Sunday, 2 February 2020

There are many interpretations of advaita, but Bhagavan’s teachings are the simplest, clearest and deepest

In a comment on my previous article, To know what we actually are, we need to cease being interested in any person, a friend called Mouna referred to one of my recent videos, 2020-01-19 Yo Soy Tu Mismo: Michael James discusses why Bhagavan’s path is a path of unlearning, and wrote:
Michael mentioned in one of his recent videos (I’ll be paraphrasing) that one of the problems of vedantic teachings is that historically, the simple teachings of the Upanishads started to be complicated to understand because all the commentaries, and the commentaries on the commentaries (and the commentaries on the commentaries on the commentaries!) appeared...

Isn’t that something that we are doing here? Isn’t that interesting that we are seeing the same process developing right in front of our eyes with Bhagavan’s teachings? This Bhagavan scholar understanding vs that Bhagavan scholar understanding?

I do understand that there are ideas that need to be “unwrapped” because their simplicity hides subtleties that if not understood will defeat their so called “simplicity”, but aren’t we in a similar process in relation to Bhagavan’s teachings as advaita was in relation to Shankara’s? How much longer we will keep “manana” as a cop-out for not being courageous enough to let go of everything with our nidhidyasana?...

Again, I am not criticizing anyone or anything said here since I owe a lot to this blog and also I am the first in acknowledging my limitations in this area, but I am just “simply” raising the question. As one philosopher once supposedly said: “An unexamined life is not worth living”.

More food for thought.
This article is written in response to this comment and to clarify what I tried to explain in the portion of that video that Mouna referred to.
  1. What is required in order to go deep in the practice of self-investigation and self-surrender is not learning so much as unlearning
  2. What is the nature of the vidyā that will dispel avidyā, and how can we acquire it?
  3. No one before Bhagavan had ever explained the deep, subtle and radical principles and practice of advaita in such a clear, simple, coherent and convincing manner as he has done
  4. Why are the simple principles of advaita so often obscured by convoluted interpretations and explanations?
  5. Different interpretations of Bhagavan’s teachings are inevitable, because how each mind understands them is determined by its level of purity
  6. If we do manana correctly, it will draw our attention back to ourself and constantly remind us and motivate us to be self-attentive
1. What is required in order to go deep in the practice of self-investigation and self-surrender is not learning so much as unlearning

Mouna, regarding what you wrote in the first paragraph of this comment, it seems that you may have misunderstood what I said about commentaries and about how the simple principles of advaita came to be elaborated into an unnecessarily complicated philosophy, which the followers of Sankara interpreted in a variety of different and often conflicting ways, or perhaps I did not explain clearly enough what I meant. Commentaries are not necessarily a problem, and they can be very useful or even necessary to enable us to understand certain texts.

The context in which I was speaking in the portion of that video that you referred to (from 1:00:35 onwards) was in answer to someone who asked: ‘There are people who claim that following the path of the Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi is not as complete as being instructed in Advaita Vedanta following a traditional study in the line marked out by Sri Adi Sankara which is currently taught from the Sringeri monastery or by Swami Dayananda Saraswati. Could you tell us about the main differences between the study of Advaita Vedanta through these paths and that based on the Pure Teachings of Sri Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi?’ What I said about commentaries in this context is that some scholars (many of whom happen to be sannyāsis or heads of religious institutions and therefore command widespread respect) claim that in order to dispel avidyā it is necessary to study the original texts of vēdānta along with commentaries on them, and commentaries on those commentaries, under the guidance of a qualified guru who has studied them likewise.

The logic behind this claim is that avidyā (ignorance) can be dispelled only by vidyā (knowledge), and those who make this claim believe that vidyā can only be obtained by studying the prescribed texts and commentaries in the prescribed manner. This has been a prevalent view among scholars of vēdānta for hundreds of years, but Bhagavan explicitly repudiated it in the sixteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Ār?:
எந்நூலிலும் முக்தி யடைவதற்கு மனத்தை யடக்க வேண்டுமென்று சொல்லப்பட் டுள்ளபடியால், மனோநிக்ரகமே நூல்களின் முடிவான கருத்து என் றறிந்துகொண்ட பின்பு நூல்களை யளவின்றிப் படிப்பதாற் பயனில்லை. மனத்தை யடக்குவதற்குத் தன்னை யாரென்று விசாரிக்க வேண்டுமே யல்லாமல் எப்படி நூல்களில் விசாரிப்பது? தன்னைத் தன்னுடைய ஞானக்கண்ணாற்றானே யறிய வேண்டும். ராமன் தன்னை ராமனென்றறியக் கண்ணாடி வேண்டுமா? ‘தான்’ பஞ்ச கோசங்களுக்குள் ளிருப்பது; நூல்களோ அவற்றிற்கு வெளியி லிருப்பவை. ஆகையால், பஞ்ச கோசங்களையும் நீக்கி விசாரிக்க வேண்டிய தன்னை நூல்களில் விசாரிப்பது வீணே. பந்தத்தி லிருக்கும் தான் யாரென்று விசாரித்து தன் யதார்த்த சொரூபத்தைத் தெரிந்துகொள்வதே முக்தி. சதாகாலமும் மனத்தை ஆத்மாவில் வைத்திருப்பதற்குத் தான் ‘ஆத்மவிசார’ மென்று பெயர்; தியானமோ தன்னை ஸச்சிதானந்த பிரம்மமாக பாவிப்பது. கற்றவை யனைத்தையும் ஒருகாலத்தில் மறக்க வேண்டிவரும்.

ennūlilum mukti y-aḍaivadaṟku maṉattai y-aḍakka vēṇḍum-eṉḏṟu solla-p-paṭ ṭuḷḷapaḍiyāl, maṉōnigrahamē nūlgaḷiṉ muḍivāṉa karuttu eṉ ḏṟaṟindu-goṇḍa piṉbu nūlgaḷai y-aḷaviṉḏṟi-p paḍi-p-padāl payaṉ-illai. maṉattai y-aḍakkuvadaṟku-t taṉṉai yār eṉḏṟu vicārikka vēṇḍum-ē y-allāmal eppaḍi nūlgaḷil vicārippadu? taṉṉai-t taṉṉuḍaiya ñāṉa-k-kaṇṇāl-tāṉ-ē y-aṟiya vēṇḍum. rāmaṉ taṉṉai rāmaṉ-eṉḏṟaṟiya-k kaṇṇāḍi vēṇḍum-ā? ‘tāṉ’ pañca kōśaṅgaḷukkuḷ ḷ-iruppadu; nūlgaḷ-ō avaṯṟiṟku veḷiyil iruppavai. āhaiyāl, pañca kōśaṅgaḷai-y-um nīkki vicārikka vēṇḍiya taṉṉai nūlgaḷil vicārippadu vīṇē. bandhattil irukkum tāṉ yār eṉḏṟu vicārittu taṉ yathārtha sorūpattai-t terindu-koḷvadē mukti. sadā-kālam-um maṉattai ātmāvil vaittiruppadaṟku-t tāṉ ‘ātma-vicāram’ eṉḏṟu peyar; dhiyāṉam-ō taṉṉai saccidāṉanda birahmmamāha bhāvippadu. kaṯṟavai y-aṉaittaiyum oru-kālattil maṟakka vēṇḍi-varum.

Since in every text [of vēdānta] it is said that for attaining mukti [liberation] it is necessary to make the mind cease, after knowing that manōnigraha [restraint, subjugation or destruction of mind] alone is the ultimate intention [aim or purpose] of [such] texts, there is no benefit [to be gained] by studying texts without limit. For making the mind cease it is necessary to investigate oneself [to see] who [one actually is], [but] instead [of doing so] how [can one see oneself by] investigating in texts? It is necessary to know oneself only by one’s own eye of jñāna [knowledge or awareness]. Does [a person called] Raman need a mirror to know himself as Raman? ‘Oneself’ is within the pañca-kōśas [the ‘five sheaths’ that seem to cover and obscure what one actually is, namely the physical body, life, mind, intellect and will]; whereas texts are outside them. Therefore, investigating in texts [in order to know] oneself, whom it is necessary to investigate [by turning one’s attention within and thereby] setting aside [excluding, removing, giving up or separating from] all the pañca-kōśas, is useless. [By] investigating who is oneself who is in bondage, knowing one’s yathārtha svarūpa [actual own nature] alone is mukti [liberation]. The name ‘ātma-vicāra’ [refers] only to [the practice of] always keeping the mind in [or on] ātmā [oneself]; whereas dhyāna [meditation] is imagining oneself to be sat-cit-ānanda brahman [the absolute reality, which is being-consciousness-bliss]. At one time it will become necessary to forget all that one has learnt.
This is why Bhagavan used to say that what is required in order to go deep in the practice of self-investigation and self-surrender is not learning so much as unlearning. What did he mean by ‘unlearning’? What do we need to unlearn, and how can we unlearn it? To begin unlearning, we first need to critically analyse all our most fundamental beliefs to see if they are adequately supported by our actual experience. The first and most fundamental belief we need to consider is our belief ‘I am this body’. Though we now seem to be a particular body, this body cannot be what we actually are, because we are aware of this body only in our present state, whereas in dream we are aware of ourself as some other body, and in sleep we are aware of ourself without being aware of any body at all. Therefore, since we are always aware of ourself but not always aware of this body, this body cannot be ourself.

