Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Rather than being aware of being aware, we should be aware only of what is aware, namely ourself

This article is my reply to a recent comment on one of my earlier articles, How to attend to ourself?, in which a friend wrote: ‘I have tried being aware of being aware. I find it slightly different than being aware of myself. In being aware of being aware, it is more like getting more awake towards entire gamut of experience. While being aware of myself is more like somewhat withdrawing from other experiences. There is more effort involved in the latter. What is your experience?’
  1. What we need to be aware of is only ourself and not anything else
  2. Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu verse 25: being aware of anything other than ourself is the food that nourishes and sustains our ego
  3. We will forever cease to rise as this ego only when we attend to ourself alone
  4. Why do we need to make effort to attend to ourself?
1. What we need to be aware of is only ourself and not anything else

What we are seeking to know is what we ourself actually are, so what we need to attend to, look at, watch, observe or be aware of is only ourself and not anything else. Even more than the popular term ‘awareness watching awareness’, ‘being aware of being aware’ is an ambiguous way of describing this simple practice of self-attentiveness, because throughout our waking and dream states we are aware of many things, so if we are instructed to be aware of being aware (or to watch awareness), the first question we should ask is: we should be aware of being aware of what (or we should watch awareness of what)?

Generally people associate the term awareness with being aware of phenomena (things that appear and disappear and that are therefore other than ourself), which is why sleep is generally considered to be a state of unconsciousness or non-awareness. In sleep we are not aware of anything other than ourself, so it is a nirviśēṣa (featureless or undifferentiated) state, and because of the absence of any awareness of phenomena (or of any distinguishing features), we tend to mistake it to be a state devoid of awareness.

Therefore, unless we have already thought deeply about this subject, if we are advised to be aware of being aware (or to watch awareness), we will tend to interpret such advice to mean that we should be aware of being aware of phenomena (or that we should watch our awareness of phenomena). I assume that this is why you wrote, ‘In being aware of being aware, it is more like getting more awake towards entire gamut of experience’.

2. Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu verse 25: being aware of anything other than ourself is the food that nourishes and sustains our ego

Being aware of phenomena is not our real nature, because if it were we would be perpetually aware of phenomena, even in sleep. Since awareness of phenomena appears in waking and dream and disappears in sleep, it is just a temporary adjunct and not what we actually are. So what actually are we? Since we are always aware of ourself, whether we are aware of other things (as in waking and dream) or not (as in sleep), what we actually are is only the fundamental awareness that is aware of nothing other than ourself.

Awareness of phenomena (or of the ‘entire gamut of experience’, as you call it) is what Bhagavan called சுட்டறிவு (suṭṭaṟivu), which literally means ‘pointing awareness’ or ‘showing awareness’ (that is, awareness that points away from itself or shows things other than itself) and which therefore implies transitive awareness or objective cognition, and he explained that it is the nature of the ego but not of ourself as we actually are. As he says in verse 25 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu:
உருப்பற்றி யுண்டா முருப்பற்றி நிற்கு
முருப்பற்றி யுண்டுமிக வோங்கு — முருவிட்
டுருப்பற்றுந் தேடினா லோட்டம் பிடிக்கு
முருவற்ற பேயகந்தை யோர்.

uruppaṯṟi yuṇḍā muruppaṯṟi niṟku
muruppaṯṟi yuṇḍumiha vōṅgu — muruviṭ
ṭuruppaṯṟun tēḍiṉā lōṭṭam piḍikku
muruvaṯṟa pēyahandai yōr

பதச்சேதம்: உரு பற்றி உண்டாம்; உரு பற்றி நிற்கும்; உரு பற்றி உண்டு மிக ஓங்கும்; உரு விட்டு, உரு பற்றும்; தேடினால் ஓட்டம் பிடிக்கும், உரு அற்ற பேய் அகந்தை. ஓர்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): uru paṯṟi uṇḍām; uru paṯṟi niṟkum; uru paṯṟi uṇḍu miha ōṅgum; uru viṭṭu, uru paṯṟum; tēḍiṉāl ōṭṭam piḍikkum, uru aṯṟa pēy ahandai. ōr.

