Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Why does the term ‘I am’ refer not just to our ego but to what we actually are?

In a comment on my previous article, ‘I am’ is the reality, ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that’ is the ego, a friend called Mouna raised several objections to what I had written in it, so in this article I will try to reply to his objections.

Mouna, obviously you are correct in saying that we do not say ‘I am’ while we are asleep, but the issue we need to consider is not the words ‘I am’ nor who thinks and says these words, but is only what these words refer to, namely our awareness ‘I am’. Only the ego can think or say ‘I am’, because as we actually are we do not think, say or do anything, but we are nevertheless always aware of our existence as ‘I am’ whether we seem to be this ego (as in waking and dream) or not (as in sleep).

You say, ‘the only reference we have about deep sleep is the ego’s account of it’, but this is not quite correct. Sure, we now experience ourself as this ego, so it is as this ego that we recollect what we experienced in sleep, but since as this ego we were not present in sleep, our recollection of sleep cannot derive from this ego, so must derive from something deeper within ourself that was aware in sleep. That deeper thing is our fundamental self-awareness, which is what we actually are, because it is the only thing that we are always aware of.

However, even to say that we are aware of it is not quite correct, because it is not an object of which we could be aware, but the fundamental light of awareness that illumines the appearance of both the subject (our ego) and all objects (every phenomenon cognised by this ego). We are therefore aware of it not as an object, nor even as the subject, but as ourself, the one permanent self-awareness that underlies the appearance of both subject and object.

When our ego says, ‘I was aware of myself in sleep’, it is laying claim to our fundamental self-awareness as if that were itself, but it is not our fundamental self-awareness, because our fundamental self-awareness remains in sleep even though our ego is then absent. As Bhagavan points out in verse 24 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, our ego is neither our fundamental self-awareness nor this person whom we now seem to be, but is a spurious entity that rises between the two and lays claim to both as if they were itself, being aware of itself as ‘I am this person’. This mixed awareness ‘I am this person’ is itself our ego, and in it ‘I am’ is our fundamental self-awareness, which alone is real, and ‘this person’ is just an illusory adjunct.

You say, ‘it doesn’t really matter if we imply that ‘I am’ is the ego or the self’, but it does actually matter a lot, because the term ‘I am’ expresses the fact that we exist, so what it refers to is our existence, which means what we actually are. As Bhagavan explains in verse 21 of Upadēśa Undiyār (which I cited and discussed in section 9 of my previous article), since we do not cease to exist in sleep, even though our ego has then ceased to exist, the true import of the word ‘I’ is only our one infinite self-awareness, which always shines without any adjuncts as ‘I am I’.

Whereas the term ‘I am’ expresses our actual existence (and also implies our awareness of our existence), terms such as ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that’ express our rising — that is, what we have seemingly become. This is why Bhagavan often used to say that ‘I am’ is our இருப்பு (iruppu) or being whereas ‘I am this’ is our எழுச்சி (eṙucci) or rising (in the sense of our seemingly becoming or appearing as). In other words, ‘I am’ is what we are, whereas ‘I am this’ is what we seem to have become.

Though as this ego we are aware of ourself as ‘I am’, we are not aware of ourself only as ‘I am’ but as ‘I am this’. What we as this ego are aware of as ‘I am’ is our actual self (our fundamental self-awareness, which is the core, foundation and real essence of this ego), whereas what we are aware of as ‘I am this’ is not what we actually are but only what we seem to be.

You say ‘Brahman, ‘I am’, self (or Self), guru, etc. are only conceptual pointers to what mind/ego can’t reach, only move towards (self-attentiveness)’, but whereas other terms such as brahman may be only conceptual pointers, ‘I am’ is more than just a concept, because it is our actual experience, and not just a temporary experience but what we are always aware of, namely our own existence. Since ‘I am’ is our permanent and fundamental self-awareness, it is our actual self, and it is so intimate and immediate that we do not even need to move towards it — all we need do is just turn our attention back to it, because it is what we always actually are.

