instantly you can be free. You do not need to toil endlessly. Penance, austerities, even meditations — just abandon them. This notion that “I am bound” has to be dropped and instantly you will be free and happy. […] So simple just to pluck a rose petal, just to give up the notion that you are bound’, and went on to claim flippantly that attaining freedom has nothing to do with any sādhana (spiritual practice) or effort and that ‘The notion that you are bound has been dumped on your head by your parents, by your priest, by your society’.
As Bhagavan says in verse 24 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, ‘bondage’ (bandha) is another name for our ego, so it is not something imposed on us by parents, priests, society or anything else external to ourself. Everything other than ourself, including our parents, priests and society, seem to exist only because we have risen as this ego, so since this ego itself is bondage, this bondage is the cause for the illusory appearance of everything other than ourself, as we can infer from what he teaches us in verses 24 and 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu.
Of course we can drop the notion ‘I am bound’, as Poonja suggests, and replace it with the notion ‘I am free’, but by thus replacing one idea with another we cannot actually become free, because the ‘I’ who has any idea, including ideas such as ‘I am bound’ or ‘I am free’, is our ego, which is what now seems to bind us. Therefore we cannot free ourself from bondage merely by dropping the notion ‘I am bound’, but only by investigating this ego and thereby experiencing ourself as we really are, as Bhagavan clearly explains in a sentence in the sixteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:
பந்தத்தி லிருக்கும் தான் யாரென்று விசாரித்து தன் யதார்த்த சொரூபத்தைத் தெரிந்துகொள்வதே முக்தி.In order to succeed in experiencing our actual self by investigating what this ego actually is we need to have what Bhagavan described in verses 23 and 28 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu as a ‘நுண் மதி’ (nuṇ mati) or ‘கூர்ந்த மதி’ (kūrnda mati), which means a mind or power of discernment that is subtle, refined, attenuated, sharp, keen, acute, pointed, precise, piercing, penetrating and discriminating, and we can develop such a subtlety, refinement, keenness and acuity of mind only by polishing and purifying it by persistently practising ātma-vicāra for as long as it takes to enable us to focus our entire attention on ourself alone, to the complete exclusion of everything else. Then only will we be able to experience what we actually are and thereby free ourself from the illusion that we are this ego, which is bound by all sorts of limitations.
bandhattil irukkum tāṉ yār eṉḏṟu vicārittu taṉ yathārtha sorūpattai-t terindu-koḷvadē mukti.
[By] investigating who is oneself who is in bondage, knowing one’s yathārtha svarūpa [own actual self] alone is mukti [liberation].
The dirt or impurity that we need to cleanse from our mind by persistent practice of ātma-vicāra is our viṣaya-vāsanās, our propensities, inclinations, impulses, likings or desires to experience anything other than oneself. Since these vāsanās are deeply engrained in our mind and are the fuel that sustains and perpetuates it, we cannot abandon them or free ourself from them unless we persistently practise ātma-vicāra, as Bhagavan clearly implied in the tenth and eleventh paragraphs of Nāṉ Yār? (relevant extracts from which I cited above in the first section).
The root of all our viṣaya-vāsanās is only our ego, so as long as this ego survives it will continue trying to nourish and sustain its viṣaya-vāsanās by feeding them with the food of viṣayas, which are everything other than ourself. So long as we allow our attention to dwell of anything other than ourself we are thereby nourishing and strengthening our viṣaya-vāsanās, so the only way to weaken and eventually destroy them all along with their root, our ego, is to starve them by persistently trying to attend to ourself alone. Therefore abandoning all our vāsanās is not ‘as easy as plucking a petal from a rose flower’, as Poonja so flippantly claims, but requires persistent effort to be self-attentive as much as possible until we eventually manage thereby to annihilate our ego.
If we could actually abandon all our vāsanās here and now, we would thereby in effect fall asleep instantly and never wake up again, because all the phenomena that we experience in waking and dream are just a projection of our own viṣaya-vāsanās, so in the absence of all viṣaya-vāsanās there would be no waking or dream states. However, the sleep that we would experience as a result of the extinction of all our vāsanās is different in one important respect from the sleep that we experience in the gaps between states of waking or dream, because whereas that sleep seems to be temporary, this sleep is eternal, because it is our natural state of pure self-awareness. This difference, however, is only a seeming difference, because it is only in the view of our ego that sleep seems to be a temporary state, whereas in the view of our actual self it is our eternal state, because there is no such thing as an ego and hence no one to possess any vāsanās or to project and experience them as waking or dream.