அன்வயம்: உரு அற்ற பேய் அகந்தை உரு பற்றி உண்டாம்; உரு பற்றி நிற்கும்; உரு பற்றி உண்டு மிக ஓங்கும்; உரு விட்டு, உரு பற்றும்; தேடினால் ஓட்டம் பிடிக்கும். ஓர்.

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): uru aṯṟa pēy ahandai uru paṯṟi uṇḍām; uru paṯṟi niṟkum; uru paṯṟi uṇḍu miha ōṅgum; uru viṭṭu, uru paṯṟum; tēḍiṉāl ōṭṭam piḍikkum. ōr.

English translation: Grasping form, the formless phantom-ego rises into being; grasping form it stands; grasping and feeding on form it grows [spreads, expands, increases, rises high or flourishes] abundantly; leaving [one] form, it grasps [another] form. If sought [examined or investigated], it will take flight. Investigate [or know thus].
Awareness of phenomena or சுட்டறிவு (suṭṭaṟivu) entails ‘grasping form’, because every phenomenon is a form of one kind or another, and since the ego is formless, it can grasp forms only by being aware of them. Therefore the ego comes into existence, endures, feeds itself and flourishes only by ‘grasping form’ or being aware of phenomena, and hence it will subside only when it ceases being aware of any phenomena.

3. We will forever cease to rise as this ego only when we attend to ourself alone

However, though the ego ceases being aware of any phenomena whenever it falls asleep or subsides into any other kind of manōlaya (state of temporary dissolution of the mind), it is not thereby annihilated, so sooner or later it rises again by once more grasping form. Therefore in order for it to be eradicated, something more than just ceasing to be aware of any phenomena is required. What else is required, and why is it required?

Since the ego is just a wrong knowledge of ourself (that is, a mistaken awareness of ourself as something other than what we actually are), it can be destroyed only by correct knowledge of ourself (that is, awareness of ourself as we actually are), so it will be eradicated only when it tries to know what it itself actually is. Since it is a mixed and confused form of self-awareness that rises, stands and flourishes only by grasping form (that, by being aware of things other than itself), it cannot be aware of itself as it actually is so long as it is aware of anything other than itself, so it needs to focus its attention on itself so keenly that it ceases to be aware of anything else whatsoever.

This is what Bhagavan implies when he says in the third line of this verse, ‘தேடினால் ஓட்டம் பிடிக்கும்’ (tēḍiṉāl ōṭṭam piḍikkum), which means ‘If sought [examined or investigated], it will take flight’. So long as we look elsewhere (that is, so long as we are aware of anything other than ourself), we seem to be this ego, but if we turn back to look at ourself alone, this ego will disappear and what will remain in its place is only the pure self-awareness that we actually are, just as if we look at an illusory snake carefully enough, it will disappear and what will remain in its place is only the rope that it actually is. Just as no snake ever actually existed where we saw it, this ego does not actually exist, but just as the snake seemed to exist until we looked at it carefully enough to see what it actually is, this ego seems to exist until we look at it carefully enough to see that it is actually just pure self-awareness (awareness that is aware of nothing other than itself).

Therefore being aware of phenomena is not real awareness but just an illusion that seems to exist only in the self-ignorant view of the non-existent ego. Hence so long as we are aware of anything other than ourself we are feeding and perpetuating this ego, so the awareness that we need to be aware of is not awareness of any other thing but only awareness of ourself, which is the pure self-awareness that we experience every day in deep sleep.

The reason why the ego is not destroyed by the pure self-awareness that we experience in sleep is that it is not present then to be destroyed, because we experience that pure self-awareness then only after the ego has subsided. That is, in sleep pure self-awareness alone remains as a result of the subsidence of the ego, but the ego will be destroyed only when it subsides as a result of experiencing pure self-awareness alone.

Therefore in either waking or dream we (this ego) need to turn our attention back towards ourself so keenly that we are aware of nothing other than ourself, just as we are in sleep, and then only will we experience the state of pure self-awareness (ātma-jñāna), which is called jāgrat-suṣupti, the state of ‘waking-sleep’ or ‘wakeful sleep’, which is the only state that actually exists, as Bhagavan says in verse 32 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Anubandham.

