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Nan Yar? (Who am I?)

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Happiness and the Art of Being

CHAPTER 2

Who am I?

Contents

In order for us to determine the means by which we can discover who or what we really are, it is necessary for us first to gain a clear theoretical understanding of what we are and what we are not. We can gain such an understanding only by carefully and critically analysing our experience of ourself. For such an analysis to be complete and thorough, we must consider our experience of ourself not only in our present waking state, but also in each of our other two states of consciousness, dream and sleep.

This approach is similar to the well-established method of research adopted in all the objective sciences. In those sciences, researchers first carefully consider all the already known facts about the subject under investigation in order to formulate a reasonable hypothesis that can explain those facts, and then they proceed to test that hypothesis by rigorously conducted experiments.

The hypothesis formulated by spiritual scientists, or sages as they are more commonly called, is that we are not the body composed of inconscient matter, nor are we the mind consisting of thoughts, feelings and perceptions, but that we are the essential underlying consciousness by which the body and mind are both known. This hypothesis has been independently tested and verified by many sages before us, but unlike the findings of the objective sciences, the findings of this spiritual science cannot be demonstrated objectively. Therefore, to be truly benefited by this science of self-knowledge, we each have to test and verify this hypothesis for ourself.

In order to do so, we must each experiment to see whether or not the consciousness that we experience as ‘I’ can stand alone without our body or mind. If we are able to remain as consciousness in the absence of any kind of body or mind, we will prove to ourself that we are neither of those two objects known by us.

In order to remain as our mere consciousness ‘I am’ without any awareness of our body or mind, it is necessary for us to know our consciousness in its pure form, devoid of any contents – devoid of any objects of knowledge. We are so accustomed to identifying our consciousness ‘I am’ with our body and mind that it may initially appear difficult for us to distinguish our essential consciousness from these objects known by it. Because of this identification of our consciousness with its objects or contents, our knowledge of it appears to be clouded and unclear. Therefore, in order to distinguish between our consciousness and its objects, we must gain a clear knowledge of it as it really is.

Whether we are a scientist or just any ordinary person, when we seek to obtain knowledge about something, the primary and essential instrument we use is our power of attention. Without paying attention to something, we cannot know it.

In their experiments, scientists often use mechanical aids to observe things that they cannot perceive directly through their five senses, but it is nevertheless only through their five senses that they are able to read and interpret the information provided by those mechanical aids. It is only by means of one or more of our five senses that we can obtain knowledge about anything in the external world.

However, though our five senses provide us with information about the external world, we can only know that information by attending to it. If we do not pay attention to the information provided by our senses, we can fail to see something that happens right in front of our eyes, or to hear a conversation between two people sitting just beside us. Therefore all knowledge is ultimately obtained by us only by means of our power of attention.

Since our consciousness is not an object, it cannot be observed by means of any mechanical aid, nor can it be observed by means of any of our five senses. The one and only instrument by which we can observe and know our consciousness is our own power of attention, unaided by anything else. Since we are consciousness, and since our consciousness knows itself without any sort of aid, all we need to do to obtain a clear knowledge of our consciousness as it really is, is to withdraw our attention from all the objects known by our consciousness and to concentrate it only upon our consciousness itself.

Since our power of attention is our power of knowing or consciousness, which we are free to direct towards whatever we wish to know, concentrating our attention upon our own consciousness means concentrating our attention upon itself, or concentrating our consciousness upon itself. Since we experience our consciousness or power of knowing as ‘I’, as our own essential self, attending to it is not any form of objective attention, but is a purely subjective attention – a perfectly non-dual self-attention, an attention to our own essential self or ‘I’.

Only by thus attending to our own essential consciousness, which we experience as ‘I’, will we be able to distinguish between this consciousness and all the objects known by it, including the body and mind that we now mistake to be ‘I’. By thus attending to our consciousness and thereby distinguishing it from its contents, we can experiment and know for certain whether or not we can remain as mere consciousness, entirely separate from our body, our mind and all its thoughts, feelings and perceptions. If we are able to do so, we will prove to ourself that in essence we are only consciousness, and that we are neither the body nor the mind that we now mistake to be ‘I’.

Let us therefore now analyse our experience of ourself thoroughly, examining how exactly we experience ourself in each one of our three states of consciousness, waking, dream and sleep, in order to obtain a clear theoretical understanding of what we are and what we are not. By doing so, we will be able to verify for ourself whether or not we can reasonably arrive at the hypothesis mentioned above.

