Tuesday 29 January 2019

How to be self-attentive even while we are engaged in other activities?

A friend recently wrote to me asking how one can practise self-attentiveness while doing other things, so this article is adapted from the reply that I wrote to her.

The Tamil and Sanskrit terms that Bhagavan used to describe the practice mean or imply not only self-attentiveness but also self-investigation. In any investigation the primary tool is observation, but in self-investigation it is the only tool, so self-investigation and self-attentiveness mean the same and are therefore interchangeable terms. We investigate ourself by observing or attending to ourself.

Because it entails attending to ourself, Bhagavan sometimes described it as self-meditation or self-contemplation (svarūpa-dhyāna or ātma-cintana), but generally he referred to it as self-investigation (taṉ-ṉāṭṭam or ātma-vicāra) rather than self-meditation, because it is not just passively looking at oneself, as one may look at a beautiful sunset, but looking at oneself keenly to see what one actually is, as a doctor may look keenly at an x-ray image to see what it indicates. Therefore it is very important to understand that this practice is an investigation, an attempt to be aware of ourself as we actually are.

When we start any investigation, we do not know what we are going to discover along the way, so our investigation develops as our discoveries unfold. Therefore whatever we may be trying to investigate, we learn how to investigate it as we proceed with our investigation. Hence we learn how to investigate ourself by investigating ourself. The means to do so unfolds as we do so. Therefore it is a journey of discovery, self-discovery, so we should approach it in such a spirit.

In order to see what we actually are, we need to observe ourself with a very keen and acute power of discernment, as Bhagavan implied by using the terms ‘நுண் மதியால்’ (nuṇ matiyāl), ‘by a subtle [refined, sharp, keen, acute, precise, meticulous and discerning] mind [intellect or power of discernment]’, in verse 23 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, and ‘கூர்ந்த மதியால்’ (kūrnda matiyāl), ‘by a sharpened [pointed, keen, acute, penetrating and discerning] mind [intellect or power of discernment]’, in verse 28. Because we have been accustomed since time immemorial to directing our attention outside, towards things other than ourself, which are all relatively gross, our power of attention or discernment has become blunt and dull, so in order to see ourself as we actually are, which is the subtlest of all things, we need to refine, sharpen and clarify our power of discernment, and the most effective means to do so is to patiently and persistently try to be as keenly self-attentive as we can.

Therefore as with any other skill, it is only by practice that we can develop the skill required to investigate and surrender ourself entirely. If certain things about this practice are not clear to us at first, we need not worry, because it will all become clear as we proceed along the path.

Our ultimate aim is to be so keenly self-attentive that we are aware of nothing other than ourself, because then only will we be aware of ourself as we actually are, since being aware of other things is not the real nature of ourself (ātma-svarūpa) but only the nature of ego. However, until ego is eradicated by such perfectly keen self-attentiveness, we cannot always be keenly self-attentive, and it seems to us that at least some of our time we need to be attending to other things. Therefore even when we are not trying to be keenly self-attentive, we should at least try to be partially self-attentive.

Whatever else we may be attending to, we are always self-aware, because self-awareness is our fundamental experience and the basis of everything else that we experience or perceive. However, because we are more interested in experiencing other things than in being aware of ourself as we actually are, we generally overlook our fundamental self-awareness and take it for granted, so though we are always self-aware, we are generally negligently self-aware.

However, the more interested we become in being aware of ourself as we actually are, the more liking we will have to be attentively self-aware. Therefore the practice of self-investigation is a process of gradually weaning our mind off its interest in other things and cultivating instead a keen interest in being attentively self-aware. The more interested we are in being attentively self-aware, the more natural it will become for us to be at least partially self-attentive even while we are engaged in other activities.

You give the example of driving and ask how you can be self-attentive and pay attention to your driving at the same time. When you drive, are you focusing your entire mind on your driving, on every decision you make, on every change of gear, on every turn of the wheel, on every pressure on the accelerator or break, and on every other vehicle near you? If you were so attentive to everything happening around you and to every decision and action of driving, you probably would not be a very good driver, because you would not be able to consciously attend to all those things simultaneously. Are you not instead generally driving more or less on mental auto-pilot, thinking of other concerns and hardly noticing the fact that you are driving?

