Sunday 15 June 2014

Why do we not experience the existence of any body or world in sleep?

In a comment on my previous article, What do we actually experience in sleep?, Wittgenstein wrote with reference to my ‘gap’ argument that the featureless gap called ‘sleep’ that we experience between some consecutive states of waking and/or dream ‘also characterizes the discontinuity of world-body (they always pair up), space-time, causation and ego (all belonging to non-self, jada). So, in a single attempt we do come to know the continuity of the background self (sat-chit) and the discontinuity of the non-self. Further, such discontinuous entities should be unreal even when they appear’, and then went on to discuss why we do not experience the existence of the world or any other non-self items in sleep. In general I agree with his inferences, but the following are my own reflections on this same subject:

Because our natural predisposition (or rather the natural predisposition of our mind) is to believe (at least while we are experiencing them in the waking state) that this body and world are real and exist independent of our experience of them, we wrongly assume that the reason we do not experience them in sleep is that we were unconscious then. However, if we analyse our actual experience in our three states of waking, dream and sleep, we can understand that (for reasons such as those that I explained in my previous article, What do we actually experience in sleep?) we are in fact conscious in sleep, even though we are not conscious of any body or world then. We therefore have to question our assumption that this body and world exist when we are asleep, and also our underlying assumption that they exist independent of our experience of them.

As Wittgenstein says, it is wrong to assume that what perceives this world is our eye (or any of our other senses), because they are all jaḍa (non-conscious). What actually perceives or experiences it is our mind, but our mind is a confused mixture of a conscious (cit) element and non-conscious (jaḍa) elements (and hence it is called cit-jaḍa-granthi, the knot that ties the conscious and the non-conscious together as if they were one). Therefore, since the non-conscious elements of the mind cannot perceive anything, it is only the conscious element of the mind that perceives everything (and this conscious element is ‘I’, ourself — what we actually are). Just as our eye and other senses are just channels through which or instruments with which we perceive the world, so the non-conscious elements of our mind are likewise just channels through which or instruments with which we perceive the world.

Because the essential conscious element of our mind is now (seemingly) mixed and confused with its extraneous non-conscious elements, it seems to be limited, but it is in fact unlimited. That is, it (ourself) is not the finite entity that it now seems to be, but is in fact the one infinite reality. As Sri Ramana says in the final sentence of verse 4 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, which Wittgenstein quoted: ‘[...] கண் அது தான் அந்தம் இலா கண்’ (kaṇ adu tāṉ antam-ilā kaṇ), which means, ‘[...] Oneself, that eye, is the infinite eye’.

That is, the eye that perceives everything is only ourself, the essential conscious element of our mind. However, it can see finite things only when it itself seems to be finite, and it seems to be finite only when it (seemingly) mistakes itself to be a body and mind. This is why in the previous sentence of verse 4 Sri Ramana asks rhetorically: ‘[...] கண் அலால் காட்சி உண்டோ? [...]’ (kaṇ alāl kāṭci uṇḍō?), which means, ‘[...] Can what is seen be otherwise than the eye? [...]’.

That is, what is seen cannot be of a different nature than what sees it, so finite things can be seen (or experienced) only by a finite seer (or experiencer), and that finite seer (or experiencer) is only the mind. However, even when we see ourself as this finite mind and thereby see other finite things, the seeing element in this mind (which is a compound that includes many non-seeing elements such as this body and all other thoughts) is only ourself, the one infinite eye.

In sleep the mind as mind (that is, the mind as a compound of one conscious and many non-conscious elements) has subsided, so the only element of it that remain is its essential conscious (cit) element, which is the infinite eye. Therefore what experiences itself in sleep is not our mind as such, but only our infinite self, ‘I am’, which is the only real element of our mind.

Since in some states (namely waking and dream) we experience ourself mixed up with the non-conscious elements of our mind and in other states (such as sleep) we experience ourself without any of those non-conscious elements, they are obviously not ourself but are just extraneous adjuncts. And since our mind seems to exist only when we mistake these extraneous adjuncts to be ourself (or to be parts of the entire body-mind complex that we mistake to be ourself), it is not real but is only an illusion or apparition.

Therefore, since this mind is not real, and since this body and world (or any other body and world that we may experience in a dream or in any posthumous state of existence) seem to exist only when we mistake ourself to be this unreal mind, we can reasonably infer that any body or world that is experienced by this mind is as unreal as it is, and that they depend for their seeming existence upon the seeming existence of this illusory mind. Hence, since we do not experience the existence of any body or world in sleep, even though we do experience our own existence then, we can reasonably infer that no body or world actually exists when we are asleep.

It is only in this waking state that this body and world seem to us to be real (and likewise in dream some other body and world seem to us to be real), but because they now seem to us to be real, we assume now in this waking state that they continue to exist even when we do not experience them, such as when we are dreaming or asleep. This assumption is unjustified, because it is not adequately supported by our experience, nor can it be conclusively inferred from anything that we do experience.

Since almost everything else that we believe is based upon our belief that this body and world exist independent of our experience of them, and since this belief is not only not adequately justified by anything that we experience but is also called into serious question when we carefully analyse our experience of ourself in our three states of waking, dream and sleep, the vast majority of our beliefs are open to serious doubt. Since anything that we experience other than ourself could be an illusion, and since in fact it is all very likely to be an illusion because it is experienced only by our illusory mind, the only belief we have that is actually justified is our belief that ‘I am’ and our inseparable belief that ‘I am aware’.

That is, since we could not experience anything — whether real or illusory — if we ourself did not exist or were not aware, our own existence and awareness are absolutely certain, whereas everything else that we seem to experience or that we believe is profoundly uncertain. Not only does logical analysis tell us that what is absolutely certain is only our fundamental experience ‘I am’ (which entails our being aware that I am, because if I were not aware that I am I would not be ‘I’, the first person or experiencer), but our experience in waking, dream and sleep demonstrates that the only thing that we experience continuously is ‘I am’ (and of course its logical corollary, ‘I am aware that I am’).

However, though we know for certain that I am, we do not know for certain what I am, because we now mistake ourself to be a body and mind, which cannot actually be what I am, since I experience myself in sleep without experiencing either of them. Therefore our analysis of our experience of ourself in our three states of waking, dream and sleep should impress upon us the need for us to investigate what or who am I. Understanding and being firmly convinced of this necessity is the great benefit and only purpose of our analysing our experience in this manner.


Wittgenstein said...

By introducing Bhagavan’s rhetorical question, “கண் அலால் காட்சி உண்டோ?”, at the right place, you have made it clear when a காட்சி [of world-body] is possible. Now, the ‘gap’ argument not only argues for our continued existence but also for the discontinued existence of non-self.

Of course one can only arrive at the intellectual knowledge of our continued existence in all states from these arguments and to find out what we are, we have to resort to self-attention. Nevertheless, I have a strong feeling that if the point of this post and the one before this is not understood, there can not be any correct self-attention, as the crux of the argument wedges between duality and non-duality. If one is not convinced or does not understand the point [even intuitively], all exercises in self-attention will only be chasing some item[s] in an infinite list of non-self. We can see this in the recorded dialogues with Bhagavan. When told about the existence in sleep, people with very strong dualistic vasanas would not understand that and/or get into convoluted and pointless arguments whereas the ones who readily saw the point [immediately or later] without much fuss or with limited and pointed counter-questions, posed only for the sake of further clarifications, would go away to carry on the business of self-attention [correctly]. Therefore, because of their utility, I rate these two posts under ‘top 10’ posts of your blog!

Finally, my heartfelt thanks for these two posts.

Michael James said...

Yes, Wittgenstein, I think what you say is correct to a certain extent, because recognising that we do continue to be aware of our existence in sleep certainly does help us to be more precise and accurate in our self-attentiveness, but when we say this it could discourage people who have difficulty recognising their continued awareness in sleep, so we need to consider it in a somewhat more nuanced manner.

As you imply, unless we are able to recognise that we do experience the existence of ourself in sleep, when we try to attend to ourself in waking, whatever we attend to will be something that we experience only in waking but not in sleep, so it would not be ourself, because we experience ourself both in waking and in sleep. However, if we cannot recognise that we do experience ourself in sleep, we should still try to attend to ourself in waking, because though our self-attentiveness would not be so precise or accurate, it would nevertheless be precise enough to give us an increased clarity of self-awareness, and the more clarity of self-awareness we thereby experience, the easier it will become for us to recognise that we do indeed experience the existence of ourself in sleep.

