Friday, 23 December 2016

Whatever experience may arise, we should investigate to whom it arises

A friend recently wrote to me describing an experience she had had, saying “Whilst in the middle of doing my chores, there arrived a sudden ‘clarity’ that there was no solidified ‘I’ or ego. That ‘I’ — my ‘ego’ — was just a bunch of synapses firing away in the brain. That it was just the result of conditioned experiences and habitual patterns”, as a result of which ‘a spontaneous self-enquiry’ arose, and then explained her interpretation of this experience. This article is adapted from the replies I wrote to this and a subsequent email.

First reply

To whom did this clarity come? Who experienced this clarity ‘that there was no solidified ‘I’ or ego’? Who interpreted this experience as ‘That ‘I’ — my ‘ego’ — was just a bunch of synapses firing away in the brain’? Who experienced a ‘spontaneous ‘recognition’ that there was no one there – no ‘experiencer’ at all’? Who is now able to recollect and describe this experience? The answer to all these questions must be ‘I’ or ‘me’, and that ‘I’ or ‘me’ is not what you really are but only your ego.

What we really are (our real self) does not experience anything other than itself, so its experience is constant and unchanging. What experiences anything that is new, anything that comes or goes, anything that changes in any way, anything other than our simple, fundamental and immutable self-awareness, is not ourself as we really are but only ourself as this ego.

Since this ego is what experiences everything (that is, everything other than pure self-awareness, which is what we really are), no experience could precede it, so it cannot be ‘just the result of conditioned experiences and habitual patterns’. It is the first cause, the original cause for the appearance or seeming existence of everything else.

Likewise ‘the illusion of a singular, solidified, entity that was called ‘me’’ is not created by the body, as you say, because the body is itself an illusion, and since it is perceived only by that entity called ‘me’ (namely the ego), it does not exist independent of it. According to Bhagavan the ego is the creator of everything, because everything seems to exist only in its view, and hence nothing exists independent of it. It is the cause, root and foundation of everything, so when it does not exist nothing else exists, as Bhagavan says in verse 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu (kaliveṇbā version):
                                    […] — கருவா
மகந்தையுண் டாயி னனைத்துமுண் டாகு
மகந்தையின் றேலின் றனைத்து — மகந்தையே
யாவுமா மாதலால் யாதிதென்று நாடலே
யோவுதல் யாவுமென வோர் […]

                                    […] — karuvā
mahandaiyuṇ ḍāyi ṉaṉaittumuṇ ḍāhu
mahandaiyiṉ ḏṟēliṉ ḏṟaṉaittu — mahandaiyē
yāvumā mādalāl yādideṉḏṟu nādalē
yōvudal yāvumeṉa vōr
[…]

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

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

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

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

English translation: If the ego, which is the embryo [womb or efficient cause], comes into existence, everything comes into existence; if the ego does not exist, everything does not exist. [Hence] the ego itself is everything. Therefore, know that investigating what this [ego] is alone is giving up everything.
Therefore all that you have described was experienced by your ego (that is, by you as this ego and not as you really are), so it is not an experience of non-duality. Any experience that comes and goes, anything that we are not aware of at all times and in all states without any change, is something other than ourself, so it is an object of our experience and we (this ego) are the subject who is aware of it. This distinction between subject and object is a fundamental duality, so as long any experience entails a subject (ourself, this ego) and an object (something other than ourself), it is not an experience of non-duality (advaita).

This is not to say that what you experienced was not some form of clarity, but your interpretation of it is not correct. So long as we experience anything that is viśēṣa (that is, distinctive, special, new or what we have not always experienced), it is a creation of our mind, so we should turn our attention back towards ourself, the one who is aware of it. Our real self is nirviśēṣa, because it is what we are aware of constantly, without any break and in all three states, so that alone (and not anything viśēṣa) is what we should be seeking.

Therefore whatever experience may arise, we should take it as a reminder to us that it appears because we are aware of it, so what we should be concerned with and attend to is not what is experienced but only ourself, the experiencer of it. In this way we have to try constantly to go deeper and deeper within ourself until we merge back into our source, which is our ever-present and ever-shining self-awareness, and we should not allow ourself to be distracted by any experience that may arise along the way, no matter how sublime it may seem to be.

Second reply

In reply to this my friend wrote, “From what you’ve said, I understand that it is not a non-dual ‘experience’. However, I do wish to clarify, if it wasn’t an ‘insight’ of some sort. The reason I say this is because it was characterised by a deep peace and silence and most of all by a clarity. Words are inadequate and I am finding it extremely difficult to express it”, to which I replied:

As I wrote in my first reply, ‘This is not to say that what you experienced was not some form of clarity, but your interpretation of it is not correct’. I said that your interpretation of it is not correct because (like any experience other than pure self-awareness, which is anādi (beginningless) ananta (endless, limitless or infinite) akhaṇḍa (unbroken, undivided, unfragmented, partless or whole) sat-cit-ānanda, as Bhagavan says in verse 28 of Upadēśa Undiyār) it was experienced by you as the ego and not as you really are, so it was not an experience of non-duality.