Since you are able to give just sufficient attention to your driving while at the same time thinking of other things, listening to the radio or talking with your passengers, why should you not instead be giving sufficient attention to your driving while at the same time being partially self-attentive? Driving is just one example of how we are able to do many of our routine activities while thinking of other things, so instead of thinking of anything else, we can do such activities while being partially self-attentive.

Because we are in the habit of thinking of other things and like to do so, we will not be able to immediately wean our mind off such a liking, but the more we try to practise being self-attentive, the more our interest in other things will drop off and be replaced by a deep interest in being self-attentive and a growing yearning to be ever more keenly self-attentive.

We wrongly believe that all our actions require at least some of our attention, but according to Bhagavan whatever actions we are destined to do we will be made to do, whether we take interest in doing them or not. Not all of our activities are necessarily driven by our destiny, because many of our actions are driven by our will, but any actions we may do that are not driven by our destiny will not in any way change, add to or subtract from whatever we are destined to experience.

Since destiny will make our mind, speech and body do whatever actions they need to do, we do not actually need to think of or attend to any such actions, as Bhagavan implied in the thirteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Ār?:
ஆன்மசிந்தனையைத் தவிர வேறு சிந்தனை கிளம்புவதற்குச் சற்று மிடங்கொடாமல் ஆத்மநிஷ்டாபரனா யிருப்பதே தன்னை ஈசனுக் களிப்பதாம். ஈசன்பேரில் எவ்வளவு பாரத்தைப் போட்டாலும், அவ்வளவையும் அவர் வகித்துக்கொள்ளுகிறார். சகல காரியங்களையும் ஒரு பரமேச்வர சக்தி நடத்திக்கொண்டிருகிறபடியால், நாமு மதற் கடங்கியிராமல், ‘இப்படிச் செய்யவேண்டும்; அப்படிச் செய்யவேண்டு’ மென்று ஸதா சிந்திப்பதேன்? புகை வண்டி சகல பாரங்களையும் தாங்கிக்கொண்டு போவது தெரிந்திருந்தும், அதி லேறிக்கொண்டு போகும் நாம் நம்முடைய சிறிய மூட்டையையு மதிற் போட்டுவிட்டு சுகமா யிராமல், அதை நமது தலையிற் றாங்கிக்கொண்டு ஏன் கஷ்டப்படவேண்டும்?

āṉma-cintaṉaiyai-t tavira vēṟu cintaṉai kiḷambuvadaṟku-c caṯṟum iḍam-koḍāmal ātma-niṣṭhāparaṉ-āy iruppadē taṉṉai īśaṉukku aḷippadām. īśaṉpēril e-vv-aḷavu bhārattai-p pōṭṭālum, a-vv-aḷavai-y-um avar vahittu-k-koḷḷugiṟār. sakala kāriyaṅgaḷai-y-um oru paramēśvara śakti naḍatti-k-koṇḍirugiṟapaḍiyāl, nāmum adaṟku aḍaṅgi-y-irāmal, ‘ippaḍi-c ceyya-vēṇḍum; appaḍi-c ceyya-vēṇḍum’ eṉḏṟu sadā cintippadēṉ? puhai vaṇḍi sakala bhāraṅgaḷaiyum tāṅgi-k-koṇḍu pōvadu terindirundum, adil ēṟi-k-koṇḍu pōhum nām nammuḍaiya siṟiya mūṭṭaiyaiyum adil pōṭṭu-viṭṭu sukhamāy irāmal, adai namadu talaiyil tāṅgi-k-koṇḍu ēṉ kaṣṭa-p-paḍa-vēṇḍum?

Being ātma-niṣṭhāparaṉ [one who is completely fixed in and as oneself], giving not even the slightest room to the rising of any cintana [thought] other than ātma-cintana [‘thought of oneself’, self-contemplation or self-attentiveness], alone is giving oneself to God. Even though one places whatever amount of burden upon God, that entire amount he will bear. Since one paramēśvara śakti [supreme ruling power or power of God] is driving all kāryas [whatever needs or ought to be done or to happen], instead of we also yielding to it, why to be perpetually thinking, ‘it is necessary to do like this; it is necessary to do like that’? Though we know that the train is going bearing all the burdens, why should we who go travelling in it, instead of remaining happily leaving our small luggage placed on it [the train], suffer bearing it [our luggage] on our head?
Thinking about or attending to anything other than ourself is carrying our small luggage on our head, so in this paragraph Bhagavan assures us that we do not need to think about or attend to anything other than ourself. If instead we attend only to ourself, we are placing our luggage on the train and allowing ourself to travel carefree and at ease, as Bhagavan wants us to do.