When we analyse our experience of ourself in our present waking state, we can see that our knowledge of who or what we are is confused and unclear. If we are asked, ‘Who are you?’, we reply, ‘I am Michael James’, ‘I am Mary Smith’, or I am whatever else our name may be. This name is the name given to our body, and we identify ourself with this name because we take our body to be ‘I’. We feel ‘I am sitting here, reading this book’ because we identify ourself with our body.

This sense of identification, ‘I am this body’, is so strong that it remains with us throughout our waking state. In fact it is the basis of all that we experience in this waking state. Without first feeling this body to be ‘I’, and thereby limiting ourself within its confines, we would not know or experience any of the things that we experience in this waking state.

Not only is the external world known by us only through the five senses of this body, but even the thoughts and feelings that we experience within our mind are felt by us to be occurring only within this body. All our perceptual, emotional, mental and intellectual life in the waking state is centred in this body. All that we take ourself to be, and all that we take to be ours, is centred in and around this body. For us this body is not only the centre of our life, it is the centre of the whole world that we perceive around us.

However, we identify ourself not only with our body, but also with our mind, and though our body and our mind are obviously very closely connected, we speak of them as two different things. Since we simultaneously identify ourself with two things that we take to be different, is it not clear that in our present waking state our knowledge of who or what we actually are is confused and uncertain?

Moreover, though our sense of identification with this body is the foundation of all that we experience in our present waking state, we cease to identify this body as ‘I’ as soon as we fall asleep, or go into a coma or any other such state. In sleep, we either remain in the state of deep dreamless sleep, in which we are not aware of any body or any other thing, or we dream some imaginary experiences. In dream, as in waking, we identify ourself with a body, and through the five senses of that body we perceive a seemingly external world consisting both of inanimate objects and of people and other sentient beings like ourself.

While we are in a dream state, we identify a dream body as ‘I’ in exactly the same manner that we identify our present body as ‘I’ in this waking state, and we take the dream world that we see to be real in exactly the same manner that we take the world that we see in this waking state to be real. But as soon as we wake up from a dream, we understand without the least doubt that all that we experienced in that dream was only a product of our own imagination, and was therefore unreal. Thus the dream state clearly demonstrates to us that by the power of its imagination our mind has the ability not only to create a body and world, but also simultaneously to delude itself that that imaginary body is ‘I’ and that that imaginary world is real.

Knowing that our mind possesses this wonderful power of creation and self-deception, can we reasonably avoid doubting whether the body we take to be ‘I’ and the world we take to be real in our present waking state are in fact any more real than the body and world we experience in a dream? Do we not have good reason to suspect that our body and this world that we experience in our present waking state are merely imaginary creations of our own mind, just as the body and world that we experienced in dream were? What evidence do we have that our body in this waking state and the world we perceive through the senses of this body are anything other than a creation of our mind?

In this waking state we understand that the bodies and worlds we experience in our dreams are merely products of our imagination, and exist only within our own mind, yet we generally assume without question that the body and world we now experience are not mere products of our imagination, but exist independently, outside our mind. We believe that this body and world exist even when we are unaware of them, as in dream and deep sleep, but how can we prove to ourself that this is so?

‘Other people who were awake when we were asleep can testify that our body and this world continued to exist even when we were unaware of them’ is the answer that immediately comes to our mind. However, those other people and their testimony are themselves part of the world whose existence in sleep we want to prove. Relying on their testimony to prove that the world exists when we do not perceive it is like relying on the testimony of a confidence trickster to prove that he did not swindle our money.

The people we meet in a dream may testify to us that the world we perceive then existed even before we perceived it, but when we wake up we realise that their testimony proves nothing, because they were just a part of the world that our mind had temporarily created and deluded itself into believing to be real. There is no way we can prove to ourself that the world exists independent of our perception of it, because any proof we may wish to rely upon can come only from the world whose reality we are doubting.

‘But the body and world that we experience in dream are fleeting and insubstantial. They appear one minute, and disappear the next. Even within one dream, we flit from one scene to another – one moment we are in a certain place, and the next moment it has become another place; one moment we are talking with a certain person, and the next moment that person has become someone else. In contrast, the world we experience in waking is consistent. Each time we wake up from sleep or from a dream, we find ourself to be in the same world that we were in before sleeping. Though the world we see in the waking state is constantly changing, those changes are all happening in a reasonable and comprehensible manner. If we are in one place now, we do not suddenly find ourself to be in another place the next moment. If we are talking to a certain person, that person does not suddenly become some other person. Therefore what we experience in waking is definitely more real than what we experienced in dream.’ In this way we reason with ourself and convince ourself that it is reasonable for us to believe that the body and world that we experience in waking are not merely a product of our imagination, like the body and world that we experience in dream, but really exist independent of our imagination.

