Friday 6 March 2015

Intensity, frequency and duration of self-attentiveness

A friend recently sent me an email in which he wrote, ‘I now clearly see that it is bhakti alone that can make me better and stronger at atma-vicara’, to which I replied:

Yes, Sri Ramana used to say that bhakti (love or devotion) is the mother of jñāna (knowledge or true self-experience), and what he meant by bhakti in this context was only the love to experience nothing other than ourself alone, as he clearly implied in verses 8 and 9 of Upadēśa Undiyār:
அனியபா வத்தி னவனக மாகு
மனனிய பாவமே யுந்தீபற
      வனைத்தினு முத்தம முந்தீபற.

aṉiyabhā vatti ṉavaṉaha māhu
maṉaṉiya bhāvamē yundīpaṟa
      vaṉaittiṉu muttama mundīpaṟa

பதச்சேதம்: அனிய பாவத்தின் அவன் அகம் ஆகும் அனனிய பாவமே அனைத்தினும் உத்தமம்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): aṉiya-bhāvattiṉ avaṉ aham āhum aṉaṉiya-bhāvam-ē aṉaittiṉ-um uttamam.

English translation: Rather than anya-bhāva [meditation in which God is considered to be other than ‘I’], ananya-bhāva, in which ‘he’ is [considered to be none other than] ‘I’, is indeed the best among all [practices of bhakti and varieties of meditation].

பாவ பலத்தினாற் பாவனா தீதசற்
பாவத் திருத்தலே யுந்தீபற
      பரபத்தி தத்துவ முந்தீபற.

bhāva balattiṉāṯ bhāvaṉā tītasaṯ
bhāvat tiruttalē yundīpaṟa
      parabhatti tattuva mundīpaṟa

பதச்சேதம்: பாவ பலத்தினால் பாவனாதீத சத் பாவத்து இருத்தலே பரபத்தி தத்துவம்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): bhāva balattiṉāl bhāvaṉātīta sat-bhāvattu iruttal-ē para-bhatti tattuvam.

English translation: By the strength of [such] meditation [that is, by the strength of ananya-bhāva or self-attentiveness], being [abiding or remaining] in sat-bhāva [our ‘state of being’ or ‘real being’], which transcends [all] bhāvana [imagination, thinking or meditation], is alone para-bhakti tattva [the true state of supreme devotion].
In reply to this my friend wrote another email in which he said that though he could not remember where he recalled me ‘suggesting something on the lines of “atma-vicara is better done few times with intensity rather than done regularly throughout the day”’, and he asked me to elaborate on this. However, before I could answer this he wrote again saying that he had found what he was referring to, which was the following extract from a reply that I wrote last month to a question I was asked in a comment on one of my recent articles, Why are compassion and ahiṁsā necessary in a dream?:
Therefore, rather than trying continuously for a long duration, it is more effective if we try frequently but persistently for just a brief duration each time. Many brief but intense attempts will result in us being self-attentive for a longer total duration each day than we would be if we were to try to be self-attentive uninterruptedly for a prolonged period.
The following is adapted from what I wrote in reply to my friend’s request for me to elaborate on this:

So long as we experience anything other than ourself, we are experiencing ourself as the ego, because it is only the ego that experiences anything other than itself. What we really are (our real self) always experiences itself alone, and never anything else. This is why Sri Ramana says in verse 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu:
அகந்தையுண் டாயி னனைத்துமுண் டாகு
மகந்தையின் றேலின் றனைத்து — மகந்தையே
யாவுமா மாதலால் யாதிதென்று நாடலே
யோவுதல் யாவுமென வோர்.

ahandaiyuṇ ḍāyi ṉaṉaittumuṇ ḍāhu
mahandaiyiṉ ḏṟēliṉ ḏṟaṉaittu — mahandaiyē
yāvumā mādalāl yādideṉḏṟu nādalē
yōvudal yāvumeṉa vōr

பதச்சேதம்: அகந்தை உண்டாயின், அனைத்தும் உண்டாகும்; அகந்தை இன்றேல், இன்று அனைத்தும். அகந்தையே யாவும் ஆம். ஆதலால், யாது இது என்று நாடலே ஓவுதல் யாவும் என ஓர்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): ahandai uṇḍāyiṉ, aṉaittum uṇḍāhum; ahandai iṉḏṟēl, iṉḏṟu aṉaittum. ahandai-y-ē yāvum ām. ādalāl, yādu idu eṉḏṟu nādal-ē ōvudal yāvum eṉa ōr.