However, I cannot say what a correct interpretation of it would be, because that is known only to Bhagavan, but interpreting such experiences is not actually necessary, because all that Bhagavan asks us to do is to investigate ourself, the one to whom any experience may arise. Therefore the most useful way to interpret it is to say that (like any other experience) it arose to remind us to look back at ourself, who experiences it.

As you say, it may have been some sort of an insight or clarity, but you can make use of it only by taking it to be a reminder to turn your attention back towards yourself.

31 comments:

Marcos Ayuso said...

Dear Michael,
As usual your articles reflect very accurately Bhagavan´s teachings at least in my point of view and I do not think this one would be one exception.
However suppose you try to apply the same arguments you used with our friend with respect to Bhagavan´s death experience. When Bhagavan narrates his experience he for instance says: ´ …I held my breath and kept my lips tightly closed so that no sound could escape, so that neither the word ‘I’ or any other word could be uttered, ‘Well then,’ I said to myself, ‘this body is dead.”.
When you said that her experience could be categorized as a dual one, the same argument could be applied regarding Bhagavan´s experience.
Likewise the questions you rose concerning her experience could also be applied in Bhagavan´s experience since the real Self does not experience anything other than itself:
“Who experienced a ‘spontaneous ‘recognition’ that there was no one there – no ‘experiencer’ at all’? Who is now able to recollect and describe this experience? The answer to all these questions must be ‘I’ or ‘me’, and that ‘I’ or ‘me’ is not what you really are but only your ego.”
I am not interested in playing games with words and I am also aware our language is inappropriate to explain the “non dual” reality. However it seems some piece is missing – not concerning your reply to our friend – but in order to clarify my understanding.

Ken said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ken said...

FYI - a transcription of the original interview of Ramana (translated to English) describing his "death experience" can be found at:

http://sri-ramana-maharshi.blogspot.in/2008/05/bhagavans-death-experience.html

followed by more material which deals with the translation of words on:

http://sri-ramana-maharshi.blogspot.in/2008/06/more-on-bhagavans-death-experience.html

including the following:

"The absence of the word ‘I’ is quite significant in this description, and in subsequent paragraphs. Narasimha Swami describes the event as one in which Bhagavan took control, performed a series of actions and came to a solution. Krishna Bhikshu records it as something that happened to Bhagavan, rather than as something he did. I think this is a more correct narration of the events, for Bhagavan himself said in Day by Day with Bhagavan, 4th October 1946, ‘The fact is, I did nothing. Some higher power took hold of me and I was entirely in its hand.’

Narasimha Swami filled his own account with the first-person pronoun ‘I’, but in a note that accompanies the text, he pointed out that this was not what Bhagavan himself said:

The exact words [of the death experience] have not been recorded. The Swami as a rule talks quite impersonally. There is seldom any clear or pronounced reference to ‘I’ and ‘you’ in what he says. The genius of Tamil is specially suited for such impersonal utterances, and he generally talks Tamil. However, one studying his words and ways discovers personal references, mostly veiled. His actual words may be found too colourless and hazy to suit or appeal to many readers, especially of the western type. Hence the use here of the customary phraseology with its distinct personal reference.

My own feeling is that in this particular description the insertion of the personal pronoun ‘I’ into Bhagavan’s description is misleading."

Michael James said...

Marcos, all that Bhagavan told us about his death experience was in order to teach us how we must investigate ourself, and though on various occasions he described what happened to him on that day as if he underwent a process of reasoning, he explained that his response to the fear of death that arose in him was actually spontaneous and instantaneous, so it happened without any thought, and that what he experienced as a result of turning his mind inwards to see what he actually was could not be adequately described in words, because it entailed the complete annihilation of the experiencing mind or ego. Unfortunately, however, most of the recordings of what he said about it are not particularly reliable, partly because he spoke in Tamil but what he said was generally recorded in English, but largely because he described it in a very nuanced and impersonal manner, which could be understood clearly only by those had gone sufficiently deep in the practice of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), so when translated and recorded in English by people who had not gone so deep in this practice the nuances and impersonal flavour of what he said was to a large extent lost.