However, none of these superficial differences that we can point out between our experience in waking and our experience in dream can actually prove that what we experience in waking is any more real than what we experienced in dream. These superficial differences are not differences in substance, but only differences in quality. Just because the world we perceive in waking appears to be more lasting and internally consistent than the world we perceive in dream, we cannot reasonably conclude thereby that it is not merely a product of our wonderful power of imagination and self-deception.

The differences that we can point out between our experience in waking and our experience in dream can be reasonably accounted for in another way. The reason why the world we perceive in waking appears to be more lasting and internally consistent than the world we perceive in dream is that we are more strongly attached to our waking body than we normally are to any body that we identify as ourself in a dream.

If we experience any severe shock, pain, fear or excitement in a dream, we usually wake up immediately from that dream, because we do not feel strongly attached to the body that we then identify as ‘I’. In contrast, we can usually bear a much greater degree of shock, pain, fear or excitement in the waking state without swooning, because we feel very strongly attached to this body that we now identify as ‘I’. Thus, because our attachment to the body that we identify as ‘I’ in a dream is usually quite tenuous, our experience of the world that we see in that dream is fleeting, fluid and often inconsistent. In contrast, because our attachment to this body that we now identify as ‘I’ in this waking state is very strong, our experience of the world that we now perceive around us generally appears to be more lasting, substantial and consistent.

However, even in our waking state there are times when this world appears to be dream-like and unreal, for example after we have been deeply absorbed in a reverie or daydream, or in reading a book or watching a film, or after we have experienced an intense shock, joy or bereavement. The reality that we attribute to our body and this world is therefore subjective and relative. All that we know of this world is what we experience in our own mind, and is therefore coloured by our mind.

In this waking state our mind tells us that the world we are now experiencing is real and that the world we experienced in dream is unreal, but in dream our same mind told us that the world we were then experiencing was real. The differences that we now imagine to exist between that state and our present state did not appear to exist then. In fact, while dreaming, we generally think we are in the waking state. If we were to discuss the reality of waking and dream with someone in a dream, we would probably agree with each other that this ‘waking state’ – as we would then take our dream to be – is more real than a dream.

Our experience of our body and this world is entirely subjective, because it exists only in our own mind. Likewise, the reality that we attribute to our experience of them is entirely subjective. What we know of our body and this world is only our sense perceptions. Without our five senses, we would know neither our body nor this world. Every sense perception is an image or thought that we have formed within our own mind by our power of imagination, yet we imagine that each one of them corresponds to something that actually exists outside our mind. Since we cannot know anything about our body or this world except the images or thoughts that our mind forms about them within itself, we have no way of knowing for certain that either of them actually exists outside our mind.

Therefore, since we know from our experience in dream that our mind not only has the power to create a seemingly real body for itself, and to perceive a seemingly real world through the five senses of that body, but also has the power to delude itself into mistaking its imaginary creations to be real, and since we have no way of knowing for certain that our body and this world that we now experience in this waking state are not just imaginary creations of our own mind, like the body and world that we experienced in dream, we have good reason to suspect neither our body nor the world actually exists outside our own mind. If they do not exist outside our mind, then they do not exist when we do not know them, as in dream and deep sleep.

Since we can be sure that our body exists only when we know it, and since we know our present body in only one of our three states of consciousness, our notion that this body is ourself is open to serious doubt. Since we know that we exist in dream, when we do not know the existence of this present body, is it not reasonable for us to infer that we are the consciousness that knows this body, rather than this body itself?

If we are consciousness, that is, if consciousness is our real and essential nature, we must be consciousness in all the states in which we exist. Since our consciousness cannot know anything else without first knowing itself – without knowing ‘I am’, ‘I know’ – the essential nature of our consciousness is self-consciousness, the consciousness of its own being or existence. Whatever else it knows, our consciousness always knows ‘I am’, ‘I exist’, ‘I know’.

Since it always knows itself as ‘I am’, our consciousness cannot be something that it knows at one time and does not know at another time. Therefore, if we are consciousness, we must be something that we know in all the states in which we exist, something that we know whenever we exist.

Since we now feel ourself to be not only this body, but also the consciousness that knows this body, and since we feel ourself to be the same consciousness in dream, even though at that time we also feel ourself to be some other body, is it not clear that this consciousness that knows these bodies is more real than either of them? Since we are the same consciousness in both waking and dream, and since we are conscious of one body as ourself in waking, and of some other body as ourself in dream, is it not clear that our identification with either of these bodies is an illusion – a mere imagination?