Until and unless we have sufficient love (bhakti) to be always and exclusively self-attentive, we will not be able to avoid thinking of other things at least to some extent, but the more we practise being self-attentive, the more our love to be so will increase, and consequently the less we will be inclined to think of anything else. We cannot win the battle overnight, but we can at least begin to fight it now, and the more we do so the more we will be rapidly approaching the final victory, which is complete surrender of ourself in the blazing glory of pure and all-consuming self-awareness.


Sanjay Lohia said...

Thanks, Michael. You tell the same thing in so many ways, but still, we do not get tired of reading your articles. This article is another small gem!

anadi-ananta said...

I am not able or ready to believe that "one paramēśvara śakti [supreme ruling power or power of God] is driving all kāryas [whatever needs or ought to be done or to happen], ...and that the train is going bearing all the burdens...
Instead of this somehow I feel it is my duty to carry all the burdens placed on me.
Therefore instead of remaining happily leaving my small luggage placed on the train I in a way suffer bearing my luggage on my head. Is there any hope for me ?

anadi-ananta said...

unfortunately I am far away from complete surrender of myself in the blazing glory of pure and all-consuming self-awareness. Because I have not developed sufficient love (bhakti) to be always and exclusively self-attentive, I am evidently not able to avoid thinking of other things at least to some extent let alone to intensify practising being self-attentive. Therefore my love to be so did not increase, and consequently I am still inclined to think of anything else. As things stand now I only can pin my hopes on to become willing and ready to let go all my personal unrewarding belief which obviously is stuck in unwanted rigidity. For this purpose I will try to open my heart completely, unreservedly and unconditionally to Arunachala. So the battle is opened and I hope I will be able and prepared to fight to the death.:-)

Yo Soy Tu Mismo said...

Michael, I don’t understand when you say “Not all of our activities are necessarily driven by our destiny, because many of our actions are driven by our will “

So is not everything predetermined already? The will of the self can generate something or is it just an attribution that the ego arrogates to the thought that emerges in consciousness?

Jeremy Lennon said...

Thanks for this helpful article, Michael. I've got to the stage where at intervals throughout the day I suddenly remember "Oh! I'm supposed to be self-attentive. Oh dear! What happened? I've been completely immersed in pramâda/self-negligence, which is just where I don't want to be!" But at least I am here! Bhagavan found me and he led me here to you. I am willing to listen, to learn.

Michael James said...

Josef, what you write in your comment of 30 January 2019 at 20:22 is a description of the nature of ego. As ego we are aware of ourself as a body and mind, so whatever actions are done by this body or mind are experienced by us as actions done by us. This is the sense of doership (kartṛtva buddhi), and because of this it seems to us that we need to do certain actions to take care of this body and to achieve whatever else we want to achieve, which is what is called kartavya buddhi, the sense of duty or obligation, the feeling ‘I ought [or need] to do this’. Both kartṛtva buddhi and kartavya buddhi are the nature of ego, so we can give them up entirely only by surrendering ourself, this ego.

Surrendering ourself entirely is the goal towards which we are working. It does not happen overnight, but is a gradual process, like the growth of a bud and its ultimate blossoming as a flower. We are not yet willing to surrender ourself entirely, but if that willingness were not growing within our heart, we would have no interest in trying to follow Bhagavan’s path.

