Saturday 31 May 2014

Since we always experience ‘I’, we do not need to find ‘I’, but only need to experience it as it actually is

In my previous article, The mind’s role in investigating ‘I’, I replied to some of the comments on my earlier article, How to attend to ‘I’?, and in this article I will discuss some of the other issues raised in the comments on that article.

In some of the later comments on that article, mention is made about the difficulty some people have in ‘finding I’ in order to attend to it, which suggests that what I tried to explain in that article was not sufficiently clear. What I tried to explain there was that the idea ‘I cannot find I’ or ‘I have difficulty experiencing I’ implies that there are two ‘I’s, one of which cannot find or experience the other one, whereas in fact there is only one ‘I’, which we each experience clearly, and which there is therefore no need for us to find.

Sri Ramana used to say that trying to find ‘I’ as if we do not already experience it is like someone searching to find their glasses when in fact they are already wearing them. Whatever else we may experience, we always experience it as ‘I am experiencing this’, so any experience presupposes our fundamental experience ‘I am’. We have never experienced a moment when we have not experienced ‘I’, but because we are so interested in the other things that we experience, we tend to take ‘I’ for granted (just as we take the screen for granted when we are watching a film), and hence we usually overlook the fact that we always experience ‘I’.

Since we already experience ‘I’ clearly and certainly, why do we need to investigate it? Though we clearly experience the fact that I am, we do not clearly experience what I am, because we now confuse ‘I’ with other things such as our body and mind. So long as we experience anything else, our experience of ‘I’ will always be clouded and confused (but never actually concealed), so we will not experience ‘I’ (ourself) as it actually is. Therefore we need to investigate what this ‘I’ actually is (who am I) by trying to focus our entire attention upon it (ourself) alone in order to experience it in complete isolation from everything else.

So long as we think of ‘I’ as something that we cannot find, we are taking it to be something other than ourself, the ‘I’ who is trying to find it, and thereby we are adding to our confusion. Therefore, in order to investigate ‘I’, we need to give up the idea that we are looking for something we do not already experience — for some ‘I’ that is other than ourself. The ‘I’ that is to be investigated is the ‘I’ that tries to investigate it, so the fact that I experience myself wanting to investigate ‘I’ is clear proof that I already experience the ‘I’ (myself) that I want to investigate. Therefore self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) is a state of self-attentiveness — a perfectly non-dual state in which I am attentively aware of nothing other than I myself.

In English when we say ‘attend to’, it suggests one thing attending to another thing, and when we say ‘paying attention to’, it suggests that attending is an action. However, what we may crudely and inadequately describe as ‘paying attention to oneself’ or ‘paying attention to I’ is neither a case of one thing attending to another thing, nor is it an action of any sort. Therefore Sri Sadhu Om used to say that in the case of self-attention, it is not a matter of ‘paying attention’ but of just ‘being attention’. Likewise, rather than describing the practice of ātma-vicāra as ‘attending to self’, it is perhaps clearer and more accurate to describe it simply as ‘being self-attentive’.

Not only is self-attentiveness (the state of just being self-attentive) not an action, it is also not a state of duality, because it is a state in which there is absolutely no distinction between the experiencer and the experienced — that is, it is a state in which the experiencing ‘I’ experiences nothing other than itself. This is why (as pointed out by Wittgenstein in his final comment) Sri Ramana said in the last two lines of verse 33 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu:
தனைவிடய மாக்கவிரு தானுண்டோ வொன்றா
யனைவரனு பூதியுண்மை யால்.

taṉaiviḍaya mākkaviru tāṉuṇḍō voṉḏṟā
yaṉaivaraṉu bhūtiyuṇmai yāl.

பதச்சேதம்: தனை விடயம் ஆக்க இரு தான் உண்டோ? ஒன்று ஆய் அனைவர் அனுபூதி உண்மை ஆல்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): taṉai viḍayam ākka iru tāṉ uṇḍō? oṉḏṟu āy aṉaivar aṉubhūti uṇmai āl.

English translation: To make oneself an object known (viṣaya), are there two selves? Because being one is the truth of everyone’s experience.
Only if there were some ‘I’ other than ourself could we experience it as an object, but there is obviously only one ‘I’ that we ever experience, so it can never become a viṣaya — an object of our experience or knowledge. However, though we cannot experience ‘I’ as an object, we do always experience it as ourself, so we experience ‘I’ just by being ‘I’. Thus self-experience, self-knowledge or self-awareness is what we actually are, so it is not something to be newly achieved.

However, since self-experience is absolutely non-dual and infinite (that is, devoid of any division or limitation whatsoever), in its pristine state there is absolutely no room in it for any experience of anything else (because the experience or even existence of anything else would divide and limit its undivided and infinite wholeness). Hence so long as we seem to experience anything other than ourself, our pristine self-experience seems to be obscured, so we seemingly do not experience ourself as we actually are. Therefore, in order to experience ourself as we actually are, we need to experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from any other experience. This is why Sri Ramana said in the last two lines of verse 579 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai:
உபேயமுந் தானே யுபாயமுந் தானே
யபேதமாக் காண்க வவை.

upēyamun dāṉē yupāyamun dāṉē
yabhēdamāk kāṇka vavai.

பதச்சேதம்: உபேயமும் தானே, உபாயமும் தானே. அபேதமா காண்க அவை.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): upēyam-um tāṉ-ē, upāyam-um tāṉ-ē. abhēdam-ā kāṇga avai.

English translation: The goal is only self, and the means is only self. Know them to be non-different.
Since our goal is to experience ourself as we actually are, the means to attain this goal cannot be anything other than trying to experience ourself as we actually are, which we can achieve only by attending to ourself alone, thereby excluding everything else from our experience or awareness. In other words, since pure non-dual self-awareness is our real nature, in order to experience our real nature — what we actually are — we must try to be aware of nothing other than ourself. Keenly focused and vigilantly attentive self-awareness is the only means by which we can experience the pure non-dual self-awareness that we actually are.

Since we are always clearly self-aware — aware that ‘I am’, even though we now confuse ourself with other things that are not what we actually are — all we need to do is just to focus our entire attention or awareness on our self-awareness alone, thereby excluding everything else from our attention or awareness. In other words, what we need to experience is not anything that we do not already experience, but is only what we always experience (namely ‘I am’) — but we need to experience it without any of the other things that we sometimes experience along with it.

In an earlier comment Wittgenstein suggests that for those who are interested in practising ātma-vicāra but have difficulty finding ‘I’, it may be useful to try watching the breathing process for a while, because this will tend to make the breath slow down, and when the breath slows down thinking will also slow down. He then suggests that when thinking slows down sufficiently, the attention should be shifted to the (relatively) thought-free awareness that remains, because he says this awareness is ‘I’, and hence it should be easy for one to recognise it as ‘I’.

Before I discuss the putative efficacy of this technique, there are two other ideas mentioned here by Wittgenstein that need some clarification. Firstly, the relatively calm state of mind that results from attending to the breath is not a state of completely thought-free awareness, but only a state of partially or relatively thought-free awareness, because even the idea ‘this is thought-free awareness’ or ‘I am now experiencing no thoughts’ is itself a thought. According to Sri Ramana, whatever we may experience other than our essential self — our pure, adjunct-free ‘I’ — is only a thought, and even the ‘I’ that experiences anything other than our pure ‘I’ is itself a thought, because it is a confused and conflated mixture of our pure ‘I’ and various adjuncts (thoughts) that we mistake to be ‘I’, so he often referred to it as நான் எனும் எண்ணம் (nāṉ eṉum eṇṇam) or நான் எனும் நினைவு (nāṉ eṉum niṉaivu), the ‘thought called I’ or ‘idea called I’, and in verse 18 of Upadēśa Undiyār he says that it is the root of all other thoughts, because it is the primal thought that experiences both itself and all other thoughts, and hence no other thought can exist or be experienced without it. As he says in the fifth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?):
[...] மனதில் தோன்றும் நினைவுக ளெல்லாவற்றிற்கும் நானென்னும் நினைவே முதல் நினைவு. இது எழுந்த பிறகே ஏனைய நினைவுகள் எழுகின்றன. [...]

[...] maṉadil tōṉḏṟum niṉaivugaḷ ellāvaṯṟiṯkum nāṉ-eṉṉum niṉaivē mudal niṉaivu. idu eṙunda piṟahē ēṉaiya niṉaivugaḷ eṙugiṉḏṟaṉa. [...]

[...] Of all the thoughts that appear in the mind, the thought called ‘I’ alone is the first [primal, basic, original or causal] thought. Only after this rises do other thoughts rise. [...]
Therefore, unless this thought called ‘I’ (the ego or essence of the mind) has subsided entirely, whatever state we may experience is not a state of completely thought-free awareness, and (as Sri Ramana says in verse 13 of Upadēśa Undiyār) there are only two types of state in which this thought called ‘I’ has subsided entirely, namely any temporary subsidence of mind (such as sleep), which is called manōlaya (abeyance of mind), or the permanent subsidence of mind, which is called manōnāśa (annihilation of mind), and which is actually our natural state , our real and eternal state of pure self-awareness, which is the one reality that underlies and supports the false appearance of all our other states. Therefore other than manōlaya or manōnāśa, no state that we may experience can be completely thought-free, because our primal thought called ‘I’ is present in it as the experiencer of whatever is being experienced. Moreover, not only is this primal thought itself a thought, but it also cannot exist without attending to some other thought (no matter how subtle that other thought may be), so it can never experience a state of completely thought-free awareness. As Sri Ramana says in the fourth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:
[...] மனம் எப்போதும் ஒரு ஸ்தூலத்தை யனுசரித்தே நிற்கும்; தனியாய் நில்லாது. [...]

[...] maṉam eppōdum oru sthūlattai y-aṉusarittē niṟkum; taṉiyāy nillādu. [...]

[...] The mind [the essence of which is our primal thought called ‘I’] stands only by always going after [attending and thereby attaching itself to] a gross object [some other thought]; solitarily it does not stand. [...]
The second idea mentioned by Wittgenstein that requires clarification is the assumption that the relatively thought-free awareness that results from attending to the breath is ‘I’, because this may or may not be correct, depending on what the term ‘awareness’ is understood to mean in this context. If it is understood to mean that which is aware of the relative reduction in mental activity, then that is ‘I’ (albeit in its adjunct-mixed form as the ego), but if it is understood to mean awareness in the sense of a cognition or experience of fewer thoughts, than that is not ‘I’, because ‘I’ is what experiences that awareness or cognition.

For example, if I am aware of the presence or absence of traffic noise outside, that awareness of noise or no noise is not ‘I’, because I am what experiences that awareness. Likewise, awareness that thoughts are present or that they seem to be absent is not ‘I’, because I am what experiences that awareness, so attending to that awareness is not attending to ‘I’. However, if we say that I am the awareness that is aware of that awareness of the relative absence of thought, in the first of these two senses the word ‘awareness’ does refer to ‘I’. Therefore ‘awareness’ is an ambiguous term, so in this context it can lead to confusion and misunderstanding (which is incidentally why the popular description of the practice of ātma-vicāra as being ‘awareness watching awareness’ can be easily misunderstood and is therefore potentially misleading).

That is, ‘awareness’ or ‘consciousness’ usually means the quality or condition of being aware or conscious of something other than ‘I’, so in that sense it is not ‘I’, because it is a frequently changing condition and hence impermanent. However, the terms ‘awareness’ or ‘consciousness’ can also be used to denote that which is aware or conscious of anything, so in that sense it is ‘I’ (albeit only the ego so long as it is aware of anything other than itself). Therefore, if one achieves a relative reduction in one’s thinking or mental activity by concentrating one’s attention on one’s breathing or on anything else other than ‘I’, we should not assume that that relatively thought-free state of awareness is ‘I’, but should try to be aware only of the ‘I’ that is aware of that state.