English translation: If the ego comes into existence, everything comes into existence; if the ego does not exist, everything does not exist. [Hence] the ego itself is everything. Therefore, know that investigating what this [ego] is alone is giving up everything.
Therefore in order to experience ourself as we really are, we must experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from everything else (which is all just a mental creation, an expansion of our ego). If we clearly experience ourself alone for even a moment, we will experience ourself as we actually are, and hence the illusion that we are this ego will be destroyed forever.

When Sri Ramana experienced an intense fear of death as a 16-year-old boy, his immediate response was to turn his entire attention within — towards himself alone — in order to find out whether he was something that would cease to exist when the body dies. Because he turned his entire attention towards himself alone, he experienced himself alone, and thus he experienced himself as he really is. This experiencing himself alone was not a prolonged process, but happened in a moment, and at that moment his ego and everything else — including time — was destroyed forever (or rather, they were found to be ever non-existent as such, just as an illusory snake is ‘destroyed’ when it is found to be not a snake but just a rope).

Therefore when we are practising self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) as taught by Sri Ramana, our aim should be to experience ourself alone, and if we manage to experience ourself alone for just a single moment, that will be sufficient to destroy our ego forever. As I wrote in one of my recent articles, Just being (summā iruppadu) is not an activity but a state of perfect stillness:
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.
Sadhu Om also used to say that if we manage to turn the full 180 degrees, we will be caught by the ‘clutch of grace’ (which is perfectly clear awareness of ourself), after which we will never again be able to turn back to experience anything else. Therefore we need to turn the full 180 degrees for just a single moment.

If we try for a prolonged duration to be self-attentive, we may manage initially to turn 170 degrees (for example), but we will not be able to maintain such intensity of self-attentiveness for long, so we will begin to slip back, perhaps to 160 degrees, then to 150 degrees, and so on. Since we cannot maintain such intensity for long, Sadhu Om used to say that rather than making one prolonged attempt to hold on to not-quite-so-intense self-attentiveness, it is better to make many short but frequent attempts to turn our attention the full 180 degrees towards ourself alone.

Before you found the exact quotation you were looking for, you paraphrased what I had written as ‘atma-vicara is better done few times with intensity rather than done regularly throughout the day’, but this is not quite what I meant. Whenever I talk about intensity (or exclusivity) of self-attentiveness, what I mean is the degree to which we turn our attention back towards ourself alone, so the closer we come to turning the full 180 degrees towards ourself (that is, the closer we come to being aware of ourself alone, and thereby ceasing to be aware of anything else whatsoever), the more intense (or exclusive) our self-attentiveness will be.

Since intensity of self-attentiveness results in (or rather is the same as) clarity of self-awareness, it is what we should always be aiming to experience. During the course of our practice, we will experience varying degrees of intensity (and hence of clarity), and it is generally more beneficial to experience a greater degree of intensity for a short time than a lesser degree for a longer time. Therefore we need not try to be intensely or exclusively self-attentive for a long period at a stretch, but should rather try as frequently as possible to be intensely self-attentive for at least a short while, even if for no more than just one or two moments.

However, so long as we experience ourself as a body, we often need to be engaged in activities that require some or all of our attention, but as we all know, even when we attend to other things we do not cease to exist or to be aware of ourself, so even while attending to other things we can also maintain a limited degree of self-attentiveness or self-remembrance. Therefore, in addition to trying as often as possible to be aware of ourself alone, it is also beneficial to try to be at least partially self-attentive while engaged in any activity that does not require our entire attention.