However, ‘I am this body’ is more than just a belief, because in our present state we are actually aware of ourself as if we were this particular body, and in dream we are actually aware of ourself as if we were some other body. ‘I am this body’ is therefore an awareness, but a mistaken awareness, because it is an awareness of ourself as something other than what we actually are.

If we critically analyse our experience, it is clear that we are aware of things other than ourself (forms, phenomena, objects or second and third persons) only when we are aware of ourself as a body, so this false awareness ‘I am this body’ is the basis of our awareness of all other things. Generally we believe that physical phenomena exist independent of our awareness of them, but since we are aware of such things only when we are mistakenly aware of ourself as a body, our awareness of them is also suspect.

While dreaming we are aware of phenomena that seem to be physical, so as long as we are dreaming we believe that they exist independent of our awareness of them, but as soon as we wake up we recognise that they were all just our own mental fabrications and therefore did not exist except in our awareness. Do we have any reason, therefore, to suppose that the seemingly physical phenomena that we are now aware of are anything other than our own mental fabrications? Do we have any evidence that we are not now dreaming? Obviously not, because whatever we are now experiencing we could equally well experience in a dream.

If our present state is just a dream, as Bhagavan says it is, then nothing we perceive in this state exists independent of our perception of it. Since we perceive phenomena only when we rise as ego, which is the false awareness ‘I am this body’, all phenomena depend for their seeming existence upon the seeming existence of ourself as ego, as he points out 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.

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

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): ahandai uṇḍāyiṉ, aṉaittum uṇḍāhum; ahandai iṉḏṟēl, aṉaittum iṉḏṟu. yāvum ahandai-y-ē ām. ādalāl, yādu idu eṉḏṟu nādal-ē yāvum ōvudal eṉa ōr.

English translation: If ego comes into existence, everything comes into existence; if ego does not exist, everything does not exist. Ego itself is everything. Therefore, know that investigating what this [ego] is alone is giving up everything.
What he teaches us in this verse may seem very radical, but it is actually in perfect accord with our own experience. Phenomena appear only when we rise and stand as ego, as in waking and dream, and they cease to appear as soon as we cease rising as ego, as in sleep. Since they appear only in our awareness, we have no reason to suppose that they exist independent of our awareness of them, so it is perfectly reasonable for us to believe what he says in this verse, namely that they come into existence only when we come into existence as ego, and they do not exist at all when we do not exist as ego.

Not only is it perfectly reasonable to believe this, but it is unreasonable to believe otherwise, because if we believe that other things exist when we do not rise as ego and are consequently not aware of them, that is believing in the existence of something for which we have absolutely no evidence and never can have any evidence. The only evidence that we have that anything other than ourself exists is that we are aware of them, so when we are not aware of them, we have no evidence that they exist. If someone were to claim that the world we experienced in a dream exists even now, when we are not aware of it, would we not consider that claim to be unreasonable? We would consider it unreasonable because it is a mere supposition unsupported by any evidence, so for the same reason it is unreasonable to suppose that anything else exists when we are not aware of it.

We suppose that other things exist when we are not aware of them because we suppose that our present state is not a dream, but we suppose this even when we are dreaming. Since we have no evidence that our present state or any other state in which we are aware of phenomena is anything other than a dream, it is not reasonable for us to believe that we are now not dreaming.

Since almost all our other beliefs are based on our belief that physical phenomena exist independent of our awareness of them, and since this belief is based on our mistaken awareness of ourself as ‘I am this body’, if we are willing to give up believing either that we are this body or that anything else exists independent of our awareness of it, we thereby effectively free ourself from the burden of almost all our former beliefs. Thus by critical analysis of our actual experience we can in effect unlearn most of the beliefs that we had previously learnt or assumed to be true.

Even if we do so, however, our unlearning is still not complete, because though critical analysis has enabled us to jettison most of our previous beliefs, we have now replaced them with a much simpler set of beliefs that we have learnt from Bhagavan’s teachings and our critical analysis. The root of all beliefs and all learning is ego, so our unlearning will be complete only when we have eradicated ego, which we can do only by means of self-investigation and self-surrender. Critical analysis is only the preliminary and preparatory stage of unlearning, because real unlearning occurs only to the extent that ego subsides and dissolves back into its source as a result of self-investigation and self-surrender.

2. What is the nature of the vidyā that will dispel avidyā, and how can we acquire it?

Those who believe that we cannot gain vidyā and thereby dispel avidyā except by studying the original texts of vēdānta, namely the Upaniṣads, Brahmasūtra and Bhagavad Gītā, along with prescribed commentaries on them under the guidance of a qualified guru have not correctly understood the nature of either vidyā or avidyā. In this context avidyā (ignorance) means self-ignorance, which is the very nature of ego, because ego is an erroneous awareness of ourself, being just awareness of ourself as a body, which is not what we actually are, so we cannot dispel avidyā without dispelling ego, and when ego is dispelled everything other than ourself will cease to exist (as Bhagavan teaches us clearly and unequivocally in verse 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu and elsewhere).

Since avidyā (ignorance) can be dispelled only by vidyā (knowledge), and since it is the very nature of ego, what is the nature of the vidyā that will dispel it? Obviously it cannot be dispelled by any vidyā that could be acquired by ego, because so long as ego exists avidyā will exist along with it. Therefore the only vidyā that can dispel avidyā is the vidyā that will eradicate ego, and since ego is an erroneous awareness of ourself, it can be dispelled only by correct awareness of ourself. Therefore in this context vidyā means awareness of ourself as we actually are, and as Bhagavan points out in the sixteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Ār?, we cannot acquire such awareness by studying any number of books but only by keeping our mind or attention fixed firmly on ourself alone.

What we actually are is only pure awareness, which means awareness that is not aware of anything other than itself, because in its clear view nothing other than itself exists for it to be aware of, as Bhagavan implies, for example, in verse 27 of Upadēśa Undiyār:
அறிவறி யாமையு மற்ற வறிவே
யறிவாகு முண்மையீ துந்தீபற
     வறிவதற் கொன்றிலை யுந்தீபற.

aṟivaṟi yāmaiyu maṯṟa vaṟivē
yaṟivāhu muṇmaiyī dundīpaṟa
     vaṟivadaṟ koṉḏṟilai yundīpaṟa
.

பதச்சேதம்: அறிவு அறியாமையும் அற்ற அறிவே அறிவு ஆகும். உண்மை ஈது. அறிவதற்கு ஒன்று இலை.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): aṟivu aṟiyāmai-y-um aṯṟa aṟivē aṟivu āhum. uṇmai īdu. aṟivadaṟku oṉḏṟu ilai.

அன்வயம்: அறிவு அறியாமையும் அற்ற அறிவே அறிவு ஆகும். ஈது உண்மை. அறிவதற்கு ஒன்று இலை.

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): aṟivu aṟiyāmai-y-um aṯṟa aṟivē aṟivu āhum. īdu uṇmai. aṟivadaṟku oṉḏṟu ilai.

English translation: Only knowledge [or awareness] that is devoid of knowledge and ignorance is [real] knowledge [or awareness]. This is real, [because] there is not anything for knowing.
Real awareness, which is what we actually are, is devoid of both awareness and ignorance of anything other than ourself, so we cannot be aware of ourself as we actually are so long as we are aware of anything other than ourself. Being aware of anything other than ourself is avidyā, as Bhagavan implies in the first sentence of verse 11 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, ‘அறிவு உறும் தன்னை அறியாது அயலை அறிவது அறியாமை; அன்றி அறிவோ?’ (aṟivu-uṟum taṉṉai aṟiyādu ayalai aṟivadu aṟiyāmai; aṉḏṟi aṟivō?), ‘Not knowing [the reality of] oneself [ego], who knows [everything else], knowing other things is ignorance; except [that], is it knowledge?’, and in the second sentence of verse 13 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, ‘நானாவாம் ஞானம் அஞ்ஞானம் ஆம்’ (nāṉā-v-ām ñāṉam aññāṉam ām), ‘Awareness that is manifold [or awareness of manyness] is ignorance’, so the only vidyā that can dispel avidyā is pure awareness, and hence in order to acquire such vidyā we need to be aware of nothing other than ourself.

In other words, real awareness or vidyā is the awareness that alone remains when we are clearly aware only of ourself (our own form of light), thereby ceasing to be aware of anything else, as he teaches us in verse 16 of Upadēśa Undiyār:
வெளிவிட யங்களை விட்டு மனந்தன்
னொளியுரு வோர்தலே யுந்தீபற
      வுண்மை யுணர்ச்சியா முந்தீபற.

veḷiviḍa yaṅgaḷai viṭṭu maṉantaṉ
ṉoḷiyuru vōrdalē yundīpaṟa
      vuṇmai yuṇarcciyā mundīpaṟa
.