Whatever we may experience, whether a seemingly ‘thought-free awareness’ or anything else, we should always aim to penetrate deeper within ourself by trying to experience who am I who am experiencing this. So long as we experience anything that we can name or describe or conceive in any way whatsoever — even if we can conceive of it only as ‘this is I’ — it is not what I actually am, because I am beyond the reach or grasping power of any word, thought, idea or concept, so we need to penetrate still deeper into our self-awareness in order to distil and extract from it the very essence that is actually ‘I’.

Regarding the technique of watching the breathing process, I have heard other people also saying that they found this technique to be useful, so I do not want to discourage anyone who may be helped by it, but I must say that it seems to be a very roundabout way of achieving something that can be achieved much more easily and directly by simply understanding that we do not need to find ‘I’, because ‘I’ is what we experience always, so we can learn to investigate ‘I’ simply by trying to be exclusively self-attentive — that is, aware of ourself alone, thereby withdrawing our attention from all other things.

Though attending to our breathing may initially seem to be easier than being self-attentive, it seems to be so only because we are familiar with attending to things other than ‘I’, whereas until we start trying to practise being self-attentive we are not familiar with attending only to ‘I’. That is, though we are all obviously familiar with ‘I’ (ourself), we are not familiar with attending to nothing other than ‘I’, so we need to start trying to familiarise ourself with it. In other words, by experimentation — trial and error — we need to start investigating what it actually means to be self-attentive, just as in order to learn how to ride a bicycle one needs to experiment and find out how to maintain one’s balance while pedalling on two narrow wheels.

Only by experimentation and practice can we gain familiarity with any new skill, and this applies to skill in being self-attentive as much as to any other skill. Just as no one can learn one skill (such as riding a bicycle) merely by practising any other skill that is not at all similar to it (such as knitting, typing, swimming or speaking a foreign language), we cannot learn the skill of being self-attentive merely by practising watching our breath or meditating on anything else other than ‘I’. The skill required to concentrate our attention on anything else is quite different to the skill required to attend to nothing other than ‘I’, so the only way to learn this skill is by trial and error: that is, by experimenting and thereby learning from experience how to be exclusively self-attentive.

What people try to achieve by watching their breath is a relatively thought-free state, in which they believe it will be easier for them to attend to ‘I’. However, merely being free of thoughts should not be our aim, because in sleep we are completely free of thoughts, but we do not thereby experience ourself clearly as we actually are. Trying to be free of thoughts in order to be more clearly self-aware is like putting the cart before the horse and expecting the cart to lead the horse to its destination.

Being keenly self-attentive necessarily results in one being free from thoughts about anything else, but being free from thoughts does not necessarily result in one being self-attentive. Hence, even if we are able to achieve a relatively thought-free state by watching our breath (or by any other technique that entails attending to something other than ‘I’), we can make good use of that relative freedom from thoughts only if we then try to switch our attention from our breath (or from whatever else we may have been meditating upon) back to ourself. Therefore, instead of starting by trying to observe our breath, and having to later try to switch our attention back to ourself, why should we not start directly by simply trying to observe only ourself, the ‘I’ who is observing?

Though we can to some extent reduce the intensity of our mental activity by attending to our breathing, so long as we are attending to it our mental activity will not subside entirely, because our very act of attending to our breathing (or to anything else other than ourself) is itself a mental activity — a process of thinking of something other than ‘I’. However, if we attend to our breathing long enough, it may result in our falling into a sleep-like state of complete mental quiescence (manōlaya), but by falling into such a state we will cease attending to our breath. So long as we try to fix our attention on our breath or on anything else other than ‘I’, we are liable to fall into manōlaya, which is a state in which there is not only no mental activity but also a lack of clarity of self-awareness. Therefore we need to avoid falling into manōlaya, and the only effective way to avoid falling into such a state is to be vigilantly self-attentive.

Attending to the breath is a mental activity, whereas being self-attentive is not. Though it is the mind that attempts to be self-attentive when practising ātma-vicāra, its being self-attentive is not an action or mental activity, but is a cessation of all mental activity — a state of just being — because being self-attentive (or clearly self-aware) is our real nature. Therefore trying to be self-attentive causes our mind to subside in its source, ‘I am’, which is what we really are, so when we try to be self-attentive — that is, to be exclusively self-aware — we are trying just to be as we really are.

Thus being self-attentive is not any sort of action or doing, but is just being. And as Sri Ramana said in the sixth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:
[…] சும்மா விருப்பதாவது மனத்தை ஆன்மசொரூபத்தில் லயிக்கச் செய்வதே. […]

[…] summā v-iruppadāvadu maṉattai āṉma-sorūpattil layikka-c ceyvadē. […]

[…] Just being (summā-v-iruppadu) means only making the mind to subside [dissolve or die] in ātma-svarūpa [our own essential self]. […]
That is, though it is the mind that tries to be self-attentive, being self-attentive causes the mind to subside in and as our essential self, ‘I am’, because self-attentiveness is not an action, and without activity — that is, without attending to anything other than ‘I’ — the mind cannot rise or sustain itself. Therefore in order just to be the essential self that it always truly is, all the mind needs is just to try to be calmly self-attentive.

Finally, regarding the comment by Steve, I agree with him that we must be relentless in trying to maintain simplicity, because our natural state of being perfectly self-aware (that is, aware of nothing other than ‘I’) is a state of absolute simplicity, as also is our practice of trying to be perfectly self-aware. The nature of our mind is to create multiplicity and complexity out of what actually is, which is single and simple, and hence our mind thrives and revels in complexity. Therefore the natural tendency of our mind is always to create complexity and confusion whenever it is confronted with simplicity, and hence it tries to complicate and confuse our understanding of the simple non-dual practice of self-attentiveness taught by Sri Ramana.

However, when Steve writes, ‘The mind is relentless in trying to analyze, complicate, and confuse’, we should remember that analysis is a two-edged sword. Much analysis does indeed result in complexity and confusion, but if we are seeking simplicity, we can also use analysis to cut through all our complex and confused understanding and to achieve the simple and clear understanding that we require. For example, the articles that I write in this blog tend to be analytical, but the analysis in them is aimed at simplicity and clarity, and I engage in such analysis only because most of these articles originated as replies that I wrote in answer to questions that people asked me in order to remove their confusion and to clarify their understanding.

Steve quotes Sri Ramana as saying, ‘The method is summed up in the words “Be still”’, and he says, ‘I can’t be still while I am trying to find I, or worrying about which I is attending to which’. So long as we imagine that there is more than one ‘I’ that we could attend to, or that ‘I’ is something we do not now experience and therefore need to find, we will be running round in circles, and hence as Steve says we will not be able to be still.

The saying that Steve quotes originates either from Maharshi’s Gospel, Book 1, chapter 6 (2002 edition, p. 35) or from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, section 363 (2006 edition, p. 346), but though these books were written in English, they recorded in most cases what Sri Ramana said in Tamil. The Tamil words he would have used in this context are சும்மா விரு (summā-v-iru), which mean ‘just be’, ‘merely be’, ‘quietly be’, ‘be still’ or ‘be without any activity’, and as I mentioned above, in Nāṉ Yār? he explains what these words mean in practice: ‘Just being (summā-v-iruppadu) means only making the mind to subside [dissolve or die] in self’.

Therefore it is important to remember in this context that he repeatedly clarified elsewhere that the only way to make the mind subside in self is to investigate who am I: that is, to be keenly self-attentive. For example, in the sixth, eighth and sixteenth paragraphs of Nāṉ Yār? he says:
நானார் என்னும் விசாரணையினாலேயே மன மடங்கும்; [...]

nāṉ-ār eṉṉum vicāraṇaiyiṉāl-ē-y-ē maṉam aḍaṅgum; [...]

Only by [means of] the investigation who am I will the mind subside [or cease]; [...]

மனம் அடங்குவதற்கு விசாரணையைத் தவிர வேறு தகுந்த உபாயங்களில்லை. மற்ற உபாயங்களினால் அடக்கினால் மனம் அடங்கினாற்போ லிருந்து, மறுபடியும் கிளம்பிவிடும். [...]

maṉam aḍaṅguvadaṯku vicāraṇaiyai-t tavira vēṟu tahunda upāyaṅgaḷ-illai. maṯṟa upāyaṅgaḷiṉāl aḍakkiṉāl maṉam aḍaṅgiṉāl-pōl irundu, maṟupaḍiyum kiḷambi-viḍum. [...]

For subsiding [or cessation] of the mind, there are no appropriate [or adequate] means other than vicāraṇā [self-investigation]. If made to subside by other means, the mind will remain as if subsided, [but] will emerge again. [...]

[...] மனத்தை யடக்குவதற்குத் தன்னை யாரென்று விசாரிக்க வேண்டுமே [...]

[...] maṉattai y-aḍakkuvadaṯku-t taṉṉai yār eṉḏṟu vicārikka vēṇḍum-ē [...]

[...] For making the mind subside it is certainly necessary to investigate oneself [in order to experience] who [one actually is] [...]
Therefore, though Steve is correct in saying, ‘I can’t be still while I am trying to find I, or worrying about which I is attending to which’, we should also remember that we cannot be still in the sense meant by Sri Ramana unless we make our mind subside by trying to be exclusively self-attentive — that is, to be aware of nothing other than ‘I’. So long as we are aware of anything other than ‘I’, our attention is being directed away from ourself, its source, towards that other thing, and hence our mind is active, so we are not in a state of absolute stillness or just being. On the other hand, however, if our mind is completely still but without being clearly self-aware, it is in a state of sleep or manōlaya, which is not the state that Sri Ramana meant by the term சும்மா விருப்பது (summā-v-iruppadu): ‘just being’ or ‘being still’.

The meaning of ‘just being’ that Sri Ramana explains in the sixth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?, namely ‘Just being (summā-v-iruppadu) means only making the mind to subside in ātma-svarūpa [our own essential self]’, is notably similar to the definition of ātma-vicāra that he gives in the sixteenth paragraph:
[…] சதாகாலமும் மனத்தை ஆத்மாவில் வைத்திருப்பதற்குத் தான் ‘ஆத்மவிசார’ மென்று பெயர்; […]

[…] sadā-kālam-um maṉattai ātmāvil vaittiruppadaṯku-t tāṉ ‘ātma-vicāram’ eṉḏṟu peyar; […]

[…] The name ‘ātma-vicāra’ [refers] only to [the practice of] always keeping the mind in [or on] ātmā [self]; […]
Therefore keeping our mind or attention fixed firmly on self and thereby making it subside in self is the correct practice of both self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) and being still (summā-v-iruppadu). Keeping our mind on self simply means being self-attentive, or in other words, being aware of nothing other than ourself.

As Sri Ramana said (as recorded at the end of the same chapter of Maharshi’s Gospel: 2002 edition, p. 35): ‘All that is required to realise the Self is to be still. What can be easier than that?’


investigation de soi said...

Yes What can be easier than that?

Thank you Michael to take time to answer questions.... it is really a real pleasure to read your posts...

Many doubts are gone....



Wittgenstein said...


Regarding watching the breathing process, after I read your post, I understand it is quite unnecessary even from the beginning. Since the aim is to be self attentive, it does not matter how many thoughts are there in any given moment. Having lesser thoughts following some technique in no way ensures the development of the skill of being self attentive. If one does not understand this now [with many thoughts], he is unlikely to understand this even when having lesser thoughts. Therefore, being self attentive should be practiced irrespective of the number of thoughts one has at the moment. Talking about watching the breathing process was my ignorance. However, at some stage, this technique suggested by Sri Sadhu Om [in Sadhanai Saram ]and Sri Lakshmana Sharma [in Maha Yoga] was helpful to me.