Obviously fear of death is an experience that can occur only in the realm of duality, but Bhagavan’s response to it was to turn his entire attention back towards himself in order to discover whether he was something that would die along with the death of his body, and as a result of his keen and intense self-attentiveness his ego was dissolved forever in the absolutely clear light of pure self-awareness (ātma-jñāna), as a result of which the appearance of duality ceased and only non-duality remained. Therefore what Bhagavan experienced as a result of his intense self-investigation is in no way comparable to what our friend described about her experience, in which clearly an ‘I’ remained to experience it, remember it, interpret it and describe it.

daisilui said...

"The answer to all these questions must be ‘I’ or ‘me’, and that ‘I’ or ‘me’ is not what you really are but only your ego."

Michael, i have had this similar 'experiences' quite often. It feels like the sky is suddenly free of clouds revealing the blue sky behind. It happens in an instant with the realization that the ego does not exist, i.e. 'i am not this'. In that instant there's no one to ask 'who is experiencing this'? Attempts to describing the experience may come after 'returning' into the ego and may be distorted [clouds covering the blue again]. Therefore i can relate to the experience of your interlocutor behind her choice of words.

The experience feels different than the 'reality' of this dream or that of the last night's dream where things come and go and therefore, according to the definition of reality, are not real. True, this recognition comes and goes too but in that instant of a timeless few seconds, nothing comes or goes. In the spontaneous recognition of 'what is', who/what is that which 'rests in there' where nothing is but awareness, with no attributes? As i know for sure that is not this same 'i' who is typing these words or any aspect of it that i experience ordinarily, who/what is 'that' then?

Mouna said...

Many times this “clear view” is referred as ‘glimpses’. These glimpses are a sort of samadhi. Devotees and seekers that were in the presence of sages like Bhagavan or Nisargadatta reported these kind of experiences, even going so far as loosing objective awareness in the moment or for a few hours.
Is as if the self-referencial separate ego feeling stops and there is only sensation/perception operating in its purest form.
As has been said, the fact that the ego recuperates the ‘experience' as his/her afterwards proves that it hasn’t been eradicated or destroyed permanently. Even a very thin veil still veils...

daisilui said...

Mouna,thanks for the insight.

'Even a very thin veil still veils...' i agree, but i can see at least a couple of aspects of how the veil manifests...
As i experience it, during that 'sort of samadhi' [sorry, i'm not familiar with the terminology] there is no veil at all. A thin veil of a cloud may rise and then either the thin cloud dissipates and the blue sky shines again [like in a brief vacillation] or the cloud/veil becomes denser and things get back to 'normal'.
But i think that the 'thin veil' metaphor is more representative to the dual 'reality' where the ego remembers the 'glimpses' on a background of a clear intellectual understanding of reality. This is the veil that may be thinner or thicker, depending on the lingering effects of the glimpses and other things, but nevertheless it is there.

Mouna said...

daisilui,

yes, i agree with your point of view.
i believe our practice does what you suggest, thins the veil of the ego to a point that a small blow of the inner guru's grace will eradicate once and forever the illusion that there was a veil (no matter how thick or thin) in the first place.

Michael James said...

Daisilui, whatever experience may come or go cannot be what we actually are, nor can the experiencer of it be what we actually are, because what we actually are is permanent and immutable. When we experience ourself as we actually are, it will not seem to be a new experience or something that has come or could ever go, nor will it change in any way, because as Bhagavan says in verse 28 of Upadēśa Undiyār it is anādi (beginningless) ananta (endless, limitless or infinite) akhaṇḍa (unbroken, undivided, unfragmented, partless or whole) sat-cit-ānanda (existence-awareness-happiness: that is, what actually exists, what is permanently aware and what is infinitely happy).

Since that is what we actually are, it is what we are even now, when we seem to be this ego, but we do not seem to be this ego in the clear view of ourself as we actually are but only in the deluded view of ourself as this ego, so when this ego is eradicated by keen self-attentiveness, what will remain will be only ourself as we actually are, which is always clearly aware of itself as it actually is. That is, what we actually are is pure self-awareness, which is never aware of anything other than itself, so in its clear view there is no ego, and hence neither the appearance nor the disappearance of the ego affects it in any way whatsoever.

Therefore whatever experience is transient or undergoes any form of change is not real and is experienced only by ourself as this ego. Some experiences, such as the kind you refer to, may arise and be experienced by the ego only when it is in a relatively attenuated condition, but no matter how attenuated it may be, it is still the ego, and since this ego rises, stands and flourishes by ‘grasping form’ (that is, by being aware of any phenomenon), as Bhagavan says in verse 25 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, so long as it is aware of any phenomenon (anything other than itself, anything that appears or disappears) it is thereby nourishing and sustaining itself. This is why Bhagavan taught us that whatever may appear in our awareness, no matter how sublime it may seem to be, we should turn our attention back towards ourself, the one who experiences it, in order to see what we ourself actually are.

