Monday 24 February 2014

We should meditate only on ‘I’, not on ideas such as ‘I am brahman

Each of the four Vēdas contains a mahāvākya or ‘great saying’ that asserts that ‘I’ is brahman, the one infinite and absolute reality. The mahāvākya of the Ṛg Vēda is ‘prajñānaṁ brahma’, which means ‘pure consciousness is brahman’ (Aitarēya Upaniṣad 3.3); that of the Yajur Vēda is ‘ahaṁ brahmāsmi’, which means ‘I am brahman’ (Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 1.4.10); that of the Sāma Vēda is ‘tat tvam asi’, which means ‘it [brahman] you are’ (Chāndōgya Upaniṣad 6.8.7); and that of the Atharva Vēda is ‘ayam ātmā brahma’, which means ‘this self is brahman’ (Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad 2).

For hundreds of years a widely prevalent belief among those who have studied advaita vēdānta has been that meditating on these mahāvākyas, particularly ahaṁ brahmāsmi (I am brahman), or on words that convey the same meaning, such as sōham (he is I), is the means by which we can experience brahman. However Sri Ramana repudiated this mistaken belief, and explained that when these mahāvākyas assert that ‘I’ is brahman, we should understand that in order to experience brahman we must experience what this ‘I’ actually is, and that in order to experience this we must investigate this ‘I’, attending to it exclusively and thereby ignoring all thoughts or ideas: that is, everything other than it.

A friend wrote to me recently asking why Sri Ramana advised his devotees to meditate on self but not to meditate on any of the mahāvākyas such as ahaṁ brahmāsmi or ‘I am brahman’, and added: ‘Since Brahman is Self, I have not understood the reasons for his disapproval of this form of meditation. Perhaps you could throw light on this point’. The following is adapted from the reply I wrote to him:

Sunday 16 February 2014

Self-attentiveness and citta-vṛtti nirōdha

In the second sūtra (aphorism) of his Yōga Sūtra Patanjali famously defines yōga as follows:


Yōga is nirōdha [obstruction, stopping, restraint, constraint, confinement, control, suppression or destruction] of citta-vṛtti [mental modification or thought].
Citta means mind, and vṛtti is a noun derived from the verb vṛt, which means to turn, revolve, roll, move about, act, happen or occur, so whatever happens in the mind is a citta-vṛtti. In other words, citta-vṛtti means any type of thought, mental activity, mental modification or change that takes place in the mind, and encompasses all mental states, including (according to the sixth sūtra) even nidrā or deep sleep (though this view that sleep is a vṛtti or mental modification does not accord with Sri Ramana’s view of it, which is that it is a state that is devoid of mind). Therefore citta-vṛtti-nirōdha (or chitta-vritti-nirodha as it is often imprecisely transcribed in Latin script) means obstruction or stopping of all thoughts or mental modifications.

Thursday 13 February 2014

Can self-enquiry be practised during work?

One question that I am often asked is whether it is possible to practise ātma-vicāra (self-investigation or self-enquiry) while engaged in other work. For instance, a friend wrote to me recently asking:
Can self-inquiry be practised during work? Situation necessitates move into new field of work, namely marketing, and I am wondering questions such as: How do I learn when I am not thinking? How do I approach customers without thinking?
In reply I wrote:

Whatever work we may experience ourself doing, we are always aware that ‘I am experiencing this’, so we can at any time direct our attention towards this experiencing ‘I’.

If there is some matter that is worrying us at home, or if a close friend is seriously ill in hospital, the thought of our friend or whatever is worrying us will often come to our mind even whilst we are busily engaged in other work. Likewise, if we are passionately eager to experience what this ‘I’ actually is, the remembrance of ‘I’ will often come to our mind even whilst we are busily engaged in other work.

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Spontaneously and wordlessly applying the clue: ‘to whom? to me; who am I?’

In the sixth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?) Sri Ramana says:
[...] பிற வெண்ணங்க ளெழுந்தா லவற்றைப் பூர்த்தி பண்ணுவதற்கு எத்தனியாமல் அவை யாருக் குண்டாயின என்று விசாரிக்க வேண்டும். எத்தனை எண்ணங்க ளெழினு மென்ன? ஜாக்கிரதையாய் ஒவ்வோ ரெண்ணமும் கிளம்பும்போதே இது யாருக்குண்டாயிற்று என்று விசாரித்தால் எனக்கென்று தோன்றும். நானார் என்று விசாரித்தால் மனம் தன் பிறப்பிடத்திற்குத் திரும்பிவிடும்; எழுந்த வெண்ணமு மடங்கிவிடும். இப்படிப் பழகப் பழக மனத்திற்குத் தன் பிறப்பிடத்திற் றங்கி நிற்கும் சக்தி யதிகரிக்கின்றது. [...]

[...] piṟa eṇṇaṅgaḷ eṙundāl avaṯṟai-p pūrtti paṇṇuvadaṟku ettaṉiyāmal avai yārukku uṇḍāyiṉa eṉḏṟu vicārikka vēṇḍum. ettaṉai eṇṇaṅgaḷ eṙiṉum eṉṉa? jāggirataiyāy ovvōru eṇṇamum kiḷambumpōdē idu yārukku uṇḍāyiṯṟu eṉḏṟu vicārittāl eṉakku eṉḏṟu tōṉḏṟum. nāṉ-ār eṉḏṟu vicārittāl maṉam taṉ piṟappiḍattiṟku-t tirumbi-viḍum; eṙunda eṇṇamum aḍaṅgi-viḍum. ippaḍi-p paṙaka-p paṙaka maṉattiṟku-t taṉ piṟappiṭattil taṅgi niṟkum śakti adikarikkiṉḏṟadu. [...]

[...] If other thoughts rise, without trying to complete them it is necessary to investigate to whom they have occurred. However many thoughts rise, what [does it matter]? As soon as each thought appears, if [one] vigilantly investigates to whom this has occurred, it will become clear that [it is] to me. If [one thus] investigates who am I, the mind will return to its birthplace; the thought which had risen will also subside. When [one] practises and practises in this manner, to the mind the power to stand firmly established in its birthplace will increase. [...]
The source or ‘birthplace’ of our mind is only ourself, ‘I am’, so when he says here, ‘If [one] investigates who am I, the mind will return to its birthplace’ (நானார் என்று விசாரித்தால் மனம் தன் பிறப்பிடத்திற்குத் திரும்பிவிடும்: nāṉ-ār eṉḏṟu vicārittāl maṉam taṉ piṟappiḍattiṟku-t tirumbi-viḍum), he means that it will return to and rest in and as ‘I am’ alone. He then says that when we thus turn our mind or attention back to ‘I am’, ‘the thought which had risen will also subside’ (எழுந்த வெண்ணமு மடங்கிவிடும்: eṙunda eṇṇamum aḍaṅgi-viḍum), because thoughts can rise and persist only when we attend to them, so when we turn our attention away from them back towards the ‘I’ that experiences them, they automatically subside.