I also understand that I do not need to find ‘I’, as it is always experienced, although I am not sure of what I am. While being self attentive, if there is one hundred percent clarity of our true nature [180 degree turning inwards], then the need to be self attentive would itself cease and one would remain really as he is [adjunct free 'I']. Hence, till the point of 180 degree inward turning, even in the attempts of being self attentive, the ‘I’ we experience will be mixed with adjuncts, the adjuncts dropping [dissolving] progressively as we move from zero to 180 degrees. Therefore, during the practice of being self attentive, this dropping off of adjuncts will be experienced as having lesser thoughts. However, as you clarified, just having lesser thoughts [by some other means] do not guarantee self attention.

As the awareness of having lesser thoughts is still ‘I’ with adjuncts [not ‘I’ as it is] and hence to go deeper, being self attentive alone is the solution, as the question of who is aware of having lesser thoughts still remains. That was beautifully brought out by you.

I am new to this blog and although the mind is relentless in creating confusion, I feel the way to clarity is only through confusion, atleast for lesser mortals like me. Questions suppressed without expressing leave strong vasanas and they are obstacles to the clarity of our real nature. However, one is also not asking questions like, ‘Is sushumna purple or yellow?’. Self love also brings pain while seeking clarity. One will bang head on walls, weep, get frustrated and have doubts as to what is done is exactly what was said by Bhagavan. It might be easier for Sri Muruganar to sing, ’Aiye athi sulabam’, for such a person is rare. What you are doing here is pretty useful to folks like me. My deepest thanks for you from the bottom of my heart.

Sanjay Lohia said...

Wittgenstein writes:'I feel the way to clarity is only through confusion'. I am not sure what he means by this. I would say that 'the way to clarity is through more and more clarity self-awareness', - that is, by attending more and more to 'I', which will thereby reveal its inherent clarity in an increasing measure. The more we attend to 'I', the more clear it will become, thereby it will gradually remove all non-'I' or all non-self from our awareness, and it is only this non-'I' which is confusion.

However I agree with him when he recommends us to ask questions to clarify our doubts. Yes, this method is useful as a support to our practice of self-investigation and I can say this from my personal experience. However it is important to ask such questions to the right person, for example persons like Michael James, otherwise it may be like a blind leading another blind.

Self-attention was not only easy for Sri Muruganar, but is easy and simple for all of us. Bhagavan has repeatedly said that it is the most simple and direct path for all. We are already self-aware because without being aware of self we cannot be aware of anything else. We just have to be more and more exclusively self-aware, and eventually only self-aware. This is our goal.


Steve said...

Thank you, Michael. It would have been more correct for me to characterize the mind as 'relentless in trying to OVER-analyze, complicate and confuse'. And I agree with you regarding the 'be still' portion of my comment. I was equating 'be still' with your Sri Sadhu Om reference above - 'being attention'.

I know I'm not alone when I say that your presentation and analysis of Sri Ramana's teachings, on its own or in the context of our questions or comments, is never one iota less (or more) than spot-on. It gives me both understanding and motivation, and continually leaves me speechless, which says it all.

Wittgenstein said...


By ‘confusion’, vasanas were meant, as it was pointed out in the comment itself. Clarity comes by cutting through vasanas. In most cases these would be quite strong and in very rare cases it would be pretty weak. Vichara being easy or difficult is a strong function of this, as Ramana says obstacles [vasana] to Reality alone are to be removed, since the real is ever present.

Having said that, as a corollary of that, even if one sat at the feet of Bhagavan, clarity would not be guaranteed. If one reads Sri Sadhu Om’s foreword to Ulladu Narpadu in Sri Ramanopadesa Noonmalai, it would be clear that Bhagavan taught people what was suitable according to their spiritual development. Invariably people asked questions like, ‘What is sushumna?’. It so happened by mere coincidence that in 1902 Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai asked him the [now famous] question, ‘Who am I?’ [out of his sadhana involving reading books on Psychology] and the answers given by the Master came into public domain after 21 years! That shows the toil and sincerity of Sri Pillai, as he was into sadhana based on the answers and not in quickly making money by publishing it. It also shows the rarity of the Master and the disciple getting tuned. On the contrary, around the same period, Sri Gambiram Seshaiyar approached the Master with vasanas developed out of his Raja Yoga background. Bhagavan had to lead him in that direction alone, occasionally inserting his teachings here and there. In 1923, when Sri Muruganar arrived with a clean slate [no heavy vasanas from previous sadhana] and asked, ‘Meiyyin iyalbum, adhai mevum thiranum, uyyumpadi yemakku odhuga’ [Michael’s translation is there for this]. The answer was Ulladu Narpadu, which is purely Ramanopadesam [as the sadhaka was pure], unlike Upadesa Undiyar which is only partly Ramanopadesam. Finally comes the example of Kavyakanta Ganapati Muni, who named the Master by what he is called today [Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi]. The Master used to call him fondly as, ‘Nayana’ [meaning ‘Father’ in Telugu]. Such was their relation. Yet Ganapathi Muni till the end expressed his regret in not understanding the path of self-enquiry. He and his disciple [Kapali Sastry] were into many other paths, even in the proximity of Bhagavan.

From the above description of the different effects of the sadhaka’s vasanas, one can judge for himself how the way to clarity is a strong function of vasanas. Before knowing these things, I was under the impression that self-enquiry could be learnt from internet with a touch of few buttons and upon practice, very nicely ‘adjuncts’ will be removed and one can quite easily ‘shine forth as he is’ and sing ‘aiye athi sulabam’ with Sri Muruganar. If that were so, everyday one Sri Muruganar will be produced. Nevertheless, self-enquiry can be taught and learnt unambiguosly. Ease of that was not meant [that would be too naive].

One should also consider the toil [physical and/or psychological] of the few rare Mahatmas [like Bhagavan] in this path, like for example, how Bhagavan was removed from Pathala Lingam [much later Bhagavan said to one D. S. Sarma that it was not sadhana!]. Of course one can invoke Ajata Vada and say it is all unreal and only in our imagination. If so, what is the necessity to enquire? We can accept such things only from cases where necessity for enquiry is gone. In such cases, Bhagavan would say, ’thanakkor seyalilai thanniyal sarndhanan’. To sing, ‘aiye athi sulabam’ is still difficult! That does not mean there is no hope either.

R Viswanathan said...

"Sri Ramana used to say that trying to find ‘I’ as if we do not already experience it is like someone searching to find their glasses when in fact they are already wearing them."

Sri Nochur Venkataraman also used to make the statement similar to yours, during his discourses. He would then follow it up by saying 1) that one instantaneously starts feeling the presence of the glasses again because one does not have to even use the memory like for having to locate an object that is placed somewhere else; and 2)that similarly, Guru's guidance is only to let you know what you already are when you have apparently shifted your attention so far away from that truth.

R Viswanathan said...

"Whatever else we may experience, we always experience it as ‘I am experiencing this’, so any experience presupposes our fundamental experience ‘I am’. We have never experienced a moment when we have not experienced ‘I’, but because we are so interested in the other things that we experience...."

I would like to reproduce some parts of the book, Silence of the Heart - Dialogues with Robert Adams (First India Printing: September 2012; pages 34 & 35). Under the title, Where Did the "I" Come From?, Robert Adams talks:

"What do you think is the difference between this teaching, jnana marga, and the rest of the yogas, prayer, religions or whatever? What is the basic difference? In every teaching besides advaita vedanta, there is a personal I. Think about that. Let us take the hatha yoga. The "I" learns postures and the ego becomes expanded because you can say, "I can stand on my head and twist my feet," and you give it a Sanskrit name. But you still say,"I can do this." So the I has become inflated. Take Raja Yoga, the eight-fold path. Now these things are good. There is nothing wrong with these things. I'm not putting them down. But there has to be "someone" to learn the yamas and niyamas, the virtues. There is someone who is learning all these things. The I has learned to become virtuous. Take kundalini yoga. I am focusing on the chakras, on each chakra. There is always I and I and I. Take prayer. I am praying to God. Again there is nothing wrong with these things. But the reason we call this direct path is because this is the only teaching that investigates the I. We are not interested in the effects. Whatever the effect may be, we realize that the I is behind it. We realize that if we find the I, then follow it to its source, everything else will be wiped out and we will become free. That is why it is called direct path.

Also what is the difference between meditation and jnana marga? Because most of you realize that on this path it is not really necessary to meditate. So what is the main difference between meditation and this path? In meditation there is always an object of your meditation. And again the I is concentrating on something else, where you exclude everything except the mantra or words of your meditation, whether it is God, or whatever. In this teaching you simply inquire for the source of the I. "Who am I? Where did the I come from?". Even when I say to you, where did I come from, some of you are relating to your body, aren't you? You are thinking where did I come from, as a body? But that is not what we mean. You want to know where the I came from, not where you came from. If you find out where the I came from, you will realize that you do not exist. You never did and you never will. That is the point - where did "I" come from?

And after you get used to this kind of thinking, whenever you use the word "I," you will never refer to your body again. For instance if you have a cold, you usually say, "I have a cold." Only now you will catch yourself and you will laugh,because you will say, "I has the cold." Sounds like bad English. I has the cold and that it has nothing to do with me. So where did the I come from that has the cold? And as you follow the I, it will lead you to the source where there is no I, there is no cold. You can use this method for everything. "I am hungry." Well, catch yourself and realize that "I" is hungry. I is not my real Self. I is hungry. Yet my real Self can never be hungry. I am tired, I am depressed, I am happy, I feel beautiful, I feel wonderful. It is all the same thing. As long as you are referring to your body you are making a big mistake. Separate yourself from I."

R Viswanathan said...

Another passage from Robert Adams Satsang, which is of relevance to this article.

The problem always appears to the one who believes they are the body. When you begin to see that you have nothing to do with the body, then the problem dissolves by itself. And of course you can do that by asking yourself, "To whom does this problem come?" and the answer will be, "The problem comes to me. I have the problem. I appear to have this problem. Where did the I come from? What is the source of I that appears to
have a problem?" The source is always consciousness. And as you inquire, "To whom is the problem?" or "Who am I?" consciousness will eventually take over and you will become free. Do not hold onto your problem, do not try to solve it.

Try to understand that I has the problem. The personal I. And follow the I thread to the source. It's called an I-thread because everything is attached to I as a thread. Your idea of a body your mental concepts, your preconceived ideas, they are all attached to the personal I. By trying to resolve the problem another one will pop up sooner or later. So get to the source and the source is the I. there are not two I's.

Many people make a mistake in believing I is the ego, but there is a real I that is my Self. I try to explain to you there is only one I and that I is yourself. It has no problems, it has no misconceptions, it is pure consciousness. That is who you are. As you follow the I it brings you awareness, reality. Your Self appears by itself and you are home free.

Remember you are not trying to become I or become the Self. You are already that. You are simply following your error, which is your belief in an ego, or your belief in a personal I, to the source and then you are awake. Do not go into profundities, do not make it complicated for yourself. Just realize I am that. I have always been that there is nothing else. I am free now and stick to your guns. Do not allow the world to change your thinking. Hold on to the I.

Josef Bruckner said...

Regarding trying to be self - attentive I will write an email,
because I am regrettably not trained enough to use a Word document in order to leave my comment.

Josef Bruckner said...


Regarding trying to be exclusively self-attentive :

In my experience watching the breath is a helpful tool.

As you write all the mind needs is just to try to be calmly self-attentive.

I am not trained to investigate 'I' simply by trying to be exclusively self-attentive.
When withdrawing my attention from allother things in order to attend to nothing other than 'I' regularly waves and walls of thoughts have to be overcome. To become quiet it can take one hour and more.
That is my starting position:
The thought-free state of awareness by watching partly the mental activity and partly the breath achieved relatively carries my attention deeper inward.
If deep enough at this point I leave the I in the allembracing care of the fire of Arunachala.
The inner awareness now vibrates finer and finer. Inner peace is felt stronger and stronger.
Now I know : I am on the right track and I try to be aware only of the 'I' that is aware of that state. Always penetrating deeper and experience: Who am I who am experience this.
Very rarely I am only the "inner mountain flame".
That mental quiescence seems to be not the mentioned manolaya state because there is no lack of clarity of self-awareness but vigilance.