பதச்சேதம்: வெளி விடயங்களை விட்டு மனம் தன் ஒளி உரு ஓர்தலே உண்மை உணர்ச்சி ஆம்.

Padacchēdam (word-separation): veḷi viḍayaṅgaḷai viṭṭu maṉam taṉ oḷi-uru ōrdalē uṇmai uṇarcci ām.

அன்வயம்: மனம் வெளி விடயங்களை விட்டு தன் ஒளி உரு ஓர்தலே உண்மை உணர்ச்சி ஆம்.

Anvayam (words rearranged in natural prose order): maṉam veḷi viḍayaṅgaḷai viṭṭu taṉ oḷi-uru ōrdalē uṇmai uṇarcci ām.

English translation: Leaving aside external viṣayas [phenomena], the mind knowing its own form of light is alone real awareness [true knowledge or knowledge of reality].
This is why he says in the sixteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Ār? that we cannot know ourself by investigating in books, which are outside the five sheaths, but only by investigating ourself, for which we need to set aside the five sheaths (and hence by implication everything else, which we know only when we are aware of the five sheaths as if they were ourself):
மனத்தை யடக்குவதற்குத் தன்னை யாரென்று விசாரிக்க வேண்டுமே யல்லாமல் எப்படி நூல்களில் விசாரிப்பது? தன்னைத் தன்னுடைய ஞானக்கண்ணாற்றானே யறிய வேண்டும். ராமன் தன்னை ராமனென்றறியக் கண்ணாடி வேண்டுமா? ‘தான்’ பஞ்ச கோசங்களுக்குள் ளிருப்பது; நூல்களோ அவற்றிற்கு வெளியி லிருப்பவை. ஆகையால், பஞ்ச கோசங்களையும் நீக்கி விசாரிக்க வேண்டிய தன்னை நூல்களில் விசாரிப்பது வீணே.

maṉattai y-aḍakkuvadaṟku-t taṉṉai yār eṉḏṟu vicārikka vēṇḍum-ē y-allāmal eppaḍi nūlgaḷil vicārippadu? taṉṉai-t taṉṉuḍaiya ñāṉa-k-kaṇṇāl-tāṉ-ē y-aṟiya vēṇḍum. rāmaṉ taṉṉai rāmaṉ-eṉḏṟaṟiya-k kaṇṇāḍi vēṇḍum-ā? ‘tāṉ’ pañca kōśaṅgaḷukkuḷ ḷ-iruppadu; nūlgaḷ-ō avaṯṟiṟku veḷiyil iruppavai. āhaiyāl, pañca kōśaṅgaḷai-y-um nīkki vicārikka vēṇḍiya taṉṉai nūlgaḷil vicārippadu vīṇē.

For making the mind cease it is necessary to investigate oneself [to see] who [one actually is], [but] instead [of doing so] how [can one see oneself by] investigating in texts? It is necessary to know oneself only by one’s own eye of jñāna [knowledge or awareness]. Does [a person called] Raman need a mirror to know himself as Raman? ‘Oneself’ is within the pañca-kōśas [the ‘five sheaths’ that seem to cover and obscure what one actually is, namely the physical body, life, mind, intellect and will]; whereas texts are outside them. Therefore, investigating in texts [in order to know] oneself, whom it is necessary to investigate [by turning one’s attention within and thereby] setting aside [excluding, removing, giving up or separating from] all the pañca-kōśas, is useless.
Whatever we learn from books or any other source outside ourself is knowledge acquired by us as ego, so it can never eradicate ego or ego’s self-ignorance (avidyā). In order to dispel avidyā we need to be aware of ourself as we actually are, and in order to be aware of ourself as we actually are we need to be so keenly self-attentive that we thereby cease of be aware of anything else whatsoever. This is the true import of advaita, but it is not understood by those scholars who believe that in order to dispel avidyā we need to acquire vidyā by systematic study of the Upaniṣads, Brahmasūtra, Bhagavad Gītā and commentaries upon them.

3. No one before Bhagavan had ever explained the deep, subtle and radical principles and practice of advaita in such a clear, simple, coherent and convincing manner as he has done

Though the basic principles of advaita are extremely simple, as Bhagavan has made clear to us, in the original texts of vēdānta they are not expressed in such a clear, simple and unambiguous manner as he expressed them, so commentaries on such texts are necessary to enable most people to understand them correctly. The first complete and systematic set of advaita commentaries on these texts were written by Adi Sankara, but what he wrote in his commentaries was not only to guide spiritual aspirants but also to establish advaita as the correct interpretation of vēdānta, which made it necessary for him to repudiate and argue against many of the other philosophical views that were prevalent in India at that time. Therefore to understand his commentaries one needs to be well versed in the cultural and philosophical context in which he wrote them, which is why in the last sentence of the first paragraph of his introduction (avatārikai) to his Tamil translation of Vivēkacūḍāmaṇi Bhagavan said that his commentaries are not useful for spiritual aspirants (mumukṣus) who have exceedingly intense desire for happiness but who are unskilled in studying them, so he (Sankara) showed the direct path by revealing the inner secrets of them in Vivēkacūḍāmaṇi, elaborately explaining matters that are necessary for aspirants.

Even if we study Vivēkacūḍāmaṇi, for most of us it is not easy to understand from it all the most fundamental and important principles of advaita, but fortunately for us Bhagavan has explained such principles in an extremely clear and simple manner in his own original writings, such as Nāṉ Ār?, Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu and Upadēśa Undiyār, and he has done so in such a way that makes clear what exactly is the means by which we can eradicate ego, without which there could be no such thing as avidyā.

As far as I am aware, no one before Bhagavan had ever explained the deep, subtle and radical principles and practice of advaita in such a clear, simple, coherent and convincing manner as he has done, but the great value of his revolutionary teachings has not been recognised or appreciated by any of the scholars who still believe that avidyā cannot be dispelled except by studying the Upaniṣads, Brahmasūtra and Bhagavad Gītā along with prescribed commentaries on them under the guidance of a qualified guru. Therefore among such scholars there are some who not only claim that his teachings are inadequate and criticise them, describing them as neo-vēdānta or neo-advaita, but also claim that he was not a proper guru because he did not have a guru and did not belong to any sampradāya (tradition or lineage of gurus), and therefore he had not studied all the required texts in a systematic manner. I assume it was such claims that were referred to in the question that I was answering in that part of the video, which is why I replied as I did.

4. Why are the simple principles of advaita so often obscured by convoluted interpretations and explanations?

Though some commentaries no doubt play a role in obscuring the simple principles of advaita by explaining it in a roundabout and complicated manner, not all commentaries play such a role. As I said above, commentaries can be useful, and in some cases even necessary, but how useful a commentary is depends on various factors, such as the text or teaching on which it is written, the purpose for which it is written and the understanding of the person who has written it.

The aim of a commentary should be to clarify the meaning and implications of a text, and since clarity lies in simplicity, as a general rule a commentary that explains a text in a simple manner will be more useful for a spiritual aspirant than one that explains it in a complicated manner. However, some commentaries are written just for the purpose of scholarly debate, or to twist the meaning of the text to support a particular philosophical view, so such commentaries are unlikely to be of much use to a spiritual aspirant, whereas other commentaries are written just to impartially elucidate the meaning and practical implications of the text, so if the writer of such a commentary has a deep and clear understanding, it may be very useful for spiritual aspirants, particularly those who are willing to accept the level of explanation given in it.

Regarding why and how the simple principles of advaita came to be elaborated into an unnecessarily complicated philosophy, there are various reasons, some of which are historical and cultural and therefore need not concern us. Perhaps the most significant reason, however, is that advaita is an extremely deep, subtle and radical philosophy, so most people are not willing to accept it in an undiluted form, and hence sages such as Sankara and Bhagavan had to give different levels of explanation to suit people of different levels of spiritual maturity. After Sankara many people took advaita to be a religion, in the sense that they accepted it as an article of faith without deeply considering and applying its implications, so such people preferred to accept the more superficial explanations rather than the deeper and more radical ones. Therefore scholars of this type tended to ignore or explain away the deeper interpretations, which are the simplest ones, and to elaborate on the more superficial interpretations in order to suit their pre-existing beliefs and taste for complicated ideas. Such people found comfort in the belief that vidyā could be acquired and avidyā dispelled just by studying and discussing texts, or by meditating on ideas such as nēti nēti or ‘I am brahman’.

For many people the very simplicity and clarity of Bhagavan’s teachings is threatening, because in simplicity and clarity there is no place for ego to hide, so for such people more convoluted and hence complicated interpretations of advaita are more appealing. There are many such people even among the devotees of Bhagavan, and hence they tend to interpret his teachings in a convoluted manner by mixing in many of their own ideas and preconceptions. This is natural, because each person will be attracted to whichever level of interpretation or explanation is best suited to their current level of spiritual development.

