Saturday 6 December 2008

Making effort to pay attention to our mind is being attentive only to our essential self

Referring to a sentence that I wrote in my recent article Self-attentiveness, effort and grace, “We can free ourself from thoughts, sense-perceptions and body-consciousness only by ignoring them entirely and being attentive only to our essential self, ‘I am’”, an anonymous friend wrote in a comment today:

As I see it, thoughts, sense-perceptions and body-consciousness can’t be ignored nor we can be attentive only to our essential self then. If we are attentive only to our essential self, it is because there is not thought, sense-perception nor body-consciousness to be ignored by us. Otherwise, we have to be attentive to thoughts and so on, because it is only then, through this practice, that attention becomes self-attentive and therefore self-consciousness because then, there is not thought, sense-perception nor body-consciousness as a natural result of the practice, obtained without an act of will nor effort. Effort is in paying attention to mind which is a reflection of true consciousness, but once attention becomes self-attentive the rest just disappears and all happens by itself. Asking at that moment: who am I? it is something that I couldn’t do yet.

Baghavan Sri Ramana talking on being attentive only to our essential self from the beginning, gives us a clue on how far we are from that state. To me, starting from that point is starting from just one more thought, I have to follow a long process before to arrive to the pure feeling of just being, and I don’t always arrive, only in very few occasions. Feeling is so much perfect that then I’m unable of asking “what is this? Who am I?

Baghavan used to talk on weakness of mind as well, I guess he meant exactly this.
I am not sure that I have correctly understood all that Anonymous wrote in this comment, but I hope that he or she may find the following few remarks helpful.

It is true, as Anonymous says, that we ‘have to follow a long process before to arrive to the pure feeling of just being’, but the essence of that process is only the simple practice of self-attentiveness. The reason why this process seems to be so long is that we have accumulated innumerable vasanas — desires that impel us to think constantly of things other than our own essential being, ‘I am’ — and we can destroy all these vasanas only by this ‘process’ or practice of persistent self-attentiveness.

This process of destroying our desires or vasanas by tenaciously persevering in our practice of self-attentiveness is clearly described by Sri Ramana in the tenth and eleventh paragraphs of Nan Yar? (Who am I?) as follows:
Even though vishaya-vasanas [latent impulsions or desires to attend to things other than ourself], which come from time immemorial, rise [as thoughts] in countless numbers like ocean-waves, they will all be destroyed when svarupa-dhyana [self-attentiveness] increases and increases. Without giving room to the doubting thought ‘is it possible to dissolve so many vasanas and be only as self?’ [we] should cling tenaciously to self-attentiveness. However great a sinner a person may be, if instead of lamenting and weeping ‘I am a sinner! How am I going to be saved?’ [he] completely rejects the thought that he is a sinner and is zealous [or steadfast] in self-attentiveness, he will certainly be reformed [or transformed into the true ‘form’ of thought-free self-conscious being].

As long as vishaya-vasanas exist in [our] mind, so long the vicharana [investigation] ‘who am I?’ is necessary. As and when thoughts arise, then and there it is necessary [for us] to annihilate them all by vicharana [keen and vigilant self-attentiveness] in the very place from which they arise. Being without attending to [anything] other [than ourself] is vairagya [dispassion] or nirasa [desirelessness]; being without leaving self is jñana [knowledge]. In truth [these] two [desirelessness and true knowledge] are only one. Just as a pearl-diver, tying a stone to his waist and submerging, picks up a pearl which lies in the ocean, so each person, submerging [beneath the surface activity of their mind] and sinking [deep] within themself with vairagya [freedom from desire or passion for anything other than being], can attain the pearl of self. If one clings fast to uninterrupted svarupa-smarana [self-remembrance] until one attains svarupa [one’s own essential self], that alone [will be] sufficient. So long as enemies are within the fort, they will continue coming out from it. If [we] continue destroying [or cutting down] all of them as and when they come, the fort will [eventually] come into [our] possession.
If I have understood Anonymous correctly, he or she says that we cannot ‘be attentive only to our essential self’ and that the only effort we can make ‘is in paying attention to mind which is a reflection of true consciousness’. In practice, however, ‘paying attention to mind’ (that is, to its essential form, which is our primal thought ‘I’) is actually nothing but being ‘attentive only to our essential self’, because the consciousness that we call ‘I’ or ‘myself’ is only one.

