Saturday, 29 December 2018

We should ignore all thoughts or mental activity and attend only to ourself, the fundamental awareness ‘I am’

In the third section of my previous article, Why is self-investigation the only means to eradicate ego but not the only means to achieve citta-śuddhi?, I wrote:
If we mistake a rope to be a dangerous snake, we cannot kill that snake by beating it but only by looking at it very carefully, because if we look at it carefully enough we will see that it is only a harmless rope and was therefore never the snake that it seemed to be. Likewise, since we now mistake ourself to be ego, the false awareness ‘I am this body’, we cannot kill this ego by any means other than by looking at it very carefully, because if we look at it carefully enough we will see that it is only pure and infinite awareness and was therefore never the body-mixed and hence limited awareness that it seemed to be.
Referring to the clauses, ‘since we now mistake ourself to be ego, the false awareness ‘I am this body’, we cannot kill this ego by any means other than by looking at it very carefully’, a friend called Aham wrote a comment saying:
Regarding your use of the word looking,

1] is to pay attention to, or be aware of, ‘I-me-mine’ thoughts, a form of looking?
2] is to mentally question the ‘I-thought’ as it arises (such as, “I, what is that?”) a form of looking?

Do you think Sri Ramana would sanction such an approach?

Incidentally, in Talks Sri Ramana is recorded as having said,

“The ego is itself unreal. What is the ego? Enquire. The body is insentient and cannot say ‘I’. The Self is pure consciousness and non-dual. It cannot say ‘I’. No one says, ‘I’ in sleep. What is the ego then? It is something intermediate between the inert body and the Self. [...] If sought for it vanishes like a ghost. ... All that is required is only to look closely and the ghost vanishes. The ghost was never there. So also with the ego. It is an intangible link between the body and Pure Consciousness. It is not real. So long as one does not look closely it continues to give trouble. But when one looks for it, it is found not to exist.

But as you have previously stated, Sri Ramana did not edit Talks, so we cannot be sure of its authenticity.
In reply to this I wrote the following comment:
Aham, the passage that you quote from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, section 612 (2006 edition, page 591), expresses the essence of Bhagavan’s teachings very clearly, because it closely echoes what he says in verses 23, 24 and 25 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu.

Regarding your question about the word ‘looking’, what Bhagavan means when he says we should look closely at ego is that we should be keenly self-attentive. That is, we should attend only to ourself, the one who is aware of all other things.

What exactly do you mean by ‘I-me-mine thoughts’? What Bhagavan often referred to as ‘the thought called I’ (or ‘I-thought’, as it is often translated in English) is ego, which is the subject or perceiver, and therefore one and not many.

What we refer to as ‘I’ or ‘me’ may sometimes be this ego, but more often it is whatever person this ego mistakes itself to be, and what we refer to as ‘mine’ is whatever things we consider to be possessions of this person (and hence of ego). Ego is neither the person that it mistakes itself to be nor any of that person’s possessions, so attending to this person (who consists of five sheaths, namely a physical body, life, mind, intellect and will) or to any of its possessions is not attending to or looking at ego.

Mental questioning entails attending to a question, so that is also not looking at ego. Who is aware of such mental questioning? That is what we need to see. So we should look only at ourself, the one who is aware of everything else, and not at anything else whatsoever, not even at whatever person we currently seem to be.
In reply to this Aham wrote another comment:
You write, “...what Bhagavan means when he says we should look closely at ego is that we should be keenly self-attentive. That is, we should attend only to ourself, the one who is aware of all other things.”

If I understand you correctly,....does that mean it is only when mentally still, that one is attending to the ego? As anything other than mental stillness would in fact be the ego attending to something other than itself!
The following is my reply to this:

Aham, regarding your question, ‘does that mean it is only when mentally still, that one is attending to the ego?’, there are different degrees of self-attentiveness, and to the extent that one is self-attentive ego will subside and its mental activity will subside along with it, so a by-product of self-attentiveness is mental stillness.

However, we should not take mental stillness to be our aim, because though self-attentiveness will result in mental stillness, mental stillness does not necessarily result in our being self-attentive. We can achieve temporary stillness of mind by other means, such as prāṇāyāma or concentration on one object, but unless we try to turn our attention back towards ourself, mental stillness will not by itself make us self-attentive. Due to mere tiredness we achieve perfect stillness of mind every day when we fall asleep, but that does not help us to be self-attentive.