Can we then say that we are the consciousness that knows our body and this world in the waking state, and that knows some other body and world in dream? No, we cannot, because the consciousness that knows these bodies and worlds is a transient form of consciousness, which appears to exist only in waking and in dream, and which disappears in dreamless sleep. If we exist in deep dreamless sleep, we cannot be this form of consciousness that knows a body and world, because this object-knowing form of consciousness does not exist as such in deep sleep.

Do we exist in deep sleep? Yes, obviously we do, because when we wake up we know clearly and without any doubt ‘I slept’. If we did not exist in sleep, we could not now know that we slept. Since sleep is a state that we actually experience, it is not only a state in which we exist, but is also a state in which we are conscious of our existence. If we were not conscious in sleep, we could not know our experience in sleep – we could not know with such certainty that we slept and did not know anything at that time. What we are unconscious of in sleep is anything other than our own being or existence, ‘I am’, but we are not unconscious of our own being.

Let us imagine a conversation that might occur between two people, whom we shall call A and B, just after B has woken up from a deep dreamless sleep.

A: Did someone come into your room ten minutes ago?

B: I do not know, I was asleep.

A: Are you sure you were asleep?

B: Yes, of course, I know very well that I was asleep.

A: How do you know that you were asleep?

B: Because I did not know anything.

If someone were to question us as A questioned B, would we not normally answer in words similar to those used by B? What can we infer from such answers?

When we say that we did not know anything in sleep, what we mean is that we did not know any external object or event at that time. But what about our own being – did we know that we existed in sleep? If someone were to ask us if we are sure we were asleep, we would answer like B, ‘I know very well that I was asleep’. That is, we have no doubt that we existed, even though we were in a state that we call ‘sleep’.

When we say, ‘I know I was asleep’, what exactly do we mean? These words express a certainty that we all feel when we wake up from sleep. From this certainty that we each of us feel, it is clear not only that we did exist in sleep, but also that we knew we existed in sleep, even though we did not know anything else at that time. Moreover, just as we feel with certainty, ‘I know I was asleep’, so we feel with equal certainty, ‘I know I knew nothing in sleep’. Since we know this with such certainty, it is clear that we did exist in sleep as the consciousness that knew that state of nothingness.

After we wake up from a deep sleep, we do not need anyone else to tell us that we have been asleep, because sleep was a state that we ourself consciously experienced. What we experienced in sleep was a state in which we were not conscious of anything else. But though we were not conscious of anything else in that state, we were nevertheless conscious that we were in that state in which we knew nothing. The so-called ‘unconsciousness’ of sleep was a conscious experience for us at that time.

In other words, though we are not conscious of anything else in sleep, we are nevertheless conscious of being in that seemingly unconscious state. Therefore, since the so-called ‘unconsciousness’ of sleep is a state clearly known by us, sleep is in fact a conscious state of being. Hence, rather than describing sleep in negative terms as a state of ‘unconsciousness’ – a state of being unconscious of anything – it would be more accurate to describe it in positive terms as a state of ‘consciousness’ – a state of being conscious of nothing other than our own being.

How do we come to be so sure that we know nothing in sleep? How exactly does this knowledge of not knowing anything in sleep arise? In waking this knowledge takes the form of a thought, ‘I did not know anything in sleep’, but in sleep no such thought exists. The absence of knowledge in sleep is known by us only because at that time we know that we exist. That is, because we know that we exist, we are able to know that we exist without knowing any other thing. In waking we are able to say that we knew nothing when we were asleep because in sleep we not only existed in the absence of all other knowledge, but also knew that we existed thus.

However, it is important to remember that though in our present waking state we say, ‘I knew nothing in sleep’, the knowledge that we actually experience while asleep is not ‘I know nothing’, but is only ‘I am’. In sleep what we actually know is ‘I am’, and nothing but ‘I am’. Since this knowledge or consciousness ‘I am’ exists in all our three states of consciousness, and since nothing else exists in all three of them, is it not clear that we are in reality only this essential consciousness ‘I am’ – or to be more precise, this essential self-consciousness ‘I am’?

Thus by critically analysing our experience of ourself in each of our three states of consciousness, we come to understand that we are in essence only self-consciousness – our fundamental consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’. Unless we analyse our experience of our three states of consciousness in this manner, we cannot arrive at a clear, certain and correct understanding of who or what we really are. This critical analysis is thus the essential foundation upon which the entire philosophy and science of true self-knowledge is built.

Therefore, since this analysis is so essential to our correct understanding of ourself, let us delve into it more deeply, examining our experience of our three states of consciousness from several alternative angles. Though certain ideas may appear to repeat themselves when we do so, it is nevertheless useful to explore the same ground again from various different perspectives, because unless we gain not only a clear understanding but also a firm conviction about our real nature from our critical analysis of our three states of consciousness, we will lack the motivation required to pursue the rigorous and extremely demanding empirical research or investigation into our own essential self-conscious being, ‘I am’, without which we cannot attain direct and immediate experience of true self-knowledge.

