Thursday, 7 September 2017

To be aware of ourself as we actually are, what we need to investigate is only ourself and not anything else

A friend recently wrote three emails to me asking various questions about the practice of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra), so in this article I will reproduce his questions and the two replies I wrote to him.

First reply

In his first email he wrote:
I have been practicing self inquiry by 2 methods of attention

One as described at http://www.albigen.com/uarelove/

“Being aware of being aware”

And one as described by you and Ramana as the feeling “I”, “being aware of yourself, turning attention towards yourself”

I know they say they are the same but different wording...

However when I practice being aware of being aware, the sense feeling of “I”, of feeling myself, isn’t there, yet I am aware of being aware.

But when I am being self attentive, attention towards myself, I can feel the sense feeling of “I” in high and low degrees, depends on the way I am placing the attention in myself.

My question is, which method is supposed to be superior? Is the point to feel the sense of “I” as strong as possible? Or just being aware of awareness without the sense of “I” will “kill” the ego as well?

Then in a subsequent email he added:
I can pretty much stay 1 hour on the “I feeling”, but still I am always aware of the breath going in and out... this doesn’t necessarily make me lose the “I feeling” but still I am aware of the breathing.

I am not even thinking about the breathing progress or obsessed with it in any way, but still when being self attentive I am almost always aware of the breath going in and out no matter [how] inwardly I am.

I don’t know what to do about this...
In reply to these two emails I wrote:

Our aim is to be aware of ourself as we actually are, so what we need to investigate is only ourself and not anything else. That is why Bhagavan called this practice ātma-vicāra, which means self-investigation.

The term ‘being aware of being aware’ is ambiguous, firstly because we are always aware of being aware (since we could not be aware without being aware that we are aware), and secondly because though we are now aware of many things, awareness of things other than ourself comes and goes, so it is not real awareness (cit) but just a seeming awareness (cidābhāsa). What we are always aware of is only ourself, so self-awareness alone is real awareness.

Therefore the awareness we should try to be aware of is only self-awareness and not awareness of anything else. Since self-awareness alone is our real nature, being aware only of self-awareness is the same as being self-attentive, so it is just another way of describing the simple practice of self-investigation that Bhagavan taught us.

Since the ego is just a false awareness of ourself — an awareness of ourself as something other than what we actually are — we can kill or eradicate it only by being aware of ourself as we actually are, and since what we actually are is just pure self-awareness (awareness of nothing other than ourself), we can be aware of ourself as we actually are only by being aware of ourself alone. This is why Bhagavan taught us that self-investigation, which is the simple practice of trying to be so keenly self-attentive that we are not aware of anything else, is the only means to eradicate the ego.

Because we do not yet have sufficient love to be always aware of nothing other than ourself, we are not immediately able to wean our mind away from being aware of other things, so even when we try to be keenly self-attentive our mind tends to cling to awareness of other things, as in the case of your experience that you tend to be aware of your breathing when you try to be self-attentive.

This could in part be because in the past (either in this life or in previous lives) you have practised meditating on your breathing, but if that is the case, just as you cultivated the tendency (vāsanā) to be aware of your breathing by practice, you can likewise by practice destroy that tendency and instead cultivate sat-vāsanā, the tendency or inclination to be aware of yourself alone.

Therefore the only solution to the problem of being aware of your breathing when you are trying to be aware of yourself alone is just to persevere patiently and tenaciously in trying to be self-attentive as much as possible. As Bhagavan often said, no one has ever succeeded on this path without perseverance.

Second reply

In reply to this he wrote:
I have been practicing self inquiry for a couple of months now and have had my share of “blissful experiences” here and there.

If you don’t mind I would like to ask you just 2 more questions:

There are certain degrees I can feel the “I feeling”, however, always when I am self attentive to myself, an impression/image/mental image of myself popups, I will still feel the “I feeling sense” but there is also an impression/image/mental image of myself, perhaps an image of my expression/face (I am not deliberately imagining my form in anyway) but still when “feeling the I” I also feel like I am “looking” at an image of myself...

Do you know what this is about? I feel that because I am self attentive to myself that the ego tries to make “sense” of it by giving me a mental image of myself... should anything be done about that?

About Ramana...

If I am not wrong Ramana didn’t really instruct one to sit formally for like a few hours a day and apply self inquiry, but on spare time whenever one is eating, showering, walking, resting etc... to be self attentive during those times during the day....