So is there any hope for us? Yes, there certainly is. Bhagavan is a patient and attentive gardener. Having sown the seed of love in our heart, he will unfailingly tend and nurture it until it grows and consumes us. As he says in the twelfth paragraph of Nāṉ Ār?:

கடவுளும் குருவும் உண்மையில் வேறல்லர். புலிவாயிற் பட்டது எவ்வாறு திரும்பாதோ, அவ்வாறே குருவினருட்பார்வையிற் பட்டவர்கள் அவரால் ரக்ஷிக்கப்படுவரே யன்றி யொருக்காலும் கைவிடப்படார்; எனினும், குரு காட்டிய வழிப்படி தவறாது நடக்க வேண்டும்.

kaḍavuḷ-um guru-v-um uṇmaiyil vēṟallar. puli-vāyil paṭṭadu evvāṟu tirumbādō, avvāṟē guruviṉ-aruḷ-pārvaiyil paṭṭavargaḷ avarāl rakṣikka-p-paḍuvarē y-aṉḏṟi y-oru-k-kāl-um kaiviḍa-p-paḍār; eṉiṉum, guru kāṭṭiya vaṙi-p-paḍi tavaṟādu naḍakka vēṇḍum.

English translation: God and guru are in truth not different. Just as what has been caught in the jaws of a tiger will not return, so those who have been caught in the look [or glance] of guru’s grace will never be forsaken but will surely be saved by him; nevertheless, it is necessary to walk unfailingly in accordance with the path that guru has shown.

anadi-ananta said...

thank you for your comment. As you say it seems to me that the necessary surrendering of ego will happen only gradually in step with the growing conviction of its absolute necessity.

Michael James said...

Yo Soy Tu Mismo, in answer to your questions, what is already predetermined is all that we are to experience (in the sense of all that is to happen to us) in this life, but not all that we do. In order for us to experience whatever we are predetermined to experience, and in order for us not to experience whatever we are not predetermined to experience, we may need to do certain actions, so such actions are predetermined. However, the actions of our mind, speech and body are driven not only by our prārabdha (whatever we are predetermined to experience) but also by our will, so some actions are driven entirely by prārabdha, some are driven entirely by our will, and others are driven by both prārabdha and our will working more or less in synchronisation.

Actions driven partly or wholly by our will are called āgāmya, and the fruits of āgāmya are stored as sañcita, from which God or guru selects which fruit are to be experienced as prārabdha in each life. Therefore prārabdha is the fruit of actions we have done by our will in previous lives.

I have explained all this in more detail in several of my articles, including most recently in Like everything else, karma is created solely by ego’s misuse of its will (cittam), so what needs to be rectified is its will.

Regarding your second question, ‘The will of the self can generate something or is it just an attribution that the ego arrogates to the thought that emerges in consciousness?’, what do you mean by ‘the will of the self’? Do you mean the will of our real nature (ātma-svarūpa) or the will of ego?

The will of our real nature is just to be as it is, not to do or to experience anything, because it is infinite happiness and is therefore perfectly content as it is. What is discontented is only ego, so it is only ego that wants to experience phenomena and therefore to do actions in order to experience them. Hence it is only ego’s will that creates āgāmya, and consequently it is only ego that must experience prārabdha, the fruit of its own āgāmya.

That is, by rising as ego we seemingly separate ourself from infinite happiness, which is our real nature, so as ego we are perpetually dissatisfied, and our dissatisfaction drives us to seek happiness. However, having separated ourself from real happiness, we mistakenly believe that happiness is something other than ourself, so we seek it outside ourself in the appearance of phenomena. This is what gives rise to our will (our desires, attachments, likes, dislikes, hopes, fears and so on), and our will drives us to do actions in order to achieve whatever we desire.

What creates everything is only ourself as ego, and the power by which we create everything is our will, so yes, ‘The will of the self [ourself as ego] can generate something’, and it creates or generates not only something but everything.

Yo Soy Tu Mismo said...

Thank you very much Michael. I am going to read all the articles you wrote in relation with this topic.
With love

Yo Soy Tu Mismo said...

In the article call "What unites us is not the action itself, but the desire or will with which we do it" (I can´t find the place of the article to post in it) you say that: "that the force that drives most of these actions is our will" referring to the Actions performed by the five bodies or wrappings. And I wonder: What is it that drives that will can determine something? Can we consider that a will is such if it needs something to mobilize it? Especially when what we are referring to is the will as one of the five koshas. Or is that will ultimately expressing the deep desire of the Self penetrating into this dream of apparent separation to lead us out of it?

I say it in the sense that an aspect of the ego is the conscious Presence or Consciousness I Am that is like the Holy Spirit present in the character as the bridge between the dream and the Reality of our Full Being or Atma Swarupa