Sanjay Lohia said...

Revered Sir,

Wittgenstein was not sure whether we can describe self-attentiveness or atma-vichara as satsanga. I was reflecting on this topic. I share my reflections with you for your comments and corrections in my thoughts wherever required. Especially comment on the portions which have been marked as bold.

Till we attain manonasa and our ego or mind is destroyed, our ego is very much there even during our practice of deep atma-vichara. Though during our practice we may experience quite clear self-attentiveness, but can we really say that our mind or ego is no more there? It may not be there in its gross form but it is there in its subtle form.

During our practice we can say that our ego or mind is in laya (that is, it is dormant), or it is hardly noticeable, or it is in a very subtle and tenuous form, but it is there. Therefore from the perspective of this subtle or tenuous ego, it is in satsanga – that is, when this subtle ego is consciously attending to our true, non-dual self 'I am' we can call it satsanga.

However from the perspective of our true self we can say that this ego does not appear to be there during our practice of deep self-attentiveness or atma-vichara. I think Wittgenstein was taking this position.

If one wishes to take a totally non-dual view, can any teaching be needed or possible? Therefore, yes, the absolute truth is non-dual but during our sadhana or practice stage we do accept our ego. After all all sadhana is only done by ego, in order to remove the same ego. Our non-dual, infinite self does not need any practice or discussion on spiritual matters. Therefore we accept our ego because it appears real, of course with an intellectual knowledge that it is not real.

I am also posting this letter in the comments section of your latest article on your blog, so that Wittgenstein can read it and comment on it if he feels like.

Thanking you and pranams,

Sanjay Lohia

Michael James said...

Sanjay, what you write in your comment is by and large correct, except for one point, namely when you say, ‘During our practice we can say that our ego or mind is in laya’. If our mind is in laya, it is not practising self-attentiveness, and if it is self-attentive, it cannot be in laya. It may be to a great extent subsided, but that is not the state of laya.

Laya is a state of complete (albeit temporary) subsidence, as in sleep, but like sleep it is characterised by lack of clarity of self-awareness. Therefore so long as we cling firmly to self-attentiveness, our mind cannot subside in laya.

Regarding this whole discussion about sat-saṅga (which somehow began in the comments on my previous article, What do we actually experience in sleep?), what we should understand is that when Bhagavan says that ātma-vicāra is the best sat-saṅga he is giving a non-dualistic interpretation to a term that when taken at face value seems to imply duality. If we all understand this, as I think we do, then there is no further need for any discussion.

Wittgenstein said...


I am not going to say anything about satsang as I completely agree with Michael [in what he says about it here in this comments section].

I am writing this because I wanted to look at things related to what you write here about sadhana, ego and self from a different perspective. I tend not to think in terms of ego [little/lower self] and self [higher self]. We all know that we exist. Everyone says, ‘I exist’. We also know there is one and only ‘I’. So why call it by multiple names and get confused [you have not opened your coffer yet!]? Now, to use Michel’s terminology, although we know that we are, we do not know what we are. This requires that we look into ourselves [‘I’ looking at ‘I’] to know what we are. So, now if we keep looking at ourselves, we gain more clarity of ourselves until finally we remain just as ourselves. Although ‘I’ looking at anything else is an action, ‘I’ looking at itself can not be an action. Therefore, it is very important to emphasize here that self-attention [I mean the sadhana that you are calling as dualistic] is non-dualistic.

You say, “[...] yes, the absolute truth is non-dual but during our sadhana or practice stage we do accept our ego. After all all sadhana is only done by ego, in order to remove the same ego.” Since we do not have to accept anything to begin with ['I' is there anyway, even if you reject it; you can neither accept it nor reject it - you can not accept it because you are it], I would like to modify your quoted second sentence as, “Non-dualistic sadhana is 'done' by the ‘I’ in order to clearly 'know' itself - in fact it is not 'doing', but being and 'knowing' is also being”.

Michael can correct me in what I wrote above, so that we both can be benefited.

Michael James said...

Wittgenstein, I think you and Sanjay are both correct, but you are each considering the same matter from a slightly different perspective.

As you say, there is only one ‘I’ or self, so talk of a higher and a lower self can be unnecessarily confusing. However, though our one ‘I’ is actually the infinite and indivisible (and hence non-dual) reality, it now seems to us that we are a finite person. This mistaken experience of ourself is what is called the ego. It is actually nothing but our one real self, but it seems to experience itself as a separate entity, and thus it experiences otherness and hence duality.

For our real self — that is, for what we actually — there are no problems, because nothing other than it exists, and hence no sādhana is required, but for us as an ego there are problems, so the sādhana of ātma-vicāra is necessary in order to for us to experience ourself as we really are. Since the need for sādhana presupposes the appearance or semblance of duality, it must begin from a dualistic standpoint.

However, though every other sādhana entails duality (and therefore cannot be an adequate or sufficient means to overcome duality), ātma-vicāra entails trying to experience non-duality (so it alone is the means by which we can overcome duality). That is, every other sādhana entails attending to something other than ‘I’, whereas ātma-vicāra entails trying to attend only to ‘I’ (ourself).

So long as I am still trying to attend to myself, I have not yet succeeded perfectly, so I still experience duality in a more or less attenuated form. Only when I succeed in experiencing nothing other than myself will I actually be experiencing non-duality.

Therefore though Bhagavan said in verse 37 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu that even the argument that there is duality during sādhana is not true, he was not denying the appearance of duality during practice but only the reality of duality during practice. That is, even now when duality seems to exist, it is not real, and non-duality alone is the eternal truth.

If Bhagavan had intended to deny the appearance of duality, he need not have written Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu at all, because if there were no appearance of duality, that would be no need for us to receive any spiritual guidance. The fact that he began the first verse of the main text of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu by saying ‘நாம் உலகம் காண்டலால்’ (nām ulaham kāṇḍalāl: ‘Because we see the world’) clearly indicates that he did accept the fact that for us as an ego duality does seem to exist, so we need spiritual guidance in order to understand that the only way to overcome this semblance of duality is to turn our attention towards ourself and thereby to experience ourself as the sole non-dual reality that we actually are.

Wittgenstein said...

As you say, it is a matter of perspective. From my perspective, I stick on to the 'coffer' analogy of Sri Ramana, as told by Sri Sadhu Om. After discussing different perspectives taken by sadhakas in approaching the problem [of one's reality] via the questions, "Whence am I?" or "Who am I?", Sri Sadhu Om finally urges that a sadhaka should leave the debate of what the 'I' is [ego or self] and just get on with paying attention to it, very much true to Sri Ramana's 'coffer' analogy. I stick to that.

When it is said that whole of Ulladu Narpadu was written because of duality, well, I do not deny that. Sri Ramana did it as he was asked by Sri Muruganar. Leaving aside Ulladu Narpadu for the moment, there is an article by Swami Tapasyananda, reproduced in Appendix-C of Maha Yoga, 1999 Edition wherein the author records Sri Ramana saying that advaita is not a siddhantha to propound and all that is written in advaita is due to questions posed from duality. So, this point is also well acknowledged by me. The main point is, this acknowledgement is not in conflict with the perspective I take [as said in the first paragraph].

Michael James said...

Wittgenstein, regarding your latest comment, I think that ideally we should be equally comfortable with both perspectives. It would be unrealistic to pretend that we do not experience duality, but at the same time it is important to understand that this duality is not real. Though duality seems to exist, what actually exists is only non-duality.

Though we now seem to be a pauper, we should not assume that this is true until we have opened our coffer. If we assume it is true, we will assume there is nothing in our coffer, so we will never try to open it. But if we remain sceptical about our seeming poverty, we will not assume it to be true until we have opened our coffer, so we will try to open it, and will continue trying until we succeed, whereupon our scepticism will be confirmed, because we will find that we are actually very rich.