Did Ramana believe one can get self realized that way? because when being self attentive during activities, one is not 100% blocking external sensations, so no full continuous strong attention will be on oneself...
To which I replied:

Firstly, regarding blissful experiences, any experience that comes and goes is not ourself, so no matter how blissful or sublime it may seem to be, it is not real, and hence we should try to turn our attention back to ourself, the one who is aware of its appearance and subsequent disappearance.

I assume that what you mean by ‘the I feeling’ or ‘the I feeling sense’ is not any kind of object but just your own ever-present self-awareness, so when you say that there are certain degrees of it that you can feel, you are referring to various degrees of clarity of self-awareness. If that is what you mean, the degree of clarity of self-awareness that we experience varies according to how keenly self-attentive we are, because the more self-attentive we are the more clearly we will be aware of ourself in isolation from all the phenomena that appear in our awareness.

Regarding the mental image of your face or expression that you say pops up whenever you try to be self-attentive, as I said above, anything that appears is not yourself, because what you actually are is what you are always aware of. Therefore whatever image, form, phenomenon or experience may appear, you just have to try to turn your attention back to yourself, the fundamental self-awareness that always shines in you as ‘I’.

The ego or mind survives and nourishes itself by clinging to things other than itself, which means anything that appears and disappears (that is, anything that we are not constantly aware of, not only in waking and dream but also in sleep), so it will be annihilated if it manages to be attentively aware of itself alone, and hence when we try to attend to nothing other than ourself, the very existence of our ego is thereby threatened. Therefore it will do all that it can to survive, which is why it projects thoughts of one kind or another, such as the images or impressions of your face or physical form that you say pop up when you try to be self-attentive.

This is all part of the natural response of the mind to our attempts to be self-attentive, and the only way to overcome this problem is just to patiently persevere in trying to be self-attentive as much as possible. As I mentioned in my previous reply, Bhagavan often said that no one can succeed in this endeavour without patient perseverance.

Regarding your final question, as you say Bhagavan advised us to try to be self-attentive not just when formally sitting for meditation but whenever possible in the midst of our daily activities, even if it is only for a few moments at a time. He explained that we do not have to sit with closed eyes in order to be self-attentive, because whatever else we may be doing or not doing we are always self-aware, so we can try to be attentively self-aware at any time or in any circumstances.

As you imply, our ultimate aim is to be attentively aware of nothing other than ourself, because then only will we be aware of ourself as we actually are and thereby dissolve our ego in the infinite clarity of pure self-awareness, but in order to achieve such all-exclusive self-attentiveness we need to refine and sharpen our power of attention by trying to be self-attentive as much as possible.

Until we achieve complete and perfect self-attentiveness, whatever degree of self-attentiveness we achieve will only be partial, but even a small degree of self-attentiveness is a step in the right direction, and the more time we spend being self-attentive, even if only partially and intermittently, the more our mind will be purified (cleansed of its viṣaya-vāsanās or outward-going inclinations) and thereby our power of attention will be refined and sharpened, which will in turn enable us to be more keenly self-attentive whenever our mind is not engaged in any other activity.

The degree to which we are able to be keenly self-attentive will vary according to circumstances, but we should always try to be as keenly self-attentive as circumstances permit. We may often fail to do so, because we do not yet have enough love to be aware of ourself alone, so we frequently allow our likings or inclinations to be aware of other things (which are what is called viṣaya-vāsanās) to drag our attention outwards, but no matter how often we fail, we should persevere in trying to be self-attentive as much as possible, because there is no other way to succeed in this endeavour.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Michael

'I' feeling that everyone is referring to: is that not Same as 'I am the body' feeling? The real I should not even feel right? should it be a subtle beingness?

keenly enough said...