Do we not all feel ourself to be a particular human body? When we say, ‘I was born at such-and-such a time in such-and-such a place. I am the son or daughter of so-and-so. I have travelled to so many different places. Now I am sitting here, reading this book’, and suchlike, is it not clear that we identify ourself with our body so strongly that we habitually refer to it as ‘I’? But do we not at the same time also feel ourself to be the consciousness within this body, and do we not therefore refer to this body not only subjectively as ‘I’, but also objectively as ‘my body’?

Are we then two different things, this physical body that we call ‘I’, and the consciousness that feels itself to be within this body, but at the same time regards this body as an object that it calls ‘my body’? No, we obviously cannot be two different things, because we all know very clearly ‘I am one’. That is, we each feel that we have only one self or ‘I’, and not two or more different ‘I’s. When we say ‘I’, we refer to a sense of selfhood that is intrinsically single, whole and indivisible.

Does that then mean that this physical body and the consciousness within it that feels it to be ‘my body’ are not two different things, but are one and the same? No, they are very clearly two quite different things, because we all know that our body is not inherently conscious. Though we cannot know our own body when our consciousness is separated from it, we do know that when the body of some other person dies, it remains just as a lump of insentient matter, devoid of any consciousness. Since a physical body can thus remain without being conscious, the consciousness that appears to be united with it when it is alive and awake is clearly something that is different from it.

Moreover, and more importantly, just as we know that a body can remain without any consciousness of its own, we also know from our experience in dream that our own consciousness can remain without this body that we now mistake to be ‘I’. In dream we are conscious, both of ourself as a body and of a world around us, but we are not conscious of this body, which at that time is supposedly lying asleep on a bed, unconscious of the world around it. Is it not clear, therefore, that our consciousness and our body are two different things?

Since we thus know from our own experience that our consciousness and this body are two separate and distinct things, and since in the waking state we feel ourself to be both our consciousness and this body, can we say that we are not just one or other of these two separate things, but are a compound formed by the union of the two of them? If we are indeed just a compound of these two separate things, we must cease to exist when they are parted. Our consciousness is united with this body only in the waking state, and parted from it in both dream and deep sleep. Since we continue to exist in both dream and deep sleep, we must be something more than just a compound of our consciousness and this body.

When our consciousness and this body are separated, which of these two things are we? Since we are conscious of our existence not only in the waking state, but also in dream and in deep sleep, is it not evident that we cannot be either this body or a compound of our consciousness and this body, but must be some form of consciousness that can separate itself from this body, and that persists through all these three passing and contrasting states?

Is it not clear, therefore, that the knowledge we have at present about who or what we are is confused and uncertain? Are we this body, which is composed of inconscient matter, or are we our consciousness, which knows this body as an object distinct from itself? Since we feel ourself to be both, and refer to both as ‘I’, it is evident that we have no clear knowledge of what our ‘I’ actually is.

When we say, ‘I know I am sitting here’, we are equating and thereby confusing the knowing ‘I’, which is our consciousness, with the sitting ‘I’, which is this body. In this way, throughout our waking and dream states, we persistently confuse our consciousness with whatever body it currently appears to be confined within.

Our confusion about our true identity, which is obvious enough from our experience in waking, is made still more clear by our experience in dream. In that state, this body that we now identify as ‘I’ is supposedly lying unconscious either of itself or of the world around it, but we are nevertheless conscious of another body, which we mistake to be ‘I’, and another world, which we mistake to be real. Does not this experience that we have in every dream clearly demonstrate to us that we have the ability to delude ourself into believing that we are a body which is in reality nothing but a figment of our own imagination?

How are we able to delude ourself in this manner? If we clearly knew exactly what we are, we could not mistake ourself to be something that we are not. Is it not clear, therefore, that all our confused and mistaken notions about what we are arise only from our lack of true and clear self-knowledge? Until and unless we gain a clear and correct knowledge about what we really are, we will continue to be confused and to delude ourself into believing that we are a body, a mind, a person, or some other thing that we are not.

So long as our knowledge of our own real self thus remains unclear, uncertain and confused, can we really be sure about anything else that we may know? All the so-called knowledge about other things that we think we now possess rests solely upon the unsteady foundation of our confused and uncertain knowledge about ourself. How can we rely upon or feel confident about any such knowledge?

