Wednesday 15 August 2007

Atma-vichara is only the practice of keeping our mind fixed firmly in self

On page 431 of the second e-book edition (page 439 of the forthcoming printed edition) of Happiness and the Art of Being, chapter 9, ‘Self-Investigation and Self-Surrender’, I give the following translation of an important sentence from the sixteenth paragraph of Nan Yar?, in which Sri Ramana defines the true meaning of the term atma-vichara or ‘self-investigation’ by saying:

… The name ‘atma-vichara’ [is truly applicable] only to [the practice of] always being [abiding or remaining] having put [placed, kept, seated, deposited, detained, fixed or established our] mind in atma [our own real self]…
After this quotation, on pages 439 to 456 of the forthcoming printed edition I have incorporated some fresh material, and on pages 456 to 459 I have expanded what I had written on pages 431 to 432 of the second e-book edition. Since this new and expanded material comes to a total of twenty pages in the forthcoming printed edition, it is too long to give here in one post, so I shall divide it up into a series of five posts.

The following is the new explanation about the sentence from Nan Yar? that I have quoted above, which will come immediately after it on pages 439 to 441 of the forthcoming printed edition:

In both Sanskrit and Tamil the word atma, which literally means ‘self’, is a philosophical term that denotes our own true, essential and perfectly non-dual self-conscious being, ‘I am’. Hence the state that Sri Ramana describes in this sentence as sadakalamum manattai atmavil vaittiruppadu is the state of just ‘being’, in which we keep our mind firmly fixed or established in and as atma, our own essential non-dual self-conscious being.

The compound word sada-kalamum means ‘always’ or ‘at all times’, manattai is the accusative form of manam, which means ‘mind’, atmavil is the locative form of atma and therefore means ‘in self’, and vaittiruppadu is a compound of two words, vaittu, which is a past participle meaning ‘having put’, ‘having placed’, ‘having kept’, ‘having seated’, ‘having fixed’ or ‘having established’, and iruppadu, which is a gerund formed from the verbal root iru, which means ‘be’. When it is used alone, this gerund iruppadu means ‘being’, but when it is appended to a past participle to form a compound gerund, it serves as an auxiliary verbal noun denoting a continuity of whatever action or state is indicated by the past participle. Therefore the compound word vaittiruppadu can be interpreted either literally as meaning ‘being having placed’, or idiomatically as denoting a continuous state of ‘placing’, ‘seating’, ‘fixing’ or ‘keeping’. However there is actually no essential difference between these two interpretations, because the state in which we keep our mind continuously placed, seated, fixed or established in atma or ‘self’ is not a state of activity or ‘doing’, but is only the state of just ‘being’ as we really are.

Thus in this sentence Sri Ramana clearly defines the exact meaning of the term atma-vichara, saying that it denotes only the state of just ‘being’ — the spiritual practice of keeping our mind firmly established in and as atma, our own real ‘self’ or essential self-conscious being, ‘I am’. In other words, atma-vichara or the investigation ‘who am I?’ is only the practice of just being as we really are — that is, just being in our true and natural state, in which our mind has subsided peacefully in and as our own essential self, our thought-free and therefore absolutely actionless self-conscious being.

Thus from this extremely clear, simple and unambiguous definition of atma-vichara that Sri Ramana has given in Nan Yar?, and also from many other compatible truths that he has expressed elsewhere in his own writings, we are left with absolutely no scope to doubt the fact that the essential practice of self-investigation does not involve even the least activity of mind, speech or body, but is simply the non-dual state of mind-free and therefore perfectly inactive self-conscious being.

Since our real self is absolutely non-dual self-conscious being, we cannot know it by doing anything but only by being as it is — that is, by just being ourself, our own perfectly thought-free self-conscious being. Therefore true self-knowledge is an absolutely thought-free, non-dual and therefore non-objective experience of clear, uncontaminated self-conscious being. Hence in verse 26 of Upadesa Undiyar Sri Ramana defines the non-dual state of true self-knowledge by saying:
Being [our real] self is indeed knowing [our real] self, because [our real] self is that which is devoid of two. This is tanmaya-nishtha [the state of being firmly established in and as tat or ‘it’, the absolute reality called brahman].
Since our goal is only the non-dual state of self-conscious being, the path by which we can attain that goal must likewise be nothing other than self-conscious being [which is a truth that Sri Ramana clearly expresses in verse 579 of Guru Vachaka Kovai, which I quoted in my recent post Actions or karmas are like seeds and on page 261 of the forthcoming printed book]. If the nature of our path were essentially any different from the nature of our goal, our path could never enable us to reach our goal. That is, since our goal is a state that is infinite and therefore devoid of all otherness, division, separation or duality, the only means by which we can ‘reach’ or ‘attain’ such a goal is just to be one with it by merging in it — that is, by losing ourself, our seemingly separate finite mind, entirely in it.