Self-attentiveness produces stillness of mind because so long as we are attending to anything other than ourself, our mind is active, moving away from ourself towards whatever other thing we are attending to, and constantly flitting from one thing to another, whereas when we turn our attention back towards ourself, away from all other things, our mind subsides back into its source and its activity thereby subsides along with it.

If we take mental stillness to be our aim, that will make us concerned about our thoughts or mental activity, so our attention will be directed to them rather than to ourself. This is why Bhagavan asks rhetorically in the sixth paragraph of Nāṉ Ār?, ‘எத்தனை எண்ணங்க ளெழினு மென்ன?’ (ettaṉai eṇṇaṅgaḷ eṙiṉum eṉṉa?), ‘However many thoughts rise, what [does it matter]?’, thereby implying that we should not concern ourself at all with thoughts or their rising. Let any number of them rise, it does not matter so long as we try to turn our attention back to ourself, the one to whom they appear, as he implies in the subsequent sentences:
ஜாக்கிரதையாய் ஒவ்வோ ரெண்ணமும் கிளம்பும்போதே இது யாருக்குண்டாயிற்று என்று விசாரித்தால் எனக்கென்று தோன்றும். நானார் என்று விசாரித்தால் மனம் தன் பிறப்பிடத்திற்குத் திரும்பிவிடும்; எழுந்த வெண்ணமு மடங்கிவிடும். இப்படிப் பழகப் பழக மனத்திற்குத் தன் பிறப்பிடத்திற் றங்கி நிற்கும் சக்தி யதிகரிக்கின்றது.

jāggirataiyāy ovvōr eṇṇamum kiḷambum-pōdē idu yārukku uṇḍāyiṯṟu eṉḏṟu vicārittāl eṉakkeṉḏṟu tōṉḏṟum. nāṉ-ār eṉḏṟu vicārittāl maṉam taṉ piṟappiḍattiṟku-t tirumbi-viḍum; eṙunda v-eṇṇamum aḍaṅgi-viḍum. ippaḍi-p paṙaga-p paṙaga maṉattiṟku-t taṉ piṟappiḍattil taṅgi niṟgum śakti y-adhikarikkiṉḏṟadu.

As soon as each thought appears, if one vigilantly investigates to whom it has appeared [literally, to whom it has come into existence], it will be clear: to me. If one [thus] investigates who am I, the mind will return to its birthplace [oneself, the source from which it arose]; [and since one thereby refrains from attending to it] the thought that had risen will also cease. When one practises and practises in this manner, for the mind the power to stand firmly established in its birthplace increases.
Bhagavan used to say that trying to stop thoughts or mental activity is a self-defeating effort, and he illustrated this by giving a simple example. Suppose you go to a doctor and he gives you a medicine, but tells you that in order for the medicine to work you need to take it without thinking of a monkey. As a result of this foolish instruction, you will never be able to take the medicine, because every time you want to take it you will remember that you must not think of a monkey. Likewise, if we try to stop thoughts, we are thereby thinking of them, so the only effective way to stop them is to attend to something else, something that will not make us think more thoughts. That something is ourself, this ego.

Though ego is itself just a thought, it is unlike all other thoughts, because other thoughts feed on our attention, so the more we attend to them the more they rise and flourish, whereas ego flourishes by our attending to other things, but subsides and disappears if we try to attend to it. Why is this the case?

Ego is the spurious adjunct-mixed awareness ‘I am this body’, which consists of two elements, namely ‘I’ and ‘this body’. ‘I’ refers to our real nature, which is just pure awareness, whereas ‘this body’ refers to something else, a non-aware adjunct. Though ‘I’ as pure awareness is not a thought, ‘this body’ is a thought, so the mixed awareness ‘I am this body’ is a thought. However ‘I’ seems to be ‘this body’ only so long as we are attending to anything other than ourself, but when we turn our attention back towards ourself we begin to see that ‘I’ is actually quite distinct from ‘this body’, and to the extent that we see this clearly the false awareness ‘I am this body’ will dissolve and merge back into its source, the pure awareness ‘I’ or ‘I am’, which is our real nature.