Which is actually real, the body and world that we experience in the waking state, or the body and world that we experience in dream? Or are neither of them real? As far as we know when we are dreaming, the body and world of this waking state are non-existent. Even now, when we are in the waking state, the idea that they existed when we were unconscious of them, as in the states of dream and deep sleep, is merely an assumption for which we have no concrete evidence.

Like all our other assumptions, this assumption is based upon our first and most fundamental assumption – our wrong assumption that we are somehow a mixture of both a physical body and the consciousness that knows that body not only subjectively as ‘I’ but also objectively as ‘my body’. Before we seek to acquire any knowledge about other things, all of which we merely assume to be real, but which are quite possibly nothing more than figments of our own imagination, is it not necessary for us first to question this fundamental assumption about who or what we are?

Since in dream and in deep sleep we are consciously separated from this body that we now in the waking state identify as ‘I’, is it not clear that this body cannot actually be our real self? In dream we identify another body as ‘I’, and through the five senses of that body we see a world of objects and people around us, just as in waking we identify this body as ‘I’, and through the five senses of this body we see a world of objects and people around us. Does not dream therefore clearly demonstrate to us that our mind has a power of imagination that is so strong and self-deceptive that it can not only create for us a body and a whole world, but can also deceive us into believing that that body is ‘I’ and that world is real?

Does this not give us a very compelling reason to doubt the reality of this body and world in the waking state? Is it not quite possible that this body and the world full of objects and people that it sees around it are just another creation of the same self-deceptive power of imagination that created a very similar body and world in dream – a body and world that at that time seemed just as real as this body and world now seem to be?

In both waking and in dream we appear to be a confused mixture of both consciousness and a physical body. This confused mixture or compound that is formed by our identification of our consciousness with a physical body is what we call our ‘mind’. Since this mind is a confused and transitory form of consciousness that appears to exist only when it identifies itself with a body in either waking or dream, and ceases to exist when it relinquishes its identification with any body in sleep, can it be anything more than a mere illusion – an unreal appearance, a phantom product of our self-deceptive power of imagination?

Since all things other than our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’ are known by us only through the unreliable medium of this confused, self-deceiving and transitory form of consciousness called ‘mind’, can we confidently say that any of them are real? Is it not reasonable for us instead to suspect that they are all nothing more than an illusory and unreal apparition, just like all the things that we see in a dream?

Since the body that we mistake to be ‘I’ in the waking state, and the body that we mistake to be ‘I’ in a dream, are both transitory appearances, appearing as they each do in one state and not in another, is it not clear that we cannot be either of these two bodies? If we are neither of them, then what in fact are we?

We must be something that exists in both waking and dream. Though the body and world that we now know in the waking state and the body and world that we knew in dream may be very similar to each other, they are clearly not the same body and world. Is there anything that exists and remains the same in both of these two states, and if so what is it? On superficial observation, the only thing that is common to these two states is our mind, the consciousness that knows them. Are we then this consciousness that knows both waking and dream, and that identifies one body as ‘I’ in waking and another body as ‘I’ in dream?

We cannot answer this question without first asking another. Are we this same consciousness not only in waking and dream, but also in sleep? No, this consciousness that knows a body and world in the waking and dream states ceases to exist in deep sleep. But do we also cease to exist in deep sleep? No, though we cease to be conscious of any body or world in the state of deep sleep, we nevertheless do exist in that state, and we also know our own existence at that time.

When we wake up from deep sleep, we are able to say with certainty, ‘I slept peacefully and happily. I knew nothing at that time, and was not disturbed by any dream’. Does not this certain knowledge that we have about our experience in sleep clearly indicate not only that we did exist at that time, but also that we knew we existed?

Generally we think of deep sleep as a state of ‘unconsciousness’. But what we were unconscious of in sleep was only things other than ‘I’, such as any body or world. We were not, however, unconscious of our own existence. We need other people to tell us that our body and the world existed while we were asleep, but we need no one to tell us that we existed at that time. Without the help or testimony of any other person or thing, we know clearly and without any doubt ‘I slept’.

In sleep we may not have known exactly what we were, but we did know very clearly that we were. The clear knowledge that we possess about our experience in sleep, and that we express when we say ‘I slept peacefully, and knew nothing at that time’, would not be possible if in sleep we had not been conscious of that experience – or to be more precise, if we had not been conscious of ourself as the consciousness that was unconscious of anything other than our own peaceful and happy being.

If we did not know ‘I am’ while we were asleep, now after we have woken from sleep we could not know so clearly ‘I slept’. That is, we could not now know so clearly that we were then in the state that we now call ‘sleep’ – in other words, that we did indeed exist in that state. We know that we existed in sleep because in that state we did actually experience our own existence – our essential self-conscious being, ‘I am’.