Michael,
what you write "... and since what we actually are is just pure self-awareness (awareness of nothing other than ourself), we can be aware of ourself as we actually are only by being aware of ourself alone. This is why Bhagavan taught us that self-investigation, which is the simple practice of trying to be so keenly self-attentive that we are not aware of anything else, is the only means to eradicate the ego."
sounds clear.
To what shall I be keenly self-attentive ?
It is hair-raising: Even when I try to be aware of nothing other than myself by trying to be not aware of anything else I actually do not have any clue to "myself alone".
Is there a glimmer of hope for me or am I now exposed to eternal damnation ?
Next point:
Is it really a wrong tendency to be aware of one's breathing ?
Is not the awareness of breathing anyhow an element or [hall]mark of one's real consciousness which could support my practice of self-investigation ?
Is it not said somewhere in a Ramana-book that breath and thoughts have the same source ?
If that statement is not totally false then could the awareness of one's breath which is as an uninterrupted continuum permanently and constantly present at least to some degree accompany my attempt to be exclusively self-attentive in my stage of a beginner albeit breath may be considered as a mere bodily adjunct ?
On the other hand I do well understand that the awareness which is aware of breath is itself just the awareness which I am trying to be aware of.

antarmukham said...

Michael,
amy I ask you if the following assumptions are correct ?
The meaning of being self-attentive seems to be attentive of the ego.
But how can in this way the ego be eradicated ?
Presumably "To be self-attentive" of the ego cannot be the same as being self-aware of ourself as we actually are what is said to be infinite clarity of pure self-awareness.
Because (probably) being directly and immediately aware of our pure self-awareness is not possible we seem to need to pursue the alternative of being self-attentive only of the ego which is present in waking (and dreaming).

Aseem Srivastava said...

'Antarmukham', the analogy of the rope appearing as a snake is provided to answer the questions you addressed to Michael James.


The meaning of being self-attentive seems to be attentive of the ego. But how can in this way the ego be eradicated ?

When we look keenly at what seems to us to be a snake in a dimly-lit area and see that it is only a rope, the mistaken awareness of the snake is eradicated, although the substratum of the snake (ie, the rope) is neither eradicated nor changed in any way.


Presumably "To be self-attentive" of the ego cannot be the same as being self-aware of ourself as we actually are what is said to be infinite clarity of pure self-awareness.

Attending to the snake is identical to attending to the rope, as the former is just a mistaken awareness of the latter. Nonetheless, 'attention to the snake' can happen only so long as the rope seems to be a snake. Further, this attention is relative and subject to variability - sometimes hazy, other times intensely focussed. Gradually, by squinting our eyes and thereby focussing whatever light is available, we will see the rope as it is. Analogously, when self-attention becomes unwaveringly focussed, only then it is identical to self-awareness.


Because (probably) being directly and immediately aware of our pure self-awareness is not possible we seem to need to pursue the alternative of being self-attentive only of the ego which is present in waking (and dreaming).

We are always 'directly and immediately aware of our pure self-awareness' in all three states of waking, dream, and sleep. The reason we need to 'pursue the alternative of being self-attentive only of the ego which is present in waking (and dreaming)' is that in these states we seem to be aware of phenomena in addition to our ever present self-awareness. We take some of these phenomena as being identical to ourself, but since we are not aware of any phenomena in sleep, none of them can be ourself. Thus arises the necessity of experiencing self-awareness in isolation in waking or dream.

antarmukham said...

Aseem Srivastava,
thank you for your comment.
Against what you wrote I say:
When I am just look out of the window of my room and see the house next door I am certainly not conscious of (my) pure self-awareness. So we seem to be just not always directly and immediately aware of our pure self-awareness. However, existing at all and perceiving anything like looking out of the window is not possible without a fundamental pure consciousness.

Surely I do not take this phenomenon (for instance the house of my neighbour) "as being identical to myself". If you probably mean the awareness of seeing any phenomenon then I do agree that such awareness I do verily identify with - because I regrettably in waking and dream do not really and consciously know my real nature of pure consciousness which is said to be our real nature.
But my regret alone does not bring me further.

keenly enough said...

Michael,
you say in second reply:
"...our ultimate aim is to be attentively aware of nothing other than ourself, because then only will we be aware of ourself as we actually are and thereby dissolve our ego in the infinite clarity of pure self-awareness...".
Therefore to be aware of ourself as we actually are requires as a prerequisite to be attentively aware of nothing other than ourself. But what exactly means the term "ourself" ?
I certainly do not know what I actually am because most of my time I am at best aware of the heaviness of the matter and the cumbersomeness of my mind's viṣaya-vāsanās or outward-going inclinations. That we are always self-aware seems to be of no great help.
From where shall I take the required "enough love" to be aware of myself alone ?
So I am not able even to start being self-attentive and thus being aware of myself in isolation from all the phenomena that appear in my awareness.