This is why Bhagavan taught us that we should ignore everything else by trying to focus our entire attention only on ourself, the fundamental awareness ‘I am’, which is the essence and only real element of ego.

18 comments:

Josef Bruckner said...

Michael,
thanks for your clearing explanation which let us see 'mental stillness' and 'self-attentiveness' in greater detail i.e. in their real meaning. Thereby you remind us of the correct application, the range of application and applicability of self-attentiveness.

Sanjay Lohia said...

Ultimately, Bhagavan’s whole teaching is a concession to our ignorance

It is only in our view that Bhagavan is a person. It is only in our view that Bhagavan seems to be a mind. So because we see him as a mind, he says that that mind is like a burnt rope - that doesn’t bind anything. But that is not the ultimate truth. That is a concession to our ignorance. A lot of things Bhagavan said are a concession to our ignorance. Ultimately, his whole teachings are a concession to our ignorance because in his experience there is no ego.

If Bhagavan tells us ‘there is no ego’, how does this help us? If he tells us, ‘you don’t exist’, how is that of any use to us? We have a problem, so he acknowledges our problem. He comes down to our level and says, ‘yes, there is ego, and that is the root of your all your problems’. Ego seems to exist so long as it is facing outwards – so long as it is attending to anything other than itself.

Grasping form ego rises; grasping form it stands; grasping and feeding on forms it flourishes…

Edited extract from the video: 2018-03-10 Ramana Maharshi Foundation UK: Nāṉ Ār? paragraph 4 (1:06)

Josef Bruckner said...

Sanjay,
in addition to the heading of your recent comment I would like to note that
even Bhagavan's and Arunachala's appearance as our guru(s) is a concession to our ignorance. Does not actually the entire world appear only as a concession to our ignorance ?

Aham said...

.


Thank you for your detailed reply Mr James. It has given me clarity and confidence.

When Sri Ramana uses the word stillness, it is easy to interpret this as no thoughts or be rid of thoughts. But as you explain this is just another version of ego attending to what is other than itself.

As such, and if I understand you correctly, our attention is not to be directed to the thoughts nor to being rid of thoughts. But rather, attend only to the 'Am-ness'; between, around, and through, thoughts.

Interestingly, that 'Am-ness' is also a stillness. However, it is always, irrespective of the continuation or cessation of thoughts.


.

Josef Bruckner said...

Michael,
"We should ignore all thoughts or mental activity and attend only to ourself, the fundamental awareness ‘I am’".
Attending only to ourself, the fundamental awareness 'I am' is obviously/presumably no thought and therefore also no mental activity - though it is done/carried out or through/implemented/performed/put into practice or effect by the mind.
...If I understand you correctly.

Michael James said...

Yes, Aham, what you call ‘am-ness’ is ourself. That is, ‘am-ness’ denotes existence, but not just any existence (which is what is denoted by ‘is-ness’), because the existence it denotes is only the existence of ourself, the first person, ‘I’. Therefore, since we and our existence are one and inseparable, ‘am-ness’ denotes ourself, which is what we should attend to. It is not an object, but the subject. However, when we go deeper into it, it is not even the subject, but the underlying awareness that appears as subject.

As you say, ‘am-ness’ is stillness, because stillness is our real nature. Therefore stillness is what is always present, not as an object but as ourself, the awareness underlying the appearance of the subject. However, though it is always present, in waking and dream it seems to be obscured, because as ego we do not experience ourself as stillness but as an object, a body consisting of five sheaths.

Ego is the antithesis of stillness, so as ego we can never experience stillness. Thoughts of one kind or another always accompany ego, but they are only a secondary problem. The primary problem is ego. We cannot get rid of thoughts without getting rid of ego. That is why Bhagavan taught us to ignore thoughts and focus only on ego, because if we attend to ego it dissolves and disappears, and hence all its thoughts will dissolve and disappear along with it.

Stillness is not something to be gained, because it is always present. What is required is only to give up (or surrender) ego, because when ego is surrendered what remains is only stillness, our real nature.

To be still we need to refrain from rising as ego, and to refrain from rising as ego we need to attend only to ourself, the ever-shining ‘am-ness’.

Josef Bruckner said...

