Tuesday 24 February 2015

Just being (summā irukkai) is not an activity but a state of perfect stillness

A friend wrote to me recently asking, ‘Is there any way to ascertain whether the feeling of “I” is being attended to? Is it enough if the mind’s “power of attention” is brought to a standstill?’ He also quoted the following (inaccurate) translation of question 4 and Sri Ramana’s reply in the second chapter of Upadēśa Mañjari (‘A Bouquet of Teachings’, or ‘Spiritual Instructions’ as this English translation in The Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi is called), and asked ‘How can remaining still be considered as intense activity? Is being still a state of effort or effortlessness? I am slightly confused’:
4. Is the state of ‘being still’ a state involving effort or effortlessness?

It is not an effortless state of indolence. All mundane activities which are ordinarily called effort are performed with the aid of a portion of the mind and with frequent breaks. But the act of communion with the Self (atma vyavahara) or remaining still inwardly is intense activity which is performed with the entire mind and without break.

Maya (delusion or ignorance) which cannot be destroyed by any other act is completely destroyed by this intense activity which is called ‘silence’ (mauna).
The following is adapted from the reply I wrote to him:

What you call the ‘feeling of I’ is only yourself, but now we each experience ourself mixed with adjuncts such as a body and mind, so we confuse ourself with these adjuncts. Therefore our aim when practising self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) is to experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from all adjuncts, and the only way to do this is to try to attend to ourself alone, thereby ignoring everything else.

To experience ourself alone should be very easy, and it would be if we were not so strongly attached to all the adjuncts we mistake to be ourself, and also to all the other things that we take to be ours. Because of our strong attachments to such things, we are reluctant to let go of them all in order to experience ourself alone. Therefore we need to repeatedly practise trying to experience ourself alone, and the more we do so, the weaker our attachments to other things will become.

If we once manage to experience ourself alone, we will experience what we actually are, and thus our ego will be destroyed forever. Therefore so long as we still need to practise self-investigation, we have not yet experienced ourself alone. Even though we have tried many times, whenever we do so our awareness of ourself is still mixed to a greater or lesser extent with awareness of other things, so we must continue trying until we succeed.

Therefore the answer to your first question, ‘Is there any way to ascertain whether the feeling of “I” is being attended to?’, is that we know when we are trying to attend to ourself, but we cannot accurately ascertain to what extent we are succeeding in attending to ourself alone. Since we still experience ourself as a person, we have not yet succeeded entirely, but we will have succeeded to at least some extent.

Sadhu Om used to explain this in terms of turning 180 degrees away from all other things towards ourself alone. The closer we come to turning 180 degrees, the less any awareness of anything else will be mixed with our self-awareness, but until we actually turn the full 180 degrees we are not yet experiencing ourself alone, in complete isolation from any awareness of other things. When we once manage to turn the full 180 degrees, we will experience nothing other than ourself, and thus we will experience ourself as we really are, after which we will never again experience anything else.

When we try to attend to ourself alone, we may manage to turn 90, 120, 150 or even 179 degrees, but we cannot actually know how far we have turned, so we just have to keep on trying until we eventually succeed in turning the full 180 degrees.

Regarding your second question about a question and answer in உபதேசமஞ்சரி (Upadēśa Mañjari: 2nd chapter, question 4), the translation you have quoted is not sufficiently accurate. The original passage in Tamil is:
4. சும்மாவிருக்கை யென்பது முயற்சியுள்ள நிலையா? முயற்சியற்ற நிலையா?

அது முயற்சியற்றதோர் சோம்பல் நிலை யன்று. வெளிமுகத்தில் முயற்சிகளென்று சொல்லப்படுகிற உலக வ்யவகாரங்க ளவ்வளவும் பரிச்சின்ன மனத்தாலும் இடைவிட்டும் செய்யப்படுகின்றனவே. அகமுகத்தில் சும்மா இருக்கை யென்னும் ஆன்மவ்யவகாரமோ முழு மனத்துடனும் இடையின்றியும் செய்யப்படும் பூர்ண முயற்சியாகும்.

வேறெவ் வகையானும் நாசமாகாத மாயையானது முழுமுயற்சி யென்னும் இம்மோனத்தாற்றான் நாசமாக்கப்படுகிறது.
Of which the following is a transliteration and a more accurate English translation:
4. summā-v-irukkai y-eṉbadu muyaṟci-y-uḷḷa nilai-y-ā? muyaṟci-y-aṯṟa nilai-y-ā?

adu muyaṟci-y-aṯṟadōr sōmbal nilai y-aṉḏṟu. veḷi-mukhattil muyaṟcigaḷ-eṉḏṟu solla-p-paḍugiṟa ulaha vyavahāraṅgaḷ avvaḷavum paricchiṉṉa maṉattāl-um iḍaiviṭṭum seyya-p-paḍugiṉḏṟaṉavē. aha-mukhattil summā irukkai y-eṉṉum āṉma-vyavahāram-ō muṙu maṉattuḍaṉ-um iḍai-y-iṉḏṟi-y-um seyya-p-paḍum pūrṇa muyaṟci-y-āhum.

vēṟev vahaiyāṉum nāśam-āhāda māyai-y-āṉadu muṙu-muyaṟci y-eṉṉum i-m-mōṉattāṯṟāṉ nāśam-ākka-p-paḍugiṟadu

4. Is what is called summā-v-irukkai [just being] a state in which there is effort? [Or] is it a state in which effort has ceased?