Sanjay Lohia said...

keenly enough, may I try to answer the questions you have addressed to Michael? Since Bhagavan has given me relatively less worldly duties, I love to write on this blog in my free time as part of my manana (reflection on Bhagavan’s teachings). So please forgive me such trespasses. I don’t claim that I can answer your questions on behalf of Michael. That will be too presumptuous.

You say, ‘But what exactly means the term "ourself"?’ When we say ‘ourself’ we are referring to ‘I’. Don’t we say ‘I’ all the time – I am doing this, I am doing that. This ‘ourself’ is the same ‘I’. Michael uses ‘ourself’ as an inclusive form of the pronoun ‘I’ – that is, it includes the ‘I’ of all of us.

You say, ‘I certainly do not know what I actually am […]’. Who is this ‘I’ who certainly doesn’t know? You should be attending to this ‘I’ who doesn’t know. How can ‘I’ not know ‘I’? Without your self-awareness, how can you experience yourself as an entity? It is impossible.

We certainly know that we are, but we generally do not know what we actually are. Our practice of self-investigation is to find out what we actually are.

You also say, ‘From where shall I take the required "enough love" to be aware of myself alone?’ This is a million-dollar question. The simple answer to this is ‘grace’. Bhagavan or grace plants the seed of such love in the hearts of one and all. Don’t we love ourself more than anything else? We do. However, we love the wrong ‘I’ – that is, we love ourself as this person ‘keenly enough’ or ‘Sanjay’.

We should to shift this love from this person and try to love our real self. We now experience ourself as ‘I am keenly enough’ or ‘I am Sanjay’. You should try and attend as much as possible to the ‘I am’ aspect of this mixture ‘I am keenly enough’. This is the simple practice of self-investigation.

Of course, we need to cultivate such self-love by trying to practice self-investigation, a little here, a little there. Our small steps in this direction will eventually make us run towards our goal of atma-jnana.




keenly enough said...

Sanjay Lohia,
replying or commenting on this forum you are not a trespasser.

To know only our self-deluded ego or attend to this wrong selfish 'I' does not satisfy me.
You recommend to love our real self. But who can love something which is hidden in the background ? The so-called real self regrettably hides its face in its hands and draws a veil over our view. So we can see only (its) maya and I remain a total mystery to me.

sahaja sthiti said...

I am not aware of myself alone.
Therefore I am not aware of myself as I actually am.
I humbly remain in the hope of having soon an intuitive grasp of the simple practice of trying to be so keenly self-attentive that I am not aware of anything else.

Sanjay Lohia said...

keenly enough, our real self is not hidden from our view, because we are that real self. How can ourself be hidden from ourself? As I wrote earlier, it is impossible.

Are you not aware that you exist? Are you not aware of your existence? This awareness-existence is what we really are. The more we try to attend to our awareness which is aware of everything else, the more whatever maya seems to cover us will disappear.

We should start with small steps, but we have to surely practise, day in, day out. There is no short cut. Maya does not actually existent, although it seems to exist. So it will start disappearing when we proceed on our practice of self-investigation.

keenly enough said...

Sanjay Lohia,
you evidently have the good fortune that your real self is not hidden from you.
Congratulations.
Unfortunately the rest of humanity has to strive to overcome this ego by practising atma-vichara.
Good friend , you seem to get mixed up between seeming awareness (cidābhāsa) and real awareness( cit).
To be aware of one's existence is not real awareness. Even a dog is aware of its existence but it does not know who or what it is.
If maya does not seem to veil our real self - as you seem to imply - for what reason do you think that philosophy tries to explain the power of maya ?

Sanjay Lohia said...

keenly enough, I didn’t mean that maya doesn’t veil our real self. It does veil, but still in spite of the veil our real self is never totally hidden from our view. It is like looking at the bright sun through a thick white coloured curtain – though the sunlight which will be filtered through this white curtain will look diffused, but we can very much see the sunlight.

Likewise, we are always aware of ourself, because without being aware of ourself, how can we experience ourself and other things? However, this self-awareness is now mixed up with our awareness of our body and mind. Thus our self-awareness now is clouded over by all these superimposition.

If we manage to investigate ourself ‘keenly enough’ (pun intended), all the maya which now seems to cover our pure-awareness will disappear, and we will experience ourself as we really are – with absolute clarity.

keenly enough said...