In other words, we cannot be firmly established as our own real non-dual self-conscious being by doing anything or by knowing anything other than ourself. No amount of ‘doing’ can enable us to merge completely in the real state of just ‘being’. Hence in order to know and to be our own real self, we must attend to nothing other than ourself, our own essential self-conscious being.

Attending to anything other than ourself is an action, a movement of our mind or attention away from ourself. Attending to ourself, on the other hand, is not an action or movement, but is just an actionless state of being self-conscious, as we always really are. Therefore atma-vichara or ‘self-investigation’ is only the practice of being self-conscious — that is, the practice of being conscious of nothing other than our own self, ‘I am’. Only by this simple practice of thought-free self-consciousness or self-attentiveness can we know who or what we really are.

(to be continued)


S. Maheshkumar said...

Nice elucidation dear Michaelji! Finally, Atma Vichara destroys the Mind in its practice! Why is it that the Mind be destroyed? Instead, why don't we retain and transform the Mind's entirety into the Brahmmam, i.e. the Supreme State of Bliss?

Michael James said...

In reply to the above comment by Maheshkumar:

Our mind is to be 'destroyed' because it is unreal — that is, because as mind it is merely an imaginary appearance, like the snake which we imagine a rope to be.

When we see the rope as it is, the snake will simply disappear. The 'destruction' of our mind is like this disappearance of the snake. When we experience ourself as we really are, our mind will simply vanish, because it is nothing but a false knowledge of that which we really are.

Asking why we should not retain our mind and transform it into brahman is like asking why we should not retain the snake and transform it into the rope. When we see the rope as it is, the snake is in effect 'transformed' into the rope, because that is what it always really is. Similarly, when we experience ourself as we really are, our mind will in effect be 'transformed' into brahman, the absolute reality that we always really are.

When the unreal snake is thus 'transformed' into the real rope, it is retained not as a snake but only as its reality, the rope. Similarly, when our unreal mind is 'transformed' into brahman, it is retained not as the object-knowing consciouness that we call 'mind' but only as the absolutely non-dual self-consciousness that we call 'brahman'.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mike, Love your work and looking fwd to buying your book when printed. On a lighter note, I don't know anyone who can dissect the simple truth like you have using compound gerunds, past participles, verbal nouns.. I am reminded of this from my school days:
Coruscate, coruscate, diminutive stellar
How inexplicable to me is thine existence
Elevated at such an illimitable height
In the illustrious depths of space
And resembling in thy dazzling effulgence
A crystallized carbon gem of unexampled splendor.
For the grammatically challenged I'm takling of twinkle, twinkle little star.

S. Maheshkumar said...

To destroy the Mind just because it is unreal, false and citing the ‘Rajju Sarpa Bedham’, i.e. imagining a rope to be a snake, etc are all rotten clichés! Truth and Falsity are complementary. A rope can take life as the snake do and therefore cause the same fear to a weak Mind which is corrupted by mere philosophising and confused as a result of it.

Athma Vichara culminates into Athma Samarpana. If the Supreme Gnana could be attainable by Athma Vichara alone, what is the necessity of Athma Samarpana?”

The Id that is the Ego which as a whole is the EGOID is the Spent Energy of Brahma. It cannot be destroyed or produced similar to the Law of Conservation of Energy, viz., “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; one form of Energy can be changed into another but the total Energy remains constant at all point of time.”

If we want to submit the Ego to God, i.e. to do Athma Samarpana, first we must accumulate the weak minuscules of the Ego into a potent one by the process of refinement and perfection which is done by Athma Vichara, and take the final course of Athma Samarpana successfully.

The axiom of indestructibility of Ego is: “Ego can never be created nor destroyed; it can only be shrinked or expanded.”

The course of the Spent Energy of Brahma is to rejuvenate and recharge itself to be able to refine and perfect by the process of life, work and time until it is transformed into the Absolute Brahma Shakthi.