Likewise, though we now seem to be a person — a finite ego caught up in a web of seeming duality — we should not assume that this is true until we have investigated and found out what we actually are. If we assume it is true, we will assume we are nothing but this weak little ego, so we will never try to investigate and find out what we actually are. But if we remain sceptical about the reality of the person we now seem to be, we will not assume that we are just this weak little ego until we have investigated ourself and thereby experienced ourself as we really are, so we will try to investigate ourself, and will continue trying until we succeed in experiencing what we actually are, whereupon our scepticism will be confirmed, because we will find that we are actually not this finite ego but the one infinite reality.

Regarding the debate about whether the ‘I’ we should be investigating is our finite ego or our infinite self, this is meaningless and pointless when we should be investigating it to experience what it actually is (just as it would be meaningless and pointless to debate whether we should examine the snake or the rope). If we examine what seems to be a snake, we will find that what we were examining was actually only a rope. Likewise, if we examine what now seems to be a finite ego, we will find that what we were examining was actually only our infinite self.

Wittgenstein said...

To pretend that there is no duality is a fool's game. It is like saying, "What I am experiencing now is not there"- a self-contradiction. With the "coffer" analogy of Sri Ramana, what I understand is that he is discouraging two things: [1] assumptions about our financial status before opening it and [2]dry speculations about what we might see in it after opening it [equivalent to discussing featureless self's features!]. I find this a very apt analogy and am not ashamed in repeating it and squeezing through its meaning, as Sri Ramana is asking us to drop all pretensions about experience of both duality ['it's not there! ha! ha! ha!' or 'I'm so little, sob, sob, sob'] and non-duality [it is such and such, infinite, uncountable, limitless, blah-blah-blah]. What more scientific attitude we need?

I was very happy to read your remark, "Regarding the debate about whether the ‘I’ we should be investigating is our finite ego or our infinite self, this is meaningless and pointless when we should be investigating it to experience what it actually is" [bold emphasis mine].

Sanjay Lohia said...

Wittgenstein, the following is the verse 1 of Sri Arunachala Aksharamanamalai written by Sri Ramana:

O Arunachala you root out the ego of those who think 'Arunachalam' in their heart [those who think of Arunachala as their heart].

Though Bhagavan's experience was that of non-duality because that is the only truth and he did not experience anything other than self, he did acknowledge at many places that our ego (which can be described as our 'I am the body' thought) has a semblance of reality till we attain atma-jnana or true self-knowledge. Otherwise why would Bhagavan talk about rooting out of the ego, if it was not seeming real for most of us?

Eventually through our practice of self-investigation our ego (we may call this ego an unclear ‘I’ if this sounds better) will merge in Bhagavan or Arunachala or our true non-dual, self-consciousness, 'I am', and all these terms mean absolutely the same thing. This merging is only from the unreal perspective of our unreal 'I am the body' thought; because our real self does not experience anything separate from itself therefore there is no question of any merging in its view.

This exchange of views is beneficial for all of us, especially because Michael clarifies and adds to our comments and makes our understanding clearer.

Wittgenstein, in which country do you live? I live in India, in the city of Bangalore.

Thanking you and pranams

Wittgenstein said...


I agree with all that you say.

Regarding my whereabouts, I prefer not to disclose them.

Thank you very much.

Wittgenstein said...

In continuation with the theme of this post, since we recognize that we are perfectly aware of ourselves without even a least trace of any feature in sleep, a natural question would arise as to why vichara is actually required, since one may be left satisfied with such a recognition. I have just shared my own thoughts on these lines.

This and the previous post of Michael, when combined with the last chapter of Maharshi’s Gospel, would nicely blend the function of I-thought [which is a short form for ‘I am the body’ thought] in sleep and in vichara. I-thought has the special function of connecting with other thoughts while it is awake, but not in sleep. In fact, waking and sleep states are the waking up and going to sleep of the I-thought. However, during vichara, while I-thought is alive and kicking, it can be made to subside at its source, just by watching it. The purpose of doing this is to keep the otherwise normal connecting feature of the I-thought under check, while it is alive, as it is impossible in sleep. This is the learning phase of the I-thought. Just like how a man can not be trained in any skill while he is asleep, but can be trained when awake, we also catch the I-thought when it is in full swing, just to train it to stay at its source.

With regular training, I-thought ‘learns’ that it is better to stay at its source without connecting with other thoughts. In sleep, as this training is not possible, as soon as the I-thought wakes up, it starts its normal job of hankering after other things. Therefore, it was just in laya in sleep. The characteristic feature of laya is that it will alternate with waking and dreaming. Such a fluctuating state can not be our aim. Therefore, we aim for mano nasa, where such fluctuations will be put to permanent rest.

When we now speak of mano nasa, it is the job of finishing off the vasanas. These vasanas are the whole bunch of thoughts with which I-thought keeps connecting. They are jada. When they are repeatedly left unconnected, they stop appearing from us, which we call as their extinction. Finally, when the whole bunch of them go [including the I-thought, which is the one to go in the end], we may ask if that would be sleep. Of course it would be sleep and we do know that we exist in sleep as pure consciousness. However, now, it can not be called as laya, as vasanas have gone, and most importantly, as I-thought has gone, there will not be waking and dream states again. Waking and dream states are due to vasanas. Therefore, this sleep can be called as eternal sleep.

If we can grasp the idea that we were there in sleep, perfectly aware of ourselves and the world-body were not there, we should not have difficulty in grasping the possibility of eternal sleep.

In physical death, common sense says that we are not there but the world and body are there. However, if we understand Sri Ramana correctly, we know that we will be there but the world-body will not be there. And it would be just another instance of laya. Understanding sleep, therefore, helps us understand physical death. Contemplating sleep is indeed contemplating death.

On the other hand, understanding eternal sleep [which also comes from the understanding of sleep as in Michael’s last two posts] would help us understand that there is no such thing as enlightenment, apart from this eternal sleep. This would be a disappointment for those expecting ‘grand’ enlightenment, followed by living ‘happily’ in the world as physical body and with grand powers. Those who are disappointed would also be exactly the same people who would resist when Sri Ramana teaches, “You were wide awake in sleep, and now, in this waking state, you are asleep”. We can see how understanding sleep is the cornerstone in understanding all other important aspects of Sri Ramana’s teaching.

Sanjay Lohia said...

Revered Sir, Wittgenstein has mentioned an important point in his last comment: ‘In physical death common sense says that we are not there but the world and body are there. However, if we understand Sri Ramana correctly, we know that we will be there but the world-body will not be there’. It is a point worth contemplating upon. Of course, what is true for death is also true for sleep; therefore our everyday sleep is our sample of death. Therefore we should not fear death.

This article mentions about our featureless gap called sleep and Bhagavan has asked us to aim for jagrat-shushupti – that is, he has asked us to remain in this featureless gap even while we are awake. And we can remain thus only by practicing self-investigation.

Bhagavan has said: ‘Atman is the aim. All other aims are for those who are incapable of atmalakshya (having the Self for the aim).

This featureless gap in its absolute purity or clarity is our atman, and this is ever present as our heart. This is the eternal substratum of all our three states of waking, dream and deep-sleep.

If this atman is eternal and ever present as our heart, as our featureless gap, why does Bhagavan calls it our aim? It is because we seem to have forgotten it and take this mind and body to be ‘I’. Therefore vichara or self-investigation is needed to give up this wrong notion that we are this mind and body. Once this delusion is given up fully we will reach our aim – atman, or better still we will be re-established only in self or atman.

Thanking you and pranams

R Viswanathan said...

This post had already so many beautiful contributions. From my part, I would try to give a translation of some portions from the commentary of
Acharya Sri Nochur Venkataraman for Ulladhu Narpadhu verses in his most recent book SwAtmasukhi (Tamil version). I have considered the verse 23 (p192-201). Surely my translation in English cannot match the supreme merit which Acharya's commentary has. Nevertheless, please bear with me since I feel that this is pertinent to this post.

In sleep there body or mind or ego do not exist, but to none does it ever occur "I remained without existence". Not only that. Even though the 'I' that has been proudly assumed in waking and dream states was absent in sleep, everyone affirms the experience " I remained very happy".

