Monday 27 July 2009

Self-attentiveness is nirvikalpa – devoid of all differences or variation

A friend recently wrote to me suggesting:

... Indeed Nan Yar? contains everything we need to know and I would be very grateful if you would do translation for mumukshu, giving roman transliteration of every word according to the dictionary (minimum two words which fit in this context) and indicate why you use such and such a word when we could use other (I mean non-trivial words). I don’t know Tamil, that’s why I say such translation is very good for mumukshu. I like your translation but it’s still arbitrary. Giving transliteration you enable all people with different vasanas to create their own translation.
In the same e-mail he wrote about a ‘really great and powerful master who doesn’t speak much but is teaching through experience’, saying that this master ‘advises atma-cintana and if someone can’t he tells to do svarupa-dhyana or mantra japa etc.’ He also wrote that ‘There’s no difference of experience if we use atma-vicara, pranayama or other techniques’, and that ‘I found that Bhagavan used the name atma-vicara and svarupa dhyana, atma cintana to indicate different stages of practice’.

In reply to this e-mail I wrote as follows:

Sunday 12 July 2009

‘Tracing the ego back to its source’

A friend recently wrote to me asking:

I am stuck at a point where I feel I need help ... While reading Sri Ramana Maharshi’s work and Talks, there is this constant mention of tracing the ego back to the source. When I try to do it there is an arresting of thoughts and a feeling near my chest and I am not able to proceed further. I will be very grateful if you could suggest something in this regard.
In reply to this I wrote as follows:

What exactly does ‘tracing the ego back to the source’ mean? To answer this question we must first understand how the ego left its source, because as Sri Ramana sometimes used to say, we must ‘go back the way we came’, and before we can do that, we must understand what ‘the way we came’ actually is.

In verse 25 of Ulladu Narpadu Sri Ramana explains how the ego rises from its source (our real self), how it remains away from its source, and how it will eventually subside back into its source:

Saturday 11 July 2009

‘Just sitting’ (shikantaza) and ‘choiceless awareness’

A friend recently wrote to me as follows:

I have been reading chapter 9 (Self-Investigation) of your book Happiness and the Art of Being.

What you describe regarding the practice of atma-vichara as advocated by Ramana Maharishi, I interpret as being very similar to the practice of choice-less awareness, or shikantaza, as it is commonly referred to by Zen practitioners.

The significant difference between the two techniques is that I, as a Zen practitioner, am trained to use the power of attention in order to step back from ‘I’ thoughts and ‘I’ feelings. And thereby effectively return to the abiding silence.

The self-investigation technique in contrast uses the question, who?, whose?, where? etc in order to disentangle from ‘I’ thoughts and ‘I’ feelings, effectively returning to the abiding silence (and yes, I understand that you prefer to define self-investigation as the practice of being nothing other than oneself and not a process of mental questioning).

Some ‘I’ thoughts and feelings are so very powerful that challenging the validity of the ‘I’ by directly asking who? whose? where?, may very well be a more potent technique for disentangling from the ‘I’ chain, thereby returning to the abiding silence.
In reply to this I wrote as follows:

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Svarupa-dhyana and svarupa-darsana

A friend recently wrote to me asking:

Does svarupa-dhyana, atma-chintana and atma-smarana mean focusing attention on the first thought ‘I am’, consciousness of being? I mean, is it concentration on being, staying without thoughts but still aware of external world? If so, svarupa-darshana is different experience and is the same as kevala nirvikalpa samadhi. Isn’t it?
Here the mention of ‘svarupa-darshana’ and ‘external world’ appears to be a reference to the third paragraph of Nan Yar? (Who am I?), in which Sri Ramana says:
If [our] mind, which is the cause of all [objective] knowledge and of all activity, subsides [completely], [our] perception of the world (jaga-dṛṣṭi) will cease. Just as knowledge of the rope, which is the base [that underlies and supports the appearance of the snake], will not arise unless knowledge of the imaginary snake ceases, svarūpa-darśana [true knowledge of our essential self], which is the base [that underlies and supports the appearance of the world], will not arise unless [our] perception of the world, which is an imagination, ceases.
In reply to this friend I wrote as follows:

Yes, terms such as ātma-vichāra, svarūpa-dhyāna, svarūpa-smaraṇa and ātma-chintana (which are various terms that Sri Ramana uses in Nan Yar?) all mean self-attentiveness — the focusing of our entire attention upon ourself, our essential consciousness of being, ‘I am’.

Saturday 4 July 2009

Atma-vichara and metta bhavana (‘loving-kindness’ meditation)

A friend recently wrote to me asking:

I’ve got a question concerning atma-vichara in relation to some meditation techniques.

Before I came across Sri Bhagavan's teachings I practised some form of Buddhist meditation which is called ‘metta’ or loving-kindness meditation. In this meditation one develops the feelings of love and care, starting with oneself and expanding the range step by step to include teachers, friends and finally all living beings.

I never regarded myself as a Buddhist but nevertheless I still find this form of meditation very helpful and beneficial. That's why I do a daily loving-kindness meditation for about 45-60 minutes.

I also find that this is a help when I try to practice atma-vichara because self-attention seems to be easier with a mind which is not so noisy and turbulent.

Through reading and reflecting on Sri Bhagavan’s teachings I know that the only practice which leads to final liberation and experience of true self-knowledge is atma-vichara or self-abidance.

I also think that my other practice will naturally drop away when I get more experienced in atma-vichara. But as a beginner I find it difficult to practice self-attention, especially when there are difficult emotions, plenty of thoughts and the stress of day-to-day life.

My question is if this kind of sitting meditation is contradictory to practising self-attention or can even be a hindrance.
In reply to this I wrote as follows:

The only practice that will enable us directly to experience ourself as we really are and thereby destroy our mind is the action-free non-dual practice of ātma-vichāra or self-attentiveness. All other practices or forms of meditation are only mental activities, because they each involve our paying attention to something other than ‘I’ (which means that our attention is moving away from ourself towards whatever other thing we are thinking of), and hence they cannot enable us to experience our real action-free (thought-free) self.

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Staying with ‘I am’

A friend recently wrote to me asking:

The path is so subtle ... how to understand this? Ramana Maharshi mentions concentrating on the right side of the chest. Is this for the merest novice? If one takes this path, will one have to unlearn that “anchor” to just stay with the sense ‘I am’.

Nisargadatta mentions staying with the ‘I am’ and looking at it with affection.

To witness the ‘I am’, does that mean just “to be” not “this or that” and watch thoughts go by without getting emotionally involved. Is that staying with the ‘I am’?

Some pointer or direction is needed.
To this I replied as follows:

As you say, the path is very subtle, but it is also very simple, because all it involves is the effort to be clearly self-conscious, which is our natural state.

Sri Ramana never actually asked anyone to concentrate their attention on the right side of the chest. This is a major misunderstanding. On many occasions he clarified that what he meant by the word ‘heart’ (ullam in Tamil or hridayam in Sanskrit) was only self (atman), which is consciousness (chit), and not any organ in the body, which is non-conscious (jada). Therefore when he said, for example, that we should make the mind subside and merge in the heart, he did not mean that we should merge in any part of this body, but only that we should merge and lose our separate identity in self.