When this one ‘I’ remains as it is — that is, without adjuncts or thoughts — it is our essential self, and when it seems to be mixed with adjuncts, it appears to be the limited and distorted form of consciousness that we call our ‘mind’. Therefore our mind is in essence nothing other than our real self — our pristine, adjunct-free, non-dual self-conscious being, ‘I am’.

When we mistake a rope lying on the ground in the dim light of dusk to be a snake, if we look carefully at the ‘snake’ to see whether or not it is really dangerous, we will discover that what we are actually looking at is not a snake but only a rope. Likewise, if we attend keenly to this mind to see what it really is, we will discover that what we are actually attending to is not a ‘mind’ but only our own essential self.

Anonymous writes that ‘…once attention becomes self-attentive the rest just disappears and all happens by itself. Asking at that moment: who am I? it is something that I couldn’t do yet …’ and that ‘ … Feeling is so much perfect that then I’m unable of asking “what is this? Who am I?[”] …’. Such an inability to ask the question ‘who am I?’ is a clear indication that we are practising self-attentiveness correctly, because when we are exclusively attentive to ‘I’ no other thought can rise.

Therefore, when we become established in our natural state of self-attentive being, we should not try to disturb it by asking ourself any mental question such as ‘who am I?’ or ‘what am I?’. What Bhagavan Sri Ramana actually advised us to do is not to ask ‘who am I?’ but to investigate or scrutinise ‘who am I?’, and we can investigate ‘who am I?’ only by being vigilantly and exclusively self-attentive.

Though initially we may find it helpful to ask ourself mentally ‘who am I?’ in order to turn our attention away from all other things towards ‘I’ alone, true atma-vichara or self-investigation begins only when we have given up all mental activity (including the activity of mentally articulating the question ‘who am I?’) by being attentive to nothing other than our own essential being, ‘I am’. Therefore if we truly love to sink deep into the innermost core of our own being (like a pearl-diver sinking deep into the ocean), we must leave behind all mentally articulated questions such as ‘who am I?’ and concentrate our entire attention upon our essential thought-free self-consciousness, ‘I am’.

Anonymous ends by writing, ‘Baghavan used to talk on weakness of mind as well, I guess he meant exactly this’. Since our weakness of mind is caused only by our desires or vasanas, which are the seeds that are constantly sprouting in our mind as thoughts, it is directly proportional to their strength, and inversely proportional to the strength of our bhakti (our love just to be as we really are) and vairagya (our freedom from any desire to rise as this thinking mind in order to experience anything other than our own essential being). Therefore we can overcome our present weakness of mind only by cultivating our bhakti and vairagya and thereby steadily eradicating all our desires, and we can cultivate true bhakti and vairagya only by persistently attempting to be vigilantly self-attentive.

That is, since our desires or vasanas are nourished and strengthened only by our pramada or self-negligence — that is, by our not being vigilantly and exclusively self-attentive and consequently allowing ourself to think of other things — and since ‘they will all be destroyed when svarupa-dhyana [self-attentiveness] increases and increases’ (as Sri Ramana assures us in the tenth paragraph of Nan Yar?), the only effective means by which we can overcome our weakness of mind is to persevere tenaciously in our simple practice of atma-vichara (self-investigation), svarupa-dhyana (self-attentiveness) or svarupa-smarana (self-remembrance), which are three synonyms that describe our natural state of thought-free self-conscious being.


Anonymous said...

Michael James wrote :

“When we mistake a rope lying on the ground in the dim light of dusk to be a snake, if we look carefully at the ‘snake’ to see whether or not it is really dangerous, we will discover that what we are actually looking at is not a snake but only a rope. Likewise, if we attend keenly to this mind to see what it really is, we will discover that what we are actually attending to is not a ‘mind’ but only our own essential self.”

Exactly, that´s what I meant. We can´t ignore this mind which is primal I appearing mixed with adjuncts, as you yourself say, we have to “attend keenly to this mind to see what it really is” before being attentive only to our essential self . It is true that, actually, the snake doesn´t exist and that, therefore, we are seeing a rope all the time, but before to see the rope, we have to look keenly at the snake. I can understand that, for someone who sees that there is not such a snake, what I´m saying doesn´t make any sense and he has to talk only about the rope and to ask others just to ignore the snake, hence, it seems to me, apparent contradictions arising in words and, at the same time, my understanding of what you perfectly have summarized in the title of this new article. But thing is that most of us have to look at the snake everyday before to see the rope, this is why I found that your sentence in a previous article wasn´t right.