By pointing out that what we are always aware of as ‘I am’ is not just our ego but our actual self, Bhagavan was trying to make us understand the closeness, intimacy and immediacy of what we actually are — that is, that our actual self is not some distant unknown thing, but what we are always clearly aware of. However, though we are always clearly aware of our actual self, we are not clearly aware of ourself as we actually are, because instead of being aware of ourself simply as ‘I am’, we now seem to be aware of ourself as ‘I am this’. Therefore in order to see ourself as we actually are all we need do is to see ourself without the superimposition of any adjuncts such as ‘this’ or ‘that’ (as Bhagavan says in verse 25 of Upadēśa Undiyār, which I cited and discussed in section 13 of my previous article).

You say that your understanding is that when Nisargadatta used the term ‘I am’ what he was referring to is our ego and that ‘all his teaching pointed to transcend this false sense of identity’, but how can ‘I am’ be a false sense of identity? ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that’ is certainly a false sense of identity, because such terms express the identity of ourself (‘I’) as being something else (‘this’ or ‘that’), but ‘I am’ cannot be a false sense of identity, because the term ‘I am’ does not identify ourself as being anything, but simply expresses the fact that we exist.

Since the term ‘I am’ very clearly refers only to our existence and not to any sort of identity, whether true or false, it is obviously not appropriate to use it to refer to anything other than our actual self, which is our fundamental self-awareness without any adjuncts such as ‘this’ or ‘that’. Therefore if Nisargadatta used the term ‘I am’ to refer to our ego or to anything other than our actual self, his choice of terminology is certain to create confusion.

If he had just used the pronoun ‘I’ to refer to our ego, as Bhagavan often did, that would not have created any confusion, because ‘I’ is a pronoun that refers only to ourself, and since this ego is what we now seem to be, we can legitimately use ‘I’ to refer either to our actual self or to our ego, depending on the context in which we are using it. However, ‘I am’ on its own (not in a statement such as ‘I am this’) means that we actually exist, and what we actually exist as is not this ego but only our actual self, which is the fundamental self-awareness that we always experience whether we experience ourself as ‘I am this’ (as in waking and dream) or just as ‘I am’ (as in sleep).

If this ego were what the term ‘I am’ refers to, that would mean either that this ego exists and shines in sleep, because our awareness ‘I am’ persists then, or that our awareness ‘I am’ ceases in sleep, because we are not aware of this ego then. Since both of these two alternative implications are clearly false, and since we are clearly aware of our existence as ‘I am’ while we are asleep, even though we are not then aware of our ego, it should be obvious to us that the term ‘I am’ does not refer to our ego but to what we always are, namely the fundamental self-awareness that we experience as ‘I am’ throughout waking, dream and sleep.

By using the term ‘I am’ to refer to our ego and by saying that we need to go beyond it, transcend it or find some reality behind it, Nisargadatta was creating an impression that the reality is something other than our simple awareness of our own existence, ‘I am’. Whereas Bhagavan insisted that what is real is nothing other than our simple and ever-present self-awareness, ‘I am’, Nisargadatta repeatedly implies that there is some reality beyond this of which we are currently unaware. This is one of the reasons why I find it so hard to understand why many people who have studied and tried to practise what Bhagavan taught us believe that what Nisargadatta was teaching is the same.

Regarding what you write in the final paragraph of your comment, I agree that we use the term ‘behind’ metaphorically when we say that a rope is ‘behind’ the snake or that our actual self is ‘behind’ our ego, and obviously we are justified in using language metaphorically in such a way. However, there is a difference between saying that our actual self is behind our ego and saying that it is behind ‘I am’, because our ego is what we seem to be (just as the snake is what the rope seems to be), whereas ‘I am’ is what we actually are. Since the term ‘I am’ refers to our fundamental self-awareness (our simple awareness of our own existence), if we say that there is any reality behind ‘I am’, we would be implying that the reality is something other than our fundamental self-awareness, which would be quite contrary to what Bhagavan taught us.

In your final sentence you wrote, ‘We know that there isn’t any “underlying reality”, otherwise there will be two things one superimposed to another and reality cannot be other than non-dual’, but so long as we see any false appearance, such as an illusory snake, there must be something real underlying and supporting its appearance. Saying that there is a real thing underlying an illusory appearance is not saying that there are two things but only that there is just one thing that seems to be something other than what it actually is.