One example that illustrates how Bhagavan’s core teachings are so much simpler than most other interpretations of advaita is the distinction between dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda (the contention that perception is itself creation, as illustrated by dream) and sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi-vāda (the contention that creation precedes perception and therefore does not depend on it). Some scholars acknowledge that (as Bhagavan often pointed out) regarding creation advaita offers three levels of explanation, the most superficial of which is sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi-vāda, and that dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda is a deeper and more subtle explanation, and ajāta vāda is the deepest and subtlest of all, but many scholars are so strongly attached to sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi-vāda that they pay only lip service to ajāta vāda and vehemently reject dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda, saying that it is a false interpretation of advaita.

Those who reject dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda in this way claim that it is wrong to say that our present waking state is a dream, and that when Gaudapada or Sankara compared waking to dream they did not mean that waking is actually just a dream but were referring to dream as an analogy. One of the grounds on which they object to dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda is that it is solipsistic, because it entails ēka-jīva-vāda (the contention that there is only one jīva or perceiver, just as in a dream there is only one perceiver, namely the dreamer), but this is precisely why dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda is such a simple but deep explanation and one with such profound practical implications.

Though Bhagavan sometimes spoke from the perspective of sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi-vāda when answering questions, in his original writings such as Nāṉ Ār? and Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu he clearly and unequivocally taught dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda, which is the simplest possible explanation of the appearance of multiplicity. That is, according to advaita what actually exists is only pure awareness, which is therefore described as ‘one only without a second’ (ēkam ēva advitīyam), but it seems to us that there are many things, so it is necessary for advaita to explain how many things seem to exist, and more importantly, how to get rid of this appearance of manyness.

The reason it is necessary to explain how many things seem to exist is that if this is understood correctly it will show us the means by which we can get rid of their appearance. This is done very simply and effectively by dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda, but in a much more cumbersome and roundabout manner by the type of sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi-vāda that is advocated in some advaita interpretations of vēdānta.

What makes dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda such a simple and clear explanation of advaita is that it explains the appearance of multiplicity as being just a dream. In a dream there is only one dreamer, and everything that the dreamer perceives is just its own fabrication and seems to exist only in its own mind. The one dreamer who perceives all multiplicity is ourself as ego, so it is only when we rise and stand as ego that multiplicity seems to exist.

In a dream we perceive many phenomena, but none of those phenomena exist independent of our awareness of them. In fact, phenomena and our awareness of them are not two different things, because a phenomenon is actually nothing other than our awareness of it. So how do we come to be aware of phenomena when they do not exist except as our awareness of them? The very nature of ego is to be aware of phenomena, and to be aware of itself as one among those phenomena, namely a body consisting of five sheaths (a physical form, life, mind, intellect and will). Therefore, since phenomena are nothing but ego’s awareness of them, and since being aware of them is the very nature of ego, ego itself is all phenomena, as Bhagavan implies in verse 26 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu when, after saying ‘அகந்தை உண்டாயின், அனைத்தும் உண்டாகும்; அகந்தை இன்றேல், இன்று அனைத்தும்’ (ahandai uṇḍāyiṉ, aṉaittum uṇḍāhum; ahandai iṉḏṟēl, iṉḏṟu aṉaittum), ‘If ego comes into existence, everything comes into existence; if ego does not exist, everything does not exist’, he says in the third sentence: ‘அகந்தையே யாவும் ஆம்’ (ahandaiyē yāvum ām), ‘Ego itself is everything’.

This is an extremely important teaching, because it means that what seems to be many things is actually just one thing, namely ego. Since we rise and stand as ego only by projecting and being aware of other things, they seem to exist and we seem to be ego only when we attend to them. If we as ego attend only to ourself instead of to anything else, we will subside and dissolve back into pure awareness, which is our real nature (ātma-svarūpa) and the source from which we rose as ego. When we thereby cease to rise as ego, everything else will cease to exist along with it, because all other things are nothing but ego’s awareness of them, so in the fourth and final sentence of verse 26 he says: ‘ஆதலால், யாது இது என்று நாடலே ஓவுதல் யாவும் என ஓர்’ (ādalāl, yādu idu eṉḏṟu nādal-ē ōvudal yāvum eṉa ōr), ‘Therefore, know that investigating what this [ego] is alone is giving up everything’.

This is the simplest possible explanation of the appearance of multiplicity, because it says that awareness of many things is the nature of just one thing, namely ego, and that one thing seems to exist only because we do not attend to ourself keenly enough. In comparison to this, even the simplest form of sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi-vāda is ontologically complex, because it claims that many things exist even when they are not perceived by us as ego, and it concedes at least tacitly that they are perceived not just by one ego but by many egos.

Since advaita teaches that what actually exists is ‘one only without a second’ (ēkam ēva advitīyam), namely pure awareness, it denies that many things actually exist, so a fundamental principle that is accepted by all scholars of advaita is vivarta vāda, the contention (vāda) that multiplicity is just an illusory appearance (vivarta). This can be explained most easily by dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda, because an illusion is a misperception, so it exists only in the view of whatever perceives it, and if multiplicity is an illusion, that implies that it is perceived by just one perceiver, just as a dream is perceived by just one dreamer.

If we try to explain vivarta vāda by any form of sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi-vāda, as most scholars of advaita prefer to do, we run into all sorts of logical problems. For example, if multiplicity is just an illusory appearance, that means that there is only one thing not many, but sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi-vāda claims that this illusory appearance is perceived not just by one jīva but by many jīvas, so by acknowledging the existence of many jīvas it is in effect giving reality to the illusory appearance of a multiplicity of jīvas. Likewise, sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi-vāda claims that multiplicity is created before we perceive it and therefore exists independent of our perception of it, so if that is the case, how can it be an illusory appearance? In order to be an appearance, it must appear in the view of a perceiver, and in order to be illusory, it must appear as the result of a misperception.

Because of such logical difficulties in reconciling sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi-vāda with vivarta vāda, advocates of sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi-vāda have to give complex and often quite convoluted explanations in order to reconcile them. However, such explanations are not useful for real spiritual aspirants, because they do not clarify the means by which we can eradicate ego.

Why then do sages such as Sankara and Bhagavan sometimes give explanations from the perspective of sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi-vāda? They do so in order to gently help people to accept the general idea of advaita, knowing that in due course their minds will be gradually purified and thus they will begin to aspire for liberation from the appearance of multiplicity, and that as their aspiration grows they will become dissatisfied with the convoluted explanations offered by sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi-vāda and will therefore begin to be more attracted to the much simpler and more elegant explanations of dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda.

Concerning ourself and all that we experience, countless explanations are offered by religion, science and philosophy, and each of those explanations may be useful for different purposes, but as spiritual aspirants we each need to choose for ourself which explanations appeal to us and will be most useful to us in our spiritual quest. Those of us who are attracted to Bhagavan’s simple and clear but extremely deep and radical teachings will always be in a minority, so we should not be surprised that the vast majority of people, including many who consider themselves to be adherents of advaita, do not agree with his teachings.

If our aim is to eradicate ego, we need not and should not be concerned about whatever anyone else chooses to believe. What each person believes is suited to their current level of spiritual development, so it is a stepping stone leading gradually to deeper levels of understanding. Many who now accept the simple but deep teachings of Bhagavan were led to do so by first studying the more superficial and convoluted interpretations and explanations of advaita taught by scholars, so such interpretations may have a useful role to play in introducing some of us gradually to the much simpler, deeper and more practical explanations offered by Bhagavan. However, if we are serious in our aspiration to eradicate ego, we should not allow ourself to be confused and misled by those scholars who claim that Bhagavan’s teachings are inadequate because they believe it is necessary for everyone to study the original texts of vēdānta in the ‘traditional’ manner that they prescribe (which is the issue that I was asked to talk about in the portion of the video that you referred to in your comment).

5. Different interpretations of Bhagavan’s teachings are inevitable, because how each mind understands them is determined by its level of purity

As you observed in your comment of 26 January 2020 at 16:31, Bhagavan’s teachings have been and will continue to be interpreted in different ways by different devotees, and though some of those interpretations differ radically from others, some people find they are benefited by one type of interpretation whereas others are benefited by some other interpretation. This is natural and inevitable, because those who are attracted to any particular guru or teaching are not all of the same level of spiritual development. As Bhagavan himself once said to Lakshmana Sarma regarding a certain book that claimed to be a commentary on his teachings, ‘According to the purity of the antaḥkaraṇa [the ‘inner instrument’ or mind] the same teachings reflect in different ways. If you think you can explain them better, you may write your own commentary’.

Therefore we each have to decide for ourself which type of teaching and interpretation appeals to us and follow it accordingly. If we express our views or understanding, as we do when discussing Bhagavan’s teachings with fellow devotees, some people will agree with us and others will disagree, but that need not perturb us, because our aim should be just to follow what he has taught us to the best of our ability and understanding. Nothing else matters. We are not here to argue with anyone, but only to turn within and surrender ourself as much as we can.