The I that existed in sleep is bereft of the pride of body, mind, and the ego I am so-and-so. There is absolutely no touch of duality there in sleep. It is only when the ego 'I' sprouts from the absolute happiness that existed in sleep, the mind, body, and world rise. This 'I' has the nature of appearance and disappearance. The I in sleep has the nature of permanence, uniqueness, and manifestation-free. In sleep, there is no discrimination like sect or sex, nor even the feeling of being a human. There is mere a state of existence. This state of existence (Sat) do remain as base in both dream and waking states. The body, mind, and the ego I am so-and- so veil this state of existence. That is why it is not clearly observed (or experienced). When the cinema film ends, only the screen can be seen. When the film is on, the screen gives the base or existence for every picture-frame.

The subtle brain has the capacity to observe the rise of ego I. Bhagavan calls this as Nunmathi. All actions like Japa or daily physical routine free of desires are for activating or generating this subtle brain.

One can see (or feel) the rise of the first ripple 'I' (from the state of pure happiness and motionlessness in sleep). This ripple creates the drops of dream. Stepwise, the ego assumes the role of a person and sees the world of bodies. This happens almost daily as we wake up from sleep. It is clear from this that it is with the rise of ego that one gets to lose the state of pure happiness.

There is a lot more - like Bhagavan's instruction to Baby Indira as a sloka (about the non-existence of body). Indira, the three year old daughter of G.V.Subbaramaiah had retained Bhagavan's teaching even at the time of her death, just a few months later. But I will stop here.

Wittgenstein said...

Palaniappan’s question of aham-vritti [I-thought] and aham-sphurana [I-I] are very important for the sadhakas. Since I wrote in my previous comment about the function of I-thought, I would like to share some of my thoughts on this here.
In The Path of Sri Ramana – Part One, Sri Sadhu Om says in Chapter 3, “[…]the first person thought, ‘I am this body', which rises as soon as one wakes up from sleep, is the first thought. This ‘I'-thought is the root of all thoughts”. Immediately, when translating Upadesa Undiyar [Verse 18], he says, “[…]what is called mind is only the thought ‘I’ (i.e. the feeling ‘I am the body')]. Here, clearly we can see that the I-thought is equated to the feeling of ‘I am the body’. Hence, we may call this I-thought as I-feeling.
Should we then, during self-attention, focus on this ego feeling? Of course, yes. Regarding the technique of self-enquiry he says, “Although this first person feeling is only the ego, the pseudo ‘I’-consciousness, it does not matter. Having our attention withdrawn from second and third persons and clinging to the first person – that alone is sadhana”. Even though he says all these, he does give us a valuable suggestion: “[…] it is not necessary for sincere aspirants even to name before-hand the feeling ‘I’ either as ego or as Self”. About this I have written in some of my previous comments. It all boils down to this: we all have a ‘sense of self’ [i.e. self-existence or self-awareness] and we need to focus on this. There is no need to name this as ego, this or that beforehand. Although this is a matter of our choice, we can nevertheless use the term ‘ego sense’ in further discussion, as understanding the context is important in all discussions.
Interestingly, the word ‘feeling’ and ‘awareness’ more or less point to one and the same Tamil word, ‘unarvu’. With this hindsight, in Tamil Sri Sadhu Om would define self-attention [thannattam] as, “’Naan irukkiren’ yennum thanmai unarvin meedu gavanam seluthudale thannattam aagum”, urging us to focus on our self-awareness [I am not quoting him here, but imagining how he would define self-attention in Tamil, as I do not have the Tamil version of his book with me right now], which when translated into English would mean that he is urging us to focus on our self-feeling or I-feeling.
Now, coming to aham-sphurana [I-I or Nan-Nan], this is the most confusing one in Ramana literature. We will see what is agreed upon first. ‘I-I’ certainly does not refer to the sense of ego. If so, does it refer to our essential thought-free self? We do not know, as two versions are available. Aham-sphurana, as it is quoted in Vichara Sangraham would mean a stage before mano nasa, as Sri Ramana asks us to follow aham-sphurana, which would lead to its source, much like following aham-vritti. Following the former is likened to a fire in the camphor, while after sublimating it, disappears. Following the latter is likened to a stick used to stir funeral pyre [which is also thrown into the fire after stirring] or a dog following the scent of its master [to reach its destination]. Hence, following both aham-vritti and aham-sphurana is used as a technique to ‘reach’ the essential self.
I am breaking here as I am exceeding my word limit. I will be back to continue further.

Wittgenstein said...

continued from my previous comment

Now we shall see the second sense in which aham-sphurana [I-I or Nan-Nan] is understood. It is in the sense of Upadesa Undiyar, Verse 20. Here it is said that “Nan ondru tanattu ‘nan,nan’ endru ondradhu thanaga thondrume than adhu poondram aam” [bold emphasis mine; Michael’s translation is available for this verse]. The place where the ‘I’ merges, exactly there the ‘I,I’ “appears” spontaneously and it is equated to purna [poondram], clearly indicating the essential self and more importantly indicating mano nasa has occurred. Therefore, in this sense, aham-sphurana is not a stage of practice and therefore not following any clue to reach the goal. These are the two perspectives as I have understood. Certainly, to discuss further on this enigmatic aham-sphurana by a beginner like me would be inappropriate.
I thank Palaniappan for providing me an opportunity to reflect on these things.

Wittgenstein said...

Further to my comments on aham-sphurana, there is another cosmological/creationist aspect of it, as we can find in the entry on 24 March 1945 in DDWB by Mudaliar. Mudaliar asks Bhagavan the meaning of sphurana . Bhagavan says it might refer to either sound or light that we might become aware of. From the context, I infer that this is not any external sound or light, but internal ones. The origin of this is described by Bhagavan as the subtle body of Iswara. Further he remarks that everything comes from light and sound, much reminiscent of what is said in the first verse of Gospel of John [In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God]. On 30 May 1946, Mr. Bose asks Bhagavan the meaning of Hiranyagarba. He equates the meaning of this word again with the subtle body of Iswara and explains how creation of the world [which is the gross body of Iswara] proceeds from that, with a painter’s simile.

The point is, if the above is to be taken at its face value, aham-sphurana is not purnam. Like Acharya Gaudapada, Bhagavan was talking ajativada, as we know. His typical questions would have been: For whom is the creation? For whom is Iswara? Who sees light and sound? Find out. He would say we are purnam, although we do not know it now.

The question that now remains is: why such a sphurana [as narrated by Bhagavan] is getting a status of purnam in Upadesa Undiyar [by the same Bhagavan]?

Sanjay Lohia said...

Revere Sir, in the above comments there has been a discussion on thought-‘I’ and sphurana. As far as our practice of self-investigation is concerned there is no practical difference between attending to our ego and attending to our sphurana. That is, we have to go on attending to thought-‘I’ or feeling-‘I’, which generates more and more sphurana.

Sphurana as explained by you is the new or fresh clarity of self-awareness or a greater degree of clarity of self-awareness or shining of pure ‘I’ in an increasing measure.

Therefore our persistent practice of self-attentiveness produces greater and greater degree of sphurana, as this sphurana is the result of our practice.

But while we are practicing we cannot segregate thought-‘I’ and sphurana; as this thought-‘I’ is mixed with this shining of self-awareness. Also we have no practical benefit of segregating the two, and we just have to go on attending to our feeling of ‘I’ and which could be same as attending to the resultant sphurana.

When this sphurana is relative it is our path, and when it is absolute it is our goal.

If you (Michael) feel like, you may correct and clarify what I have written.

Thanking you and pranams

R Viswanathan said...

Both David Godman and Michael James discussed various aspects of Aham sphurana so very well.

Michael James was kind to send me the pdf file on "Demystifying the term sphurana". I remember that he
mentioned that he wrote this article for Ramana Maharshi Foundation UK newsletter for their November issue (2013?). I am not sure whether this news letter can be accessed on web.

If Michael James can adapt the material discussed in this file as a fresh article, it will be so very beneficial for many.

Wittgenstein said...