You say that the kind of experience your refer to ‘happens in an instant with the realization that the ego does not exist’, but who is it who realises this? You say ‘that is not this same ‘I’ who is typing these words’, but if it is not the same ‘I’ (yourself, Daisilui) how can you remember having experienced it, and how can you now say ‘I have had this similar ‘experiences’ quite often’? Who has had that experience, and who now remembers having had it? It cannot be yourself as you actually are, because what you actually are is just pure self-awareness, which is anādi ananta akhaṇḍa sat-cit-ānanda and which therefore never undergoes any change and never experiences anything that appears or disappears, so it must only be yourself as the ego that you now seem to be.

Therefore whatever experience may arise, we should not allow ourself to be distracted by it or to attach any importance to it, but should just keenly investigate ourself, the experiencer of it, because this is the only means by which we can experience what alone is permanent and real, namely the pure self-awareness that we always actually are.

Sandhya said...

Michael

Looks like from all the discussions, i feel the only time we can experience death of ego is just before the physical death when urge to breath also stops. The very fact that we are breathing implies that we still identify I as the body. Only when we stop breathing is when we can get rid of identification of body as I . Correct?

star of Bethlehem said...

Sandhya,
death of the ego cannot be equated with the death of the physical body, because the ego may also flourish very well when it dwells only in a subtle body.

Michael James said...

No, Sandhya, the urge to breathe (whether in this body or in any other body) will remain so long as the ego survives, which is why if we watch any person dying, we can observe that they struggle to continue breathing till the end. The root of all problems is only this ego, which comes into existence by projecting and grasping a body (a living and breathing one) as itself, and which cannot stand without continuing to do so, so the urge to breathe arises and subsides along with the ego.

This ego will survive so long as we continue attending to anything other than ourself, because awareness of other things is the food on which it lives and nourishes itself. However, it will not die merely by ceasing to be aware of other things, because we cease being aware of anything else whenever we subside in sleep or in any other state of manōlaya (temporary dissolution of the mind), but since it is a wrong knowledge of ourself (an awareness of ourself as a body, which is not what we actually are), it will die only by trying to be aware of itself (ourself) as it actually is.

Since we alone are what actually is, in order to be aware of ourself as we actually are we must be aware of ourself alone, which we can be only by focusing our entire attention on ourself alone, thereby withdrawing it completely from everything else. This is why Bhagavan taught us that such keenly focused self-attentiveness (which is what he called ātma-vicāra or self-investigation) is the only means by which we can destroy this ego.

When we focus our attention keenly on ourself alone, our ego will subside and disappear, and along with it everything else (including our urge to breathe) will likewise subside and disappear, because this ego is their root and foundation, so they depend upon it for their seeming existence. However, we cannot destroy our ego merely by trying to stop our urge to breathe, because even if we succeed in stopping it, our ego will not subside in manōnāśa (annihilation of the mind) but only in manōlaya, from which it will sooner or later rise again along with its urge to breathe.

Because we are forcibly separated from our current body at the moment it dies, that can be a favourable moment for us to turn our entire attention back towards ourself and thereby eradicate this ego, but we will not succeed at that time unless we have persistently practised being keenly self-attentive while this body is still living. Therefore we should not put off of our practice of self-attentiveness till the moment of our bodily death, but should persistently practise it from now until our ego is finally dissolved forever in its source, which is the pure self-awareness that we actually are.

daisilui said...

Hi Michael,
It feels like discussions around this subject tend to have a circular and paradoxical reasoning in that it is the ego that analyses and relates experiences in which it wasn’t present and then denies this by attributing the experience to itself.

It is the ego that tries to kill itself in order to obtain unbroken happiness, which is the sole motivation of going through all the pain to eliminate the self inflicted suffering of which is so fond… If it wasn’t for this happiness, the ego would be satisfied with the intellectual understanding that itself is not real and that which is real is, as you describe it, expanding on RM’s words- “permanent and immutable, beginningless, endless, limitless or infinite, unbroken, undivided, unfragmented, partless or whole, what is permanently aware and what is infinitely happy”. Here’s where neo-advaita promoters stop.

In the effort of eradicating itself through ‘keen self-attentiveness’ this ego vanishes [I think the metaphor of the blue sky is describing this rather well- in fact the ego cannot vanish because it never was- the blue sky was only obscured by the immaterial mist of the incessantly moving clouds]. From this perspective the experience of its absence is no different from the experience of deep sleep [where the ego vanishes without effort]. But then it reappears to relate a sequence of events that includes a certain length of time in which it wasn’t present.