There is no snake but only a rope, so the rope alone is real and the snake is just any illusory appearance and hence does not actually exist. Likewise, there is no ego or world but only our actual self, so our actual self alone is real and our ego and this world are just any illusory appearances and hence do not actually exist.

If we apply this to Nisargadatta’s claim that the reality is just behind ‘I am’, which is what you were trying to justify in your final paragraph, it would mean that there is no ‘I am’ but only some other reality behind it, which is clearly not the case. The only thing that is certainly real is ‘I am’, because everything else we experience could be just an illusion (as Bhagavan teaches us that it in fact is), whereas ‘I am’ cannot be an illusion, because the phrase ‘I am’ expresses the fact that we exist, and if we did not exist we could not be aware of anything, whether real or illusory. ‘I am’ is the only thing that is absolutely certain, but Nisargadatta repeatedly implies that it is something unreal, so whom should we believe: Bhagavan, who says ‘I am’ alone is real, or Nisargadatta, who implies that it is not real? Simple logic surely compels us to accept what Bhagavan taught us in preference to what Nisargadatta seems to claim.

18 comments:

Stephen Ho said...



Michael,

I have been wondering :

(1)

It is the Mind / Ego / First Person that verbalises " I Am" or thinks about it in an abstract manner. It is also the Mind / Ego / First Person that senses or intuits non-verbally "I Am" as a sense of Being. It seems as if it is the Mind / Ego / First Person that perceives itself and its own ideas, concepts, thoughts, intuition, sense, etc. How do I know that I have gone beyond all that to the Self as it is , since all of them are just pointers ?

(2)

It is the Mind / Ego / First Person that claims to have experienced bliss in a dream-less sleep only upon waking up and not during a dream-less sleep. It is also the Mind / Ego / First Person that thinks and realises that all three states of Waking, Dreamless Sleep and Dreaming occur within the Self because it is the "thing" that remains the only constant throughout all those states. To say "I Am" with no adjuncts existed throughout all three states seems like something the Mind / Ego / First Person has thought out.

(3)

Since Self is Bliss Itself, and since it cannot experience itself in a Subject-Object relationship, how can our Mind/Ego/First Person know that to be true except by some form of thinking ,which is not necessarily infallible ? I think that at the end of it all, how do I go beyond Consciousness and look in, as it were, to confirm that the teachings of either Bhagavan Sri Ramana, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj or of Advaita Vedanta in general , are true about there being no objective entities or objective phenomena (non-dualism) ?

For instance, it was once commonly believed that it was the Sun that rose in the East, travelled across the sky and then set in the West, based on the common experience of mankind. It was only later that it was discovered that it was actually the Earth that revolved the Sun that caused the illusion of the Sun's daily movement across the sky.
So what is it that makes the Non-Dualism of Advaita Vedanta to be 100% true ?

Those questions have been bugging me for quite a while. I would really appreciate it if you would please help me with all that.


Stephen said...

It seems to me that after reading the teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharishi and Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, it seems they both say the same thing of going beyond the ego in different ways .

Bhagavan Sri Ramana teaches we should go beyond the Ego which he treats as "I Am with adjuncts" to "I Am" (or "Self"). Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj teaches we should go beyond the Ego which he treats as "I Am" to "Absolute". It seems they are saying the same things but using the terms differently.

Just my two cents' worth.

Ken said...

Stephen Ho,

I await Michael's more learned answers to your questions.

Meanwhile, I think I can answer (3) where you state:

" ...how do I go beyond Consciousness and look in, as it were, to confirm that the teachings of either Bhagavan Sri Ramana, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj or of Advaita Vedanta in general , are true about there being no objective entities or objective phenomena (non-dualism) ? "

From my understanding, Advaita is not about "no objective entities", but simply that there are not two. Simply there are not two. That is what non-dualism means.

Here is a quote:

"I am other than name, form and action.
My nature is ever free!
I am Self, the supreme unconditioned Brahman.
I am pure Awareness, always non-dual."
— Adi Shankara, Upadesasahasri 11.7

And, generally speaking, Advaita Vedanta is based on confirmation by experience. Both Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta talk about the experience of the non-dual character of reality.

