Wednesday 21 October 2009

‘Holy indifference’ and the love to be self-attentive

In reply to a friend who wrote to me asking for some advice concerning the psychological effects of some health problems that he was experiencing, I wrote as follows:

Whatever we experience in our outward life as a body-bound mind or ego, we are destined to experience for a purpose, and the ultimate purpose behind all that we experience is for us to learn the essential lesson of detachment.

Nothing that we experience — other than ‘I am’ — is real or lasting. It is all just a fleeting appearance, as are the body and mind that we mistake to be ourself. But so long as we attend to these fleeting appearances — that is, so long as we allow them to encroach in our consciousness — their seeming reality will be sustained and nourished.

Therefore, if we wish to rest peacefully in and as our essential being, ‘I am’, we must learn to ignore all appearances, and we can ignore them only by being completely indifferent to them (‘holy indifference’, as the Christian mystics call it). That is, only when we are truly indifferent to everything else, knowing it all to be just a fleeting dream, will we have the strength to cling firmly to ‘I am’ alone.

Clinging to ‘I am’ alone means having our entire consciousness centred on, in and as ‘I am’ to the complete exclusion of everything else. Only in this state of absolute self-attentiveness or self-abidance can we experience the profound peace and infinite joy of just being, knowing nothing other than ‘I am’.

Because of the strong desire for and attachment to the fleeting experiences of our ephemeral mind that we have accumulated during the course of innumerable dreams (so-called bodily ‘lifetimes’), our attention is constantly being drawn back to such things, but the more we cultivate the habit of being self-attentive — even if at first it is just for brief moments now and then — the more our desires and attachments will be weakened, and the more our love just to be will be nourished and grow.

Therefore persistent practice of self-attentiveness is necessary — in fact, it is the only solution to all our problems. No matter how difficult the struggle to overcome all our desires by means of simple self-attentiveness — trying to know ‘who is desiring all these things?’ — may appear to be, we can be sure that we will certainly succeed by steadfast perseverance.

That is, though our love to be self-attentive (which is true bhakti or devotion to God, since the true form of God is none other than ‘I am’, our own essential self) may appear at first to be very weak and tenuous, when we steadily cultivate it by practice, it will gradually begin to snowball, increasing in intensity exponentially, until eventually it will entirely consume us and all our petty desires, thereby establishing us firmly and eternally in the infinitely peaceful and joyful state of pristine self-conscious being.

Therefore we should never despair, but should patiently and persistently continue to practise simple self-attentiveness or self-remembrance. As Sri Ramana says in the eleventh paragraph of Nan Yar? (Who am I?):

... If one clings fast to uninterrupted svarūpa-smaraṇa [self-remembrance] until one attains svarūpa [one’s own essential self], that alone [will be] sufficient. ...
The love to be self-attentive that we now have at least in small measure and that we must continue to cultivate is the truest and most pure form of God’s grace, because he is the clear light of consciousness that shines in our heart as ‘I am’, and because of his infinite love for us, he enkindles in our heart the clarity to discriminate the real from the ephemeral, and this clarity manifests itself as the love to attend only to that which alone is real, ‘I am’.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the ever fresh guidance and encouragement. Now, I would like to know, in as much it may be helpful to use a silent japa to enter into silence. Clearly, it will drop off as awareness increases. However, in states of mental confusion and upset it's like a raft of remembrance.
Best wishes

summa said...

Thank you Michael. Simply and beautifully expressed.

JP said...

Nice post Micheal.

Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya
Prasanth Jalasutram

Losing M. Mind said...

And you haven't Realized the Self? That is really hard to believe. The way you write with such exquisite clarity. Seriously, this was the much needed answer to some of my "problems". Like water in a desert. So well written. And it seems we need all the help from Grace as we can get.

Stefan said...

Dear Hans,

on Monday, 11 June 2007, Michael
wrote a very helpful text about repetition or japa:

"Repetition of Bhagavan's name


Constantly remembering Bhagavan's name is an effective way of keeping our mind dwelling upon him. Such remembrance is most efficacious when we do it with the clear understanding that he is not merely an external diety but is our own real self, which is always shining within us as our essential self-conscious being, 'I am'.

When we remember the name of something, that remembrance brings the form or image of that thing to our mind. Likewise, when we remember the name of 'Ramana', it should draw our attention to his true form, which is 'I am'. Thus repetition or japa of his name can be a powerful aid in helping us to focus our attention upon 'I am', which is the practice of atma-vichara or self-investigation which he taught us. And since our mind will subside only when it thus attends to its own essential self-consciousness, 'I am', this self-attention is also the true practice of self-surrender.