The definition of the ego is that which claims the ownership of a body and such creates the second and the third person… the world/universe. Well, if this is the case your response to my question- “who/what is that which 'rests in there' where nothing is but awareness, with no attributes”, i.e., it is the ego, does not fit the definition proposed [unless my definition is not complete]. But assuming it is so then this is a new ego [or perhaps a special aspect of the ego], unknown to me before, and which has nothing in common with the one that types these words or the one that is able to relate the experience of deep sleep.

Based on what you say, whether the experience of [lets call it the absence of the ego] lasts a few seconds or a few hours, in the end is still not real. The test here seems to be that there is an ego that relates about it and as long as this happens the experience is an illusion. Therefore, the ‘real deal’ is only in silence, when there is no ego to come back and describe anything. [to be continued in part2]

daisilui said...

part 2
This is hard to understand from within the experience itself where there is no past or future, no coming and going. Further more, it may appear that the ‘coming back’ in the ego is not really happening- this is the situation in reverse [we tend to look at it from the perspective of the ego where everything is transitory but how about seeing it from that of awareness where the sky was never anything but blue?]. Any analysis and discourse about reality is starting with the ego and happens in the ego’s reality, which is unreal. So it is difficult to accept that this inexistent ego owns the experience of its own absence. It looks like a double delusion- one, by imagining that the ego achieved/owns something and two, by denying the existence of reality outside itself, although proclaiming one at an intellectual level.

"You say that the kind of experience your refer to ‘happens in an instant with the realization that the ego does not exist’, but who is it who realises this?"
Of course you cannot understand what i don't say and you can analyze only what has been said but, again, to respond to your question too- it is the ego that realizes anything; however, following this realization, in that very instant [i don't know what importance time would have here- does it need to be measured in split seconds; does it matter?!] there is the gap in which that profound silence happens [more or less as i described it]. The same way, after waking up i say 'i slept well', when this transitory experience is over, the ego says- it was wonderful or peaceful but transitory, and therefore not real/illusory [although, i- the ego was not there].

"...neither the appearance nor the disappearance of the ego affects it [pure awareness] in any way whatsoever."
This is kind of confusing to me. My intellectual understanding of the illusory presence of the ego is not affected by its ego's appearance or disappearance but that is not 'pure awareness'. The ego knows its own nonexistence; awareness knows nothing other than itself. How can awareness perceive things that come and go?

Thanks Michael,
Merry Christmas!

R Viswanathan said...

In sleep when there is apparently no body awareness, the breathing continues without any apparent urge to breathe. I felt that the following passage from (http://www.happinessofbeing.com/nan_yar.html#translation) might be useful to recollect.

The thought called ‘I’ alone is the first thought of the mind; it alone is the ego. From where the ego arises, from there alone the breath also starts. Therefore when the mind subsides the prāṇa also [subsides], [and] when the prāṇa subsides the mind also subsides. However in sleep, even though the mind has subsided, the breath does not subside. It is arranged thus by the ordinance of God for the purpose of protecting the body, and so that other people do not wonder whether that body has died. When the mind subsides in waking and in samādhi [any of the various types of mental absorption that result from yōgic or other forms of spiritual practice], the prāṇa subsides. The prāṇa is said to be the gross form of the mind. Until the time of death the mind keeps the prāṇa in the body, and at the moment the body dies it [the mind] grabs and takes it [the prāṇa] away. Therefore prāṇāyāma is just an aid to restrain the mind [or to make it subside temporarily], but will not bring about manō-nāśa [the annihilation of the mind].

Translator’s note: The three sentences that I have highlighted in red in this paragraph were not in the original essay version written by Sri Ramana, but were interpolated afterwards, either in the mid-1930s or later. They were not in the manuscript of this essay handwritten by Sri Ramana, which was reproduced in The Mountain Path, June 1993, pp. 44-47, nor were they included either in the essay version in the first edition (1931) of ஸ்ரீ ரமண நூற்றிரட்டு (Śrī Ramaṇa Nūṯṟiraṭṭu, his Tamil collected works) or in the 1932 editions of either the thirty or the twenty-eight question-and-answer versions. I also could not find them in any of the versions published prior to that that I have seen, or in any of Sivaprakasam Pillai’s notebooks. The earliest edition in which I have seen them included was the 1936 editon of the twenty-eight question-and-answer, so it was probably added first in that version and later in this essay version.