6. If we do manana correctly, it will draw our attention back to ourself and constantly remind us and motivate us to be self-attentive

In your comment that I referred to at the beginning of this article you asked, ‘How much longer we will keep “manana” as a cop-out for not being courageous enough to let go of everything with our nidhidyasana?’, but if we consider manana to be a cop-out or an excuse not to put the teachings into practice, we have not understood what real manana is. If we do manana correctly, it will draw our attention back to ourself and constantly remind us and motivate us to be self-attentive. That is the whole purpose of manana, and if our thinking about Bhagavan’s teachings does not have this effect it is too superficial to be considered as manana.

It is true that if we had the courage to be so keenly self-attentive that we let go of everything else here and now, we would thereby dissolve forever in our source and would therefore not be here to discuss anything, but śravaṇa (hearing, reading or studying), manana (deep, subtle and critical thinking) and nididhyāsana (practice of self-investigation and self-surrender) are a process we must undergo in order to weaken all our desires and attachments and thereby make us willing to eventually let go of everything else by attending to ourself so keenly that we give no room for the rising of any other thought. Now we may still be toddling on this path, but so long as we are trying to be self-attentive as much as possible we are moving in the right direction, so we will eventually reach our goal of complete self-surrender.

55 comments:

Salazar said...

From the article above: "[...] The only evidence that we have that anything other than ourself exists is that we are aware of them, so when we are not aware of them, we have no evidence that they exist. [...]"

There are attempts to assert that the body and phenomena must exist even when one is not aware of them (in deep sleep); i.e. waking up with a bladder full of urine (which was empty before going to sleep) and the sound of a falling tree during deep sleep which was tape recorded.

Taking Bhagavan's comments it is not so difficult to surmise that a body is created instantly (by the vasanas through [the power of] self) while waking up and that the urine in the full bladder was created instantly too. Same with the recording device, it is created instantly with a sound recorded. As much as a tree is projected by mind so is the recording device with/without sound. The same recording device (not really the same since it is a mental projection only and therefore it only seems real) was previously created/projected without sound, dismantled falling into deep sleep and created anew with a sound.

There is only self and phenomena seemingly appear and disappear in self. Sri Muruganar described the wonder of maya that makes the jiva believe of the reality and continuity of the world. However there is no world nor continuity even in the awake state, it is an imagination of mind. There are no babies and adolescents and then old people, empty bladders and then full bladders, these seeming differences are a projection, created anew every time mind moves out of the Heart.

What it all has in common is the belief of the jiva to be a body and from there everything else unfolds.

At least that is the model I interpret from Bhagavan's teaching what is enough for me, not really important of course since it tackles mind's imaginations, relevant is only self. So let's investigate the "I" and see if one is really a body.

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Jay Matthews said...

Thank you, Michael!

Mouna said...

Asun,

How do you know that the practice works or not works for someone? because they feel calm and peaceful and they start to "know themselves"? There are many "practices" that arrive to the same results and even more than that...

By the way, focusing attention on ego or ourself is the same thing, there is only one way attention in that case! (you pay attention to what once you believed a snake because someone tells you is not, and then you "discover" that it was a rope all along. So it really didn't matter if you were "investigating" the ego or self (which you can't).

Many people also will feel "It's working" following Bhagavan's teachings as they are being shared by David Godman, Nochur Venkataraman, Ganesan, Papaji, Sadhu Om, etc...

That reminds me one person saying about IKSON (Hare Krishnas) printing a book called "The Bhagavad Gita As It Is" that the only version of the Gita "as it is" is the sanskrit version itself. Bhagavan's teaching may be of the same kind...

Be well Asun.
Mouna

Mouna said...

(coda) for Asun,

if Bhagavan's teachings ever really work out for you, "you" will not be there to notice it!

Anonymous said...

Asun,

Not sure if you are pointing me in your comment. I have done enough self enquiry to realize pranayama is better for me. Its been interesting to watch how I can get affected with some circumstances without me being consciously aware of it. And that itself means my negativity is living in subconscious level. I do believe self enquiry is permanent cure, but for now , my method helps me a lot.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Michael. I always felt comfortable believing exactly the following:

our present waking state is a dream, and that when Gaudapada or Sankara compared waking to dream they did not mean that waking is actually just a dream but were referring to dream as an analogy.

The fact that this world is a dream exactly same as actual dream is extremely frightening since what will remain when I wake up? I might go into nothingness or just a state of boredom .. right? I understand there will be bliss that will not have an end. But wouldn’t that be a state where one is permanently trapped for ever? Being blissful all the time sounds boring and trapped to me.

Sanjay Lohia said...

Don’t blame yourself for the little things; blame yourself for the very appearance of the universe (part one)

A friend (Q): This morning I was late to your session – this body, mind was late in arriving. So is it that vasanas didn’t want me to be here, but somehow I just showed up? I was wondering what this play is.

Michael (M): It was your destiny to arrive late.

Q: So the responsibility lies where?

M: All responsibility lies with you.

Q: You mean this entity – this body, mind.

M: Not even the body, mind. ‘You’ means the one who says this body, mind is ‘I’.

Q: So God!

M: No, no, you. It’s the ego that takes the body to be ‘I’. So, all responsibility ultimately leads back to ego. As Bhagavan says, if ego comes into existence, everything comes into existence. So we as ego have to make the choice now: do we want to perpetuate this, or do we want to bring this to end? If you want to perpetuate this, continue looking outside – one dream after another will go on indefinitely until we turn within. The only way to bring the dream to the end is to turn back within. So one day you are late; one day you are early. These are trivial matters. These are part of destiny. It doesn’t matter. Only one thing matters: are you attending to yourself or not.

Q: I am not doing that either.

M: That’s the situation we are all in. We are not attending to ourself most of the time.

Q: Michael, if one is not able to perform in the world or attend to oneself, where does that leave us?

M: How well you perform in the world is already determined. You cannot perform any better in the world or any worse in the world than it’s already been determined. Bhagavan has given us only one responsibility – that is to attend to ourself and thereby surrender ourself. We are finding every excuse to shirk this responsibility because we are not yet willing to surrender ourself. Who is responsible for this lack of willingness? We are. So we have to take responsibility for everything because ultimately what exists is only ourself. There is nothing else. Now we seem to be this ego and as ego, we are responsible for all this multiplicity.

• Based on the video: 2020-02-01 Sri Ramana Center, Houston: discussion with Michael James on Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu verse 37 (1:09 to 1:16)

Sanjay Lohia said...

Don’t blame yourself for the little things; blame yourself for the very appearance of the universe (part two)

Q: So, I am not responsible for anything else other than to attend to oneself. So whatever happens – whether I show up, wake up, brush my teeth, whatever, that can all go to the wayside?

M: It’s all predestined. You cannot change that. You can try to change, but it’s not going to happen until it is predestined to happen.

Q: That true, Michael.

M: So no point in making resolutions. If we want to have resolutions, let us resolve to attend to only attend to ourself. Even that resolution will fail, but even if it succeeds little by little, eventually it will succeed, eventually conquer everything else.

Q: So there is no self-blame, self-criticism, laziness, lack of motivation, lack of drive, lack of vision…

M: Don’t blame yourself for the little things. Blame yourself for the very appearance of the universe, for your appearance as a person in that universe. That is where the blame lies.

Q: Alright! I will start doing that then.

M: If you blame yourself for the little things, then your preoccupation is on those little things.

Q: Thank you, sir.

M: All thanks to Bhagavan!

• Based on the video: 2020-02-01 Sri Ramana Center, Houston: discussion with Michael James on Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu verse 37 (1:09 to 1:16)





Aham said...

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This is an extremely important teaching, because it means that what seems to be many things is actually just one thing, namely ego. Since we rise and stand as ego only by projecting and being aware of other things, they seem to exist and we seem to be ego only when we attend to them. If we as ego attend only to ourself instead of to anything else, we will subside and dissolve back into pure awareness, which is our real nature (ātma-svarūpa) and the source from which we rose as ego.

Thank you Mr James. Your words are clear and precise, cutting to the heart of the matter.



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Mouna said...

Asun
”It is David Godman who says that self-investigation doesn´t work...”
Please show me the place where DG says this and then we can continue this conversation in a more substantial way my friend.

But you know what? I better rest my case, because I’m feeling I am falling into the same trap I was denouncing in my few last comments in the past two blog entries.
These confused state of affairs within this dream is not only individual but seems to be global.
This division into who has the true “commentary” about the commentaries (of the commentaries), the bad guys against the good guys, the ones that have the “right” understanding vs the ones that don’t, division division division dwaita dwaita dwaita.

I am really starting to understand why Bhagavan kept quiet most of the time and accepted everything, from the manuscript of Talks presented to him, to the unfounded stories about him being married, etc.
We believe all this is real, including his teachings!
Maya keep fooling us with words and more words, mind games and explanations, commentaries, translations, points of view and divisions of many kinds.... simply to lure us away (again and again) from the simple notion, in the moment, of trying to investigate what is this “I” which calls itself “I”... how difficult and subtle that clue he gave us could be??