Thanks for the link. David Godman maintains till towards the end that the term sphurana is open to both interpretations: [1] as a stage of sadhana, adding that it is just prior to sadhana [a 'precursor' to it, to use his term] and [2] something that follows mano nasa. However, he personally chooses the first alternative based heavily on Bhagavan's conversations with Cohen. All this is scholarly [with all due respect to David Godman], but somehow I am uncomfortable. I am bothered about the Upadesa Undiyar verse I quoted, which goes with option [2]. I want someone to tell me, "Look, this is what sphurana means, according to Bhagavan", once for all, with all reliable references! Unfortunately, Michael's article you refer to is not available under a google search. Many thanks for the comments and I appreciate your concern.

That 'fresh clarity' stuff appears somewhere as a footnote in The Path of Sri Ramana and it is the only place where it occurs. After that, in one of the appendices, a tenuous current of self awareness is mentioned, although I am not sure if this is sphurana. After you quote Michael, I have a hunch that it might be so. Of course, with increasing abhyasa a faint constant current is felt throughout the day, especially when one is not doing something serious. Saying I-thought and sphuran are inseparable does not amount much to me. Why create multiple names for a single entity? Thanks for the comments.

Please help me out with this sphurana stuff. Sorry for the trouble.

By the way, your latest article does not show up in my feed reader [Feedly]. But the comment updates do show up. I tried unsubscribing and re-subscribing too; but the same situation continues. Is there some technical snag?

Palani said...

In Final Talks with Annamalai Swami, there is some reference to I-I. Was reading it today.

Question: Bhagavan once remarked, "What is the value of knowing God if we don't know name of our own "I"? He also spoke about the 'I-I' VIBRATION, saying that it was an emanation of the Self. When Bhagavan spoke of 'I-I', did he mean that it was shabd nadi, a subtle sound or is it merely the feeling 'I-I'?

Annamalai Swami: The both indicate and mean the Self.

Question: Is the sound also the Self?

Annamalai Swami: The sound is happening in the Self

Question: I am asking this because I hear the sound all the time, but I don't know if I feel the I-I in the Heart. I ask myself, "What is the feeling of the sound?"

Annamalai Swami: Let me give you an example. The fan over our head is spinning around. A stream of cool air is coming from it but we also hear the noise of the motor. Both perceptions originate from the working of the fan. It is the same with Self. Th soundless sound of Self goes on all the time by itself. It doesn't make a sound; it is the subtle sound. If you tune into this sound - you can't actually listen because it is not a physical noise - that tuning in will lead you to the peace of Self. The peace is prior and beyond this very subtle pulsation. When you reach that final peace, that ultimate stillness, the sound will disappear in the Self. In the final place there is no sound, there is only peace, somewhat like the peaceful soundless state that is experienced in deep sleep. However, full awareness remains there. It is not an unconscious state.

Palani said...

With reference to 2010 IV October-December Mountain Path, there is an article "Understanding Self-enquiry" by N.A.Mohan Rao, he provides an explanation of Concept of sphurana:

Sphurana stands for abidance in a manifestation of the Self (in the Maya mode), such as the subject-I or the undifferentiated-I. Sphurana is short for aham-sphurana, which means ‘shining forth of I’. It is a figurative way of referring to the seeker’s glimpsing of the ‘I’ (aham) during the said states of abidance. Thus, when we enter the I-feeling, we are said to have sphurana of the subject-I. A characteristic of sphurana is that it is cognized by the mind. So, sphurana has a semblance of non-duality in the form of abidance, and duality in the form of knowledge of the mind.

The concept of sphurana allows us to discuss abidance in subject-I and undifferentiated-I in common. It is advantageous, since, for all practical purposes, we as sadhakas do not have to distinguish between them any time. All that we do is merely keep holding our abidance, and it changes from subject-I to undifferentiated-I on its own. The subsequent abidance in the Self too follows on its own, except that a brief discontinuity will be encountered before this ultimate step.

The fact that the intellect is able to cognize the higher manifestations of ‘I’ in sphurana may be understood from two viewpoints. Firstly, as Bhagavan said quoting from Kaivalya Navaneeta, “Maya cannot obscure Sat (being) but it does obscure Chit and Ananda.”Hence the ‘being’ aspect of the Self is transparent to the intellect, and is realised as sphurana. Secondly, the intellect becomes subtler and subtler, as sadhana progresses.

Bhagavan wants us not to think of sphurana as something too far out of the ordinary. He assures us, “Sphurana is felt on several occasions, such as fear, excitement, etc.” In its pure form, it is said to occur immediately upon our waking from sleep for a brief moment. Bhagavan suggests holding on to it as a viable way to Realization. Sphurana is also said to be experienced in the brief interval between two consecutive thoughts.

Sphurana stays with us from the time we attain the I-feeling till we are on the verge of realizing the Self. It ensures that we never lose track of our goal, just as a dog that is in possession of its master’s scent, or a mountaineer with a hazy view of the distant peak, do not.

Palani said...

Sorry to digress the topic. But would love to hear from you all on the sense of "I"and self attentiveness.

As a beginner, when it is said, pay attention to the "I" feeling / Iam / I thought, naturally what happens is:

1) Mind (the ego) starts paying attention to feeling, it looks at a subtle level like paying attention to a feeling
2) In time, it turns out to be like thinking of Iam. Sometimes the mind tricks me to imagine that I end up thinking in order to know ‘I am’.

While the understanding is very clear: it is not one "I" paying attention to other I feeling and it is a simple sense of Iam and there is no need to think.

So with the above understanding, it looks like there is nothing doing to pay attention to myself (because it brings a subtle thinking mind) instead it is like resting as being and subtle alertness to this beingness so that thoughts dont distract us. So I guess it is like, when I close the eyes, the immeditate few moments even before any thinking happens, just at the moment when I close my eyes, the I-feeling is becomes natural. When I open my eyes and continue, it is like my eyes are open to outside objects, but the attention is still inside on the I-feeling. (This again makes me feel like little thinking of turning inside, directing the attention from my laptop to inside I). I really wonder how one can maintain the attention of the sense of Iam while working or doing any other activities, because that would mean one part of the mind focussing on the work and the other part of the mind having some attention to I feeling.

And I still feel, there is a difference between being aware of I-feeling and I-thought. I-feeling is much more closer. For example when I'm angry or love someone with so much intense or cry hard or laugh out loud, the I-feeling is easy to hold. I-thought is still at more an mental level, may be for intellectual driven people, they can easily hold to I-thought (subtle sense in mind, not about paying attention there but predominant thought of I is perceived) for heart driven people, they can easily hold to I-feeling (subtle sense in heart region not about paying attention there but predominant feeling is felt)

R Viswanathan said...

I forward below the e-mail conversation I have had with David Godman on Aham Sphurana. I will split it into two parts, the first containing my e-mail and the second containing the reply of David Godman.

From: R Viswanathan
Date: Thu, Mar 6, 2014 at 6:52 AM
Subject: Aham Sphuranam - from Ramana Vazhi by Sadhu Om
To: David Godman

Dear Sri David Godman, question no. 36 of most recent edition of Sadhu om book Ramana Vazhi has this on Atma Sphuranam.

I thought of sharing this with you since the question and answers portion, according to Michael James, has not been translated yet in English.
I will benefit from your reply and additional inputs.


36. What is called as (or meant by) Atma Sphuranam?

For every one, the feeling that 'I am so and so or such and such' is what is considered as self. Instead of this, if there occurs clarity or a feeling of 'I am that I am' sets in without the mixing of body consciousness of 'so and so' it is called as 'atma sphuranam'.

Since one feels 'I am that I am' as a new experience compared to 'I am this' feeling that existed for long long time, if our power of attention grabs the new experience incessantly, 'anma nishtai' (abiding in self) will come to stand by us, and then, after destroying the 'I am the body' ignorance and all mental impressions that got accrued through it (ignorance), the sphuranam also will subside.
Just as the flame of camphor, even if it will initially burn high finally subsides, as the camphor gets exhausted, the fire of new self-consciousness 'I am that I am' that began to rise up on the mental impression of body-mind, will after destroying completely the camphor of 'I am the body', subside peacefully as Self. This is the state of liberation.

The atma sphuranam is not the heart beat. The flesh and bloody heart is physical. But this (atma sphuranam) can shine brilliantly even without the body , thus it exists transcending death. If the feeling of self-experience that 'I am only I am' and not that of the body comes, there will not be a second, third object. There will be an experience of self-centered and self alone (bereft of a second object). The state in which second- and third object disappeared is that of experiencing the sphuranam. This will be achieved by the strength of self-attentive habit. Leaving the second and third object and attending only to self is Karmam, Bakthi, Yogam, and Jnanam, all put together.