Quiet and specially helpful your explanations on asking “who I m” and about weakness of mind. Thank you so much, sincerely.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant quite and specially helpful... not "quiet"

Michael James said...

Anonymous, thank you for your two comments above.

Words always give scope for seeming contradictions and misunderstandings, but if we recognise the truth that is behind the words and that they are intended to indicate, all such seeming contradictions and misunderstandings will be reconciled and will therefore disappear. Most importantly, if we clearly understand that what now appears to be our ‘mind’ is in reality only our essential self, the one non-dual self-conscious reality, the scope for misunderstanding will be greatly reduced.

When we begin to attend to ‘I’, we may not immediately recognise it as the sole reality that it truly is, but if we at least understand intellectually that it is such, it will be easier for us in practice to distinguish it from all the adjuncts that we are accustomed to superimposing upon it. A clue that can help us to understand this is given by Sri Ramana in an answer that is recorded in the last chapter of Maharshi’s Gospel (13th edition, 2002, page 89):

“... the ego [our mind or primal thought ‘I’] has one and only one [relevant] characteristic. The ego functions as the knot between the Self[,] which is Pure Consciousness[,] and the physical body[,] which is ... insentient. The ego is therefore called the chit-jada granthi [the knot between consciousness and the non-conscious]. In your investigation into the source of aham-vritti [the thought ‘I’], you take the essential chit [consciousness] aspect of the ego; and for this reason the enquiry must lead to the realization of the pure consciousness of the Self.”

In this chit-jada granthi, which we call our ‘mind’ or ‘ego’, the ‘essential chit aspect’ is our real self, while the inessential jada [non-conscious] aspect is the body and all the other imaginary adjuncts that we have superimposed upon it. As Sri Ramana says, when we practise atma-vichara or ‘investigation into the source of aham-vritti [the primal thought ‘I’, which is our mind or ego]’, we attend only to its ‘essential chit aspect’, and thus we effectively ignore its superficial and unreal jada aspect.

Since we are thus being exclusively attentive only to our ‘essential chit aspect’, which is our pristine consciousness of being, ‘I am’, this practice of vigilant ‘enquiry’ or self-investigation ‘must lead to the realization of the pure consciousness of the Self’. In other words, if we pay attention to our mind — our ego or primal thought ‘I’ — correctly in the manner that Sri Ramana has taught us, we will be attending to nothing other than our essential consciousness of being, which is our real self, and hence it will purify and refine our power of attention, making it eventually clear and subtle enough for us to be able to experience ourself as we really are, devoid of even the slightest trace of any adjunct or thought.

Anonymous said...

I have had some readings about the ego functioning as a knot between the Self and the physical body in Sri Ramana´s books but I never could understand it.
After reading your insightful explanation about the chit aspect of the ego, I see that I was missing the core of Bhagavan teachings regarding to the practice of atma vichara.
Now I can say: right, once one can discern this chit from adjuncts, one can perfectly ignore adjuncts and be attentive only to self-consciousness, directly. For discerning, the knowledge that you have shared is enough because it just point reality out and one has just to look at it to be that.
I fully agreed when you said that true atma vichara begins at this point, now I haven´t to go through a long process to arrive there anymore and a lot of useless struggle and suffering have been removed.
What can I say? Thank you, Michael.

Michael James said...

Anonymous, thank you for your latest comment above.

The truth taught by Sri Ramana is actually so very simple, as also is the means that he has taught us to experience it, but our minds are so complex that we often fail to recognise how extremely simple it all really is.

As you have now understood, atma-vichara is simply the practice of distinguishing the reality of our mind or ego, which is its ‘essential chit [consciousness] aspect’, from its unreal aspect, which are all our jada-upadhi, the non-conscious adjuncts that we have superimposed upon it. And in order to distinguish this real ‘essential chit [consciousness] aspect of the ego’, all we have to do is to be exclusively attentive to our fundamental consciousness of being, ‘I am’.