The Advent:
Tiruchuzhi - Holy eddy, time 1.17 a.m.(past midnight), it was Tuesday, December 30th in 1879,...
near he temple of Lord Bhuminatha, near the banks of Kaundinya River (Gundaru in Tamil),

A child born today in Sundaram Iyer's house...a divine being...

Michael James said...

Josef, directing our mind (our attention) outwards, towards anything other than ourself, is mental activity, because it entails a movement of our mind away from ourself towards something else, and once our mind has moved away from ourself, it begin ceaselessly moving from one thing to another. Therefore mental activity is nothing but the outward flow of our mind or attention.

Turning our mind back towards ourself, away from everything else, is not a mental activity, but a subsidence or cessation of all mental activity. It is the returning of our mind to its source, namely ourself.

The root of all mental activity is ego, which rises by attending to anything other than itself, and which will therefore subside by attending only to itself. Therefore self-attentiveness is the priceless key to end all mental activity along with its root, ego, and when ego comes to an end what remains is only absolute stillness, which is our real nature.

Josef Bruckner said...

Michael,
many thanks for your replying comments.
May I summarize for me:
1. Referring to your latest reply to Aham:
"To be still we need to refrain from rising as ego, and to refrain from rising as ego we need to attend only to ourself, the ever-shining ‘am-ness’."
In the above statement the refraining 'we' is at first nothing other than the ego-mind itself.

2. Referring to your latest reply to me:
"Turning our mind back towards ourself, away from everything else, is not a mental activity, but a subsidence or cessation of all mental activity. It is the returning of our mind to its source, namely ourself."
Because "the ego will therefore subside by attending only to itself" the mind-turning entity/subject is also the ego-mind itself to which the mind-turning and self-attending task is imposed on.

Josef Bruckner said...

Michael,
"...directing our mind (our attention) outwards, towards anything other than ourself, is mental activity, because it entails a movement of our mind away from ourself towards something else, and once our mind has moved away from ourself, it begin(s) ceaselessly moving from one thing to another. Therefore mental activity is nothing but the outward flow of our mind or attention."
May I put some more questions ?
I can easily imagine 'directing our attention outwards' or the 'outward flow of our attention'...
1. But how can the mind - as a bundle of thoughts and as such different from our real nature - itself move away from ourself namely from its source at all ?
2. Has it actually ever left its source ?
3. If yes, how could it ever leave its home/source ?
4. Does the mind itself as insentient jada know its source at all ?
5. Does the mind itself as insentient jada know that it (actually) has left its source ?
6. Has the mere function of the sense organs already to be seen as mental activity ?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Josef Bruckner said...

Unknown,
you say "...because you and I are/am not a "divine being" as was Sri Ramana Maharshi.
I must contradict your statement because seen from Sri Ramana Maharshi's viewpoint we all are (nothing but) divine beings - if we know it or not.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aham said...

.


Often sadhana is merely another manifestation of ego playing games with itself. Perhaps this is an inevitable starting point, however it will go on for eternity unless Am-ness reveals itself.

Mr James' commentary and advice in this thread has somehow "dramatically reorientated" my "understanding" and sadhana. Am-ness has suddenly stolen the limelight. And mind is no longer the focal point.


.

Josef Bruckner said...

Unknown,
even an "individual ego (which) has not been totally destroyed yet either by bhakti or jnana" cannot seem to exist without the fundamental awareness of divine consciousness.
As Bhagavan said: "Yes, there is hope" !!! Even he said that he himself is in essence actually not different from us!!!
Therefore there is no one in whose innermost heart is not living our eternal undivided pure awareness which is called also "divine being".

Josef Bruckner said...

Aham,
our "understanding" and sadhana are indeed often dramatically reorientated.
We must be aware that studying Bhagavan's teaching and Michael's articles and comments always puts us (i.e. our egotistic beliefs and behaviour) in pressing danger.
This guy is actually highly dangerous.:-)

சொரூபத்யானம் said...

Sri Michael James, you say Ego is neither the person that it mistakes itself to be nor any of that person’s possessions.

Is it because there is only "eka jiva" or "one ego" but infinite number of persons, bodies, possessions etc?

anadi-ananta said...

சொரூபத்யானம்,
yes, that is the reason.