4. Why do we need to make effort to attend to ourself?

So long as we are aware of anything that we are not aware of in sleep, we are feeding our ego, so if we try to be aware of being aware of the ‘entire gamut of experience’, our ego will happily co-operate, which is why you find that it requires less effort than that required to attend to ourself. When we attend to ourself, we are threatening the very existence of our ego, because it seems to exist only when we do not look at it directly (or rather, we seem to be this ego only when we do not look at ourself directly), so until we are ready to surrender ourself entirely, we (this ego) will do everything in our power to resist looking at ourself directly.

This is why effort seems to be necessary to attend to ourself. The effort required is not actually an effort to attend to ourself, because pure self-attentiveness is our real nature and therefore requires no effort, but is only an effort to resist our strong urge to attend to other things. From the perspective of ourself as this ego, trying to be self-attentive is somewhat like trying to hold our head under water. We can manage for at least a short while to be partially self-attentive, but the more keen and intense our self-attentiveness becomes, the stronger will be our urge to rise up to grasp forms (awareness of things other than ourself), just as the longer we hold our head under water the stronger will be our urge to rise up to gasp a breath of air.

This is why Bhagavan says in the eleventh paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:
அன்னியத்தை நாடாதிருத்தல் வைராக்கியம் அல்லது நிராசை; தன்னை விடாதிருத்தல் ஞானம். உண்மையி லிரண்டு மொன்றே. முத்துக்குளிப்போர் தம்மிடையிற் கல்லைக் கட்டிக்கொண்டு மூழ்கிக் கடலடியிற் கிடைக்கும் முத்தை எப்படி எடுக்கிறார்களோ, அப்படியே ஒவ்வொருவனும் வைராக்கியத்துடன் தன்னுள் ளாழ்ந்து மூழ்கி ஆத்மமுத்தை யடையலாம்.

aṉṉiyattai nāḍādiruttal vairāggiyam alladu nirāśai; taṉṉai viḍādiruttal ñāṉam. uṇmaiyil iraṇḍum oṉḏṟē. muttu-k-kuḷippōr tam-m-iḍaiyil kallai-k kaṭṭi-k-koṇḍu mūṙki-k kaḍal-aḍiyil kiḍaikkum muttai eppaḍi eḍukkiṟārgaḷō, appaḍiyē o-vv-oruvaṉum vairāggiyattuḍaṉ taṉṉuḷ ḷ-āṙndu mūṙki ātma-muttai y-aḍaiyalām.

Not attending to anya [anything other than oneself] is vairāgya [dispassion or detachment] or nirāśā [desirelessness]; not leaving [or letting go of] oneself is jñāna [true knowledge or real awareness]. In truth [these] two [vairāgya and jñāna] are only one. Just as pearl-divers, tying stones to their waists and submerging, pick up pearls that lie at the bottom of the ocean, so each one, submerging [beneath the surface activity of one’s mind] and sinking [deep] within oneself with vairāgya, can attain the pearl of oneself.
The more we practise being self-attentive without letting go of ourself by attending to anything else, the more we will thereby strengthen our svātma-bhakti (our love to be aware only of ourself) and correspondingly our vairāgya (freedom from desire to be aware of anything other than oneself), and it is only by means of this bhakti and vairāgya (which are like the two sides of a single piece of paper) that we can sink deep within ourself and find the ஆத்மமுத்து (ātma-muttu), the ‘self-pearl’ or precious gem that we actually are.


Sanjay Srivastava said...

Thanks Michael for your detailed reply.

Though Bhagawan's teachings are amply clear by themselves, doubts do arise from time to time. Occasional confirmations from senior practitioners of self- inquiry are, therefore, very helpful.

Jerry G said...

Michael; so in trying to follow this as sadhana I turn my attention on my sense of "myself" and try to remain there. After about 30 to 60 seconds my mind will wander to a thought and I begin over again. Is this how it goes? Are there any preparatory techniques to calm the mind so it doesn't interrupt the concentration?

Sanjay Lohia said...

Jerry, may I respond to your doubts. As and when Michael gets time, he will surely respond to your queries more clearly.

Yes, we cannot remain intensely self-attentive for long, because our desires and attachments to things other than ourself will constantly push our mind outwards. But it doesn’t matter, when we realize that we have unknowing strayed away from ourself we should revert to attending to ourself again. As Bhavagan often used to say, perseverance is the only way to succeed. Our battle with our desires and attachments is not going to be easy, but we should slowly-slowly try to ignore these by trying to turn within. Eventually we will conquer all our desires and attachments, and remain perpetually in a state of perfect self-attentiveness.