As you say, ‘... one has just to look at it to be that ...’. This is the essential key to understanding how we can experience ourself as we really are. When we are simply attentive to our essential self, we are being our essential self, because the very nature of our essential self is to be conscious of nothing other than itself — its own being, ‘I am’ — and because other than itself there is no consciousness to know itself, since it is absolutely non-dual being-consciousness or sat-chit.

This truth is clearly taught by Sri Ramana in verses 23 and 26 of Upadesa Undiyar:

“Because of the non-existence of [any] consciousness other [than being] to know being, being is consciousness. [That] consciousness alone exists as ‘we’ [our essential being or true self].”

“Only being self is knowing self, because self is devoid of two [or duality]. This is tanmaya-nishtha [the state of being firmly established as tad or ‘it’, the one non-dual absolute reality called God or brahman].”

Anonymous said...

Yes, that´s something I could understand as well: the means is the aim, there is not distance in here, it was a illusion created by paying attention to adjuncts, hence struggle and suffering in practice which has completely changed now. It´s amazing how by understanding one statement many others become clear and meaningful.

“The truth taught by Sri Ramana is actually so very simple, as also is the means that he has taught us to experience it, but our minds are so complex that we often fail to recognise how extremely simple it all really is.”, you said. Quite so, Michael
Thank you very much, indeed.

Anonymous said...

Somewhere in the book, " Happiness and the art of Being, " there is reference to death and enlightenment not being partial phenomena happening in time. The statement is very intuitive. Try as I may, I am not able to get at the page where this reference has been made. Could you tell me the page number?

Michael James said...

In reply to the latest anonymous comment posted above, I think the reference you are looking for is on page 584, from which the following is an extract:

“To experience our true and essential being with perfect clarity does not in truth require any time. If we have an overwhelming and all-consuming love to know ourself, we can attain true and eternal self-knowledge by just a moment of total self-attentiveness, as Sri Ramana himself did.

“Just as death is something that happens in an instant, and is not something that we can ever experience partially, so the experience of true self-knowledge ‘happens’ in an instant, and can never be experienced partially. Either we imagine ourself to be a finite individual, as we do so long as we still feel that our self-attentiveness or self-conscious being is a practice and not something entirely natural and unavoidable, or we are wholly consumed by the absolute clarity of true self-knowledge, in which case we will know that we have always been nothing other than infinite and perfectly clear self-conscious being.

“Our aim during practice, therefore, is to experience that one moment of absolute unqualified self-attentiveness. Hence long periods of ‘meditation’ are not necessary. It may be helpful for us at times to sit quietly for a while attempting to focus our attention wholly and exclusively upon our being, but if our mind rebels too strongly we should relax for a while and try again later with a fresh and calm mind. If we struggle for too long a period to oppose the force of our desires to think, our mind will become agitated, and will therefore cease to be a suitable instrument for practising self-attentiveness. But if we relax our efforts for a while and allow our mind to become relatively calm once again, then we will be able to practise self-attentiveness with a renewed vigour.

“In practice what we need is not long hours seated in a desperate struggle to maintain continuous self-attentiveness, but rather many brief periods of time here and there throughout each day when we try with fresh vigour and intense enthusiasm to experience our naturally ever self-conscious being. During the midst of our normal daily activities, there are many times when our mind is not pressingly engaged in any particular work, and normally during such times we allow our mind to wander and think of many trivial and unnecessary matters. Each such time is a precious opportunity for us to be self-attentive.

“Most of the thoughts we think each day are not pressingly urgent, but are merely the way in which our mind usually chooses to occupy itself. Therefore if we have a true love for self-attentiveness, instead of wasting most of our day in idle thoughts, we can very easily spend many moments here and there attempting to be self-attentive. This frequent drawing of our mind back towards ourself is what Sri Ramana sometimes referred to as the practice of ‘self-remembrance’.

“Therefore, as Sri Sadhu Om used to say, what we need is not long periods of ‘meditation’, which usually turn out to be merely a futile struggle attempting to resist the force of our desire to think, but is rather just many intermittent attempts to be self-attentive. If we remember to make such intermittent attempts frequently throughout the day, each individual attempt may only last a brief while, but all such brief attempts will together add up to a considerable amount of time spent in the state of self-attentive being.

“By thus practising self-attentiveness intermittently, we will make each attempt with a fresh vigour and therefore a more intense clarity. Rather than longer periods of unsteady and therefore unclear self-attentiveness, shorter periods of more intense and therefore clearer and more precise self-attentiveness will be more beneficial.”