Poonja’s claim that attaining freedom has nothing to do with any sādhana or effort is true only in the sense that when by persistent practice of ātma-vicāra we eventually free ourself from the illusion that we are this ego, we will find that this ego is entirely non-existent — that is, that it has never actually existed or even seemed to exist — so we were never actually bound by it and have therefore always been free. Therefore, since freedom is our eternal state, and since we alone actually exist, our freedom is not caused by any effort or sādhana done by this non-existent ego.
This ultimate experience is what is called ajāta, which means non-born, non-engendered, non-originated, non-arisen or non-happened, but though Bhagavan said that this was his actual experience, he also explained that it would not be useful to give any teachings from this standpoint, because in ajāta there is no ego, no bondage, no one to attain liberation, nothing from which to be liberated, and hence no need for any teachings or any means (sādhana) by which to attain liberation, so the teachings he gave were from the standpoint of vivarta, which means illusion or unreal appearance. That is, for the purposes of teaching us how we can free ourself from the primal illusion that we are this ego, Bhagavan conceded that this ego seems to exist in our perspective, and hence he based his teachings upon this concession.
Though the ultimate truth is ajāta, thinking that there is no ego or bondage and that we are eternally free is not of much use to us so long as we seem to be bound by experiencing ourself as this ego. Since we now experience all the limitations imposed on us by this ego, and since everything else that we are aware of seems to exist only because we experience ourself as this ego, we need some means (sādhana) by which we can free ourself from this illusion (vivarta), so Bhagavan concedes that in our view this illusion seems to exist, but he says that the root of it all is only this ego that we now seem to be, and that if we investigate this ego sufficiently keenly we will find that it is not actually the finite person that it seems to be but is only the infinite and indivisible space of pure self-awareness, other than which nothing exists.
Though the term sādhana is often translated in the context of spiritual philosophy as ‘spiritual practice’, what it actually means is a means for accomplishing some aim, so since we need a means by which to free ourself from this ego-illusion, Bhagavan taught us that since this ego does not actually exist, even though it seems to exist, the only means (sādhana) to annihilate it is to investigate what it actually is. If we do not investigate it by trying to be persistently self-attentive, we will never be able to free ourself from it, so from our present perspective as this ego the attainment of freedom or liberation (mukti or mōkṣa) has everything to do with this sādhana of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) and the effort we make to practise it.
Bhagavan made it abundantly clear both in his own writings and in numerous dialogues that have been recorded in various books such as Maharshi’s Gospel, Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi and Day by Day with Bhagavan that persistent practice and effort to be self-attentive are required in order for us to free ourself from our ego and all its viṣaya-vāsanās, so when Poonja trivialises what is required and pretends that it is possible for us to abandon all our vāsanās and free ourself from bondage without any spiritual practice or effort, and that doing so ‘doesn’t take time’ and ‘is as easy as plucking a petal from a rose flower’, he is clearly contradicting Bhagavan’s teachings.
5. To experience ourself as we actually are is extremely easy, but we must cultivate all-consuming love in order to succeed
Though in the previous section I criticised Poonja’s claim that becoming free ‘is as easy as plucking a petal from a rose flower’, it could be argued that he was justified in claiming this because Bhagavan himself sang in Āṉma-Viddai that ātma-vidyā (the science of self) is ‘அதி சுலபம்’ (ati sulabham), extremely easy. However, there is an important difference between this teaching of Bhagavan and what Poonja claimed, because unlike Poonja Bhagavan never said or even implied that because it is so easy no effort or practice is required.
Experiencing ourself as we actually are is extremely easy, but we can experience ourself thus only if we have overwhelming love to be aware of ourself alone, as Bhagavan implied in the final verse of Āṉma-Viddai by concluding ‘அருளும் வேணுமே; அன்பு பூணுமே; இன்பு தோணுமே’ (aruḷum vēṇumē; aṉbu pūṇamē; iṉbu tōṇumē), which means ‘Grace is also needed; become possessed of love; bliss will appear’. If we lack sufficient love, experiencing what we actually are will seem to be difficult, because our viṣaya-vāsanās (our desires to experience other things) will be constantly dragging our mind outwards, away from ourself.