Far more frequently at that point thoughts appear again and I leave the constant stream of clear attention to myself. So mostly the mind does not subside (permanent) in its source.
And now I use again the weapon of breath-watching : I try to find the thread of my breath again remembering that the thoughts and the breath have the same source - as somewhere in Ramana literature is stated. Only on lucky days at sunset I run down the mountain happy as a little child.

Because I cannot force the mind to dissolve in atma-svarupa I only can try again to reach the goal of permanent just being (self-attentive) - (manonasa).

Everybody will find his adequate method to make the mind subside.

From my above mentioned starting point - that I have not learned till now simply observe
only myself the 'I' who is observing - I dont mind that my trying is called a roundabout way
or a dual action.
Of course it is the mind that attempts to be self-attentive so that is mental activity.
When it is said that the attention to the breath is being aware of anything other than 'I' and
by watching the breath the mind would be directed away from the source I can only say that for me it is a useful tool to switch my attention from breath to myself - without any big contradictory.

Wittgenstein said...

In my further attempts to understand my misunderstanding of the mechanism of watching the breath, I found the following simplified analysis [after reading Michael’s post and the last chapter of Maharishi’s Gospel] would help to achieve that purpose.

1. Since the world and body [and the processes in them like breathing] are in the mind and the mind is only a bundle of thoughts, it is clear that breathing is just a thought in that bundle. Therefore, watching the breath is watching a thought.

2. Since all thoughts are jada [non-conscious], focusing [watching, observing, witnessing] on any of them would lead to a non-conscious state [trance or mano laya].

3. As an exception to the above, the I-thought [in the form, ‘I am so and so’], has the dual aspects of non-consciousness and consciousness knotted in it [cit jada granti]. Of these, if the consciousness aspect of the I-thought [‘I am’] alone is focused on, as in vichara, leaving the other aspect [‘so and so’], it would eventually lead to thought free consciousness [mano nasa].

4. Due to the opposing nature of consciousness and non-consciousness, laya and vichara [self attention] are mutually exclusive.

As a corollary to point 3 above, one can ask what would happen if one repeatedly thinks, ‘I am, I am’ [instead of, ‘I am so and so’, ‘I am so and so’]. The answer is given in Nan Yar that it would lead to the source [thought free consciousness].

From point 4 above, it is clear that one can not be self attentive while in sleep. That being so, there is a statement [believed to be made by Bhagavan] in Mudaliar’s book [DDWB] that if self attention is maintained and one drifts into sleep, it would continue even in sleep, which is difficult to understand. Does this simply mean that one would sooner or later wake up with a reminder to be self attentive? Or is there something else meant [assuming Bhagavan really made this statement]?

Michael James said...

Josef, in reply to your comment of 4 June 2014 22:06 about watching your breath, as I wrote in this article I do not want to discourage anyone who may be helped by this method, but I just tried to suggest what I believe to be a much more simple, direct and effective means. However, since the state of self-attentiveness is very subtle, to achieve it we each have to find the means that suits us best. If you have found a means that helps you, that’s fine, but since this is a path of investigation (vicāra) we should always be ready to explore in order to find means that are perhaps more effective.

Regarding your comment ‘Of course it is the mind that attempts to be self-attentive so that is mental activity’, as I tried to explain in this article, though it is the mind that attempts to be self-attentive, what results when it succeeds in its attempt is not a mental activity but a subsidence of all mental activity. So long as the mind is attending to anything other than ‘I’, it is active, because its attention is moving away from itself towards other things, and (unless it is concentrated firmly on just one other thing) it is constantly moving from one other thing to another. However, when it is exclusively self-attentive (that is, when it is attending to nothing other than ‘I’), its attention is not moving anywhere but is just resting in its source, ‘I’, so it is then not active but perfectly still — this is, it is not doing anything but is just being.

Josef Bruckner said...

I am sorry about my poor English.
What I wanted to express yesterday regarding being self-attentive is essentially this:
Exceptional vigilance should be applied at investigation 'I' primarily in practise.
Pulling and taking the activity of the mind into pieces seems to be not required.
Therefore I dont recognize the benefit of discussing in detail the range of mental activity.
It would be sufficient to know how to "outwit" it.

In order to experience 'I am 'in complete isolation from anything else and from any other experience we have to hold on the primal thought that experiences both itself and all other thoughts.
Of course here we are still in the field of duality.
Of course the invitation to this essential original thought to subside entirely has to be undertaken by any awareness. At this point absolute vigilance has to be keep the ego - thought under keen surveillance. It seems that the controlling awareness is still the ego.
Now no thought will be but only peace.
But who is here the registration authority ? Who am I that I am now ?
This rising question is also mental albeit in subtle form.
But it is also experienced that there comes no answer.
The experiencer experiences I am alone and adjunct-free.
That is my current level on being calmly self-attentive.

Please Michael do clarify misunderstandings if necessary.

Michael James said...

Wittgenstein, I have replied to the questions you ask in the last paragraph of your comment dated 5 June 2014 06:44 in a separate article, Self-investigation, effort and sleep.

Michael James said...

Josef, in reply to your comment dated 5 June 2014 13:46, there is a limit to what can be clarified in words. Real clarification can come only from vicāra — this is, from trying to experience ever more deeply and clearly what this ‘I’ actually is.

In whatever way we may try to clarify our understanding (either to ourself or others) using thoughts and words, we have to leave all of that far behind us when we try to penetrate deep within ourself in order to experience ourself as we really are. Therefore, so long as we are attempting to do this, we will each find for ourself all the clarification that we need.

Josef Bruckner said...

Many thanks Michael for your replies to my comments.
Particularly your advice to the necessary readiness to explore in order to find means that are more effective is of good use.
I too put my trust in continued practise of vicara. That may bring all the required clarification of our understanding.

R Viswanathan said...

I copy-paste a section on Watching the Breath from the book:
A Light on the Teaching of
Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi
The Essence of Spiritual Practice
(Sadhanai Saram) By Sri Sadhu Om

42. Watching the Breath

229. If one takes to Self-attention, the practice of keenly observing only the consciousness “I,” then one need not perform any other practice (sadhana). But let those who cannot take to this practice of Self-attention from the very outset, practice for a short while either repetition of mantras (japa) or watching of the movement of the breath, and then let them give up all such practices and cling only to Self-attention.

230. The path that Sadguru Sri Ramana was for fifty-four years repeatedly teaching to us for our sal-vation was only this primary practice of Self-attention. Know that the practice of watching the breath was only one among the hundreds of thou-sands of other methods that He taught so as to guide on the path towards salvation even those people who were not ready to come to the path of Self-inquiry, which alone was His principle teaching.

231. For those who attend keenly to both the inward-going and the outward-coming movements of the breath, the length of both these movements will decrease, and within a short time the breath will be rising and subsiding only within a very slight man-ner. If they attain this state, it is a sufficient sign (to show that the agitated activity of the mind has de-creased). (Therefore at that stage let them give up attending to the breath, and let them attend instead only to the Self.)

232. If you fix your attention upon the one power within you, which is experienced in the form of the effort that draws the breath within and then pushes it out, then retention of the breath (kumbhaka) will be attained without difficulty or strain.

233. But if you think that effort of yours to be something other than “I,” no benefit will be gained from the retention kumbhaka. And even though you understand this effort of yours to be only yourself, if your attention does not cling to that first person con-sciousness “I,” know that even this practice will only be a buffoonery.

234. Relating to the breath, there are two suitable methods of practice (sadhana): one method is, after watching the movements of the breath for a short while, in order that the raging activity of the wavering mind may subside, to leave that breath-attention and to engage in Self-attention. The other method is to attend within oneself to the one power that draws in and pushes out the breath, knowing that that one power is not other than the conscious-ness “I.” For some people these methods are appropriate.

235. In whatever teaching He gave, the inner aim of Sadguru Sri Ramana was only to turn our power of attention somehow or other so as to fix it firmly upon our own existence-consciousness “I am.” If you ask why this is so, the reason is that God, the original reality, exists only as the first person existence, and hence He cannot be seen as a second person, an object other than “I.”

R Viswanathan said...

Acharya Sri Nochur Venkataraman who gives discourses on Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi teachings for so many years has recently brought out a book on Ulladhu Narpadhu in Tamil, entitled, 'Swathma Sukhi'. The commentary given in this book is like Bhagavan himself is explaining the verses he has written. Furthermore, the commentary coming from Acharya as a result of his experiential knowledge of Bhagavan's teachings, it will be so very beneficial for all of all.

Palani said...

Thanks Michael and everyone for providing clarity.

A quick question, when we say Self enquiry is about to be aware of "I" feeling , paying attention to this sense of I feeling, not paying attention to thoughts, feelings, breath but holding on to the sense of Iam, is it same like being presence or being this open awareness or spaciousness where this sense of I also rises?

For example, when I spontaneously ask Who is thinking all these thoughts, who is having all these questions, WHo is having this mental voices? It is "me" WHo is this "me" and then there is some emptiness, a space where these thoughts arise. So is it like paying attention to space is being aware of "I"?

R Viswanathan said...

I thought that the following conversation (taken from Robert Adams: Collected Works; pages 60 and 61) might be pertinent to this post. R: Robert Adams. I split the conversation to two comments to be able to accommodate within the accepted number of characters in one HTML.

SN: I have a question on consciousness. I suppose the question is, what is consciousness? And is consciousness the Self? And the thing that brought the question on is I was thinking about
the fourth state, the waking state, the dreaming state, the dreamless state. Now in the dreamless state is there consciousness? And in my experience there is no consciousness and I questioned what is consciousness and what is the Self? And is the consciousness and the Self the same thing?

R: Consciousness is an aspect of the Self. Consciousness is the creative principle, of
the true Self, it's the next step before the true Self. It's the creative principle that creates
everything. Everything that appears created comes from consciousness. So in reality you
are consciousness. It's another name for awareness. All these names are synonymous really. Consciousness, Awareness, the Self, God, but yet they're also different aspects. Consciousness is like universal mind.

SN: But is there consciousness in deep sleep?

R: Yes, there is but you're not aware of it. (laughs) (SN: That's what I'm trying to get at. I remember reading that in the waking state, the dreaming state and the dreamless state, there is still the Self. I can relate to the waking state, I can even relate to the dreaming state. For me the dreamless state is, before I go to bed I'm awake, and then I go to sleep, and then I wake up and the period between going to sleep and waking up is only one second, although it was so many hours. So where's the consciousness or where is the Self? And what is the difference between the two?) Consciousness permeates everything and when you are a Jnani you are aware of the dreamless state, you're in the dreamless state but you are aware of it. The ordinary is person is consciousness when they're asleep and dreamless sleep they're not aware of it, that's the only difference. (SN: Oh so it's just a matter of levels?) Levels, it's a matter of levels of enlightenment. (SN: So a Jnani is conscious during dream, dreamless sleep.) A Jnani is always in dreamless sleep but is aware of it. (SN: So even when he's asleep he's conscious he's aware?) Yes. (SN: But a person that isn't a Jnani, when he's in deep sleep, isn't aware?) He's not aware.

SG: It's difficult for me to comprehend awareness without subject/object, without something
to be aware of.

R: Here's an example: You take a baby. The baby is asleep, but the mother gives the baby a bottle and the baby sucks on the bottle, but is not aware of it because it’s asleep, but yet it's sucking on the bottle. So in dreamless sleep you're not aware of what you're doing, but you're pure consciousness. So when you become self-realized, you're pure consciousness but you're aware of it. You're awake! That's the difference.