Unknown said...

hi michael,

i have quiet important questions to ask regarding practice.

i'm now having free full time,not yet working,which i expect to last about 1 month(perhaps shorter or longer depends on circumstances).

i really want to make the best use of this time for practice of "awareness observes itself",as there's a concern that some unexpected adverse circumstances may give much difficulty for such full time practice again in the future.

actualy,i've been practicing this for few weeks,but in a undiscipline way.

my question is,how important is CONTINUITY and INTENSITY of self abidance/attention for our progress(of recognizing our true being)?
recently i started 2 intuite that these 2 factors are of very critical importance in our progress.


Unknown said...

i think i need to eleborate more about what i mean by intensity and continuity.

by the 1st i mean the degree of "alertness/mindfulness" of our attention to awareness itself,while ignoring others eg feeling,thoughts etc..kind like when a cat trying to catch a mouse,it's attention is very alert/focused.

continuity is very obvious,it's simply the ability to sustain our attention on our consciousness/awareness without interruption.

i suspect that the speed of our realization(progress)depends on these 2 factors more than anything this true?

Anonymous said...

When once one has the intensity, there is no question of doing meditation or vichara in short periods with various intervals or going in for long ardous sessions as time itself is a subsequent factor having no relevance to our essential being of, " I AM," unless one does some yoga exercise.

Michael James said...

Anonymous, thank you for the comment that you posted above on 23 December 2008.

In reply to it I have written a brief article, Self-attentiveness and time.

Michael James said...

Teck, thank you for your two comments above.

In reply to them I have written a new article, Self-attentiveness, intensity and continuity.


Energy dynamics in Self-Enquiry:

The mind has a tendency to move,it is in continuous movement,so

there is momentum.Suddenly mind has impulse to do something and in

"who am i" Self-Enquiry, the movement of impulse is stopped suddenly

due to awareness and now a gap come into existence between the centre of

awareness and the body-mind complex and you feel your body-mind

complex as something distant,you become separate from it.Whenever

you are in activity,you are deeply absorbed in it.Sudden stoppage of

mental activity in "who am i"enquiry throws you out of mental activity.

This being thrown leads us to the awareness of our being.Ordinarily we

move from one activity to another continuously without gap in between.

This habit is broken in "who am i" enquiry and a gap come into existence.

When there is a feeling an impulse to do something,stop without the

thought coming into picture.Miracles happen because in activity when you

stop,a gap happens.You will be totally taken away from the body-mind and

realm of activity.Energy is always in a movement,either going out or coming

in.Energy can never be static.Impulse of thought means energy is

moving out.All activities are movements towards that which is without,from

that which is within i.e movements from within to without.That movement

happens according to the direction given by the innate tendencies.When

the movement is stopped suddenly in "who am i" Self-Enquiry,the energy

cannot do anything other than moving inward.Even though thought stops,

the mechanism which can lead you towards the centre of awareness is there.

You are converting your energy and changing it's dimension every moment

in "who am i" Self-Enquiry in which the energy of awareness falls back into

awareness again.
If one is angry or violent,energy has been aroused and it

has come to a point where it wants to be expressed and that energy needs

movement.If at that time,you start loving somebody,the same energy will

move into love.So the energy of love and hate are one,the energy of

passion and compassion are one.The energy of anger,violence,peace are

one and the same.Only with real impulse does energy move.Anger is pure

energy.It can become bad if it goes out and destroy something or it may

become bliss if it moves within and throws you to the centre of awareness

of your being.It is like atomic energy in the atom,pure,innocent,neutral.

It can be used for destructive purposes like throwing bombs on Hiroshima

and Nagasaki killing millions of innocent people or it can used to produce

enormous electric power.It all depends on us.If one feels that anger is

bad,so i should stop,the energy moves into that mental consideration,

in which case also the energy moves from the inner to the outer.

So mental suppression does not change the dimension of energy.

If you start thinking about the centre of awareness,then also the energy

will move from the inner into thinking which is outer to the Self.

You can waste this inner energy very simply.Just a thought will be enough

to give it a direction thus limiting it.If thought process really stops during

Self-Enquiry,the centre of awareness of being explodes which is called

implosion.Mystics always live in that uninterrupted implosive state of being.