R Viswanathan said...

I give below the second part - reply of David Godman for my e-mail on Aham sphuranam.

On Sun, Mar 2, 2014 at 6:23 PM, David Godman wrote:

Thanks for the email. I read yesterday's as well. Your translation seems to be fine, although I found the phrase 'the determined pledge (firmly placed in the brain)' for vairagya budhdhiyal a bit oddly phrased. Papaji used to talk about 'taking a firm decision' to ignore the non-Self in order to focus on what is real and abiding. I think this is what is meant here.

Some of these teachings are a little similar to a passage in Vichara Sangraham:
Therefore, leaving the corpse-like body as an actual corpse and remaining without even uttering the word 'I' by mouth, if one now keenly enquires, 'What is it that rises as 'I'? then in the Heart a certain soundless sphurana, 'I-I', will shine forth of its own accord. It is an awareness that is single and undivided, the thoughts which are many and divided having disappeared. If one remains still without leaving it, even the sphurana - having completely annihilated the sense of the individuality, the form of the ego, 'I am the body' - will itself in the end subside, just like the flame that catches the camphor. This alone is said to be liberation by great ones and scriptures.

Though Bhagavan is writing in the third person here, this is the sequence of events that happened in his own case, and he may very well be describing his own realisation in impersonal terms.

Bhagavan realised the Self after one experience of sphurana. Sadhu Om in his writings seems to say that the sphurana is something that happens just prior to realisation, implying that there is no going back once one starts to have this experience. This is a bit like jumping off a cliff: it may be a few seconds before you hit the bottom, but there is no possibility of going back to the top of the cliff again.

My understanding of what Bhagavan has to say on sphurana is that it is not necessarily an experience that automatically leads to realisation. In some cases vasanas reassert themselves, and Bhagavan said on one occasion that sphurana can also be briefly and temporarily experienced in response to a big shock or fear. I believe, based on what I have read of Bhagavan's teachings, that sphurana may in some cases be an immediate precursor of realisation, but it can also be a temporary experience that vansihes when the mind reasserts itself.

In my opinion step one on the list (getting rid of the 'I am the body' illusion) is not a precursor to enquiry but the fruit of its successful practice. One can mentally reject association with the body, but the underlying identification will not go until the 'I'-thought is destroyed in the Heart. Thinking or believing 'I am not the body' does not by itself do much, although it might provide an incentive to start enquiry and find out the truth of the 'I'.

Best Wishes David Godman

Sanjay Lohia said...

Wittgenstein, this is what Bhagavan has said in one place on sphurana. Probably in appears in Talks or Day by Day:

‘I’ is not known in sleep. On waking ‘I’ is perceived associated with the body, the world and non-Self in general. Such associated ‘I’ is ‘aham vritti’. When ‘aham’ represents the Self only it is ‘aham sphurana’. This is natural to the jnani and itself called jnana.

Suppose if we go to hills and are told about a point from where we can see clear sunrise. We are told that it rises at 5 am. We go there at 4 am and look at the direction of sunrise. What will we see? There will be some sunlight mixed with darkness. Sphurana is like this light of the sun, which is still mixed with darkness. This darkness can be equated to our ego or thought-‘I’. Can we separate light from darkness at this time? No.

Gradually as we keep on attending to the source of light (the sunrise point), we will see the light gradually increasing and then there will be sunrise. This is like true self-knowledge or experiencing of absolute aham-sphurana. All darkness will vanish from the sky, meaning our ego will thereby be destroyed.

This may be crude analogy, but this is my understanding. Of course, I am sure; Michael will clarify the entire topic.

Thanking you and pranams

Wittgenstein said...

Speaking of Mr. David Godman, I remarked in one of my earlier comments that his essay is scholarly, I mean just scholarly and nothing more. That was an initial gut feeling which is now gaining strength. Why am I saying all these? Because David Godman’s name was mentioned to me, I started seeing what he is actually saying and I was shocked to see he has paired up with two other guys, James Swartz and Premananda in bringing out a book [with DVD and all that] on Ramana’s teachings. I know for sure that James Swartz does not know the A-B-Cs of Ramana’s teachings. It is evident in what he talks about Ramana, even for a beginner like me. Same goes for Premananda. If that is true, how can David Godman team up with these guys, when knowing well that people are misrepresenting Ramana’s teachings? This is a great lesson to me: even after reading Ramana deeply, one can just remain as what he is [ego]!. Godman can do what he desires but it is our weakness to approach him. Sri Muruganar, Sri Lakshmana Sharma and Sri Sadhu Om lived a life that would set an example for a sadhaka. At the end of the day, for every Lakshmana Sharma, there will be one Kapali Sastry – looks inevitable!

Palani said...

I agree, for sadhana the sphurana is not of that importance, though it would be good to understand. But with more sadhana and experience, the definition will be clear.

Sanjay Lohia said...

Michael wrote an e-mail to me, in which he clarified the term ‘sphurana’. I share the same with you all:

‘It is best to rid our mind completely of the idea that sphurana (in the context of Bhagavan’s teachings) has anything to do with throbbing. Bhagavan uses this word only to denote the fresh clarity of self-awareness (clarity of what I am) that we experience when our attention turns away from all other things towards ‘I’. The degree of such clarity depends on the extent to which our attention is withdrawn from any other thing.

‘The real nature of ‘I’ is absolute stillness, not throbbing, so awareness of any throbbing cannot be aham-sphurana. If it is experienced, it is only a distraction, so we should turn our attention back to ‘I’ that is experiencing it.’

Again he has ended his article: Demystifying the Term ‘Sphurana', as follows:

‘Whatever fresh clarity of self-awareness we may experience, our aim should always be to keep our attention focused ever more firmly and sharply on ourself, the source from which this clarity originates and the essential support on which it always depends.’

This may be interest to some of us.

Thanking you a pranams

R Viswanathan said...

When I read the comments of Wittgenstein about David Godman, a few questions arose in me: Are not comments of this nature actually inconsistent with Bhagavan's teachings? Do such comments really serve the purpose of having beneficial discussion on Bhagavan's teachings?

In this context, I recollect two anecdotes which Sri Nochur Venkataraman used to describe sometimes in his discourses.

1) A devotee who had seen Bhagavan in Virupaksha cave just sitting on the rock-bench saw him again after many years in the old hall of Sri Ramanasramam sitting in the couch with pillows to support his legs and arms. The devotee commented "what Bhagavan, you got spoiled like this ?". Bhagavan replied "yes, 'I' indeed had got spoiled". The devotee left with the satisfaction that Bhagavan accepted the merit of his comment. When other devotees questioned Bhagavan as to why he answered that way instead of refuting his comment, Bhagavan replied to them "yes, is it not true that the 'I' got erased?".

2) A person used to visit the old hall of Sri Ramanasramam daily, but would begin to sleep within a few minutes of sitting. Some devotees who observed this sought to bring it to the notice of Bhagavan. Bhagavan asked a question to them, "is it possible for one to sleep like this daily?". The complaining devotees with lot of interest affirmed that the person does sleep in the hall every day without fail. Then Bhagavan remarked 'He is doing the work he has come here for, and you, instead of doing the work you have come here for, watch him doing this?

I for one have the total trust in Bhagavan that his grace would ensure that no sincere devotee of him will ever be carried away by the so-called misrepresentations.

R Viswanathan said...

I would like to share my experience with David Godman which has been so very beneficial for me not only in the understanding of Bhagavan's teachings but also in knowing about the simplicity and humility of the person who has such a great understanding of Bhagavan and Bhagavan's teachings.

Every time we visit Thiruvannamalai, he is so kind to accept my request to come over to Sri Ramanasramam for a meet. He even was kind to take us along to Skandhasramam, Virupaksha cave, and other places in the hill, and saw us off after walking us down to Arunachaleshwarar temple. He was kind to allow me and my wife to visit his home and show us around. Nothing other than Bhagavan's teachings or incidents related to Bhagavan he would ever discuss with us. He would also be very nonchalant that there will never be a moment where we would be led to think that we are talking with a person of so much knowledge and understanding of Bhagavan. I give below some e-mail conversations with him.