Therefore in order to cultivate the required love (bhakti) and desirelessness (vairāgya), we need to persevere in making effort to draw our attention back to ourself, away from everything else, for as long as it takes for us to achieve so much bhakti and vairāgya that we want nothing other than to be eternally aware of ourself alone. This was made abundantly clear by Bhagavan both in his original writings and in the replies that he gave to questions that he was asked, so when he taught us that knowing ourself is extremely easy, he did not mean to imply that persistent effort to practise ātma-vicāra is not necessary.
6. Guru Vācaka Kōvai verse 696: ātma-jñāna can be attained only by those who have made the required effort
Though Bhagavan was able to experience ātma-jñāna by investigating himself for just a moment with little or no previous practice or effort in his current life, he sometimes explained that if anyone has succeeded thus they must have made all the necessary effort to do the required practice in previous lives. One such explanation given by him was recorded by Sri Muruganar in verse 696 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai:
ஈசனருட் பூட்கையா லெம்முயல்வு மின்றியேThe ‘cat principle’ or mārjāla nyāya is the principle of depending upon, yearning for and yielding oneself to the power of divine grace for salvation, like a kitten who makes no effort to move to safety but passively allows itself to be carried by its mother, whereas the ‘monkey principle’ or markaṭa nyāya is the principle of striving to cling firmly to God, like a baby monkey who clings firmly to its mother for safety. These are two analogies that are used to describe two alternative forms of devotion (bhakti), but in terms of Bhagavan’s teachings the mārjāla nyāya represents the final stage of the path of complete self-surrender, which is the culmination of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), whereas the markaṭa nyāya represents the effort that we need to make to cling firmly to self-attentiveness. As Bhagavan teaches us in this verse, those who are able to succeed in surrendering themselves effortlessly, as he did, would have previously strived with intense effort to cling tenaciously to self-attentiveness, because only by striving thus can we attain the bhakti (love) and vairāgya (freedom from attachment) that is required in order for us to be able to surrender ourself entirely.
மாசறுமார்ச் சால மரபினாற் — பாசமற
இம்மையிலே ஞானசித்தி யெய்தினோர் மர்க்கடம்போ
லம்மையிலே யாட்செய் தவர்.
īśaṉaruṭ pūṭkaiyā lemmuyalvu miṉḏṟiyē
māsaṟumārj jāla marapiṉāṟ — pāśamaṟa
immaiyilē ñāṉasiddhi yeydiṉōr markkaṭambō
lammaiyilē yāṭcey tavar.
பதச்சேதம்: ஈசன் அருள் பூட்கையால் எம்முயல்வும் இன்றியே மாசு அறு மார்ச்சால மரபினால் பாசம் அற இம்மையிலே ஞான சித்தி எய்தினோர் மர்க்கடம் போல் அம்மையிலே ஆள் செய்தவர்.
Padacchēdam (word-separation): īśaṉ aruḷ pūṭkaiyāl e-m-muyalvum iṉḏṟiyē māsu aṟu mārjjāla marapiṉāl pāśam aṟa immaiyilē ñāṉa siddhi eydiṉōr markkaṭam pōl ammaiyilē āḷ seydavar.
English translation: Those who, when attachment has ceased, have attained jñāna-siddhi [accomplishment of self-knowledge] in this very life by the power of God’s grace without any effort by the blemishless cat principle, will have strived in former lives like a monkey.
This was also implied by him in the following answer recorded in Day by Day with Bhagavan (11-1-46 Afternoon: 2002 edition, page 104):
Effortless and choiceless awareness is our real nature. If we can attain it or be in that state, it is all right. But one cannot reach it without effort, the effort of deliberate meditation. All the age-long vasanas carry the mind outward and turn it to external objects. All such thoughts have to be given up and the mind turned inward. For that, effort is necessary for most people. Of course everybody, every book says, “சும்மா இரு” [summā iru: just be] i.e., “Be quiet or still”. But it is not easy. That is why all this effort is necessary. Even if we find one who has at once achieved the mauna [silence] or Supreme state indicated by “சும்மா இரு” [summā iru], you may take it that the effort necessary has already been finished in a previous life.Likewise in section 398 of Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi (2006 edition, page 384) it is recorded that he said, ‘No one succeeds without effort. Mind control is not one’s birthright. The successful few owe their success to their perseverance’, and in section 28 (page 30) it is recorded that he said, ‘Your effort is a sine qua non. It is you who should see the sun. Can spectacles and the sun see for you? You yourself have to see your true nature’.