Sanjay Lohia,
thanks and let's leave it at that.
My initial question to Michael was whether our now predominate mixed and clouded awareness i.e. our ego ever would be able to cultivate the required sufficient/enough love to be aware of myself alone i.e. my real nature or natural self-awareness.

paramarthika satya said...

Michael,
"Because we do not yet have sufficient love to be always aware of nothing other than ourself, we are not immediately able to wean our mind away from being aware of other things, so even when we try to be keenly self-attentive our mind tends to cling to awareness of other things, as in the case of your experience that you tend to be aware of your breathing when you try to be self-attentive."
Sufficient love is the prerequisite to be aware of ourself as we actually are.
How can we get and cultivate it ?

paramarthika satya said...

Not to have the prerequisite to be aware of ourself as we actually are is not a minor flaw but a serious defect. What is the best way to remedy it ?
The answer will be : persevering in self-investigation albeit sometimes difficulties may crop up.
Further questions ? No, no.

paramarthika satya said...

Michael,
when you finally write " The degree to which we are able to be keenly self-attentive will vary according to circumstances, but we should always try to be as keenly self-attentive as circumstances permit. We may often fail to do so, because we do not yet have enough love to be aware of ourself alone, so we frequently allow our likings or inclinations to be aware of other things (which are what is called viṣaya-vāsanās) to drag our attention outwards, but no matter how often we fail, we should persevere in trying to be self-attentive as much as possible, because there is no other way to succeed in this endeavour."
should we for instance liking (sometimes) to hear/ play music or enjoying the natural beauty of an intact landscape or harmonious architecture and other personal (artistic) interests also put last ?

Anonymous said...

Book review of
Two Saints:Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Ramana by Arun Shourie.

https://swarajyamag.com/books/shouries-two-saints-is-an-important-book-but-neither-original-nor-thorough


Roger Isaacs said...

Hi Michael,
You say: The term ‘being aware of being aware’ is ambiguous..

Yes, it is difficult or impossible to describe that which is subtler than conceptual thought. Understanding this dilemma is incentive to respect and contemplate descriptions which are different than what we prefer.

Michael, you are quick to criticize others (such as Krishnamurti, Nisargadatta) for not being logical & clear ... but you suffer from a more serious case of the disease.

You say: [the ego is] "anything that appears and disappears...that is, anything that we are not constantly aware of"
But then you say self attentiveness is "intermittent"!

Your description is ambiguous. By your own definition "self attentiveness" is "the ego" just as everything else because you describe self attention as intermittent.

Your follower describes "bliss" and your website motto is "happiness of being".
Could these be one the same?
But you say this "bliss" is the "ego" because it comes and goes, it is intermittent.
Yet, you recommend "self attention" while admitting that it is "intermittent".
What is the difference between intermittent self attention and intermittent bliss?
Who is to say that the "bliss" experienced by your follower, although intermittent, is not a glimpse of "the happiness of being"?

The problem here seems to be the intellectual expectation that "happiness of being" can ONLY be arrived at by first excluding everything from awareness. The teaching of Michael James says the trance state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi (excluding the world and body from awareness) is the ONLY way. Ha! Even Bhagavan says that the trance state is not the only way.

You say:
"... in the past (either in this life or in previous lives) you have practised meditating on your breathing, but if that is the case, just as you cultivated the tendency (vāsanā) to be aware of your breathing by practice..."


The teaching of Michael James is consistent on this point: breathing exercises or pranayama is never mentioned as useful. You say here that pranayama practice is cultivating a vasana.

But the actual teaching of Sri Ramana is entirely different.
https://selfdefinition.org/ramana/Talks-with-Sri-Ramana-Maharshi--complete.pdf
"breath" is mentioned 85 times! I wonder if the pdf search mechanism stops at "85" matches as "prana" is also found 85 times.
"pranayama" is mentioned 39 times.

You would be closer to realizing the claim of your site "the teachings of Sri Ramana" if you would read, understand and incorporate this material. Certainly, "Talks" is not organized, it is replies given to people at different levels of practice and different temperaments (aren't we the same?). And there are potential translation errors to be used for contemplation. But with hundreds of comments on the subject the following is clear:

Pranayama or attention on the breath may be (depending on the person) essential to stilling the mind sufficiently so that Atma Vichara can then be successfully practiced. Properly practiced pranayama leads directly to the still mind of self attention.