Friday, 2 March 2007

Contemplating 'I', which is the original name of God

In Happiness and the Art of Being, chapter 3, 'The Nature of Our Mind', there is a paragraph (on page 190 of the present e-book version) in which I write:

In whatever way he may describe this process of self-investigation or self-scrutiny, the sole aim of Sri Ramana is to provide us with clues that will help us to divert our attention away from our thoughts, our body and all other things, and to focus it wholly and exclusively upon our fundamental and essential consciousness of being, which we always experience as 'I am'. In his writings and sayings there are many examples of how he does this. In this fifth paragraph of Nan Yar? for instance, after first suggesting that we should investigate in what place the thought 'I' rises in our body, he goes on to give us a still simpler means by which we can consciously return to the source from which we have risen, saying, "Even if [we] remain thinking 'I, I', it will take [us] and leave [us] in that place".
While revising Happiness and the Art of Being in preparation for its forthcoming publication as a printed book, after this paragraph I have added several new paragraphs, and have also amended the paragraph that currently comes immediately after it, as follows:

He expresses this same truth in slightly different words in verse 716 of Guru Vachaka Kovai:
Even if [we] incessantly contemplate that [divine] name 'I, I' [or 'I am I'], with [our] attention [thereby fixed firmly] in [our] heart [that is, in our real 'I', which is the core of our being], it will save [us], taking one [that is, ourself] into the source from which [our] mind [or thought] rises [in such a manner as] to destroy [our] ego, [which is] the body-bound embryo [germ, cause or foundation from which all other things arise].
In this verse the words 'that name' refer to the name 'I', 'am', 'I am' or 'I [am] I', which he declared in the preceding verses 712 to 715 [which I will translate and explain in a later post] to be the original and most appropriate name of God. When we contemplate this name 'I', our attention will be drawn to our basic self-consciousness, which we always experience as 'I am', and thereby our mind will be drawn back to its own source.

When our mind or ego thereby sinks back into our real self, which is the source from which it had risen, it will be destroyed, being consumed in the infinite clarity of unadulterated self-consciousness. Since our mind deludes us, causing us to imagine ourself to be bound within the limitations of a physical body, the destruction of our mind in the clear light of true self-knowledge is the only real salvation, and hence Sri Ramana says that we will be saved by contemplating upon the original name of God, which is 'I', 'I am' or 'I am I'.

Sri Ramana describes our mind as un ar karu ahandai, which means the 'ego, [which is] the body-bound embryo', because it comes into existence only by imagining itself to be a body, and because it thereby gives rise to the appearance of all other things. The Tamil word karu, which I have translated as 'embryo', also means 'germ', 'efficient cause', 'substance' or 'foundation', and it derives from the Sanskrit word garbha, which means 'womb' or 'the interior'. In this context, therefore, it implies that our ego or mind is the embryo or seed from which all duality or otherness is born, the substance of which it is formed, the active cause or creator that brings it all into being, the foundation that supports its appearance, and the womb inside which it is all contained.

Since our body and all other things are imaginary appendages that distract our attention away from our essential self-consciousness 'I am', we can free ourself from them only by keeping our attention fixed firmly upon our self-consciousness. A simple and easy means by which we can draw our attention back towards our self-consciousness, and which will help us to a certain extent to keep it fixed there, is to remember the name 'I' or 'I am' incessantly.

This is a very practical clue given to us by Sri Ramana, and it is particularly useful for those people who initially have difficulty in understanding what exactly is meant by the term 'self-attention'. Such people are so accustomed to objective attention that they cannot understand how we can attend to our non-objective and formless consciousness 'I am', and hence they complain that they cannot find any such thing as 'I' to attend to. Because they imagine that they must look for an 'I' as if it were some kind of subtle object, they complain that it is too elusive for them to be able to attend to it.

The real cause of their imagined difficulty, however, is that our consciousness 'I' is not an object of any kind, but is the subject that knows all objects. We cannot objectify our first person consciousness 'I', and if we try to do so we will be diverting our attention away from the real 'I' that we should be attending to. Though our consciousness 'I am' is not an object, it is nevertheless something that we always know. We none of us doubt the obvious truth 'I am', even though we do not have a perfectly clear knowledge of what exactly this 'I am' is.

[For the continuation of this explanation, please refer to page 191 of the current e-book version of Happiness and the Art of Being, which is available for free download on my main website,]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How to Know "I Am"

Despite assertions that knowing "I Am" is easy because "one always knows oneself", "one never doubts one's existence", etc., there is undoubtedly confusion about what this practice is and how to do it properly. Some blog participants voice their difficulty directly, others ask whether certain techniques "are it", and at least one (there must be others) admits giving up practicing because of uncertainty about whether what he was doing was correct. I’m confused, too, and hoping for clarification.

The gist of the difficulty is that, while unexamined the feeling of "I" seems very natural (i.e. it feels substantial), when one tries to find it, it slips away leaving nothing to grasp. Unfortunately, this slipping away doesn't lead (me) to Self-knowledge but only to a sense of the futility of searching.

One intuits and can agree with the blog author that the difficulty stems from the fact that "I" is not an object and cannot be objectified. This identifies the problem but does not provide a solution. It leaves us with the hand-trying-to-grasp-the-hand conundrum, which doesn't appear to have any solution that I can see, unless we take giving up to be the solution. Experience suggests that knowledge is always of an object. So instead of "Though our consciousness 'I am' is not an object, it is nevertheless something that we always know", the truth seems to be closer to, "Since our consciousness 'I am' is not an object, we therefore cannot know it". In fact if we substitute "know" for "objectify", the author seems to be admitting this when he says, "we cannot objectify our first-person consciousness 'I'". So what are we to do? (Don’t say, “just BE”; that prescription seems just words without any meaning unless there is instruction on how to “be”. Must we not conclude that we always “are”. Nevertheless, does that satisfy?).

How does one attend to what is "non-objective"? Yes, I can, in the words of one blog contributor "sense [as subject] that I am alive and present", but if were true, as another contributor replied, that that was enough, then we should all have been fully Self realized long ago. For haven't we all been living with this sense all our lives, and is it not dissatisfaction with this very sense that impels us to a deeper (and seemingly futile) questioning?

In another article, the blog author writes,
‘I’ is not an object, so being self-attentive is quite unlike attending to any object. Instead of focusing our attention upon any object, as we are habituated to doing, we have to turn it back on itself — to attend to nothing other than itself, the attending consciousness.

Fine enough to say, "Being self-attentive is quite unlike attending to any object". But what is it LIKE? The "non-objectifiable" 'I' seems very much of the nature of the "inferred experience" of deep sleep. Of what benefit--indeed, how real--is an inferred experience? Likewise, how substantial/real is an 'I' that 'stands behind' everything and thereby defies being experienced? Or (as the questioner in 'Talks' asked the Maharshi) must we grow some new faculty to be able to perceive this?