However, there are some logical proofs that also demonstrate that only the Self is real, and these can be found in the writings of Ramana Maharshi.

You also state: "Since Self is Bliss Itself, and since it cannot experience itself in a Subject-Object relationship, how can our Mind/Ego/First Person know that to be true except by some form of thinking ,which is not necessarily infallible ? "

The Self is Satchitananda, which translates as " one thing which has the three qualities of existence, awareness and bliss ". Since it is one thing, then existence and awareness and bliss are all different words for the same thing.

Since nothing exists other than the Self, then right now, since you experience that you exist, then you are experiencing the Bliss of the Self.

What you call "now" and the Self are the same thing - the "space" in which everything occurs.

As far as how to experience this, Sadhu Om said:

"Therefore, all that we are to practise is to be still
(summa iruppadu) with the remembrance of the feeling ‘I’. "

R Viswanathan said...

"You say, ‘the only reference we have about deep sleep is the ego’s account of it’, but this is not quite correct. Sure, we now experience ourself as this ego, so it is as this ego that we recollect what we experienced in sleep, but since as this ego we were not present in sleep, our recollection of sleep cannot derive from this ego, so must derive from something deeper within ourself that was aware in sleep. That deeper thing is our fundamental self-awareness, which is what we actually are, because it is the only thing that we are always aware of."

Having heard Sri David Godman speaking so highly of Sri Maurice Frydman, I give below a passage from Maharshi's Gospel which I feel might be of some relevance to this article as well as to the previous one of Sri Michael James. I remember having read that Sri David Godman strongly believes that Maharshi's Gospel has been edited by Sri Maurice Frydman.

"Consciousness is always Self-consciousness. If you are conscious of anything you are essentially conscious of yourself. Unselfconscious existence is a contradiction in terms. It is no existence at all. It is merely attributed existence, whereas true Existence, the sat, is not an attribute, it is the Substance itself. It is the vastu. Reality is therefore known as sat-chit, Being-Consciousness, and never merely the one to the exclusion of the other."

"Do you remember, I told you once previously that existence and awareness are not two different things but one and the same? Well, if for any reason you feel constrained to admit the fact that you existed in sleep be sure you were also aware of that existence. What you were really unaware of in sleep is your bodily existence. You are confounding this bodily awareness with the true Awareness of the Self which is eternal. Prajnana, which is the source of ‘I-am’ness, ever subsists unaffected by the three transitory states of the mind, thus enabling you to retain your identity unimpaired. Prajnana is also beyond the three states, because it can subsist without them and in spite of them. It is that Reality that you should seek during your so called waking state by tracing the aham-vritti to its Source. Intense practice in this enquiry will reveal that the mind and its three states are unreal and that you are the eternal, infinite consciousness of Pure Being, the Self or the Heart."


Stephen Ho said...



Michael,

It seems to me that Bhagavan Sri Ramana is teaching that the First Person arises directly from the Self, whereas the Second and Third Persons arise solely from the First Person ( and not directly from the Self). As such, attention to the First Person is the only way back to the Self.

atma-anusandhana said...

Stephen Ho,
second and third persons appear only to the first person. As you correctly assume we have to trace back solely the seeming ascent of the first person.

D Samarender Reddy said...

The "I am"

All these days I have been posting under the pseudonym Viveka Vairagya. However, henceforth I will be posting under my own name.

In my humble opinion, the "I am" that Nisargadatta Maharaj and Ramana Maharshi talk about, is nothing but the state of thought-free consciousness. The "I am this" and "I am that" as in "I am tall", "I am tired", "I am afraid" etc. are mere thoughts formed due to one's identification with body and mind. So, when you are free from thoughts, that is when you dissociate from the body and mind identity, you are free from the "This" and "That" and so only the "I am" remains, which is nothing but conscious being, hence it is thought-free consciousness. And when you dwell in thought-free consciousness for prolonged periods you will soon sooner or later arrive at the Truth.