Since our aim while doing japa of his name should be to fix our mind on his true form, 'I am', the most efficacious name of his that we can repeat is 'I' or 'I am'. As he often said, 'I am' is the original and foremost name of God, and meditating upon it will lead us directly towards him.

If we truly love Bhagavan Ramana, our aim should be to lose ourself entirely in him, and we can do this only surrending our mind at his feet, which always shine clearly within us as 'I am'. Therefore by whatever means possible, let us keep our mind fixed in loving adoration of his true form, 'I am'."

Losing M. Mind said...

Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya. Is that remembering his name? Repeating it.

Anonymous said...

As Michael wrote, God's/Sri Bhagavan's true form and foremost name is "I am".
Remembering, repeating and meditating on "I am" leads towards him.

For me this is a helpful advice to the practice of atma-vichara.

Michael wrote about the repetition of "I" or "I am" in "Happiness and the Art of Being" on page 221-222:

Best wishes,


Anonymous said...

Dear Stefan,
thanks for the link and posting the excerpt of Michael. To me it is important to understand the connection between japa which is an object and "I am". As I do experience, the "me" practicing japa vanishes and some silent apperception of being appears which I am unable to describe. I suppose this is still another subtle object, however I can't proceed any further. May be Michael will clear up this state of affairs.
I appreciate this place of peer satsang.
Thank you all

Michael James said...

Dear Hans,

In reply to your comments above, I have written a new article, Japa of ‘I am’ as an aid to self-attentiveness, which I hope you may find helpful.

And Stefan, thanks for the helpful comments that you have written here. As Hans says, such dialogues are a beneficial form of ‘peer satsang’.


Anonymous said...

Dear Michael,
I think I've read that Sri Bhagawan has said that all Gurus are one.
Can you please kindly explain the deeper meaning of this?

Best wishes

Anonymous said...

Leave thinking to the one
who gave intelligence. In silence

there is eloquence. Stop weaving
and watch how the pattern improves.

Anonymous said...

Merchants go when the truth appears,
for the truth needs no merchanting.
Behold thy temple cleared of merchants.

Anonymous said...

There are possibly three separate humanities. The first contains those who live within the five senses and never suspect that further senses exist. The second contains those who suspect "something" but for whom the "something" remains a theory, a myth, plausible or implausible but never confirmed. The third contains those who know, not as theory but as experience.

Anonymous said...

Devotee: Although we have heard it so often and so constantly yet we are unable to put the teaching into practice successfully. It must be due to weakness of mind. Is it possible that one's age is a bar?

Maharshi: The mind is commonly said to be strong if it can think furiously. But here the mind is strong if it is free from thoughts. The Yogis say that realization can be had only before the age of thirty. But not the Jnanis. For Jnana does not cease to exist with the age

Anonymous said...

Who sets the example? Why should a liberated man necessarily
follow conventions? The moment he becomes predictable, he
cannot be free. His freedom lies in his being free to fulfill the need
of the moment, to obey the necessity of the situation."


Anonymous said...

Dear Michael,
All our daily actions (eating, sleeping, walking, speaking,...) are the results of our mind (or ego) movements. How can one abide as the self and yet live a life full of activities and responsibilities? I suppose this is possible, though I cannot resolve this contradiction in my mind. Would you please share your thoughts on this?
Kind regards,

Michael James said...

Mo, in reply your comment above, the outward circumstances of our life are not going to help us to experience ourself as we really are if we do not have any love to attend to ourself, and if we have love to attend to ourself no outward circumstances can prevent or obstruct us experiencing ourself as we really are. Therefore how quickly we progress on the spiritual path is not determined by our outward circumstances but only by the degree of love that we have to be self-attentive.

Suppose that a very dear friend of yours was critically ill in hospital, but the outward circumstances of your life made it necessary for you to be busy with other activities and responsibilities. Even in the midst of all those activities and responsibilities, would you not often be thinking of your friend? Because of your love and concern for him or her, whatever else you may be doing the thought of your friend would be constantly coming to your mind. Likewise, if you had as much love to know what you really are as you have for your friend, whatever else you may be doing the urge to attend to yourself — the remembrance of ‘I’ — would be repeatedly drawing your attention back towards yourself.

Therefore there is really no contradiction between an outward life full of activities and responsibilities and an inward life of self-attentiveness. A contradiction seems to arise only if we lack sufficient love to attend to ourself whenever our mind has even a few spare moments when it is not urgently engaged in attending to anything else. However, this contradiction is not real but is only a seeming one, because if we lack sufficient love to attend to ourself in the midst of a life full of activities and responsibilities, we would not actually be attending to ourself even if our life was free from such activities and responsibilities.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your reply. May it be as well the case that the love for self-attentiveness reaches an overwhelming point and becomes so intense that one relinquishes all his/her activities, stop fulfilling duties, and remains still/silent for good? OR in such an intense self-attentiveness state, one will attend to everything else as he attends to his breathing now, i.e., unconsciously? Or simply put, when the "I" disappears who attends to activities/responsibilities?