Since in the waking state we know clearly not only that we slept, but also that in sleep we did not know anything, is it not clear that sleep was a state that we actually experienced? The seeming ‘unconsciousness’ of sleep – the absence at that time of any knowledge about anything other than ‘I am’ – was our own experience, something that we ourself experienced and knew at that time.

We can employ another parallel line of reasoning to demonstrate the fact that we were conscious of our existence in sleep. After we wake up from sleep, do we not have a clear memory of having slept, and of having known nothing while we slept? Since we can have no memory of something unless we have actually experienced it, our memory of having slept and having known nothing while asleep is a clear proof of the fact that we did experience ourself sleeping and knowing nothing at that time.

If we did not truly remember our experience in sleep, we could not know with such certainty that we were unconscious of anything at that time. What we would know about sleep is not the positive knowledge that we slept and knew nothing at that time, but merely a negative knowledge that we do not remember any such state at all.

Instead of remembering a clear gap between one period of waking and the next – a thought-free gap in which we were clearly unconscious of anything other than our own being – we would remember no break at all between two such consecutive periods of waking. The end of one period of waking would in our experience simply merge without any perceptible break into the beginning of the next period of waking, and all our many consecutive periods of waking would appear to us to be one single continuous and unbroken period of waking, just as the many frames of a movie film when projected in rapid succession upon a screen appear to be one single continuous and unbroken moving picture. If there were no continuity of our consciousness during sleep, the gap that exists between one period of waking and the next would be imperceptible to us, just as the gap between each frame of the movie film is imperceptible to us.

Deep sleep is thus a state of which we do have a direct and first-hand experience. Since there can be no experience without consciousness, the fact that we experience sleep clearly proves that we certainly do have some level of consciousness even in that state. That level of consciousness that we experience in sleep is our deepest and most fundamental level of consciousness – our simple non-dual consciousness of our own essential being, which is our true self-consciousness ‘I am’.

We are so accustomed to associating consciousness only with our mind, the consciousness that knows things other than itself, that with regard to sleep we overlook the obvious. We overlook the fact that the ‘unconsciousness’ of sleep is something that we ourself have experienced, and that in order to have experienced that so-called ‘unconsciousness’ in sleep we ourself must have been conscious.

Therefore, as far as we can ever possibly know, there is no such thing as a state of absolute unconsciousness. Such a state of absolute unconsciousness would be a state that could never be known or experienced. The only type of unconsciousness that we can experience and know is not a state of absolute unconsciousness, but merely a state of relative unconsciousness – a state in which the consciousness of duality with which we are familiar in the waking and dream states has subsided, a state in which we are not conscious of anything other than our mere being, our fundamental non-dual self-consciousness ‘I am’.

If we were really unconscious in sleep, or at any other time, we could not be consciousness, because consciousness can never be unconscious. However, since we are conscious of sleep and other such states of relative unconsciousness, we are the absolute consciousness that underlies and supports yet transcends all states of relative consciousness and unconsciousness.

Does not the fact that we experience waking, dream and deep sleep as three distinct states clearly prove that we exist and are conscious of our existence in all these three states? There is thus a continuity of our existence and our consciousness through all our three states of waking, dream and deep sleep.

However the consciousness of our existence or mere being that continues unbroken in all these three states is distinct from the consciousness that knows a body and world in just two of them, namely waking and dream. Our simple and fundamental consciousness of our own mere being that continues throughout our three states is our pure uncontaminated consciousness ‘I am’, whereas the consciousness that identifies itself with a particular body and that knows a world through the five senses of that body is the mixed and contaminated consciousness ‘I am this body’.

This mixed consciousness that identifies itself with a body is a limited and distorted form of our original and fundamental consciousness ‘I am’. Since this distorted consciousness, which we call our ‘mind’, appears only in the states of waking and dream, and disappears in deep sleep, it cannot be our real nature, our true and essential self. Our real nature is only our pure, uncontaminated and unlimited consciousness ‘I am’, which underlies and supports the passing appearance of our three states.

Thus from our critical analysis of our experience in our three ordinary states of consciousness, we can conclude that we are the underlying consciousness that knows both the conscious states of waking and dream and the seemingly unconscious state of sleep. Or to be more precise, we are that fundamental consciousness which always knows ‘I am’, and which in sleep knows nothing but ‘I am’, but which in waking and dream appears to know other things in addition to ‘I am’.