Note, however, that Nisargadatta and Bhagavan Ramana use the term "I am" to refer to slightly different entities. Nisargadatta means by "I am" the reflection of Self or Pure Consciousness (chidabhasa) in the mind. Bhagavan Ramana means by "I am" the reality or Self itself as Michael has tried to point out in this article. But, Nisargadatta does not mean the ego by referring to "I am" because he goes on to say that "The 'I am this' and 'I am that' are imaginary". So, although there is a slight difference in the usage of the term "I am" by Nisargadatta and Bhagavan Ramana in the final analysis it is not that big a deal and mere semantics because the refelection that "I am" is as per Nisargadatta merges back into the "I am" that Bhagavan Ramana is referring to upon manonasa just like the reflection in a mirror merges back into the object being reflected when the mirror is removed.

Viveka Vairagya said...

D Samarender Reddy,
you are welcome. Don't worry, I only take great delight in using your pseudonym.
But why does Blogger allow this fooling around ?

D Samarender Reddy said...

Hi Viveka Vairagya,

Nice one. It is not half as bad or disturbing as it would if someone impersonates me under my real name. But then, come to think of it, there is only the One impersonating under our different names - names and forms are unreal, so who cares.

D Samarender Reddy said...

Viveka Vairagya,

You are right in asking "But why does Blogger allow this fooling around ?" A better system would have been if Blogger used UserName-Password modality to allow access to commenting, so that an identity/UserName once taken cannot be taken by anyone else. But perhaps Blogger realizes that names and forms are unreal so it does not bother that much about them. By the way, you are welcome to continue using the pseudonym Viveka Vairagya from now on.

Sanjay Lohia said...

[New] Viveka Vairagya, I echo your suggestion when you question: ‘But why does Blogger allow this fooling around [with all these pseudonyms]?’ Our various friends use pseudonyms and some of these - certainly not all of them - do not seem appropriate, especially when we are trying to discuss and understand Bhagavan’s teachings, which are extremely profound and valuable. We seem to make an important topic appear frivolous at times.

What is the problem in using our original names on this blog? I do not see any need to hide our real identities in such discussions. Therefore I feel that we should try and use our original names. I am not sure what Michael thinks about this issue.

Michael James said...

Michael,
1. ) should each commentator mentioned by his/her first name and family name/surname like you as Michael James ?
2. ) Or would you bear with equanimity that some writers use any pseudonym and hide their personal identity ?
3. ) In which way would you take action in case of impersonating as an other person for instance Michael James or pretending to be anyone for instance Michael James ?

I will try now to write this questions as (a wrong) Michael James.

Michael James said...

Michael (the other pseudo-Michael James), I am confused quite enough by mistaking myself to be this person called Michael James, so having someone else posing as Michael James just adds to my confusion and probably to everyone else’s, but besides that I have no serious objection to anyone using any name they may choose, because mistaken identity and the need for us to find our real identity are the issues that this blog is intended to address. However, though we are actually not whatever person we may seem to be, when we are interacting with each other in a dream such as this each person is generally assigned a name for ease of identification, so for everyone’s convenience it would be easiest if we were each to use either our own name or a pseudonym that has not be used by others (though we should of course bear in mind that what is identified by our chosen name is just a person and not ourself).

chosen identity said...

Michael,
many thanks for your reply to me as wrong Michael regarding chosen name/identity.
It is really off-putting that we actually cannot prevent that anyone can use our own name or pseudonym which has already been used by us. For example a comment on the article of 2 October 2016 was written by any certain "Foolish Tenth Man" although I had written some weeks ago a comment as "foolish tenth man". Therefore I tested yesterday even your name as chosen name and lo and behold it worked.

Mouna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob - P said...

I think if everyone used their own name or a unique pseudonym it could be helpful as many different people posting under "anonymous" can sometimes be a bit confusing from my perspective anyway. I have always posted using my real name Bob - P - and have never posted under another name since I first started posting on Michael's blog a while ago.
It just makes sense to me but I appreciate others may have a good reason for using a pseudonym.
But like what was mentioned above if everyone used a unique pseudonym I think it would be helpful.
But of course each to their own.
Bob

lame monkey said...

Bob-P,
Blogger does not provide UserName-Password modality for using unique names or pseudonyms. You may read also D Samarender Reddy's second comment of 6 October.

Bob - P said...

Thank you lame monkey.
Will do.
All the best
Bob.