SN: So basically we're all asleep and it's not until we become awake that we can be aware
during dreamless sleep? (R: That's right.)

R Viswanathan said...

Part 2 of conversation with Robert Adams. (R: Robert Adams).

ST: So what do the dreams mean? Is there something in consciousness that it talks about?
When I had a dream about doing something and woke up, why did I dream about that when I can
do that?

R: Dreams are part of the relative world. (ST: They are a part of the relative world?)
They have to do with your experiences in life. They’re a part of it. (ST: What if you dream
about something that we fear?) Dreams are simply images that come because of your past
experiences. In other words if you were brought up frightened, and you fear things, you
will dream fearful dreams about things that never happened but they'll be fearful because
you created this in your dream mind.

SD: Are you saying that they are part of the earth plane existence? (R: Yes.) If you awaken
would you still dream?

R: You can't dream when you're awake you can only dream when you're asleep. (SD: So a Jnani never has dreams, right?) No a Jnani has dreams sometimes. But the dreams are meaningless most of the time. (SD: Dreams are meaningless?) Yes, don't pay too much attention to dreams. (ST: Why do they happen then?) Because of your state of affairs. It vents
emotions. It gets rid of temper tantrums, emotions. (SD: So they have meaning in that sense
right? To keep us from acting out some of these things during the day?) Yes, it's a release of energy.

ST: But what if you wake up and you've had that sort of dream that wasn’t pleasant and when you wake up it affects your mood?

R: Then change your mood. (ST: I mean is that possible?) Simply realize it's a dream and ask yourself, "Who had the dream?" Again it's your ego that dreams. It's your ego that dreams not your Self. It's a third person looking at it. So you don't give too much power to dreams. A lot of people make a lot of things out of dreams.

Michael James said...

Palaniappan, it is not easy to answer the questions you have asked in your comment because words cannot convey what the experience of being self-attentive actually is, so if what you are trying to describe is a state of more or less clear self-attentiveness, whatever words you may use would not describe it adequately.

You ask ‘is it same like being presence or being this open awareness or spaciousness where this sense of I also rises?’ and ‘is it like paying attention to space is being aware of “I”?’, but self-attentiveness or self-awareness is not like anything else — indeed it is not like anything at all, because anything other than self-awareness would be awareness of something other than ourself.

As I explain in another recent article, What do we actually experience in sleep?, everything that we experience other than ourself has certain features, and it is only by their features that we are able to recognise or even cognise such things, whereas ourself has no features at all. How we are able to be aware of ourself — that is, aware that I am — is just by being ourself, because the very nature of ourself is to be always aware of ourself, so we do not need to have any feature in order to be aware of ourself.

Since our essential self is featureless, our self-awareness is likewise featureless, so if it seems to have any features, that is because it is still mixed with other things (such as our body and mind) that we mistake to be ourself.

Therefore, since words and thoughts can only describe features or things that have features, anything that we can describe in any way is not a state of pure self-awareness or self-attentiveness. Hence the less we can say or even think about our experience of self-attentiveness, the closer it is to being a state of pure self-attentiveness.

I am sorry if this seems not to be of much help, but it is actually very important for us to understand that the pure self-attentiveness or self-awareness that we are trying to experience is absolutely featureless and therefore like nothing that we could describe or even conceive.

Michael James said...

Viswanathan, in reply to your two most recent comments above, in which you quote passages from pp. 60-1 of the Collected Works of Robert Adams, I have noticed from these and other such passages that what he is recorded to have said often does not represent very accurately the actual teachings of Sri Ramana, and many of the ideas he expresses in the extracts you have quoted here (particularly in the first of these comments) actually seem to conflict directly with his teachings. To illustrate this, I will give several examples below (all taken from that first comment of yours).

Firstly, when asked whether there is consciousness in deep sleep, Robert Adams replies, ‘Yes, there is but you’re not aware of it’, and later when asked, ‘So [...] it’s not until we become awake [i.e. self-realised] that we can be aware during dreamless sleep?’ he replies, ‘That’s right’. It is obviously self-contradictory to say that there is consciousness in sleep but you’re not aware of it, because awareness and consciousness are one and the same thing. We could not be conscious in sleep if we were not aware that we were conscious, because if we were not aware we would not be conscious.

If he had said that we are conscious or aware in sleep, but that we generally do not recognise this fact when we are awake, that would have made sense and would be true, but that is not what he did say, nor did he even seem to imply it.

Not only is what he said obviously self-contradictory, but it also conflicts directly with the teachings of Sri Ramana, because Sri Ramana always insisted that we are aware during sleep, even though we may fail to recognise this when we are awake. As I tried to explain in my two most recent articles, What do we actually experience in sleep? and Why do we not experience the existence of any body or world in sleep?, his teaching that we are aware of ourself in sleep is extremely important, because when we recognise this we will appreciate more clearly the featureless nature of our essential self, and this will enable us to understand more clearly the nature of the self-attentiveness or pure self-awareness that we should try to experience when we practise ātma-vicāra.

I will continue to give more examples in my next two comments (since what I have written exceeds the limit of 4,096 characters allowed for each comment).

Michael James said...

In continuation of my previous comment, another example is that when Robert Adams was asked whether consciousness and the Self are the same thing, he replied, ‘Consciousness is an aspect of the Self. Consciousness is the creative principle, of the true Self, it’s the next step before the true Self’. When he thus says that consciousness is ‘an aspect of the Self’ and ‘the next step before the true Self’, he is clearly implying that it is in some way different from our real self and not identical with it.

He then goes on to say, ‘So in reality you are consciousness. It’s another name for awareness. All these names are synonymous really. Consciousness, Awareness, the Self, God, but yet they’re also different aspects’, which seems very confused and confusing. If we are in reality consciousness, why should he say that consciousness is merely ‘an aspect of the Self’ or that it is ‘the next step before the true Self’? These statements are obviously inconsistent.

Likewise, when he says, ‘All these names [Consciousness, Awareness, the Self, God] are synonymous really’, it is inconsistent to then say, ‘but yet they’re also different aspects’. Either they are the same or they are different: they cannot be both the same and different.

Sri Ramana’s experience was absolutely non-dual (advaita), so he denied the existence of any difference whatsoever. Therefore if Robert Adams believes that there is any sort of difference between consciousness and our real self, he is not representing the view either of Sri Ramana or of advaita.

In the sense in which the term ‘consciousness’ is used in the context of Sri Ramana’s teachings and advaita philosophy, it means not merely the state or quality of being conscious, but that which is conscious. Therefore since that which is conscious is only ‘I’, ourself, it cannot be anything other than what we actually are. In other words, consciousness (in this sense of what is conscious) cannot be anything different to our real self.

Robert Adams also says ‘Consciousness is the creative principle, of the true Self’ and ‘Consciousness is like universal mind’, which are both ideas that Sri Ramana explicitly repudiated. Sri Ramana taught that creation is unreal, and that ultimately there is no creation at all (ajāta). However, because we experience what seems to be a created world, he said that what creates this seeming world is only our mind or ego, which is a limited and distorted form of the pure non-dual consciousness that we really are.

In our natural state of pure consciousness, no world (or anything else other than consciousness itself) can exist or even appear to exist, so it is only in the ignorant view of our mind that any creation seems to have occurred. Therefore according to the teachings of Sri Ramana, the creative principle is only this mind and not the real consciousness that we actually are.

Regarding the idea of a ‘universal mind’, Sri Ramana often said that the only mind we actually know and the only mind that sees this world is our own individual mind, so there is no such thing as a ‘universal mind’. Therefore when Robert Adams says that consciousness is ‘the creative principle’ and ‘like universal mind’, he is not representing the teachings of Sri Ramana, and if he claims to be representing them, he is misrepresenting them.

In my next comment I will give one more example to illustrate that the ideas Robert Adams expressed often do not accurately represent the teachings of Sri Ramana.

Michael James said...

In continuation of my previous two comments, another example of the various ways in which Robert Adams misrepresented the teachings of Sri Ramana in the passage Viswanathan quoted in his comment of 15 June 2014 04:17 is when he says, ‘it’s a matter of levels of enlightenment’. According to Sri Ramana there are no levels of enlightenment, and there can be no such levels, because if ‘enlightenment’ means the state in which we experience ourself as we really are, we are either enlightened or not enlightened. We cannot be partially enlightened. Either we experience ourself as we really are, or we experience ourself as something else.

As Sadhu Om used to say, if we jump nine feet across a ten-foot wide well, we will fall in the well just as much as we would if we had jumped just one foot across it. In order to actually jump across it, we have to jump the full ten feet. Likewise, in order to be enlightened, we have to experience ourself as we really are, and if we fail to experience ourself thus, we will fall into (or rather remain in) the well of self-ignorance. There is no point midway between self-ignorance and self-knowledge, so if anyone believes in the existence of any ‘levels of enlightenment’, that is a clear sign of their self-ignorance — that is, ignorance of what ‘enlightenment’ actually is.

Some people may try to justify the fact that Robert Adams expressed such ideas by saying that he was perhaps tailoring what he said to suit the ignorance of those whose questions he was answering, but this is not how Sri Ramana would have responded to anyone who asked him questions about the crucial subject of our self-awareness in sleep. Sri Ramana would have tried to clarify and help the questioner to understand the fact that we are aware of ourself in sleep, whereas what Robert Adams said could only add to and reinforce the confusion of anyone who could not readily recognise the simple fact that we are always aware of ourself, whether we are also aware of other things (as in waking and dream) or are not aware of anything else (as in sleep).

investigation de soi said...

Yes but in another transcripts he said:

S> I feel that when I practice, I go beyond my mind, and you feel peaceful. How do you go beyond that?
R> If you really looked at your mind, and your mind really disappeared, there would be no need of the question because you would feel ultimate peace.
But what really happens to some of us is that we think we're going beyond the mind, we believe we're looking at the mind, but something is wrong because we don't.
Once we really observe the mind and realize it's no thing, we are already beyond it, we're free and happy.
But sometimes, as I said, we think we're doing that but we're not.
And you can tell.
Once you catch a glimpse of self-realization, you'll never go back again.
There's no turning back.
You've either got it or you haven't.
There are no steps to it.
It's like when you're in the room of darkness and you find the light switch.
The darkness just dissipates.
There are no gradual steps.
It doesn't become lighter, and lighter and lighter.
The light just goes on the darkness dissipates.
When your mind is really empty, realization comes of its own accord.

Here Robert said that there is no steps to it, there are no gradual step..

The teaching of Robert is another approach.

It is between 90-93 that these recordings were made ​​... Robert is with some people who might want to find an answer to their questions. Some are familiar with the writings of Ramana, talk, and the rest .... (which In your opinion is doubtful on the translation of certain term) .... and at this time there is no translation as you do, to get to the heart of the teaching of Ramana.

But like said Robert All is well.... everything is at the right place....

Thank you Michael for all your answers... a real blessing.


Palani said...

Dear Michael James, thanks for your comment once again. Taking time to explain. Please do not ask Sorry, as I feel every message and comment of yours helpful in one way or other by Grace of Bhagavan.

The reason of asking the question, I know was silly. Though I try to practice being self aware, paying attention to my own self, to my simple sense of existance. But though I practice, when I read your blogs or the videos or when I read the Bhagavan's work, I always having this question back of the mind that if I'm doing it right? Am I really paying attention to I or am I thinking of I, what I'm doing is a right way etc etc. These questions pop up especially during reading, like when I saw your latest video in youtube or when I read this article. Because I'm aware of the trick... enquiry is not paying attention to some other "I", so when I practice it it is not like looking for something or some feeling and at the same time I also know it is not a mental activity like thinking about I'm, at the same time it is not repeating "I,I,I.." or feeling "I,I,I.." With this understanding I practice looking at my own self.