I’m done, thanks for reading.

Michael James said...

Mouna, regarding your comment of 5 February 2020 at 14:57, rather than considering the diversity of teachings, interpretations and views to be a play of māyā (which it is from a certain perspective), why not consider it to be a gift of grace? That is, how we view such diversity and respond to it depends upon our aim. If we can interested only in disputation and asserting our own views and opinions, then that is certainly ‘மாயைச் சழக்கு’ (māyai-c caṙakku), ‘mischief of māyā’, as Bhagavan says in verse 34 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu. However, if our aim is liberation, the diversity of teachings and interpretations enables us to choose which one suits us best.

At each stage of our spiritual development, a certain level of teachings and interpretations will appeal to us, and that is the level that will be most beneficial for us at that stage. As we go deeper on the spiritual path, deeper levels of teachings and interpretations will appeal to us. Therefore it is not a question of true commentaries and false commentaries, and still less a matter of good guys and bad guys, but a matter of which level of teaching and interpretation feels right to us.

Ultimately the only truth is ajāta, in which there is nothing whatsoever to explain, and no one either to explain it or in need of any explanation, because there is not even the appearance of any multiplicity, since there is no ego to whom it could appear. That is our goal. However, in our view multiplicity does now seem to exist, so its appearance and the means to bring about its cessation need to be explained. According to Bhagavan, for those of us who earnestly seek to surrender ourself entirely, the most suitable and beneficial explanation is dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda, but for those who are not yet willing to accept all the radical implications of dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda, some form of sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi-vāda is more suitable.

The teachings of advaita appeal to relatively few people, and dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda and its implications as taught by Bhagavan appeal to only a few among those few, so we are in a very small minority. The more clearly we understand the simplicity of Bhagavan’s teaching and the power of the simple path he has shown us, the more we will be able to see the shortcomings of other explanations and interpretations of advaita. This does not mean that other explanations and interpretations do not have a useful role to play, but their role is to lead us gradually towards accepting the simpler, deeper and more practical explanations given by Bhagavan.

It is not wrong to recognise and the point out the differences between what Bhagavan has taught us and other explanations and interpretations of advaita, because we cannot understand his teachings clearly and correctly without thereby noticing how different they are to so many other explanations and interpretations that we may have read or heard about, and because the more clearly we recognise these differences the more we come to appreciate the unique and immeasurable value of his teachings. This is the path of jñāna, so on this path vivēka is essential, and vivēka includes the ability to recognise even the most subtle distinctions between one interpretation and another and to judge which is most useful for our spiritual growth.

Mouna said...

Michael, what you just wrote is exactly what I wanted to point out with my coment to your video answering the question to one of the questioners of Yo Soy Tu Mismo about the diferences between “traditional” advaita and Bhagavan’s teachings. As I pointed out in that comment, the fact that a video has “body language” besides intellectual concepts (that are more”worked and polished” in written comments), allow us to go beyond the words of what is explained, and detect some attitudes behing the words towards what is being said. I might be completely wrong about this and stated so in my comment. But I felt that Michael James’ attitude towards Swami Dayananda wasn’t very “neutral” but rather dismissal and pejorative. Actually I had in the past the same feelings towards the swami years ago when I read where an interview he dismissed Bhagavan’s “enlightenment”… That is what I was pointing out if we read what I was saying. And I also said that that attitude was transparent even when what you were saying could be true.
There are very very few occassions (counted with as many as two fingers on one hand!) where I disagree with what you are saying or writing, you know that. In that occassion I detected a sort of reaction behind the words instead of an impartial reflection on the different teachings. That is mainly what I was pointing at.
I remain always grateful for your comments and thoughts of Bhagavan teachings.

Michael James said...

Asun, regarding your comment of 4 February 2020 at 19:25, it is not correct to say that ‘by practicing self-investigation we are focusing attention on ourself, not on ego’, because self-investigation can be explained in terms of investigating either ego or what we actually are. It is only because we have risen as ego that we need to investigate ourself, so it is only as ego that we do so, and when we do so there are not two selves, one self (namely ego) investigating another self (namely what we actually are). As ego we need to investigate ourself, who now seem to be ego but are actually just pure awareness.

The difference between pure awareness (which is what we actually are) and ego are is like the difference between a rope and the snake that it seems to be. Though the snake seems to be something other than a rope, it is actually just a rope. Likewise, though ego seems to be something other than pure awareness, it is actually just pure awareness. The difference between them is not a difference in substance but only a difference in appearance, because they are one and the same thing.

If we see a rope but mistake it to be a snake, Bhagavan might tell us that the way to frighten away the snake is to look at it very carefully, because he knows that if we look at it carefully enough we will see that it is just a rope. This is why he often said that if we investigate ego, it will take flight.

If we look carefully at the snake, what we are actually looking at is only a rope. Likewise, if we carefully attend to ego, what we are actually attending to is only pure awareness. Therefore investigating ego is investigating what we actually are. There is no difference whatsoever.

I have never said that investigating ourself is not investigating ego, but I have sometimes explained that it is not correct to say, as some people claim, that self-investigation means only investigating ego and not investigating what we actually are. If we understand the nature of ego correctly, claiming that makes no sense at all.

Regarding your comment of 5 February 2020 at 13:48, the article you referred to was Is any external help required for us to succeed in the practice of self-investigation?

Michael James said...

Mouna, you may be right about my body language, I do not know. Having heard what Swami Dayananda says about Bhagavan and his teachings, it seems to me that he is blinded with pride, so I do not have much respect for him, but I am not aware of having any strong feelings against him.

Regarding the others you mentioned in your comment on that video, I do not know much about Swami Chinmayananda, but I believe he had genuine respect for Bhagavan and spoke highly of him, so I have nothing against him, and Swami Sarvapriyananda I like very much, because he seems sincere and humble and has a child-like quality about him. Occasionally I watch his videos, which I always enjoy and find interesting (because he is open-minded and interested in a wide range of spiritual and philosophical ideas), even though I often disagree with his understanding of advaita. I do not think he understands much about Bhagavan’s teachings, but he obviously has great respect for him.

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Mouna said...

Michael, I completely agree.

Sanjay Lohia said...

Michael: I just repeat like a parrot whatever I learnt from Bhagavan

[A friend thanks Michael at the very end of the video]

The friend: Thank you, Michael.

Michael: All thanks to Bhagavan. I am just repeating like a parrot what I learnt from Bhagavan.

The friend: When do we see you in the US?

Michael: Who knows? Ask Bhagavan - depends on my destiny. Time will tell. If it is to happen, it will happen. Whatever will be, will be!

• Based on the video: 2020-02-01 Sri Ramana Center, Houston: discussion with Michael James on Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu verse 37 (1:21)

My reflection: How beautiful! Michael is blessed as Bhagavan has given him a chance to repeat whatever Bhagavan taught him. We should also repeat Bhagavan's teachings in our mind like a parrot. This parrot is sure to fly to freedom.

Mouna said...

Sanjay, “We should also repeat Bhagavan's teachings in our mind like a parrot”...
Please allow me to disagree.
Parrots don’t understand what they are repeating... since they are only parroting!
That why we often say that Bhagavan’s “Who am I? question is not japa but rather a tool to unlock our attention that is locked on externals towards ourself. Just repeating it like a parrot won’t bring much insight, if any.
That is why “manana” exists, to deepen the understandings we get from the heard or read teachings so it doesn’t stay at the level of simply “parroting” within ourselves, which I really doubt would bring any kind of freedom.
Thinking and contemplating, those are tools parrots lack.

By the way, I disagree with Michael when he says he is repeating like a parrot Bhagavan’s words, because he brought the depth of insight those words carry. In my view, he uses this metaphor to say that he doesn’t alter what came out from Bhagavan’s mouth (or writing) but proof that he is not parroting is the use, quite often in his translations, of the “extended meanings”.

Sanjay Lohia said...

Aham, yes, what Michael wrote is extremely important. He wrote (as quoted by you):

This is an extremely important teaching, because it means that what seems to be many things is actually just one thing, namely ego. Since we rise and stand as ego only by projecting and being aware of other things, they seem to exist and we seem to be ego only when we attend to them. If we as ego attend only to ourself instead of to anything else, we will subside and dissolve back into pure awareness, which is our real nature (ātma-svarūpa) and the source from which we rose as ego.

Bhagavan teaches us in verse 26 of Ulladu Narpadu:

If ego comes into existence, everything comes into existence; if ego does not exist, everything does not exist. Ego itself is everything. Therefore, know that investigating what this is alone is giving up everything.

Bhagavan says, ‘Ego itself is everything’. Commenting on this Michael wrote: ‘This is an extremely important teaching, because it means that what seems to be many things is actually just one thing, namely ego’. This world is nothing but a projection of ego or expansion of ego, so the substance of this world is just ego. So what seems to be many things is just one thing. Therefore, if we can give up ego, we will give up this world once and for all.