Anonymous said...

Dear Michael,
I think I got the answer to my question in your post on "destruction of mind" on October 7, 2011. It was indeed an insightful note. I am grateful. Yet, please comment if you have more to add.

Michael James said...

Mo, in answer to your comment of 20 June 2014 04:01, activities and responsibilities seem to exist only so long as there is a finite ‘I’ that experiences them. Therefore when this finite ‘I’ (our ego) is dissolved in the absolute clarity of pure self-awareness, there will be no activities or responsibilities to attend to, nor any separate ‘I’ to attend to them.

Therefore, as you say, when our love for self-attentiveness reaches an overwhelming point, we will relinquish all our activities and duties, and remain permanently silent, because we will have ceased to exist as the finite ‘I’ that we now seem to be, and will therefore remain as the one infinite and indivisible ‘I’, other than which nothing exists.

D said...

“Therefore, if we wish to rest peacefully in and as our essential being, ‘I am’, we must learn to ignore all appearances, and we can ignore them only by being completely indifferent to them (‘holy indifference’, as the Christian mystics call it). That is, only when we are truly indifferent to everything else, knowing it all to be just a fleeting dream, will we have the strength to cling firmly to ‘I am’ alone.”

Holy indifference may be misinterpreted as an activity to be done in order to gain self-attentiveness. I suggest this would rather be a 'side effect' of being self-attentive. This is similar with a discussion elsewhere in your blog about absence of thoughts not necessarily meaning that attention is on the I am. In fact you say below “…the more we cultivate the habit of being self-attentive — even if at first it is just for brief moments now and then — the more our desires and attachments will be weakened…”. To use this quote as an example in support of my views, we are not targeting elimination of desires/attachments which means fighting the mind but investigating the mind instead and attachments would automatically vanish by 1) simply changing the focus of the mind and 2) by its dissolution/flight as a result of the investigation. Perhaps it is just a nuance but I thought it would benefit of some clarification.

My main interest though is in looking carefully at the notion of love. I am not sure if it is not a matter of language/understanding of definitions or something more… I propose an alternative view to the notion of love of god/self, ‘love to be self-attentive’ [I can only speak from my own experience/understanding]. Starting from the love of god as a form of worship- I cannot qualify love for any thing as altruistic. Love here seems to be a cause, an attribute that one may have or not and not the feeling of happiness/relief to being separate. As long as the object of love is external, I want something from that object, even if is the object itself and not a shopping list of things I need. Wanting god for the sake of god only is still a want/desire. Wanting love for the feelings it brings is desire. Then there is the promoted idea of ‘we love ourselves’ which I don’t find true. I see fear and greed/desire but not love; on the contrary, most often I see hate against the self, commonly perceived as an imperfect body/mind that needs to be fixed or punished or both with the purpose of relieving the suffering hate generates.

Secondly, the ‘love to be self-attentive’/the lack of sufficient love for this is to me more of an interest/necessity, rather than love which, the same as in the previous instance, has an object- in this case being self-attentive, and in the other- god. Having it or lacking it as a cause to a desired effect is duality to me. Love as an effect without a cause is non-duality. Happiness that is not sought is love. But then here the words loose meaning- love/happiness/bliss/being is ‘what is’, without qualifications.

In my view, mind’s knowing of the truth that I am not this body and that everything I perceive is thought [impermanent and therefore unreal] has little or nothing to do with love and more with the unpleasant feeling of guilt of doing something while knowing is wrong. The mind is troubled and torn in between knowing the truth and ignoring it at the same time. Is troubled because it cannot grasp itself and therefore seeks the easy way out towards grasping forms, towards being dishonest [knowingly]. The momentary relief of grasping form however gives birth to the feeling of guilt which brings the mind back to looking into itself in order to rest at peace- peace of mind= guilt free

tan oli-y-uru said...

our mixed experiences in daily life bring the mind back to look into itself in order to rest peacefully in and as our essential being 'I am'. Knowing nothing other than 'I am'.
You are surely right in the nice statements "Love as an effect without a cause is non-duality." and "Happiness that is not sought is love."
As you say the mind is a distorted form of awareness.
To be at peace with oneself is possible only when the feeling of guilt has gone.
Peace be with you - Go in peace.

Ken said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ken said...

Love (noun) = Happiness = Existence = Awareness = Bliss = Now ("the presentness of the present moment" -Michael).

Love (verb) creates more karma, unless the object of the love is the Self, in which case it is "love of love".