Regarding preparatory techniques to calm down our mind, we may use whatever technique suits us. But the most direct and effective ‘preparatory technique’ is to try to be self-attentive here and now. All the agitation of our mind comes to the surface only when we rise as this ego, and think all our thoughts. Therefore, the only real antidote for such mental agitation is to remain self-attentive. This will prevent the rising of our ego, and thus calm down our mind to the extent we are self-attentive.

Michael James said...

Jerry, I assume that what you mean by ‘my sense of “myself”’ is self-awareness, which is not just a vague sense but our primary and most fundamental experience — the basis of our awareness of everything else. Our awareness of any other thing comes and goes, but our awareness of ourself remains as the permanent and unchanging bedrock of all that we experience. Even when we cease being aware of anything else, as in sleep, our self-awareness endures undiminished and immutable, because in its pristine form it is what we actually are.

If this is what you mean by ‘my sense of “myself”’, then yes, we should try to turn and fix our attention on it as keenly and as firmly as we can in order to see what we ourself actually are. This is the simple practice that Bhagavan called ātma-vicāra, which means self-investigation.

We are always self-aware, because self-awareness is our real nature, but we are generally not attentively self-aware, because we are more interested in attending to and experiencing other things. Therefore this practice is simply a persistent attempt to be attentively self-aware.

That is, though self-awareness is not an object of any sort, we can nevertheless attend to it, because it is ourself, the one thing that we are always aware of. However, when we talk of attending to ourself or turning and fixing our attention on ourself, these words tend to suggest that ourself (or our self-awareness) is an object that we should attend to, which is obviously not the case. Therefore whatever words we may use to describe this practice should be understood to be just pointers, because no words can adequately describe what it is to be attentively self-aware. It is therefore only by trying to be attentively self-aware that we can learn what the various descriptions of it are intended to indicate.

Because we are still interested in knowing and experiencing so many things other than ourself, when we try to be firmly and keenly self-attentive, our attention will frequently be distracted aware from ourself towards other things, but no matter how many times it may be distracted, we just have to persevere patiently in trying to be self-attentive as much as possible. So yes, this is how it goes: no matter how often our attention is distracted by anything else, we should try to remember to draw it persistently back to ourself.

Regarding your question about whether there are ‘any preparatory techniques to calm the mind’, looking for or relying on any such techniques is rather missing the point, because what is required to be self-attentive is not just a calm mind but a deep and firm love to be self-attentive. If our mind is calm but we have no such love, we will not have sufficient motivation to be self-attentive, whereas if we have such love, it will impel us to try persistently, patiently and calmly to be self-attentive, and being self-attentive is the most effective means to calm our mind, because our mind rises and is active only when we attend to anything other than ourself.

Moreover, the term ‘preparatory technique’ implies some practice other than just being self-attentive, and any other practice must entail attending to something other than ourself. Therefore if we practise any preparatory technique, we will be facing away from ourself, whereas our aim is only to turn back to face towards ourself, so any preparatory technique would just be an unnecessary distraction, sending our attention in the wrong direction.

Jerry G said...

Thank you Michael. As a follow up, since I have been practicing raja yoga for a number of years and now have found this teaching I have a questions about the how to go about the sadhana of attending to ourself. Should we start in a sitting position in silence with erect posture as in other yoga disciplines? Should eyes be closed or should we visually fix on a blank wall or the like? Thank you.

Sanjay Srivastava said...

Jerry, allow me to share my practice. I am sure Michael will reply to it as he gets time.

Attending to ourself has to be done continuously at all times. Obviously, there cannot be one posture or style for a sadhana that is to be done continuously.

That said, I try to practice it for short time in a sitting posture with eyes closed. However in this posture many times I fall asleep. At other times I try to maintain a tenuous undercurrent of attention to myself which I keep on dropping and picking up throughout the day.

Jerry G said...

Sanjay, thanks for your sharing. That helps although during working hours that won't really work for me. And yes, the falling asleep thing seems to be a common affliction.

Sanjay Lohia said...