But then many times, these questions about am I doing it right, am I doing it correctly, am I paying proper Self-attention.These doubts doesnt leave me and hinder my practice. You know Michael, many times I'm not disturbed by any other thoughts, just the thoughts of the doubts. And though I still try to enuire those thoughts also, "Who is having these doubts?, WHo is wanting to practice right?" "Who is experiencing the thoughts and perceptions of practicing" "I,I,I,I....." and I just rest with what remains. But these self doubting on practice thoughts keeps arising again and again and makes me read more about it, analyse and complicate it. That is where I got confused with various terminilogies of Choiceless Awareness, Awareness, Pure Consciousness, IAM etc etc.

Michael James said...

Jacques, what Robert says in the portions you have quoted in your latest comment seems to be correct. So long as there is an ‘I’ that thinks ‘when I practice, I go beyond my mind’, it has obviously not gone beyond the mind, because the ‘I’ that is beyond our mind is what we actually are, and since it alone really exists, it never thinks ‘when I practice’ or ‘I go beyond my mind’.

In my earlier comments about a particular passage from some of transcripts of what Robert said, I did not mean to imply that everything he says is unrepresentative of Sri Ramana’s teachings (and I certainly did not intend to criticise him personally or to suggest that he is not sincere). I just wanted to point out that whatever we read we should read with discrimination (vivēka) and should not just blindly accept whatever is said or written just because we assume the person who said it is ‘enlightened’ or whatever.

The essential teachings of Sri Ramana are simple, clear and logically consistent, and above all, if we analyse our experience of ourself in our three states of waking, dream and sleep along the lines that he suggested, we will find that they are consistent with our experience. Therefore if we study his teachings with discrimination and a deeply questioning attitude, we can be firmly convinced by them on clear and rational grounds — not just on account of blind unquestioning faith.

Hence having studied his teachings in this way, whatever else we may read or hear we should read or listen to with the same discrimination and deeply questioning attitude, and we should judge whether it is consistent with logic, with our own carefully analysed experience of ourself and with Sri Ramana’s teachings.

Trying to emphasise the importance of reading with such a keen discrimination and deeply questioning attitude was my only purpose in my earlier comments above in which I analysed some of the ideas that Robert had expressed but that seemed to me to be questionable.

Michael James said...

Palaniappan, in answer to your latest comment, your doubt about whether or not you are ‘doing it right’ would be meaningful if ātma-vicāra were something that we could only do either completely right or completely wrong — that is, if it were only black or white situation with no shades of grey in between.

From all that you have written, what you are trying to practise is clearly not completely wrong, but you have not yet succeeded in doing it completely right either, because if you had you would have lost yourself in the clear and all-consuming light of true self-knowledge, so you would not exist to have these doubts.

None of us who are still practising has yet succeeded in doing it completely right — that is, in turning our attention 180 degrees away from everything else towards ourself alone — but we may have succeeded in turning at least 20, 30, 50, 100, 150 or even 179 degrees. We cannot know to what extent we manage to turn each time we try (until of course we manage to turn the full 180 degrees, after which we will clearly know that we have never been turned towards anything other than ourself, since we will experience that we alone exist), but so long as we are trying we can be sure that we are doing it right — not perfectly right, but at least partially right.

As I mentioned before, this is a path of vicāra — investigation or exploration — and what we are investigating and exploring is only ourself, our essential ‘I’, so as long as we are trying to investigate ourself, we are certainly on the right path. We can experience what we actually are only by trying to experience ourself alone in complete isolation from everything else, so if you are trying to do this you need have no doubt about whether or not you are doing it right. You are doing it at least partially right, and if you go on trying you will sooner or later succeed in doing it perfectly right.

There is also no need to be confused about all the different terminologies that are used. No words can actually express what we really are, so any words that may be used can at best only point us towards the direction in which we should explore in order to experience ourself as we really are. That direction is obviously only ourself and nothing else, so if any words point us towards ourself, they are useful, and if any other words point us towards anything else, they are useless, so we should reject them.

When we persevere in investigating ourself, we will ultimately find that all words and everything else point us only towards ourself, because we will always remember that all these words and other things are known by us only because we exist, so they will all remind us to turn towards ourself. However, in the beginning we have to be more discriminating, because our attention is more easily distracted away from ourself, so we should pay heed only to those words that remind us to attend to ourself, and we should reject all other words, since they will only distract our attention away from ourself.

investigation de soi said...

Thank you Michael,

That is why Robert often said:

Many times I tell newcomers in the meeting,

"Please do not believe anything I say".

Why should you?

But experiment on yourself and see what happens.

But just don't accept what I say blindly.

Find out for yourself.

Do not let a day go by when you do not practice something on yourself. Robert Adams

Palani said...

Hi Michael, thanks again for your comment.

During the course of the sadhana, I have come to understanding one thing. Too much of reading on this subject by various Guru's doesnt actually help and only ends in confusion and analysis. Though they all point to the same One Truth and even though some of them have similar paths, it is better not to get into multiple things. Even in Bhagavan's writing, there are so many misinterpreations and new new ways of Self-inquiry. SO it is necessary first to have right understanding of the practice in mind and then just put into practice with giving away the tempation to read so many various things. Especially in times where we have facebook, twitter and internet, it invites the mind to dwelve in more reading.

In those days, the Guru's would give one or two upedasa which the sadhak has to practice all life. In case of Sage Arunagirinathar or Thayunmanavar, the only upadesa was "Summa Iru" and they contemplated. Bhagavan has given specific instructions to put the Self Inquiry into practice. The ego fears and gets threatend. I think the feeling of I is so simple that we overlook and leads to doubt o our own existence. I just realized how silly I'm that my mind has gone so outward focus that to focus the attention on myself I'm trying look the sense of me as an object. May be the possible reason is when we turn our attention to ourseleves, we see lot f thoughts, emotions and sensations that the feeling of our existence has become so clouded and we are adding it much more complxity by looking at our own I by adding thinking into it. I guess when we just, drop everything, even the need to look for I and just sit for sometime not focussing anything specific, the sense of I becomes more clear and we just have to be with that sese of feeling.

With the understanding, we need to put in practice, find that balance intuitevely and pray for the Grace of Bhagavan (which is already there) to guide us turn 180 degrees. Though Bhagavan has said there are no milestones in this journey, but still the mind has the fear if it is doing right. Think we should surrender the fear at the feet of Bhagavan and turn the attention to I-feeling and be aware of the feeling.

Palani said...

Is Aham Sphurana and I-feeling both same?

I read somewhere that Sphurana is short for aham-sphurana, which means ‘shining forth of I’.

There is aham and idam. Idam is the object which is very clear - thoughts, sense perceptions, experience.

But when it comes to Aham - I, there is something called I thought, I-feeling, aham sphurana. In many places in self inquiry it is just suggested to hold on to I and investigate the source. Are these three same or different?

Palani said...

What is aham- Sphurana . I read somewhere - Sphurana is short for aham-sphurana, which means ‘shining forth of I’.

Is it same as I-feeling or I-thought. What is the difference between aham sphurana, I-feeling and I-thought. Are all three same or different?

Michael James said...

Palaniappan, in reply to your two most recent comments above (this one and this one), what is common to the terms ‘I’-thought, ‘I’-feeling and ahaṁ-sphuraṇa is only ‘I’ (aham), and that is all the we need to investigate in order to experience ourself (which is what we call ‘I’) as we really are.

If we once experience this ‘I’ as it really is, the meaning of all these terms will become clear to us. However, for the sake of conceptual clarity and understanding, I will explain briefly the meaning of each of these terms.

‘I’-thought is an English translation of two equivalent terms that Sri Ramana often used, namely நான் எனும் நினைவு (nāṉ eṉum niṉaivu) and நான் எனும் எண்ணம் (nāṉ eṉum eṇṇam), both of which literally mean the thought or idea called ‘I’. As he explained on many occasions, what he meant by these terms is our mixed experience ‘I am this body’, in which ‘I am’ is what we actually are (our real self) and ‘this body’ is an extraneous adjunct that we mistake to be ourself.

Therefore, when he asks us to investigate this thought called ‘I’, what he actually wants us to investigate is only its essential element, ‘I am’, in order to separate this essential ‘I’ from all extraneous adjuncts such as ‘this body’. That is, only by focusing our entire attention only on ‘I’ (ourself) can we experience ourself in complete isolation from all adjuncts and other extraneous things.

Regarding the term ‘I’-feeling, it is not possible to say precisely what this means, because the meaning of the English word ‘feeling’ is very vague and ambiguous (for example, the meanings of it given in Oxford Dictionaries include: an emotional state or reaction; an idea or belief, especially a vague or irrational one; the capacity to experience the sense of touch; a sensitivity to or intuitive understanding of). In most cases where this term ‘I’-feeling is used in English books about Sri Ramana’s teaching, it is probably intended to mean the thought or idea called ‘I’, but in some cases it could be a translation of நான் எனும் உணர்வு (nāṉ eṉum uṇarvu), which could be more accurately translated as the awareness or consciousness called ‘I’.

The word உணர்வு (uṇarvu) has a range of meanings depending on the context in which it is used, some of which are similar to some of the meanings of ‘feeling’, but its basic meaning is awareness or consciousness. However, in the sense in which Sri Ramana often used it, it means more precisely that which is aware or conscious. I am not sure whether he actually used the term நான் எனும் உணர்வு (nāṉ eṉum uṇarvu), or if so how often, but an equivalent term that he often used was தன்னுணர்வு (taṉ-ṉ-uṇarvu), which means self-awareness or self-consciousness. Since the awareness we call ‘I’ is only our self-awareness, நான் எனும் உணர்வு (nāṉ eṉum uṇarvu) would denote what he called தன்னுணர்வு (taṉ-ṉ-uṇarvu).

Therefore, if the term ‘I’-feeling is understood to mean our தன்னுணர்வு (taṉ-ṉ-uṇarvu) or self-awareness, in its pure form it would be only our real self, ‘I am’, but so long as it is experienced mixed with any adjuncts, it would be the thought called ‘I’, namely our ego.

I will continue this reply in a second comment, in which I will explain the meaning of the term ahaṁ-sphuraṇa.

Michael James said...

In continuation of my previous comment in reply to Palaniappan:

In English books and articles on the teachings of Sri Ramana a huge amount of confusion has been created about the meaning of the term ahaṁ-sphuraṇa, and hence there are many misconceptions that prevail about what this term actually denotes. Therefore last year I wrote an article called ‘Demystifying the term Sphuraṇa’ in order to try to clear up some of this confusion, and within the next few days I will post a copy of it on this blog.

Therefore without going into too much detail here, I will just briefly explain that as it is used by Sri Ramana the term ahaṁ-sphuraṇa (or its abbreviated form sphuraṇa) simply denotes a fresh clarity of self-awareness. At present the clarity of our self-awareness is clouded due to its being mixed up and confused with extraneous adjuncts such as our body and mind, so what we experience now is a relatively less clear self-awareness. That is, we clearly know that we are, but we do not clearly know what we are. Therefore, when we try to focus our entire attention only on ourself in order to experience ourself as we really are, we begin to experience a fresh clarity of self-awareness, which is what Sri Ramana calls an ahaṁ-sphuraṇa.

At first this sphuraṇa or fresh clarity of self-awareness is unlikely to be perfect (as it was in the exceptional case of Sri Ramana when on account of an intense fear of death he investigated himself in order to find out who am I), so whatever fresh clarity we experience initially will probably be just a relative clarity of self-awareness. However, as we go deeper into this practice by focusing our attention more and more accurately on ourself alone, the clarity of our self-awareness will increase, until eventually we will experience the same perfect clarity that Sri Ramana experienced at that moment that he investigated himself. This perfect clarity of self-awareness is not a relative one but an absolute one, so it will destroy forever the illusion that we are anything other than what we really are.