According to the central teachings of Sri Ramana, the body and world are both mental creations, so they seem to exist only so long as we experience them, and hence they do not exist when our mind is subsided in sleep. For those who are willing to accept this teaching, the idea that ‘in sleep, even though the mind has subsided, the breath does not subside’ is not an issue, because if the existence of the body (and hence of its breathing) is dependent upon the activity of the mind, it is clear that in sleep ‘when the mind subsides the prāṇa also [...] subsides’, as Sri Ramana stated explicitly in the previous sentence. Therefore, if these three interpolated sentences were something that Sri Ramana actually said, he presumably said so as a concession in reply to someone who was unable or unwilling to accept (even tentatively as a possibility) his teaching that the body, prāṇa, world and everything else seem to exist only in the self-deluded view of the mind, and hence cease to exist whenever the mind has subsided, as in dreamless sleep.

cauldron hauler said...

daisilui,
you say that the ego knows its own nonexistence.
Is that true ? The ego is rather convinced about its eternal existence.

daisilui said...

cauldron hauler
well, the ego knows very well that the body that it chose to identify with is limited in space and time so in its fear of death it seeks solace in the external world. The external world also includes spiritual teachings which the ego embraces after all the other material experiences that promised happiness by fame, power, possessions of objects and people, failed to deliver. From the spiritual teachings through a keen observation of itself the ego understands its own false reality/nonexistence. As Ramana says ~ 'by investigating itself/its source, it disappears' but then, when the investigation stops due to forgetfulness and laziness, it comes back, through the force of habit. So it knows it is not real and therefore non-existent.

cauldron hauler said...

daislui,
the ego's understanding of spiritual teachings is at best mentally and mostly only a superficial knowledge.
It gives no room to even think at all of its own false reality/nonexistence. At least it will - out of its nature - practise self-adulation and with great willingness self-deception. It gives self-investigation a wide berth.

Ken said...

Daisilui and cauldron,

Ram Dass frequently told the story of the 1980 Ford Fairlane which was speeding down the highway. It was pulled over by the police. The policeman went to the door and told the driver "Get out of the car" and the driver replied "What do you mean 'get out of the car' ? I'm a 1980 Ford Fairlane !"

We are like that driver, we mistakenly think we are a particular human being.

That mistake is not an entity that can do actions - it is fictional.

So, any statements "the ego wants to... " or "the ego resists..." or any other similar statements are simply not true.

" Q: How is the ego to be destroyed?

Ramana Maharshi: Hold the ego first and then ask how it is to be destroyed. Who asks the question? It is the ego. This question is a sure way to cherish the ego and not to kill it. If you seek the ego you will find that it does not exist. That is the way to destroy it."

From Be As You Are, p. 32

Ramana also said: " There is only one consciousness which, manifesting as ‘I’-thought, identifies itself with the body, projects itself through the eyes and sees the objects around. "

daisilui said...

Ken said:
"So, any statements "the ego wants to... " or "the ego resists..." or any other similar statements are simply not true."

Agreed, simply not true for the one who understands he/she is not the body, even at an intellectual level only. However, for those who know themselves only as the body [what would be an approximate number- 90% of the people?] this is very true. While they don't talk in terms of 'the ego wants to...' or 'the ego resists' the simply say 'I don't want to/I oppose...'. Really, even those who know the truth, still play the game this way and use a different language [the one we all know] than the one used in these dialogues. It gets down to being realistic about the type of discussion at hand and the level of understanding of the difference between the relative and the absolute realities by the interlocutor.

daisilui said...

cauldron,
it seems to me that your definition of the ego comprises of the egotistic individual, blind to others' needs, self aggrandizing... My use of the term applies to the illusory [which in reality does not exist ] entity that identifies itself with a limited entity [to simplify- the body]

Ken said...

daisilui wrote:

"However, for those who know themselves only as the body [what would be an approximate number- 90% of the people?] this is very true."

It is true for them from their point of view. In the same way, someone who believed they were an ice cube, would avoid all temperatures above 0 degrees C (32 degrees F) - even though they really were not an ice cube.

So, it is true that when we are under a mistaken delusion, then we take action that is from the viewpoint of someone who believes the delusion.

But those who are studying Advaita Vedanta, intellectually know that the ego is a fiction, so Advaita Vedanta discussions should not promote the idea of the ego being strong, or resourceful or stubborn and so forth.

Michael James said...

Daisilui, there are only two states in which the ego is completely absent, namely manōlaya (temporary dissolution of the mind) and manōnāśa (annihilation of the mind), the difference between them being that the former is temporary whereas the latter is permanent. The experiences you have had that your refer to in your first comment above were obviously not manōnāśa, because you talk about ‘returning into the ego’ after having them, and if they were manōlaya, they were not similar to the experience of ‘clarity’ described by my friend to whom this article was originally written as a reply, because she described her experience as “a sudden ‘clarity’ that there was no solidified ‘I’ or ego. That ‘I’ — my ‘ego’ — was just a bunch of synapses firing away in the brain. That it was just the result of conditioned experiences and habitual patterns” and she said that as a result of it ‘a spontaneous self-enquiry’ arose, so obviously what she experienced was not manōlaya.