How to give up this ego? As long as it is looking away from itself, it experiences itself as ego and also experiences a world which seems to be other than it. However, the moment it looks at itself with its entire attention, it will see that it was never this ego but was only infinite and immutable pure consciousness.

So, as Michael often says, Bhagavan has indeed given us an easy, simple and beautiful path. Why should not fear this world because this world is nothing but our own ego in its expanded form? Why should ego fear ego? Look at the power of ego? It is now appearing in front of us as this seemingly immeasurable world and playing endless tricks with us.

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Mouna said...

Asun, did you read what Michael wrote to you in relation to “investigating ego or self”?
Apparently not because otherwise you wouldn’t have reacted the way you did with this last comment.
Sorry if I touched a nerve. Don’t worry it won’t happen again with your comments. I don’t have the time.

Anonymous said...

Path of Ramana part 2 has clear explanation about self enquiry. Basically we have to pay attention to I feeling. I feeling is ego. Doing this, slowly, all tendencies will be destroyed and i think then , there will be a vacuum. At this moment the true Self will reveal itself as Real I. My understanding is : it is quite simple. Basically I think it is almost like, we are forcefully converting the kinetic/dynamic energy into its potential state. The concept is simple, but implementation is very difficult:).

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Salazar said...

Asun, who suggested holding the -thought- "I am"? I have not seen that mentioned on this blog. You may have seen that somewhere else and that is not of interest really. People have all kinds of strange ideas like to focus on the right side of the chest aka seat of the spiritual heart.

Also, I am quite certain you do not understand David Godman (his comments about vichara and being in the presence of a Jnani) and your disdain for him is quite obvious since you keep bringing him up. You said, "no need to interfere with the affairs of others", well - from what I see you do the opposite with i.e. David Godman.

You also keep talking about the (imagined?) confusion of others, clearly signaling that you must not be confused :-) Again, you are interfering with the affairs of others, why don't you just let them be confused, what is that your business?

In fact, you are the person on this blog who keeps talking about others and then simultaneously stepping away with the comment, "oh - it's not my business" contradicting yourself. That is a pattern prevalent in most of your comments.

Sanjay Lohia said...

Mouna, when Michael said: ‘I am just repeating like a parrot what I learnt from Bhagavan’, he was obviously being extremely humble. Whatever Michael shares with us is his fruit of sravana, manana and nididhyasana of Bhagavan’s teachings which he has been doing for over 40 years now. So whatever he says or writes is much than just parroting whatever he has read. He is repeating his deep understanding of Bhagavan’s teachings with all of us, so we should be extremely grateful to him. Michael is Bhagavan's chosen messenger, according to me. Michael has unpacked Bhagavan for us!

Sanjay Lohia said...

If we want a simple definition of what is true love, it is ‘giving yourself’ - in other words, self-surrender

A friend: ‘Love’ is an unclear concept. It is hard to figure out what this is.

Michael: I will give you a simple definition of love. Supposing you love someone very dearly – supposing you love your wife or your children or whoever, what is the sign of real love? The extent to which you are willing to give yourself to the one you love. Many people enter into a relationship with other people looking for what they can gain. As long as we looking to gain anything from a relationship, that is a very imperfect form of love. The more we are willing to give ourself, the greater our love. So if you want a simple definition of what is true love, it is ‘giving yourself’ - in other words, self-surrender.

The friend: Is it service?

Michael: If you serve someone out of love for that person, yes, that can be. But that’s a very outward form of love. The real love is in our heart we have to be willing to give ourself to God. In other words, we have to be willing to not to rise as ego, to leave everything to him – leave all our cares and concerns. Not only cares and concerns, but we should also be willing to give up the one who has these cares and concerns, namely ego.

Regarding service, we need a body to serve and along with body we need mind and body and all these things, but true surrender goes beyond body and mind. When we give ourself completely so that we don’t rise at all as ‘I am this person’, that is the greatest service. That is why Bhagavan says in verse 29 of Upadesa Undiyar:

Abiding in this state [of infinite and indivisible sat-cit-ānanda], thereby experiencing supreme bliss devoid of [the duality of] bondage or liberation, is abiding in the service of God.

The state in which we remain just as really are, that is abiding in service to God. So if we want to really surrender to God, we should surrender ourself. We should cease rising as ego, and the only way to do that is to turn our attention back within towards ourself alone. There is nothing we can do to serve God. If we avoid giving trouble to God by rising as ego, that is the greatest service to God.

• Based on the video: 2020-02-01 Sri Ramana Center, Houston: discussion with Michael James on Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu verse 37 (0:40)

My reflection: Some feel that they are serving God by doing good things in this world. Some try to serve jivas taking them to be shiva and so on. All of these are good. However, the real service to God can only be giving ourself to God. Moreover, who are we to serve God outwardly when God itself is serving us in so many ways? God is taking care of all our material and spiritual means on an on-going basis. So isn’t he serving us unceasingly? He definitely is!

Mouna said...

Sanjay, clearly you didn’t read my comment. The first part of it was intended to your comment that “ We should also repeat Bhagavan's teachings in our mind like a parrot.”
And the second part was to clarify (based on my understanding) of why Michael said what he said.
No need to lecture me about how much we need to be grateful with Michael, and how much we need to love him. Actually in this second paragraph I say exactly what you said.

Salazar said...

Do we need to love Michael? Why do we need to pick somebody "special" compared to the rest? So I do not agree with that unless we equally love every jiva and sentient being without discrimination (what equals Jnana). IMO, exclamations of praise are a game of the ego. The last thing I want is someone praising me, and I can only praise my guru.

I am grateful for Michael, however I am grateful for many people, the cook who fixes my lunch, the garbage man who picks up my trash, the driver of the car ahead of me who annoys me and reminds me to be more detached, etc.


Anonymous said...

I agree :) similarly why celebrate achievers of any sort ? All are special in their own way.

Aham said...

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"Do we need to love Michael?"

Is it Michael the personality / the body that we love? Or is it the devotion to Truth that we love!

All are the Truth (the cook, the garbage man, the driver), all are Self, but until "realized" the light is always brighter in the one devoted to Truth compared to the one devoted to ego.


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dragomirescux said...
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dragomirescux said...
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dragomirescux said...

I will have to disagree. I have noticed that meditating on the basic principles of the teaching tends to dissolve the ego.. I seems that pondering/meditating on the texts (not parroting of course) may help us achieve the final result

Anonymous said...

Good point..

Salazar said...

And who determines whose "light" is brighter than others? Ego of course and we know how reliable that is. Aham, your ego just needed to argue for the arguments sake, but you love me anyway .... :-)



Aham said...

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@salazar


"And who determines whose "light" is brighter than others? Ego of course..."

I admitted it in the post you quote. Can you see where?


"ego just needed to argue for the arguments sake"

Is it your own reflection?


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Sanjay Lohia said...

Mouna, I wrote about Michael: ‘He is repeating his deep understanding of Bhagavan’s teachings with all of us, so we should be extremely grateful to him’. You responded to this by writing: ‘No need to lecture me about how much we need to be grateful with Michael, and how much we need to love him’. I do not understand how I was lecturing you by writing what I wrote? I never meant that you are being ungrateful to Michael or anything. I was just expressing my deep admiration for Michael and for all that he has taught me. The confusion could be because I wrote ‘we should be grateful…’. I may try using better expressions to express such ideas next time.

Sanjay Lohia said...

Bhagavan and Mahatma Gandhi had similar views of diet

Mahatma Gandhi wrote in his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth the following:

For the seeker who would see God face to face, restraint in diet both as to quality and quantity is as essential as restraint in thought and speech.

We know Bhagavan strongly advocated mita sattvika ahara (sattvika food in limited quantity) for spiritual aspirants. So Bhagavan’s view on the diet is similar to those expressed by Gandhi. Any genuine spiritual aspirant will clearly know that diet affects their mind because they become more sensitive to these things. A simple vegetarian or vegan diet in moderate quantity is always extremely helpful in our spiritual journey. Gandhi experimented with his diet and different methods of nature cure treatments lifelong.

Michael James said...

In a comment on my latest video, 2020-02-01 Sri Ramana Center, Houston: discussion with Michael James on Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu verse 37, a friend asked ‘Is whether we choose to turn within predestined?’, in reply to which I wrote:

No, it is not. As Bhagavan often said, destiny or predetermination affects only the outward-turned mind, so it can never prevent us turning within. Whether we face inwards (towards ourself) or outwards (towards other things) is entirely up to us. In this respect we have absolute freedom, so if we genuinely wanted to we could turn within to face ourself alone and thereby eradicate ego here and now.

Therefore, if our freedom to turn within seems limited, that is only because we do not yet have sufficient love to surrender ourself completely, and the reason we do not have sufficient love is that we still have too much desire and attachment for other things. However, if we patiently persevere in trying to be self-attentive and thereby surrender ourself, our desires and attachments will grow weaker and our love to surrender ourself entirely will correspondingly grow stronger, until eventually our love becomes all-consuming, whereupon our entire attention will turn back to face ourself alone and thereby ego will be eradicated forever.