Therefore, though the term ahaṁ-sphuraṇa means in general a fresh clarity of self-awareness, it does not denote any particular degree of clarity, so it can denote anything from the fresh but still very dim clarity that we experience when we first try to attend to ourself alone, to the perfect clarity that we will experience when we finally succeed in focusing our entire attention only on ourself.

Hence, to summarise my reply to Palaniappan’s questions, when our self-awareness (or ‘I’-feeling as it is sometimes rather vaguely called) is mixed and confused with extraneous adjuncts such as our body and mind, it is called the ‘I’-thought or thought called ‘I’, but when we try to attend to it alone in order to experience it in complete isolation from all extraneous adjuncts, we begin to experience it with an fresh degree of clarity, and any such fresh degree of clarity of self-awareness is what is called ahaṁ-sphuraṇa.

Therefore, from a practical perspective, all we actually need to understand is that we should try to attend only to ‘I’ (ourself). If we do so, the adjuncts that are now mixed with ‘I’ will begin to drop off or recede from our experience, and thus we will experience a fresh of clarity of self-awareness, which is a greater or lesser degree of ahaṁ-sphuraṇa.

Michael James said...

To conclude my previous comment about ahaṁ-sphuraṇa:

If we understand the meaning of the term ahaṁ-sphuraṇa in this simple manner as intended by Sri Ramana, it will no longer seem to be something mysterious, and we will no longer be confused by whatever anyone else may write about it. Moreover, we will be able to understand that the reason why Sri Ramana seemed to say different things about ahaṁ-sphuraṇa in different contexts is simply that there is no single degree of clarity of self-awareness to which alone this term refers, because it can refer to any of a broad range of degrees of such clarity.

The discussion about ahaṁ-sphuraṇa that was begun by Palaniappan here was continued by others in a series of comments (beginning from this one) on another more recent article, Why do we not experience the existence of any body or world in sleep?, so I will reply to some of the ideas expressed in that discussion in one or more comments on that article.

Wittgenstein said...

Regarding the translation of the Tamil word ‘தன்னுணர்வு’ into English as ‘I-feeling’, I guess this was done by Sri Sadhu Om. However, as I have shown through his own words in my earlier comment, he does mean ‘I-thought’ by this.

It would be interesting to consider what Lakshmana Sharma would say in this context. In Maha Yoga, he clarifies ‘Whence am I?’ as ‘What is the Source of the sense of self in the ego?’ [bold emphasis mine]. In the whole of the book, he consistently says ego is the ‘I am the body’ idea. So, this definition can be restated as, ‘What is the Source of the sense of self in ‘I am the body’ idea’? This is the starting point of the investigation, after thoroughly understanding that we do exist in sleep while the world-body does not.

Now, the ‘sense of self’ can be likened to the scent of the master and the ‘Source’ to ‘I am I’. What is suggested here is to focus on the scent to reach the master. It is instructive to note that Sharma is not using the word ‘feeling’ here. Instead he uses ‘sense’ [that explains my bold emphasis above]. One of the meanings in the Oxford Dictionary for the word ‘feeling’ is ‘a sensitivity to or intuitive understanding of’ [which you also have stated]. I suggest here that we might consider this meaning in addition to the other meaning you have picked up. If we proceed on this consideration, we can infer Sharma is talking about the intuitive understanding of the self we have. Since the Tamil word ‘உணர்தல்’ also means ‘அறிதல்’, it would also mean that either we can take the intuitive feeling [தன்னுணர்வு], [as Sri Sadhu Om says] or intuitive understanding [தன்னறிவு] of our existence as the starting point of the investigation. In Ramana’s philosophy since ‘உணர்வு’ and ‘அறிவு’ cannot be separated, both interpretations are consistent with his teachings.

The translation of Sri Sadhu Om [I-feeling] is therefore correct, as long as we understand what is meant. It is only when some authors do not understand this background, they start and perpetuate confusion. For example, I have come across a description of vichara wherein the author says concentration of the I-thought will slowly give way to the I-feeling, which is not what Ramana meant. Reading this, people focus on what they think as I-thought and start expecting I-feeling to develop. When nothing develops [it will not!], they get frustrated. Such is the power of confusion.

Michael James said...

Wittgenstein, regarding what you write about Sri Sadhu Om’s translation of Tamil words, you should not assume that the choice of words in English translations of his Tamil books was always his. Though he could understand English and express himself adequately in spoken English, his knowledge of English vocabulary and grammar was fairly limited, so he could not express himself so well when he tried to write English. Therefore whenever he translated Bhagavan’s, Muruganar’s or his own writings into English, he would explain the meaning to someone who knew better English, and they would then write it in their own words. This is why the present translations of The Path of Sri Ramana and other such books is not very accurate, and why the choice of words used in them is often not the best.

Though I was with him for eight years, most of his books that are now available in English (except Guru Vācaka Kōvai and Sādhanai Sāram) had been translated with the help of others before I first met him. With my help he did correct some of the worse translations, but we never had time to do so thoroughly and completely, so almost all of the existing translations are in need of extensive revision, which I hope I will one day have time to do.

Regarding தன்னுணர்வு (taṉ-ṉ-uṇarvu), he always explained to me that it means self-awareness or self-consciousness, so though the term ‘I’-feeling or the feeling ‘I’ does occur in some of his English books, this was not his choice of wording. Though உணர்வு (uṇarvu) can mean ‘feeling’ in certain contexts, in the contexts in which Bhagavan, Muruganar or Sadhu Om usually used it it means awareness or consciousness, or more precisely in many cases, that which is aware or conscious, namely ‘I’.

Regarding Lakshmana Sarma’s use of the term ‘sense of self’, I suspect that this was perhaps a translation of the Tamil term தன்மை (taṉmai), which literally means ‘self-ness’, but which as you probably know has many other meanings depending on the context, including nature, essence, truth, state or the first person (‘I’). Whether or not this was the Tamil word he had in mind when he wrote ‘sense of self’, as it is used in Bhagavan’s teachings தன்மை (taṉmai) could in many contexts be translated as ‘I-ness’, ‘self-ness’ or ‘sense of self’. Therefore when Lakshmana Sarma explains the meaning of ‘whence am I?’ as ‘what is the source of the sense of self in the ego?’, I would understand ‘sense of self’ in this context as meaning தன்மை (taṉmai): ‘what is the source of the I-ness in the ego?’

Regarding your suggestion that தன்னுணர்வு (taṉ-ṉ-uṇarvu) could be interpreted as ‘intuitive feeling’ and தன்னறிவு (taṉ-ṉ-aṟivu) as ‘intuitive understanding’, it seems to me that both these English terms are too imprecise and general, because they fail to convey the meaning of தன் (taṉ), namely ‘self’, and because these Tamil terms both mean self-awareness, self-consciousness, self-knowledge or self-experience. Not only are ‘feeling’ and ‘understanding’ both inadequate translations of உணர்வு (uṇarvu) and அறிவு (aṟivu) as they are used in the context of Bhagavan’s teachings, but ‘intuitive’ also seems to be an inappropriate term to use to describe self-awareness, because self-awareness is not merely intuitive but is an immediate and indubitable experience — in fact it is the only thing that we experience immediately and indubitably.

Wittgenstein said...

I was little taken aback when you said Sri Sadhu Om’s Ramana Vazhi was not translated by himself, although he was explaining the ideas to the translator. This is very unfortunate because [The Path of Sri Ramana] is one of the most important books that focuses on the practical aspects of vichara in detail and of immense use to non Tamil speaking population of Ramana devotees. If the English version is not very accurate [especially since the most important term thannunarvu gets translated as ‘I-feeling’], I wonder what could have happened to translations in other languages.

Having read The Path of Sri Ramana, the initial reaction is to focus on the I-feeling, assuming it is some kind of feeling. I was frustrated when I read this book for the first time because I felt I was again in square one, unable to do vichara. However, reading the original Tamil version showed the correct path.

If we regress a little, even the I-thought is misunderstood, not by reading The Path of Sri Ramana, but by reading other books. Like how the I-feeling [which itself is a misnomer] was taken to be a feeling, the ‘investigation of I-thought’ is taken to be a search for a particular thought. From what I have understood from your posts, ‘I-thought’ is a shorthand notation for ‘I am so-and-so’, where ‘so-and-so’ is the jada [non-conscious] aspect while ‘I am’ is the cit [conscious] aspect. We were asked by Bhagavan to focus on this cit aspect. Since it [I am, the essential self] is cit [awareness], what was meant by Bhagavan was to focus our attention on our self-awareness, not to focus on any thought.

In my opinion, there are only three books one can read to get an accurate picture of the practice of vichara: [1] Ramana Vazhi, [2] Maha Yoga and [3] HAB. Unfortunately, the first one is for those who can understand written Tamil and the second one is for those with a background in Metaphysics [that is why it is not so popular].

Michael James said...

Sorry, Wittgenstein, I did not mean to suggest that the present translation of The Path of Sri Ramana is not an extremely valuable and helpful book. This translation certainly does give plenty of room for improvement, and the choice of some words used in it may not always be the most appropriate, but it is still the best book in English for anyone who seriously wants to understand how to practise ātma-vicāra. The most important part of the book is the first part, and fortunately the present translation of it is much better than the present translation of the second part, but even the latter is still very useful.

For understanding the practice of ātma-vicāra, the main part of The Path of Sri Ramana is much more clear, accurate and useful than Maha Yoga, because though Maha Yoga does clearly explain much of the philosophical basis of ātma-vicāra, it does not explain the practice of it nearly as clearly or deeply as The Path of Sri Ramana. Therefore anyone who wants to practise ātma-vicāra should certainly read The Path of Sri Ramana if they do not know Tamil and therefore cannot read its original, ஸ்ரீ ரமண வழி (Śrī Ramaṇa Vaṙi, or Sri Ramana Vazhi as its title is often transcribed in Latin script).

Regarding the translation of தன்னுணர்வு (taṉ-ṉ-uṇarvu) as the feeling ‘I’ or the ‘I’-feeling, though this is not the most accurate translation of it, it is not entirely misleading, because most people should be able to understand that what is meant by ‘I’-feeling is only our self-awareness. Therefore all I wanted to point out to you in this regard is that the feeling ‘I’ or the ‘I’-feeling are not terms that I often heard Sri Sadhu Om using when talking, and that whenever he would have used தன்னுணர்வு (taṉ-ṉ-uṇarvu) while speaking in Tamil, he generally used self-awareness or self-consciousness while speaking in English. And even when he did talk about the feeling ‘I’, he used the word ‘feeling’ only because he had heard others using it in this context, so he would have assumed that it is commonly used and understood by people to mean consciousness or awareness.

That is, since almost the only English books he had read were the English books about Bhagavan’s teachings, he tended to use the same terminology used in them unless it was clear to him that any particular word was inappropriate, or unless he knew another English word (such as ‘attention’, which he used very frequently) that was more appropriate than any of the words that were used in English books that tried to express or explain ātma-vicāra. For example, the term ‘self-attention’ was not used in any English books about Bhagavan’s teachings before he coined and started to use it, but he chose to use it because he understand enough English to recognise that it explained the practice of ātma-vicāra so much more clearly than any of the other words that were then used in English books to explain it (such as the term ‘Quest of the Self’, which Lakshmana Sarma used so frequently in Maha Yoga and other books).

(I will continue this subject in my next comment below.)

Michael James said...

In continuation of my previous comment:

However, one term that Sri Sadhu Om did frequently use because it was used in almost all other English books was ‘Self-enquiry’ as a translation of ‘ātma-vicāra’. During the last one or two years of his bodily life I pointed out to him that using a capital ‘S’ in this context seemed to be misleading, since it suggests that the ‘Self’ is something other than ourself, and since distinguishing ‘Self’ from ‘self’ implies a fundamental duality. He at once agreed that this was so, saying that in Tamil there are no capitals and hence no room for creating such unnecessary confusion, and he told me that in all future books and translations we should be careful to avoid capitalising the initial letter of ‘self’ or any other word that denoted self, such as ‘being’, ‘consciousness’ or ‘awareness’.