Since the ego is completely absent in manōlaya, what we experience then is nothing other than pure self-awareness, which is all that we experience in sleep, which is the state of manōlaya with which we all are most familiar. Therefore any state in which we experience anything that we did not experience in sleep is not a state of manōlaya, so it must have been experienced by us as this ego and not as we actually are.

That is, in sleep or any other state of manōlaya what we experience is only ourself, so anything other than that that we may experience is something other than ourself, and hence what experiences it is only this ego, because this ego alone is what experiences everything other than ourself, as Bhagavan indicates in verse 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu by saying ‘அகந்தை உண்டாயின், அனைத்தும் உண்டாகும்; அகந்தை இன்றேல், இன்று அனைத்தும்’ (ahandai uṇḍāyiṉ, aṉaittum uṇḍāhum; ahandai iṉḏṟēl, iṉḏṟu aṉaittum), which means ‘If the ego comes into existence, everything comes into existence; if the ego does not exist, everything does not exist’. Therefore if what you experienced was anything other than what you experienced in sleep, it was something other than yourself as you actually are, and hence it was experienced by you as the ego.

In your third comment you say ‘The definition of the ego is that which claims the ownership of a body and such creates the second and the third person… the world/universe’, which is correct, except that the ego does not merely claim ownership of a body but actually experiences that body as itself. However, when Bhagavan defines the ego as dēhātma-buddhi (the awareness or idea that the body is oneself), we should remember that what he means in this context by the term ‘body’ is not just the physical body (the annamaya kōśa or sthūla sarīra) but all the five sheaths (pañca-kōśa), as he says in verse 5 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu. Just as we perceive the physical forms of this world by experiencing ourself as this physical body, we experience more subtle forms or phenomena by experiencing ourself as more subtle sheaths such as the manōmaya and vijñānamaya kōśas. Therefore no matter how subtle or sublime an experience may be, if it is an experience of anything other than our fundamental self-awareness, which is permanent and unchanging and which is therefore what shines alone in sleep, it is experienced only by us as this ego.

I obviously cannot say whether the experiences you are referring to are states of manōlaya, but if they are not manōlaya (that is, if they entail awareness of anything other than the pure self-awareness that you experience everyday in sleep), they must have been experienced by you as the ego and not as you actually are.

Sanjay Lohia said...

Sir, in one of your recent comments addressed to Sandhya you have written:

Because we are forcibly separated from our current body at the moment it dies, that can be a favourable moment for us to turn our entire attention back towards ourself and thereby eradicate this ego, but we will not succeed at that time unless we have persistently practised being keenly self-attentive while this body is still living.

I have not understood how our approaching death ‘can be a favourable moment for us to turn our entire attention back towards ourself and thereby eradicate this ego’, as you write above. Bhagavan has repeatedly emphasized that our physical death is exactly like our sleep – that is, both are states of manolaya. So our approaching death cannot be much different from our approaching sleep.

When I am about to fall asleep due to tiredness of my mind and body, I hardly have any mental energy or strength left to practise being attentively self-aware, then how will I be able to muster such mental energy to remain attentively self-aware when I am in the death throes? Therefore, when you write that our approaching death ‘can be a favourable moment for us to turn our entire attention back towards ourself and thereby eradicate this ego’, is not clear. Could you please clarify this a bit more? With regards.

cauldron hauler said...

Ken,
why should we be naive and refuse to see how the ego is functioning and working ?
Why should we not walk about with one's eyes open ?
On the contrary we should be wide awake about the ego's wily refinements.
A sure way to cherish the ego is to shut one's eyes to the repertoire of ploys.

cauldron hauler said...

daisilui,
yes, I have characterized some outstanding aspects of the ego which are actual consequences of the identification of that illusory entity with a limited body-mind-construct.

daisilui said...

Michael,
thanks for the response. i am not claiming anything here. If i know anything at all, that is mostly related to what this ego feels like. The 'knowing' that happens during my experiences isn't anything like that. There is nothing i can possibly say about those gaps in between the comings and goings of the ego that would sound 'right' even from my perspective, other than there are no sublime or subtle feelings, no awareness of anything, just an overall... state [i don't really know what name to attach to it] of... well Being. You may ask- 'who feels that state'? Well, that is the thing- as i said before, i don't know but i know it is not what i have known as 'i' [this ego] for some decades.