My e-mail to him was:
The reason for writing this e-mail is to request you to let me know, if you won't mind, of your experience with regard to not only "Aham sphurana", but also to "rising of I from deep sleep", and "subsiding of mind even in waking state". Having benefitted hugely by reading your books and by reading the articles on your website, I look upon you as someone whose actual experiences can serve well as a guide for me. If you would think that you can let me know these when I visit Arunachala next time, I will wait for that to materialize, too.

His honest answer was:
I regret to say that I have no direct experience of aham sphurana. As with everyone else, the 'I' rises in me in the transition from sleeping or dreaming to wakefulness. I have felt my mind subside and virtually disappear during the waking state when I have been in the presence of jnanis, and I have had it happen in deep meditation, but I cannot say that it has ever fully vanished during the waking state, leaving an unmediated experience of the Self.

Then I asked him: Dear Sri. David Godman, please give me a brief account of deep meditation in which you have had it happen that your mind subsided and virtually disappeared. What was the object of your meditation and for how long it lasted or how deep you envisage that it took you inside. Surely, you have a chapter on Meditation in your classic book "Be As You Are", but that book was entirely based on Bhgavan's answers to devotees' question and a brief introduction from you. What I seek to know is the methodology you adopted in your practice.

This was his honest answer again:
These things just happen of their own accord. There is no step-by-step process. There is just a sudden awareness of being in which mind is no longer active. Though it has no obvious immediate cause, the more you want it and the more you practise, the more likely it is to happen. It is a bit like a remark attributed to Gary Player, the famous golfer of the 1960s: 'The more I practise, the luckier I seem to get when I play.'

Wittgenstein said...

R Viswanathan:
After reading your comments, I had to do some thinking on that. I do find what you say is very right. These are not consistent with Bhagavan's teachings and they indeed serve no beneficial purpose in discussions of this sort. I shall mind my own business. Many thanks for pointing this out.

Michael James said...

The discussion above about ahaṁ-sphuraṇa was started by a comment by Wittgenstein in which he replied to some questions asked by Palaniappan Chidambaram in two comments on an earlier article, Since we always experience ‘I’, we do not need to find ‘I’, but only need to experience it as it actually is. Yesterday I replied to Palaniappan’s original questions in a series of three comments on that same article (in the first of which I discussed the meaning of the terms ‘I’-thought and ‘I’-feeling, and in the second and third of which I briefly discussed the meaning of the term ahaṁ-sphuraṇa), and now (in this and several subsequent comments) I will reply to a few important points raised here in this discussion about ahaṁ-sphuraṇa.

Though I agree by and large with all that Wittgenstein has written in his first two comments in this discussion (namely this comment and this one), I think it is important to point out that though in most English books the term நான் நான் (nāṉ nāṉ), which Sri Ramana often used to describe the experience of true self-knowledge (such as in verse 20 of Upadēśa Undiyār, verse 30 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu and verse 2 of Āṉma-Viddai), is generally translated as ‘I-I’, this is actually a mistranslation of it (or at least a very inadequate and misleading translation of it). That is, though நான் நான் (nāṉ nāṉ) literally means just ‘I I’, what it actually means is ‘I am I’, just as though நான் யார்? (nāṉ yār?) literally means ‘I who?’, what it actually means is ‘I am who?’ (or ‘who am I?’).

The reason why there is no explicit verb meaning ‘am’ in sentences such as நான் நான் (nāṉ nāṉ) or நான் யார்? (nāṉ yār?) is that a feature of Tamil (which it shares with many other languages) is a phenomenon known as zero copula, which means that the link between a subject and its complement (what it is said to be) is understood without the need for any overt copula (linking verb) such as ‘am’, ‘is’ or ‘are’. It is possible to use an overt copula in Tamil, but it is complicated and in most circumstances would seem unnatural. For example, the normal way to say ‘I am Raman’ would be to say ‘nāṉ rāmaṉ’ (‘I [am] Raman’), but to include an overt copula one would have to say ‘nāṉ rāmaṉāy irukkiṟēṉ’, which literally means ‘I am being Raman’ or ‘I am as Raman’.

(I will continue this explanation in my next two comments below.)

Michael James said...

In continuation of my previous comment about the meaning of நான் நான் (nāṉ nāṉ):

As Lakshmana Sarma points out in his Tamil commentary on verse 30 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, Sri Ramana described the experience of true self-knowledge as ‘நான் நான்’ (nāṉ nāṉ), ‘I am I’, in order to contrast it with our experience of the ego, ‘நான் இது’ (nāṉ idu), ‘I am this’, and he expresses the same idea in Chapter 9 of Maha Yoga when he writes, “the Sage calls this formless Consciousness the ‘I am I’ to distinguish it from the ego-sense which has the form of ‘I am this (body)’” (2002 edition, p. 149). That is, whereas we now experience ourself as ‘I am this body’, when this false ego-sense is swallowed by the clear light of true self-knowledge we will experience ourself only as ‘I am I’.

Whenever Sri Sadhu Om wrote a பொழிப்புரை (an explanatory paraphrase in Tamil prose) for any verse in which Sri Ramana used this term ‘நான் நான்’ (such as verse 20 of Upadēśa Undiyār, verse 30 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu or verse 2 of Āṉma-Viddai), he usually paraphrased it as ‘நான் நானே’ (nāṉ nāṉē), which means ‘I am only I’ (the added suffix ‘ē’ being an intensifier that in this context conveys the sense of ‘only’), in order to emphasise that what is experienced as ‘I’ in the state of true self-knowledge is only ‘I’ itself and not anything else such as ‘this’ or ‘that’.

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

Michael James said...

In continuation of my previous two comments above (this one and this one) about the meaning of நான் நான் (nāṉ nāṉ):

When நான் நான் (nāṉ nāṉ) is translated correctly as ‘I am I’, it is clear what Sri Ramana meant by these words, but when it is translated as ‘I-I’, as it is in most English books, it is not at all clear what he meant. Because the translation ‘I-I’ does not indicate or even suggest that ‘நான் நான்’ (nāṉ nāṉ) is actually a complete sentence or finite clause with a verb that is clearly implied though not explicitly stated, ‘I-I’ does not at all convey the meaning that is clearly conveyed by ‘நான் நான்’ (nāṉ nāṉ), but somehow this mistranslation has become established and most translators, commentators and writers of English books or articles on the teachings of Sri Ramana continue to use it unquestioningly and without any apparent idea of what the original term in Tamil actually means.

What actually does ‘I-I’ mean? Is it a repetition of ‘I’, or a double ‘I’? And what would a repeated ‘I’ or double ‘I’ actually imply? Why would Sri Ramana have so frequently used such a vague and ambiguous term? The answer is that ‘I-I’ does not actually mean anything at all (or at least not anything clearly), and that Sri Ramana did not actually use this term.

However, many people seem to assume that ‘I-I’ means a pulsation or throbbing of ‘I’, as if ‘I’ were the sort of thing that could pulsate or throb. Because pulsation and throbbing are two among the many meanings of the Sanskrit word sphuraṇa (though not actually the meaning intended by Sri Ramana when he used this word), the mistranslation of நான் நான் (nāṉ nāṉ) as ‘I-I’ has reinforced the mistaken belief that ahaṁ-sphuraṇa means a pulsation or throbbing of ‘I’.

The essential meaning of sphuraṇa is ‘making itself known’, so anything that makes itself known in any way can be described as a sphuraṇa, so this includes any sort of throbbing, quivering, trembling, pulsating, shining, flashing, glittering, manifesting or coming into view. However, in the sense in which Sri Ramana used this term sphuraṇa it means shining or shining forth in a metaphorical sense, or in a more literal sense, being experienced more clearly. That is, since he used sphuraṇa with respect to ‘I’, and since ‘I’ cannot throb, tremble, pulsate or even shine in the literal sense of a visible light, what he called ahaṁ-sphuraṇa or a ‘shining of I’ simply means a clear experience of ‘I’ — that is, a clarity of self-awareness. And since sphuraṇa also implies shining forth or ‘making itself known anew’, he used the term ahaṁ-sphuraṇa to mean the fresh clarity of self-awareness that we experience when we try to focus our attention only on ‘I’, thereby withdrawing it from all other things.