7. விட்டகுறை தொட்டகுறை (viṭṭakuṟai toṭṭakuṟai): resumption of what was left incomplete
Regarding his own experience, when Bhagavan was asked how he took to ātma-vicāra so spontaneously and succeeded so instantaneously, he replied ‘ஏதோ விட்டகுறை தொட்டகுறை ஒட்டிக்கொண்டது போலும். எப்போதும் மூலத்திலேயே நாட்டமுற்றிருக்கும்’ (ēdō viṭṭakuṟai toṭṭakuṟai oṭṭikkoṇḍadu pōlum. eppōdum mūlattil-ē-y-ē nāṭṭam-uṯṟirukkum), which means ‘It was as if some viṭṭakuṟai toṭṭakuṟai was adhering. Always the attention was dwelling only in [or on] the source’. ‘விட்டகுறை தொட்டகுறை’ (viṭṭakuṟai toṭṭakuṟai) is a Tamil idiom that is difficult to translate precisely in English, but it basically means resumption of what was left incomplete in previous lives.
குறை (kuṟai) has many meanings, but in this context it means a deficit, shortfall, what is cut off or what remains, and விட்ட (viṭṭa) means ‘left’ whereas தொட்ட (toṭṭa) means ‘touched’, so விட்டகுறை (viṭṭakuṟai) means what was left incomplete and தொட்டகுறை (toṭṭakuṟai) means what was resumed. Usually the term ‘விட்டகுறை தொட்டகுறை’ (viṭṭakuṟai toṭṭakuṟai) refers to karma left incomplete in previous lives and resumed in the present one due to the continuity of one’s karma-vāsanās (inclinations to do the same kind of actions repeatedly), but in the case of Bhagavan it was not a resumption of any karma-vāsanā but only a resumption of his sat-vāsanā (inclination just to be), which is what is also called svātma-bhakti (love to be aware of oneself alone).
What Bhagavan indicated when he gave this reply is that our vāsanās continue from one life to the next, so if we cultivate our sat-vāsanā by trying to be self-attentive now it will either result in the annihilation of our ego during the lifetime of our present body or will prompt us to resume our efforts to be self-attentive in any future life. The more strongly we are drawn to this path, the more we will attempt to be self-attentive, and the more we attempt to be self-attentive, the stronger our sat-vāsanā will become, until eventually it will overwhelm all our other vāsanās and result in our being able to turn our entire attention back towards ourself, whereupon we will experience ourself as we actually are and thereby our ego will dissolve like a tropical morning mist as soon as the sun rises.
By referring to ‘விட்டகுறை தொட்டகுறை’ (viṭṭakuṟai toṭṭakuṟai), resumption of what was left incomplete in previous lives, and by implying that as a result of it his attention was constantly dwelling in or on its source, Bhagavan clearly implied that he succeeded so spontaneously and effortlessly to experience what he actually is only because of his practice of self-attentiveness in previous lives. However in this respect Bhagavan’s case was very rare indeed, because generally even those who have already advanced far along the path in previous lives have to make some effort in their final life to practise either ātma-vicāra or some other form of sādhana that culminates in ātma-vicāra before they can experience true self-knowledge (ātma-jñāna).
How much effort we need to make and how long we need to practise ātma-vicāra depends upon the extent to which our mind had been purified by making effort to practise appropriate sādhana in the past. However, no matter to what extent our mind has been purified, Poonja’s advice that no effort, practice or sādhana is necessary cannot help us to progress any closer to the ultimate goal of freedom from our ego. If we had already made all the necessary effort to practise the required sādhana, we would not need to be told that no further effort or practice is necessary, because our mind would be so pure, clear, subtle and sharp that we would effortlessly turn it inwards to focus on ourself alone and would thereby experience ourself as we actually are. On the other hand, if our mind has not yet been purified to such an extent, we have not yet practised enough sādhana, so we still need to persevere in making effort to practise ātma-vicāra or some other appropriate sādhana until our mind is sufficiently purified, in which case for us the advice given by Poonja would be impractical and misleading.