If is necessary to attach a label to them, whether 'manōlaya, manōmaya, or vijñānamaya kōśas', whether they are just another weird/subtle form of manifestation of the ego or not, is not that important from my perspective. It is something that is, out of my control, neither great, nor bad. The mind seems very interested in digging further into this in search for answers, methods, techniques... but then the mind may also get bored after a while and look into something else. i am happy to know though that i am not the mind.

Ken said...

cauldron hauler said...

"Ken,
why should we be naive and refuse to see how the ego is functioning and working ?
Why should we not walk about with one's eyes open ?
On the contrary we should be wide awake about the ego's wily refinements.
A sure way to cherish the ego is to shut one's eyes to the repertoire of ploys."

Because such talk gives the impression that the ego is a separate entity. Actually, the ego is just ourselves, but operating under a mistaken delusion.

In the same way, someone who believed they were an ice cube, would avoid all temperatures above 0 degrees C (32 degrees F) - even though they really were not an ice cube.

So, it is true that when we are under a mistaken delusion, then we take action that is from the viewpoint of someone who believes the delusion.

But - using the example - it is not accurate to say "the ice cube strives mightily to keep it itself below freezing" - it is just someone who thinks themselves an ice cube. All they need is to realize they are not an ice cube, rather than being concerned with "the actions of the ice cube".

cauldron hauler said...

Ken,
because the ego is just behaving as a separate entity we need to grasp that we are exactly not this ego. We are just not the ego which is 'operating under a mistaken delusion'.
How could I am the ego which is not even present in deep sleep whereas I am uninterrupted pure self-awareness witnessing all the three states ? Why should I identify myself with that 'mistaken delusion' ?

Michael James said...

Sanjay, as you say in your comment, physical death is like sleep, in the sense that when our present body dies our mind will either subside for a while in a sleep-like state of manōlaya or it will immediately begin dreaming. However, that will be our condition once this body is actually dead, whereas what I was referring to when I wrote ‘Because we are forcibly separated from our current body at the moment it dies, that can be a favourable moment for us to turn our entire attention back towards ourself and thereby eradicate this ego’ was the moment when the mind is being forcibly separated from this body, and at that moment we have not yet subsided in manōlaya.

Have you ever watched a person dying of old age or some disease? If so, you would have noticed that during their final hours or minutes their breathing pattern changes, and as the end approaches they are clearly struggling to hold on to life. Sometimes their breathing may stop, and just when we think they have breathed their last, they suddenly gasp a few more breaths, and this may repeat itself several times. This illustrates how unwilling most of us are to give up our attachment to our current body.

If we observe someone falling asleep, we do not see the same struggle to hold on to the body, because we are confident when we fall asleep that after some hours we will wake up in the same body, whereas when death is approaching, we instinctively understand that when we let go of this body it will be final. Therefore, since we are generally very strongly attached to our current body and whatever we are accustomed to experiencing through it (family, friends, property, wealth, social status and so on), we do not want to die, so we literally hold on to this body for dear life.

But when death comes, leave this body we must. Therefore if we have spent much of our life trying to be self-attentive in order to see what we actually are, when we feel death approaching and separating us permanently from this body, that will be a very favourable time for us to take the final plunge within to merge forever in our source.

That is, what prevents us taking that final plunge here and now is our attachment to our life as the person we currently seem to be, so when death is forcibly separating us from this life we can embrace it and give up our hold not only on this current life but also on the ego who is so attached to it. However, we will be able to do so only if we have already weakened our attachment to this ego to a considerable extent by persistent practice of being keenly self-attentive during the life of this body.

Sanjay Lohia said...

Sir, I agree with your recent comment addressed to me, and I feel I have understood it to the extent possible. Yes, more than a year back my father died of cancer, and I clearly saw his breathing pattern change as he was on his death bed. Off and on he used to shake his hands, as if trying to say something, but perhaps he was trying to gasp a few breaths. Thus, as you say, he was clearly trying to hold on to his body and all his other attachments until the very last few moments of his bodily existence.

Our death – whether it is the fear of death, or the moment of actual death, when we are being forcibly separated from this body – can be and should be golden moments, when we can and we should leave everything behind, and try and merge in Bhagavan. Bhagavan also conquered death when the fear of death arose in him.

When Mahatma Gandhi was shot be his assassin, his last words just before his last breath were ‘hey Rama’. Obviously he was a great Rama bhakta, and was very fond of chanting his name – both as a mantra, and among other people in mass prayers. It was because of this intense devotion to his Lord that he was able to remember his name in his last few moments of his bodily life.

Similarly, if we do not practise being self-attentive during the life of this body, we will not remember to do so when we are about to die: a very clear indication to practice here and now, as the very next moment can be our last moment in this body. Thanks and with regards.