If we try to be at least partially self-attentive as often or as continuously as possible, that will help us to cultivate the strength to be more intensely self-attentive whenever we are free to try to be so. Likewise, the more frequently we try to be exclusively self-attentive, the easier it will become for us to be at least partially self-attentive at other times. Therefore we should try to make both frequent attempts to be exclusively self-attentive for a short while, and also more continuous attempts to be at least partially self-attentive for as much time as possible.

What drives both of these two kinds of (or rather degrees of) practice is only our love to experience ourself as we actually are. The more we cultivate such love by practising being self-attentive as much as possible, the more we will be inwardly impelled to try to be intensely self-attentive whenever we are free to be so, and to try to be at least partially self-attentive at all other times. This intensity of trying to be self-attentive as much as possible is what Sri Ramana referred to when he said in the eleventh paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?):
[...] ஒருவன் தான் சொரூபத்தை யடையும் வரையில் நிரந்தர சொரூப ஸ்மரணையைக் கைப்பற்றுவானாயின் அதுவொன்றே போதும். [...]

[...] oruvaṉ tāṉ sorūpattai y-aḍaiyum varaiyil nirantara sorūpa-smaraṇaiyai-k kai-p-paṯṟuvāṉ-āyiṉ adu-v-oṉḏṟē pōdum. [...]

[...] If one clings fast to uninterrupted svarūpa-smaraṇa [self-remembrance] until one attains svarūpa [one’s own essential self], that alone will be sufficient. [...]
Uninterrupted self-attentiveness or self-remembrance should be our aim, but until we experience ourself as we actually are, our self-attentiveness will be frequently interrupted to a greater or lesser extent by our awareness of other things. However, though at present we cannot be exclusively self-attentive without any interruption whatsoever, we can try to be at least partially self-attentive with as little interruption as possible. Therefore I believe that what Sri Ramana meant in this sentence of Nāṉ Yār? by the term ‘நிரந்தர சொரூப ஸ்மரணை’ (nirantara sorūpa-smaraṇai) or ‘uninterrupted self-remembrance’ is the practice of trying continuously to be at least partially self-attentive even in the midst of other activities.

Why he says that such practice alone will be sufficient is that the more we try to be uninterruptedly self-attentive, the more we will thereby cultivate intense self-love (svātma-bhakti), which will in turn impel us to try to be exclusively self-attentive — that is, to experience ourself alone — whenever we have a free moment to be so. Thus, by attempting to ‘cling fast to uninterrupted self-remembrance’ we will impel ourself to try frequently to be as intensely self-attentive as possible.

What interrupts our self-attentiveness is our interest in other things — our liking to experience or to know about anything other than ourself alone — so the extent to which we can be uninterruptedly self-attentive is determined by the intensity of our svātma-bhakti: our love to experience ourself alone. If we have such love, we will strive to experience uninterrupted self-remembrance no matter what else we may be doing, and to experience more intense self-awareness whenever we are not engaged in any other activity.


Sundar said...

Adi Sankara says in Vivekachudamani

"31. Among things conducive to Liberation, devotion (Bhakti) holds the supreme place.
The seeking after one’s real nature is designated as devotion."

His definition of Bhakti is same as Bhagavan's and I think Sankara uses the word, "sva swarupa anusandhanam" or focusing on one's own nature.

Unknown said...

Dear Michael,

Thank you for your wonderful blog. Out of all the blogs on my Feedly reader, this is the one I turn to as soon as I see a new post. God bless you.

I have a question. I have been practicing atma-vicara for few months. I am noticing a phenomenon. (I am assuming that it is because of a mistake I am doing).

I am forgetting names or few of the specific details of the things I read. I do not know whether anybody else have encountered it.

Any insight is very much appreciated.

Thank you again.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Michael for writing this and thank you to your friend for asking you this question.

This post has made me think (not good I know)about my own practice and there is so much truth in what you say.

The quotes of Bhagavan were most helpful too. I shall re read this post again a few times to help me.

Much appreciated.


Michael James said...