Later it struck me one day that ‘self-investigation’ would be a much clearer and more accurate translation of ‘ātma-vicāra’ than ‘self-enquiry’, so I discussed this with Sadhu Om and explained to him that ‘enquiry’ can mean either ‘questioning’ or ‘investigation’, so it is ambiguous, and hence though ‘enquire who am I’ can mean ‘investigate who am I’, it is more likely to be misunderstood as meaning ‘question (or ask) who am I’, because the words ‘who am I’ would more typically be understand as a question than as denoting a subject for investigation. I also explained that with regard to the verb equivalents of ‘enquiry’ and ‘investigation’, we can say ‘investigate self’ but cannot say ‘enquire self’, so if we use ‘enquire’ we have to say ‘enquire into self’ or ‘enquire about self’, which is more cumbersome and seems less direct than saying simply ‘investigate self’.

When I explained all this, Sadhu Om told me that in Tamil the verb ‘vicāri’ can also mean either ‘investigate’ or ‘ask’, like the English verb ‘enquire’, but that the nouns ‘vicāram’ and ‘vicāraṇai’ primarily mean ‘investigation’, ‘examination’, ‘exploration’, ‘scrutiny’ or ‘research’, so they are less likely to be understood as meaning ‘asking’ or ‘questioning’. Moreover, he said that in the context of Bhagavan’s teachings ‘vicāri’, ‘vicāram’ and ‘vicāraṇai’ mean ‘enquire’ or ‘enquiry’ only in the sense of ‘investigate’ or ‘investigation’ and not in the sense of ‘ask’ or ‘asking’. Therefore he agreed with me that it would be better to translate ‘ātma-vicāra’ as ‘self-investigation’ rather than ‘self-enquiry’, and said that in future editions of The Path of Sri Ramana or any other books we should use the term ‘self-investigation’ instead of ‘self-enquiry’.

(Incidentally, I noticed later that in Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshivicāri’ and ‘vicāra’ are respectively often translated as ‘investigate’ and ‘investigation’, though they are more frequently translated as ‘enquire’ and ‘enquiry’.)

Therefore, when reading the English translations of any of Sadhu Om’s books, it is important to bear in mind that he had only a limited knowledge of English, so the English words he used may not always be the most appropriate ones or the ones that he would have used if he had had a broader or deeper knowledge of English.

Wittgenstein said...

Michael, thanks for your comments. As you say, "most people should be able to understand that what is meant by ‘I’-feeling is only our self-awareness", it should be fine. However, it was not so in my case. It was clear [although I had guessed the meaning after reading the English version] only after reading the Tamil version. That was the reason I wrote my previous comment.

The information that you have shared with us on the discussion between you and Sri Sadhu Om on the English terms used for vichara [noun and verb forms] are very useful.

Anonymous said...


What do you mean when you said “Because the experience or even existence of anything else would divide and limit its undivided and infinite wholeness”? How is that so? Though I understand that we are the whole, what effects would it have on us?

When you talk about having fresh clarity of self-awareness, what do you mean by that? Clarity in what way? How are you to have clarity of self-awareness? I only ask so I can get an understanding, I understand that ‘clarity of self-awareness’ is exactly what it states, but what is the clarity of self-awareness? Does that mean my discrimination on things will become more clear?


Michael James said...

Anonymous, in verse 28 of Upadēśa Undiyār Bhagavan says that our real nature is ananta (infinite or devoid of any limit or end) and akhaṇḍa (unbroken, undivided or indivisible). Therefore, since we are infinite, nothing can be other than us (because if anything other than ourself existed, that would mean our existence was limited and hence not the infinite whole), and since we are indivisible, no separate parts can exist within us. Hence, if we experience anything that is other or separate from ourself, we are not experiencing ourself as we really are. This is why I wrote:

‘However, since self-experience is absolutely non-dual and infinite (that is, devoid of any division or limitation whatsoever), in its pristine state there is absolutely no room in it for any experience of anything else (because the experience or even existence of anything else would divide and limit its undivided and infinite wholeness).’

So long as we are aware of anything other than ourself, we are not aware of ourself as we really are. Therefore what I mean by ‘clarity of self-awareness’ is the state in which we are aware of ourself as we actually are, and hence of nothing else whatsoever.

However, though absolute clarity of self-awareness entails being aware of nothing other than ourself alone, until we experience such absolute clarity we can experience varying degrees of clarity of self-awareness. The more we practise self-investigation, the more familiar we will become with a relatively clearer awareness of ourself.

As our self-awareness thus becomes clearer, our ability to discriminate or distinguish ourself from other things that now seem to be ourself (such as our body and mind) will also become clearer. Therefore in this sense we can say that relative clarity of self-awareness will make our ‘discrimination on things’ become more clear, as you suggest. However, when we experience perfect clarity of self-awareness, nothing other than ourself will exist or even seem to exist, so in that state there will be no scope for any ‘discrimination on things’ whatsoever.

Even during our practice, we should not mistake ‘discrimination on things’ to be clarity of self-awareness, because to the extent that we are aware of anything other than ourself, our clarity of self-awareness is clouded and obscured. Therefore when we are practising self-investigation, we should try to be aware of ourself alone (as I explain in my latest article, Our aim should be to experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from everything else).

Therefore the answer to your question, ‘How are you to have clarity of self-awareness?’, is that to have clarity of self-awareness we must try to be aware of ourself alone.

Namjagbarwa said...

Michael, would you please give required clarification regarding some sentences on page 4:
1."The second idea mentioned by Wittgenstein[…], depending on what the term 'awareness' is understood to mean in this context.
If it is understood to mean that which is aware of the relative reduction in mental activity, then that is 'I' (albeit in its adjunct–mixed form of the ego),
but if it is understood to mean awareness in the sense of a cognition or experience of fewer thoughts, than that is not 'I', because 'I' is what experiences that awareness or cognition."
Here you are trying to characterize two kinds („senses“) of awareness.
However, I cannot make out any important difference between the described two kinds of awareness(a.'that which is aware of the relative reduction in mental activity'and 'cognition or experience of fewer thoughts'. Both are varieties of 'inner perception'.
2."For example, if I am aware of the presence or absence of traffic noise outside, that awareness of noise or no noise is not 'I', because 'I' am what experiences that awareness. Likewise, awareness that thoughts are present or that they seem to be absent is not 'I', because I am what experiences that awareness, so attending to that awareness is not attending to 'I'. However, if we say that I am the awareness that is aware of that awareness of the relative absence of thought(s), in the first of these two senses the word 'awareness' does refer to 'I'."
Here the question arises: Is it correct to say that we are 'experiencing that awareness' in the sense of (dual) perceiving awareness ? Does not awareness - as an conscious occurence - occur as an objectless process ?
3."Therefore 'awareness' is an ambiguous term, […](which is incidentally why the popular description of the practice of atma-vicara as being 'awareness watching awareness' can be easily misunderstood…)".
Here too I have to ask if awareness can really watch awareness.

Namjagbarwa said...

in my last comment, in the second last sentence of 1.
I forgot the letter b.) and to put the last part of that sentence in square brackets instead of round brackets.
It should be read:
However, I cannot make [...]two kinds of awareness [a.)'that which...activity'
and b.)'cognition...thoughts'].

Namjagbarwa said...

while reading your comment of 3 January 2015 at 12:18
I must raise a question:
1. Paragraph one:
"Anonymous, in verse 28 of Upadēśa Undiyār Bhagavan says that our real nature is ananta (infinite or devoid of any limit or end) and akhaṇḍa (unbroken, undivided or indivisible). Therefore, since we are infinite, nothing can be other than us (because if anything other than ourself existed, that would mean our existence was limited and hence not the infinite whole), and since we are indivisible, no separate parts can exist within us. Hence, if we experience anything that is other or separate from ourself, we are not experiencing ourself as we really are. This is...":
2. Paragraph six, last sentence:
"Therefore when we are practising self-investigation, we should try to be aware of ourself alone (as I explain in my latest article, Our aim should be to experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from everything else)."

My question is:
If 'no separate parts can exist within us' how can there be/exist at all
something like 'everything else'?
Is there perhaps a contradiction ?

Michael James said...

Namjagbarwa, regarding your latest comment, it would be a contradiction only if ‘everything else’ were real, but since everything else does not actually exist but only seems to exist, there is in fact no contradiction. That is, what actually exists is only ourself, who are infinite and indivisible, so our finite ego and everything else is merely an illusion or unreal appearance — something that seems to exist even though it does not actually exist.

However, the paradox is that our ego and everything else seem to exist only in the view of ourself as this ego, and not at all in the view of ourself as we really are. That is, the non-existent ego and everything else seem to exist only in the view of the non-existent ego. This is why it is called māyā, which is a term that means ‘what is not’.

The absolute truth is that none of this exists or even seems to exist, because our ego, who alone experiences it, itself does not exist. However, to experience this we need to investigate our ego, because only by doing so can we experience what alone actually exists, namely ourself as the one infinite and indivisible whole.

Regarding your earlier comment:

1. The difference I was trying to explain is actually a very significant and important one, because in the first case ‘awareness’ is used in the sense of what is aware (namely ourself) whereas in the second case it is used in the sense of what we are aware of. In other words, in the first case it refers to the subject (the one who experiences) whereas in the second case it refers to the object (whatever else is experienced). For example, if I say ‘I am aware of some pain’, my awareness of that pain is not myself (the experiencer) but is only what I am temporarily experiencing.

2. There is only one experiencer (namely ourself, the ‘perceiving awareness’ as you call us), and everything else is what is experienced by us. Therefore what is dual is not the ‘perceiving awareness’ itself. Where duality lies is only in the distinction between this one ‘perceiving awareness’ and everything else that it perceives or experiences.

The only awareness that is objectless is pure self-awareness (our awareness of ourself alone), but so long as we are aware of anything else, whatever else we are aware of is the object of our experience.

3. Only awareness in the sense of the ‘perceiving awareness’ (namely ourself, the experiencing subject) can watch itself, because only in this sense does the term ‘awareness’ refer to what is aware. In any other sense it refers to something that is not aware, so what is not aware obviously cannot be aware of either itself or anything else. Therefore the phrase ‘awareness watching awareness’ is meaningful only if it is understood to mean ‘ourself watching ourself’.

Namjagbarwa said...

thank you very much for your reply in answering my appreciated clarification.
Please excuse and accept my belated thanks but I noticed your comment (nr. 48) only now when checking 'old articles' together with (collapsed) comments.
We have to clearly distinguish between actual existence and unreal appearance or seeming existence.
The "view of the non-existent ego" is like the son of a barren woman.
As you say this is why it is called maya what means 'what is not'.
Neither our ego nor everything else exists or even seem to exist, because our ego , who alone experiences it, itself does not exist. However, to experience ourself as the one infinite and indivisible whole, i.e. to have unclouded and unobscured clarity of self-awareness, we need to investigate our ego.
As you wrote to Anonymous in your comment of 3 January 2015 at 12:18 :
In the state in which we are aware of ourself as we actually are, no awareness of anything else whatsoever is possible. Since we are infinite and indivisible, no separate parts can exist within us. So long as we are aware of anything other than ourself, we are not aware of ourself as we really are.
Thank you also for explaining the significant difference in using the ambiguous term 'awareness' depending on whether it refers to the subject (the one who experiences) or to the object (whatever else is experienced). We ourself are only the one experiencer. Therefore the 'perceiving awareness' is itself not dual.
The objectless pure self-awareness is our awareness of ourself alone.

Namjagbarwa said...

my recent comment disappeared. I hope it will reappear soon.

Namjagbarwa said...

Indeed the comment of 30 October 2016 at 23:00 ended its temporary disappearance.