That is not a state of sōmbal [idleness, lethargy, drowsiness or dullness], one in which effort has ceased. The entire extent of worldly activities, which are described as efforts in facing outwards, are only done intermittently and by paricchinna maṉam [a divided mind or limited part of the mind]. In contrast, the ātma-vyavahāra [spiritual practice] called aha-mukhattil summā irukkai [just being in facing inwards or selfwards] is a full effort done with the entire mind and without interruption.

What is māyā, which cannot be destroyed by any other means, is destroyed only by this mauna [silence], which is called complete effort.
As you can see, Sri Ramana did not actually say that summā irukkai (just being) is an intense activity, so that is a mistranslation, and anyone reading it should notice as you did that it is a self-contradiction to say that just being is an activity. The words that were mistranslated here as ‘intense activity’ were in the first case பூர்ண முயற்சி (pūrṇa muyaṟci) and in the second case முழுமுயற்சி (muṙu-muyaṟci), both of which mean only a full or complete effort, because முயற்சி (muyaṟci) means effort, exertion, endeavour, diligence or perseverance.

Of course most efforts that we make do entail an activity of one kind or another, so in some contexts முயற்சி (muyaṟci) can mean activity in the sense of an action done with effort, but in this context it obviously does not mean activity of any sort, because சும்மா இருக்கை (summā irukkai) means just being, merely being, leisurely being, silently being, being without activity or being still, so it would be absurd to say that it is an intense activity. It is a state of just being still — remaining without any action whatsoever — but it does require intense effort, because it entails focussing our entire mind or attention on ourself alone.

Sadhu Om used to explain this using an analogy. In a reservoir the water is standing still, but in order for it to do so the dam must hold it firmly. If the dam loosens its hold by cracking or breaking, the water will at once start moving, rushing to get out through the crack or break. Here the dam represents the state of keenly focused self-attentiveness, and the water represents our mind. So long as we are attending only to ourself, our mind remains perfectly still, but as soon as we slacken our self-attentiveness, our mind rushes out to experience other things.

Until we succeed in turning back the full 180 degrees to experience ourself alone, thereby destroying forever the illusion that we are this mind, being self-attentive requires effort, because the natural propensity of our mind is to go outwards to experience other things. Therefore in order to be motionlessly poised in a state of unwavering self-attentiveness we need to make intense effort, until we manage to turn the full 180 degrees, whereupon we will discover that self-attentiveness (pure self-awareness) is our real nature, so only then will we experience summā irukkai (just being) as our natural state and hence as effortless and unavoidable.


investigation de soi said...

Attending unceasingly and with a fully [concentrated] mind to Self, which is the non-dual perfect reality, alone is the pure supreme Silence; on the other hand, the mere [unthinking] laziness of the dull mind is nothing but a defective [and tamasic] delusion.
Know thus.

Guru Vachaka Kovai v. 1186

Anonymous said...

Dear Michael,

I have had this doubt for a while now and its bugging me more lately.
Why does Sri Bhagavan pray to Lord Ganesa before Aksharamanamalai?
Yours in Sri Bhagavan

Michael James said...

Mona, in Tamil devotional poetry it is customary to begin longer poems such as Śrī Aruṇācala Akṣaramaṇamālai with a kāppu, a verse praying to Lord Ganesa for protection, so Bhagavan was simply respecting that custom.

Anonymous said...

"a state of perfect stillness"

Stillness that is/am "the" movement.

Michael James said...

Anonymous, how can stillness be any kind of movement? Stillness is our natural state, and it is (seemingly) disturbed by the (seeming) rising of ourself as an ego (which is the first of all movements) and our consequent projection of everything else (which is in a constant state of movement or change).

Without the rise of our ego, there is no movement or change, so movement and change would be real only if the ego were real, and according to Bhagavan if we investigate this ego that now seems to be ourself, we will find that it does not actually exist, and that what actually exists is only ourself, without even the slightest movement or change ever.

Kaukasus said...

Just being is not the same as trying to just being. As you say the latter needs to make intense effort to allow no cracking or breaking dam.
According to Sadhu Om's analogy my own practice of self-attentiveness admittedly is just erecting a dam
for the water of mind which is far away from the state of being keenly focused. Yet for that effort of erecting a dam a pure mind is necessary.
Seldom I am able to take the bull (of the ego) by the horns.
But I put my trust in the constant pouring help of Arunachala's (Sri Ramana's) grace.