Yes, Sundar, in verse 31 of Vivēkacūḍāmaṇi Adi Sankara does define bhakti as svasvarūpānusaṁdhānam, which literally means ‘investigation of one’s own own form [or one’s own very nature]’, and Bhagavan uses this same term anusaṁdhānam (which means investigation, examination, scrutiny or close inspection) to define bhakti in both verse 730 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai and verse 15 of Upadēśa Taṉippākkaḷ (which is verse B-13 in Guru Vācaka Kōvai). In the latter verse he says:

ஆன்மாநு சந்தான மஃதுபர மீசபத்தி
ஆன்மாவா யீசனுள னால்.

āṉmānu sandhāṉa maḵdupara mīśabhatti
āṉmāvā yīśaṉuḷa ṉāl

பதச்சேதம்: ஆன்ம அநுசந்தானம் அஃது பரம் ஈச பத்தி, ஆன்மாவாய் ஈசன் உளனால்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): āṉma-anusandhāṉam aḵdu param īśa-bhatti, āṉmā-v-āy īśaṉ uḷaṉāl.

அன்வயம்: ஈசன் ஆன்மாவாய் உளனால், ஆன்ம அநுசந்தானம் அஃது பரம் ஈச பத்தி.

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): īśaṉ āṉmā-v-āy uḷaṉāl, āṉma-anusandhāṉam aḵdu param īśa-bhatti.

English translation: Self-investigation (ātma-anusaṁdhāna) is supreme devotion to God (para īśa-bhakti), because God exists as oneself (ātmā).

Michael James said...

Gary, your question is not one that can actually be answered, because memory is a mysterious phenomenon, and it is impossible to say for sure why we remember some things or at some times, or why we forget other things or at other times — or in other words, what exactly causes us to remember or forget anything. Therefore I do not think it is possible to attribute forgetfulness to the practice of ātma-vicāra, because there does not seem to be any logical connection between these two.

However, this is true only so long as our ego survives. So long as we experience ourself as this ego, we will remember some things and forget others, but if we persevere in practising ātma-vicāra we will eventually experience ourself as we really are, and thereby the illusion that we are this ego will be destroyed forever. When the ego thus ceases to exist, all its memories will also cease to exist, so ultimately our ātma-vicāra will cause us to forget everything other than ourself.

This is why in the final sentence of the sixteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?) Bhagavan said:

கற்றவை யனைத்தையும் ஒருகாலத்தில் மறக்க வேண்டிவரும்.

kaṯṟavai y-aṉaittaiyum oru-kālattil maṟakka vēṇḍi-varum.

“At one time it will become necessary to forget all that has been learnt.”

Mosaic said...

Dear Michael,
This morning, I read your comment about Bhagavan's teaching that "bhakti is the mother of jnana." You explain with clear evidence what he means by bhakti, in this context, is "only the love to experience nothing other than ourself alone." It is interesting that immediately after reading your comment, I listened to a talk by Shri Nochur Venkataraman in which he defines bhakti as the gratitude that wells up in one's heart for the Grace and the compassion that allows one to recognize and receive it He says, "Once the Jiva recognizes that compassion a deep gratitude arises from the Heart and that gratitude--- gratefulness is bhakti."

Nochur also says: "Bhagavan, in all his writings, everywhere expresses 'I am only a poor creature oh Lord, you poured forth your Grace on me, took hold of me and gave me your own state. How do I deserve this?"

I think it is interesting that I should hear
these two aspects of bhakti one right after the other and am sharing.

Mosaic said...

Dear Michael, One more thought. I wonder if bhakti, therefore, is the gratitude that wells up in one's heart when, because of Grace, we experience love for nothing other than the self alone?

Sivanarul said...

Appar swamigal’s (Saiva saint) thevaram contains a song on what Bhakthi is:

முன்னம் அவனுடைய நாமங் கேட்டாள்
மூர்த்தி யவனிருக்கும் வண்ணங் கேட்டாள்
பின்னை அவனுடைய ஆரூர் கேட்டாள்
பெயர்த்து மவனுக்கே பிச்சி யானாள்
அன்னையையும் அத்தனையும் அன்றே நீத்தாள்
அகன்றாள் அகலிடத்தார் ஆசா ரத்தை
தன்னை மறந்தாள்தன் நாமங் கெட்டாள்
தலைப்பட்டாள் நங்கை தலைவன் றாளே

Rough translation:
Earlier she heard his name and then she heard how he looks. Later on she learnt about his place and whereabouts. Slowly her love from him grew and she became madly in love with him. After this, she left her mother and all possessions and ties. She forgot herself including her name and lost her sense of individuality and merged at the holy feet of her lord.