Michael James said...

Wittgenstein, regarding your question, ‘why such a sphurana [as narrated by Bhagavan] is getting a status of purnam in Upadesa Undiyar [by the same Bhagavan]?’ I hope you were able to understand the answer to this from what I wrote yesterday in reply to Palaniappan, namely that ‘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’.

Incidentally, Bhagavan did not actually use the word sphuraṇa in Upadēśa Undiyār, but in verse 20 of the Sanskrit version, Upadēśa Sāram, he did use the verb sphurati, which means ‘[it] shines’ or ‘[it] shines forth’, and which is a form of sphur, the verb from which the verbal noun sphuraṇa is derived.

Regarding the two passages from Day by Day that you refer to in the same comment, I would not attach any importance to what Bhagavan said about Hiranyagarbha (on 30-5-46), because this is a concept that has nothing to do with his teachings, so when he was asked about it he simply explained some of the traditional beliefs that surround it.

Regarding what he said on 24-3-45 when Mudaliar asked him the meaning of sphuraṇa, his first answer, ‘It means விளங்குவது [shining or what shines] or விளக்குவது [making clear or what makes clear]’ is clear and accurate, so if Mudaliar had been satisfied with that, he would not have said anything further. But Mudaliar then asked, ‘Is it not a sound we hear?’, which is hardly the most appropriate question to ask after being told that it means shining or making clear, so seeing that his first answer had not been understood, Bhagavan replied something else, which I suspect Mudaliar misunderstood and therefore misrecorded.

Then from a dictionary perspective Bhagavan is recorded to have said, ‘both sound and light may be implied in the word sphuraṇa’. However, we should understand that though light and sound may both be said to be types of sphuraṇa (since sphuraṇa means ‘making itself known’ or anything that makes itself known), neither of them can be an ahaṁ-sphuraṇa, because ‘I’ (aham) is neither a literal light nor a literal sound (though it could be said to be a metaphorical light, or at a stretch of the imagination even a metaphorical sound).

Wittgenstein said...

As you say, sphurana is quite ambiguous in whole of Ramana literature. You say sphurana refers to, in general, ‘a fresh clarity of self-awareness’. This phrase too does not explicitly occur in any recorded uttering of Bhagavan. This occurs in the writings of Sri Sadhu Om who makes it clear what Bhagavan intended to say, adding the phrase to the Vichara Sangraham description. This phrase [a fresh clarity of self-awareness] occurs in The Path of Sri Ramana. I find the Tamil version of this book gives more details compared to its English companion. After having defined sphurana employing this phrase, he goes on to say how if this sphurana is held on, it would result in the dissolution of ego. While doing so, he says ‘[…] அதனையே விடாதுபற்றிச் சும்மா விருந்தால் (இருக்க இருக்க)[…]’. By the term ‘இருக்க இருக்க’, he clearly means it is a stage of practice and implies the clarity is dynamic and grows as a result of ‘இருக்க இருக்க’ [this key term is lost or not forcibly implied in English translation]. Now, after your explanations, it is not so surprising to see him quote Ullada Narpadu [Verse 30] and Upadesa Undiyar [Verses 19 and 20] along with this description, clearly meaning that the said clarity reaches its zenith and becomes permanent, in the state explained by these verses. This is completely in harmony with what you are saying in reply to Palaniappan and here to me. From this I can also see that Sri Sadhu Om never meant sphurana as something that happens just prior to mano nasa. That would be wrong to understand him.

You are also right in saying that the meaning given by Bhagavan to Mudaliar [விளங்குவது or விளக்குவது] also has the ‘clarity’ connotations. I am not so attracted to creation theories and Bhagavan too spoke those things only when his core teachings were not understood [I understand ajati vada and shrishti vada are opposed to each other, as I mentioned in my earlier comments]. In all these, I feel something important was just relegated to a footnote by Sri Sadhu Om. On a positive note, perhaps he thought the sadhakas should not take this too much to heart and simply get on with self-attention. Of all the explanations [or conjectures] available with sphurana, I would say the explanation by Sri Sadhu Om is by far the best. This is his unique contribution to Ramana literature. It is very important to recognize and appreciate this. Finally, I thank you for having brought this to clear light with your lucid explanations.

Wittgenstein said...

If only at that critical juncture Mudaliar had asked, "What shines?"! Amazing to see how Bhagavan never shoved this teachings down anybody's throat. Quickly he entered into the subtle body of Ishwara and all that, without obstructing Mudaliar's thought flow. Finally it came out through Sri Sadhu Om, without asking! Mysterious [and non-interfering] are the ways of the Lord!

Michael James said...

Yes, Wittgenstein, as you say, Bhagavan never sought to impose his teachings upon anyone, and if anyone was interested or believed in anything that was irrelevant or even contrary to his teachings, he was perfectly happy to talk with them accordingly, as if he too believed and was interested in such things.

Regarding your suggestion that when he answered that sphuraṇa means விளங்குவது [shining] or விளக்குவது [making clear] (as recorded in Day by Day, 24-3-45), Mudaliar should have asked, ‘What shines?’, if Mudaliar was really interested to know specifically about ahaṁ-sphuraṇa (rather than any other type of sphuraṇa such as the sphuraṇa of a light or a sound) he should have understood that in the case of ahaṁ-sphuraṇa what shines or makes itself clear is only ‘I’ (aham). Therefore, what he should perhaps have asked is: ‘But is not ‘I’ always shining and making itself clear? What then is the difference between our ordinary experience of ‘I’ and the experience of it that is called ahaṁ-sphuraṇa?’

If he had asked this, I guess that Bhagavan would have explained that ahaṁ-sphuraṇa means a fresh clarity of self-awareness, and that this fresh clarity is experienced when we try to attend only to ‘I’ because our awareness of ‘I’ is then not clouded and confused with awareness of anything else, so ‘I’ then shines (so to speak) more clearly.

Michael James said...

In the comments that I wrote yesterday and today I have tried to throw some fresh light on a few of the ideas that were discussed in the earlier comments on this article, but there are many other ideas regarding ahaṁ-sphuraṇa that have been discussed or quoted here that I could also comment on if I had sufficient time. However, since I do not have time to reply to every comment, I hope that what I have written about ahaṁ-sphuraṇa in my recent comments here and also on another article will have been sufficient to answer most of the questions that have been asked and to clear up some of the confusion that has been expressed here about this subject.

Moreover, in addition to what I have written, some other useful reflections on this subject have been expressed in other comments above, particularly those by Wittgenstein and Sanjay. And in case any more clarification about ahaṁ-sphuraṇa is required, later this week I will post an article here called ‘Demystifying the term Sphuraṇa’, which I hope will also help to clear up some of the widespread confusion surrounding this term.

Anonymous said...

Looks like my previous submission didn't go through. So trying again..

When I read Sri Ramana Maharshi's words "World does not exist when you sleep" I take them to mean we don't perceive the world while we sleep. If we literally mean that the world does not exist while sleeping, then we can't use alarm clock; we can't ask another person to wake us up etc., because the clock/person will cease to exist when we sleep and won't be around to wake us up.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous's queries might be resolved by reading , among various others , the following of Sri Michael James's articles :

Are we in this world, or is this world in us?

The world is a creation of our imagination

Anonymous said...

Thanks for pointing me to the two articles. One of them states at the end: "Thus it is reasonable for us to suspect that this body, this world and our experience of ourself being this body and perceiving this world are all a creation of our imagination, which functions only in waking and dream but not in sleep."

I have heard explanations like this before, but the specific examples I mentioned contradict these theories (or appear to contradict) because these examples establish existence of items/people even when we sleep. Hence the question. We don't wake up and then imagine that the alarm went off.

Anonymous said...


You might gain more clarity and conviction by reading and reflecting upon <a href="> Paragraph 4 </a> of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?).

The analogy of the spider and its thread is particularly pertinent to your queries.

Anonymous said...

Reposting it (first one didnt get the link right)

You might gain more clarity and conviction by reading and reflecting upon Paragraph 4 of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?).