Brahma’s perspiration is the Ego and Ego’s perspiration is the Brahma. They are connected by this eternal equation. Why is it that Brahma exerts by spending his energy? We all work to tend to equilibrium, to maintain harmony, and likewise, Brahma uses the inconsistent energies that accumulate within his enterprise, by spending it to build the cosmos, by expansion and contraction simultaneously causing reverberations resulting in a state of taut. The Infinitesimal Ego interacts with the Infinite Brahma by the triad, living life, doing work and passing time, and this phenomena animates everywhere in the Universe for good!

Athma Vichara is completed when the Vichari learns that the Ego cannot be destroyed and as a result of that wisdom, the Vichari tames the Ego to finally transform into the Absolute Brahmmam and this is done by Athma Samarpanam. Athma Vichara matures into Athma Samarpanam! Ego is the relentless master and true guru who is notoriously misunderstood like Brahma but by its tasks for refinements and perfections, it is destined to succeed in reaping the benefits of its transformation into the Absolute Brahmmam!

Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi concludes in Upadesa Undhiyar:

“பந்தவீடற்ற பரசுக முற்றவாறு
இந்தநிலை நிற்றல் உந்தீபற
இறைபணி நிற்றலாம் உந்தீபற”.

The taut state of Brahma is “பந்தவீடற்ற பரசுகம்” and “இறைபணி நிற்றல்” is the divine work imposed on Ego to transform into the ultimate Brahmmam!

Hence we summarise with the following new triplet:

“அழியா அகமே ஆகுமே
சித்தம் நிலை நிற்றுந்தீபற
பரம்பொரு ளாகவே யுந்தீபற”.

Michael James said...

As Sri Ramana once said, "According to the purity of each mind, the same teaching reflects in different ways".

In order to gain the purity of mind that is required to understand his teachings clearly and without confusion, we must practise the one path that he taught us, which he sometimes described as atma-vichara or 'self-scrutiny' and sometimes described as atma-samarpana or 'self-surrender'.

Only if we make a sincere effort to scrutinise ourself — our essential self-consciousness, 'I am' — and thereby begin to surrender our present illusory sense of being a finite self — a body-bound mind or ego — will we gain the clarity of self-consciousness and consequent purity of mind that we require in order to be able to understand the meaning that Sri Ramana actually intended to convey through his written and spoken words.

If we do not actually practise what he taught us, our understanding of his teachings will be confused and unclear, as the understanding expressed by S. Maheshkumar in his above comment appears to be.

S. Maheshkumar said...

Dear Michael,

You had confused “எண்ணுரு” and misunderstood it to mean “Ashta Murthi” where it actually represents “எண்ணத்தின் உரு”, that is, “thought forms”.

You had spent two decades in proximity of Sri Bhagavan’s Abode only to reply like these. A discussion should be useful to bring various aspects for fruitful analysis. Alas, keeping in consideration about this being a public blog, I leave it to Sri Bhagavan for your unripe remarks! Amen!!

Michael James said...

The words எண்ணுரு (en uru), which are the opening words of verse 5 of Upadesa Undiyar, mean both 'eight forms' or ashta murti and 'thought forms'. That is, this verse can be appropriately translated in either of the following two ways:

"Worshipping [any of the eight forms] thinking that all the eight forms are forms of God, is good puja [worship] of God."

"Worshipping [anything] thinking that all [things], [which are] forms of thought, are forms of God, is good puja [worship] of God."

The fact that ashta murti is a valid meaning for en uru is clear from Sri Ramana's own Sanskrit translation of this verse, in which he has translated en uru as ashta murti.

S. Maheshkumar said...

“Ashta murthis” are already reputed to be the forms of God, i.e., “இறையுரு”. Therefore it would be superfluous to consider “எண்ணுரு= Ashta Murthis” to mean once again “இறையுரு”. So, that possibility is ruled out once for all. The correct interpretation which is generalised and consistent is to take “எண்ணுரு” to be “thought-forms”, i.e., “எண்ணத்தின் உரு”.

Translations are never exact always. All the contradictions in Sri Bhagavan’s teachings are for testing the ardent disciples’ seriousness to decipher and not for those who fall prey to the contradictory traps & filters!

Bob - P said...

I found your first comment extremely helpful Micheal. I often wondered about this. Would the mind be transformed or still remain in some way once it was seen to be untrue / false.

But as you state how can an illusion be transformed into anything it would instead just vanish as it never existed and the truth that was always there would remain unaffected.

I find the snake & rope analogy very helpful in helping with my understanding of Bhagavan's teaching.

Huge help thank you Michael.


V.Ashok said...

Dear Michael,
Many thanks for your nice elucidations. Can you please clarify how we can continuously keep the "I am" awareness while doing various activities like eating, bathing, convbersing etc.