Jerry, may I share my understanding with you in response to your second last comment. I love to put down my thoughts in writing, as it helps me to think deeply about the subject.
According to my understanding, which may be corrected, there are many differences between the practice of raja-yoga and the practice of atma-vichara:

1) The various practices of raja-yoga is maintained or sustained by the strength of practice (abhyasa-bala), whereas our practice of atma-vichara is maintained or sustained by our love (bhakti) to attend to ourself.

2) In various kind of yoga practices, we direct our attention away from ourself – even our breath is something other than ourself, and so also is a blank wall in front of us. Whereas in self-investigation we try to direct our attention towards ourself alone.

3) None of the practices of yoga can destroy our ego. They can at the most take us to mano-laya (temporary subsidence of our mind), which is of no spiritual significance. Therefore, we need to eventually practise self-investigation to destroy our ego, because all other practices are just roundabout ways of bringing us to self-investigation.

4) There are strict rules about maintaining various postures in yoga, and these are essential to its proper practice. Whereas our practice of self-investigation does not require any fixed posture. We can practise it in any posture, either with our eyes open or closed. The idea is to keep our attention focused of ourself.

Dragos Nicolae Dragomirescu said...

I do not agree with the fact that we "have to do it continuously at all times" in the sense that we should somehow desperately try to attend to ourself every minute of the day. What we really need is one careful look, one good attempt/look... and that's it! ....

Personally, at this time, I would describe the practice like this: suppose that you find a strange object on the street... You pick it up and start examining it. You don't know what it is, so you are looking very very carefully at it, with full concentration/attention and curiosity to understand what it might be. After a certain time, relieved, you say "Ah... It's a...etc... etc..", whatever that object might be...

To get a bit graphical about are looking at the object perpendicularly at an 180 degree angle through your eyes so-to-speak, to understand what that object is. In the same way we have to look back 180 degrees towards ourselves to understand what "we" or "I" really am, an look in the same way we looked at the strange object we found on the street. If we do this clearly only once it will all be over.

So it's the sharpness of "looking carefully" that matters, not many luke warm attempts...

PS: Sanjay, I hope you don't mind my reply

ulladu-unarvu said...

to describe the needed "one careful look" graphically : we should/must as far as possible focus the full range of vision (360 degrees of the field of view) with the highest possible one-pointedness.
In most cases the required perfect keenness/sharpness/sharp-sightedness will be attained only by or after many attempts(lukewarm or full-hearted). That scrupulous wholehearted scrutiny itself will flow only by divine grace from the bottom of one's heart.

Dragos Nicolae Dragomirescu said...

The "180 degree" was meant to show the direction towards yourself. If the snake on the ground is actually a rope, we just need one clear view of the fact. Of course we make many attempts. But we are not trying to "remain there" as if merging in something or any such things. We just look carefull to recognize a falsity. In my opinion, is much more beneficial to have say, 5 - 7 good "looking back" attempts during one's day than obsessing continously about it... Any such attempts can reveal the non existence of the ego clearly to us and end its illusion...

Gerardo said...

Michael; Can you clear up a confusion I'm having, I'm not quite clear about the distinction, as used in various posts here, as to "awareness", "attention" and "consciousness". Can you contrast these terms for me?

Sanjay Lohia said...

Gerardo, may I share my reflections on the question you asked Michael. ‘Awareness’ and ‘consciousness’ are interchangeable terms. However, ‘attention’ is the inherent property of our ego. It is the ability of our ego to direct its consciousness or awareness out towards a particular object. In one of his recent e-mails to me, Michael clarified this to me in more detail:

That is, we generally believe that physical phenomena exist outside ourself, so if for example we [the ego] are intently watching a film, we think that we [the ego] are directing our awareness or consciousness out towards it. However, since all phenomena exist only within the transitive (object-knowing) awareness that we call mind, when we [the ego] attend to something such as a film, we are simply bringing that phenomenon into the centre of our field of awareness.

ananya-bhava said...

regarding the term "attention": concentration is the power of focusing all one's attention upon one particular thing, our own self-awareness,('I am'). Therefore it entails withdrawing our attention away from everything else by focusing it entirely on ourself.
Inadequate or incomplete concentration leads inevitably to frustration.