It is striking that Bhagavan’s life matches very closely with the song. Venkataraman hearing the word Arunachala, then learning it is a mountain and learning it is in Thiruvannamalai. Slowly his love for Arunachala grows and he becomes fixated on it. He leaves his mother and all ties. He loses his name (he signs “This” in his letter to his brother). He reaches Arunacahala and spends in deep absorption with no regard to bodily needs. His individuality merges with Arunachala not just figuratively but upon giving up the body a shooting star was seen to disappear behind Arunachala.

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

I loved this post, especially the analogy of degrees of turning.

In my experience, it also seems that when you've turned a certain degrees on one 'attempt', on subsequent times you will know if you are not turning as much.

For example, if you've experienced I AM unbounded by the body, and then the next time you look at I AM and let mind limit it to the body, you are more likely to notice that and let go of the subtle mind-activity, and you will again be aware of I AM more accurately.

It does not seem that you can lose how many degrees you've previously turned, even if not every time you manage to turn back that amount.

But then the question is, if the hope is an instant of 180 degree turn so that the ego is fully destroyed, is there value in lesser degree turns?

i.e. for every time you turn only 50 degrees and catch a muddled view of I AM, do these glimpses at least weaken the vasanas?

Yuvaraj said...

Zubin, this post is amongst my personal favourites on this blog. Your comment reminded me of an anecdote I read somewhere from Tulsidas' life. Rough recollection...

Tulsidas was very fond of his wife and her intelligence. He often wondered how without the sharp intellect like his wife's he could accomplish perfection in his tasks. One day while drawing water from a well he saw how the soft rope attached to the bucket had made deep impressions on the wall's well. That day he was convinced that like the soft rope even his little intellect was enough to accomplish the hardest of tasks - perseverance and persistence are key. And he realised his Krishna!

So I guess each attempt of turning within (small or large degree) helps us (and weakens our vasanas too). Tulsidas must have converted the above lesson to this doha in Hindi...

karat karat abhyaas ke
jadmati hot sujaan
rasari aawat jaat te,
sil par parat nisaan

(Persistence makes even a dumb man intelligent, just like a soft rope, when rubbed continuously on stone, makes a mark on it.)

If you read the essay again. Michael says,

"If we try to be at least partially self-attentive as often or as continuously as possible, that will help us to cultivate the strength to be more intensely self-attentive whenever we are free to try to be so. Likewise, the more frequently we try to be exclusively self-attentive, the easier it will become for us to be at least partially self-attentive at other times. Therefore we should try to make both frequent attempts to be exclusively self-attentive for a short while, and also more continuous attempts to be at least partially self-attentive for as much time as possible."

Zubin said...

Hi Yuvaraj, and thanks for your comment. I like the story about Tulsidas and indeed, it does seem like the thirst for self-enquiry is in what we call mind, and so doing it repeatedly should reinforce the habit.

I've only just started trying to do it as a steady practice (instead of, over the past few years, doing it whenever it felt right), and each day I do notice that the ache to continue and go deeper grows.

steady perseverance said...

which kind of ache do you feel when you continue to try (or try to continue) to be self-attentive ?
In my experience there is some strange and enigmatic reluctance to make regular attempts to continue self-enquiry. I did not even persistently enquiry to whom that mysterious and unlogical reluctance meets.

Zubin said...

Hi Steady Perseverance,

"ache" may not have been the best choice of word, but I meant it as "strong desire".

I only meant that there is a strong desire to return to the I AM feeling frequently and consistently throughout the day.

There is indeed resistance and reluctance in my mind, but it comes and goes, and I return to the I AM which is aware of it all whenever I notice it.

steady perseverance said...

you seem to have comprehended/grasped the practice of ananya-bhava or self-attentiveness.
All the best !