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Rob P said...

from Padamalai

Bhagavan

Search for the source of the 'I-thought', that is all one has to do. The universe exists on account of the 'I-thought'. If that ends there is an end of misery also. The false 'I' will end only when it's source is sought.

Stick to this 'I-thought' and question it to find out what it is. When this question takes a strong hold of you, you cannot think of other thoughts.

What happens when you make a serious quest for the self is that the 'I-thought' as a thought disappears, something else from the depths takes hold of you and that is not the 'I' which commenced the quest.

Sanjay Lohia said...

Ego created this world for its own sustenance

A friend: The question is I never wanted to rise as ego, but I find myself as this ego. How?

Michael: You have risen as ego and you are standing as ego only because you want to. Is there anyone else who has made you rise as ego? So we have to take responsibility for the mess we are in. Bhagavan says that even to say duality during practice and non-duality after attainment is not true. So non-duality is always the truth. That means you alone exist. So if you have risen as ego, it's your responsibility. You cannot blame anyone else.

Religions give us nice excuses. They say God created the world. Thinking so, we get angry with God – ‘O God, why did you create all these problems? Why did you create this terrible world?’ But Bhagavan doesn’t put any blame on God. He puts the responsibility on us – puts the responsibility where it lies. We have risen as ego because we want to rise. Nobody has forced us to rise. So we must be willing to surrender ourself, willing to cease rising as ego.

Another friend: Why does the modern world try to increase the ego rather than decrease it?

Michael: Because modern world like any other world is a product of ego. Ego creates this world for its own sustenance – without the world, there is no ego. The very nature of ego is to dream: that is to project the world and to get involved in the world because in that way it perpetuates its own self-ignorance.

Until we are willing to surrender ourself, we will continue to project a world, and there is no such thing as a perfect world. The world is maya. It is always deluding us. But what is the root and source of maya? That is ego. So, in fact, the world is a product of maya. Ego is maya. Ego creates this world for its own sustenance and it will continue creating it. The world will always be complicated. The world will always have endless problems. It keeps us entertained. We have so much to talk about – global warming, Trump, Modi . . . So we have a lot to complain about and also a lot to celebrate about. The world will always keep ego entertained because ego produces the world for its own entertainment. We are entertained by our own suffering, our own lamenting about the terrible condition of this world.

So long as we look at it, the world will always be bad place. What is the solution? Don’t look at the world; look at yourself. Then you will see that there never was any world.

• Based on the video: 2020-02-01 Sri Ramana Center, Houston: discussion with
Michael James on Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu verse 37 (0:54)

Rajat said...

Why is it that to fall asleep we don't need any will, but to turn within through self-investigation we need a very strong will to turn within. In both cases we are turning within, although in the first case it is only temporary. When I fall asleep I don't consciously think to myself that I'm going to subside only temporarily therefore it is okay to sleep and no need to resist. I think that I sleep because i love to sleep and not because i want to get recharged to live through tomorrow and to fulfil my desires and ambitions, etc. When falling asleep these things become irrelevant. For all i know i might never wake up tomorrow.
But with vichara the situation is different. I need to fight my outward-going will. It is nowhere near as effortless as falling asleep. I feel like this difference has more to it than the understanding that sleep is temporary while vichara will completely destroy this fascinating world. One might not even have the full conviction that vichara will destroy the world, but might try to do vichara only out of curiousity to see what Bhagavan is teaching. Still the resisting will will rise, i think.
I can see why the will resists when doing vichara, it is because i dont want to stop attending to this fascinating world. But when it is time to sleep, suddenly where does the world's fascination go? Why is the world not pulling my attention towards itself while i sleep, as it does when I try to be self-attentive?

Salazar said...

Aham, I see, then your first response to my comment should have been:

I, Aham, or more correctly, Ahamkara, judge certain other egos as ALWAYS brighter lights as myself and I expect that other ego share my judgment.

I am scratching my head, does that make the judgment of the ego more reliable? See Aham, you can judge and see brighter lights wherever you want, just don't tell that "we" have to share that opinion? Okay? You do understand what is an opinion, do you? Thank you very much.

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Mouna said...

Endless points of view, endless questions...
I know what's coming asking these questions, but... anyways!

I would like to turn within all the time, why can’t I if it really depends on me? It is said for lack of love, but that lack of love, isn’t it created by external or internal circumstances which I can’t control, and take hostage of my attention? And if the lack of love doesn’t depend on me, doesn’t it follows that the love I need to have to turn within doesn’t either?

The first time I turned within for ego investigation in my whole life, was it because of destiny or because of my own will? In the latter case, how could I possibly know about turning within? And If turning within for the first time wasn’t originated by my will but consequentionally created a sat vasana, how could I say the following “turnings” are only the creation of my will or that I have a choice since it originated from something out of my control?

I’m reading the blog and someone asks a question about turning within, that “reminds” me to turn within, was this turn because of my own will?

I would like to become a doctor, but I end up becoming a lawyer, why? Isn’t the same distractions on the way, of the same nature like the ones that jeopardize my love to turn within?

Sri Ramakrishna proposed that God created the “illusion” of free will for the sake of the moral and spiritual welfare of unenlightened seekers, what’s wrong with that point of view, can we demonstrate the opposite, that free will is not God’s creation?

If there was no free will, what would be the problem anyways? Wouldn’t that encourage efforts to continue turning within rather than the opposite?

In this very moment we have the option to turn within...
If I do it, was it because it was proposed by this last statement or by my own choice? do we control the thoughts that suddenly appear?

Bhagavan indeed said that the only freedom we have is to turn within, but why? Isn’t it because if he knew the future that was the only option for us to get liberated? And if he didn’t know the future wasn’t that the only option anyway?

Last but not least, does it really matter if turning within is because our free will or not, since we don’t know what the future will bring?
Shouldn’t we forget about the whole discussion and continue trying whatever it’s cause may well be?

Salazar said...

Mouna, I agree with you re. the point that it is irrelevant if it is free will when we turn in or not. Does it make a difference if I can say proudly, "I am turning in on my own free will" or if that turning in was preconditioned by outward circumstances? The "free will" idea is more prone to inflate the ego, "see, how often I turn within" :-)

Where is that intention of turning in coming from? It's an upcoming thought which in turn is caused by past thoughts and intentions. And then there is self which is pushing and pulling, what we may call "grace". Now that's from the ego's dual-world viewpoint which is rather limited since we know that there is neither free will nor destiny.

So, I agree that it is mute to discuss that over and over and over again.

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Mouna said...

Good point Sal.

Michael James said...

Rajat, regarding your comment of 7 February 2020 at 14:28, what do you mean when you say that ‘to fall asleep we don’t need any will’? Do you mean to say that our will is not at all involved in our falling asleep? If so, you contradict yourself directly, because you later say ‘I think that I sleep because I love to sleep’. Your love to sleep is an element of your will, so if you sleep because you love to sleep, your will is thereby involved.

If you wake up in the morning fully refreshed after a good night’s sleep and if there are things you are eager to do that day, in such circumstances you would have no desire to sleep. However, by the end of the day you will be tired, and if you do not sleep soon enough you will reach a point where your desire to sleep overpowers whatever desires you may have to do anything else, so you will leave everything else aside and fall asleep.

Falling asleep is quite different to being self-attentive, because when we fall asleep we as ego subside due to tiredness, so we withdraw our attention from everything else but without actually attending to ourself. Sleep is just a state of manōlaya (temporary dissolution of mind), so it does not threaten our existence as ego in any way. Self-attentiveness, on the other hand, does directly threaten our existence as ego, because we cannot stand as ego if we attend to ourself keenly enough. This is why we resist our own efforts to be self-attentive so long as we are not yet sufficiently willing to surrender ourself entirely.

In other words, when due to tiredness our desire to fall asleep becomes strong enough, we happily yield to it, whereas we are far less willing to yield to our wish to be self-attentive. In order for us to be willing to yield to the latter, our viṣaya-vāsanās (desires or inclinations to be aware of anything other than ourself) need to be weakened to a considerable extent. The more they are weakened, the stronger our bhakti (love to be aware of ourself alone) and vairāgya (freedom from desire to be aware of anything else) will grow, until eventually we become willing enough to surrender ourself entirely and thereby be swallowed forever in the clear light of pure awareness, which is ourself as we always actually are.

Rajat said...

Thank you Michael for your comment of 9 February 2020 at 15:41. After reading your comment and thinking about the matter little more deeply, I see that I was wrong in saying that will is not involved in my falling asleep. Clearly I want to sleep when I'm tired, and I don't want sleep when I am not tired, so will is involved. It just seems very easy to fall asleep when one is tired. I suppose self-investigation too becomes as effortless when we are actually tired of the world, but not the temporary tiredness that leads to sleep. What is important I think is seeing that will is the key, and that the only main hurdle to being self-attentive is a lack of willingness to turn within.