Neither the consciousness of things other than ‘I’ that we experience in waking and dream, nor the unconsciousness of other things that we experience in sleep, are ever able to conceal completely our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’. Nevertheless they do appear to cloud over and obscure this consciousness ‘I am’, making us feel in waking and dream ‘I am this body’ and in sleep ‘I am unconscious’, and thereby they deprive us of our clear knowledge of our true state of mere self-conscious being. Therefore, to know clearly the true nature of our being, we must use our power of knowing to attend to our fundamental and essential consciousness ‘I am’, thereby penetrating beyond the transitory appearances of both the objective consciousness of waking and dream, and the seeming unconsciousness of sleep.

We normally think of sleep as a state of unconsciousness because we are accustomed to associating consciousness with the state of knowing things other than ourself in waking and dream. When the knowing of other things subsides in sleep, we experience a state of seeming darkness or emptiness that we mistake to be unconsciousness. So accustomed have we become to associating consciousness with knowing things other than our own being, that we overlook the fact that in sleep we are clearly conscious of our being. The reason why we thus overlook our clear consciousness of our own being in sleep is because we have habituated ourself to overlooking it in waking and in dream.

In both waking and dream we usually spend all our time paying attention only to the thoughts and feelings in our mind, and to the objects and events in the seemingly external world, and we seldom if ever pay any attention to our mere being, our self-consciousness ‘I am’. Because we habitually ignore our consciousness of our own being, we mistakenly believe that our dualistic consciousness – our consciousness that knows things that are seemingly other than ourself – is the only consciousness there is. Since this dualistic consciousness subsides in sleep, that state appears to us to be a state of unconsciousness.

The consciousness that knows other things is a transitory phenomenon that exists only in waking and dream, but it is not the only form of consciousness that exists. Even in waking and dream, a more subtle form of consciousness exists, underlying and supporting the transitory appearance of our dualistic consciousness. This more subtle form of consciousness is our non-dual consciousness of our own being, the consciousness by which we each know ‘I am’. Thus our consciousness in waking and dream has two distinct forms: our fundamental ‘being consciousness’, by which we know ‘I am’, and our superficial ‘knowing consciousness’, by which we know everything else.

Though we can thus distinguish two forms of our consciousness, these are not two different consciousnesses, but just two forms of one and the same consciousness – the one and only consciousness that exists. The relationship between these two forms of consciousness is similar to the relationship between the illusory appearance of a snake and the rope that underlies and supports that illusory appearance. When walking in a dim light, we may mistake a rope lying on the ground to be a snake. Because we see the rope as a snake, we fail to see the rope as it is, and hence we mistakenly think that what is lying on the ground is only a snake. Similarly, because we experience our ‘being consciousness’ as a ‘knowing consciousness’, we fail to know our ‘being consciousness’ as it is, and hence we mistakenly think that the only form of consciousness that exists is our ‘knowing consciousness’.

Just as the rope underlies and supports the illusory appearance of the snake, so our ‘being consciousness’ underlies and supports the transitory appearance of our ‘knowing consciousness’. Whereas our ‘knowing consciousness’ is a transitory and illusory appearance, like the snake, our ‘being consciousness’ is not a transitory and unreal appearance, but is our true self, our essential being, which exists and is known by us at all times, in all places, and in all states.

Since our ‘knowing consciousness’, which is what is commonly called our ‘mind’, appears in waking and dream but disappears in sleep, it is impermanent, and hence it cannot be our real self – our true and natural form of being and consciousness. Since our ‘being consciousness’, on the other hand, exists in all our three states of consciousness, waking, dream and deep sleep, it is permanent, and hence it is our real self, the very core and essence of our being – our true and natural form of consciousness.

Since both the ‘being’ form and the ‘knowing’ form of our consciousness are experienced by us in the waking state, we have a choice of attending either to the thoughts, feelings, objects and events that are known by the knowing form of our consciousness, or to the ‘I am’ that is known by the being form of our consciousness. When we attend to things other than our being, we seemingly become our false form of ‘knowing consciousness’, which is our mind, whereas when we attend only to our own being, ‘I am’, we remain as our essential form of non-dual ‘being consciousness’, which is our real self.

The nature of our essential ‘being consciousness’ is just to be, and not to know anything other than itself. Since it is consciousness, it knows itself merely by being itself. Its knowledge of itself is therefore not an action, a ‘doing’ of any sort, but is just being.

In order to know our real self, therefore, all we need do is just be. What seemingly prevents us from knowing our real self, our mere ‘being consciousness’, is our ‘doing’, our rising to know things that we imagine to be other than ourself. Whereas knowing ourself is not a ‘doing’ but just ‘being’, knowing other things is a ‘doing’ or action. The very nature of our ‘knowing consciousness’ or mind is therefore to be constantly doing.

Our ‘knowing consciousness’ comes into existence only by an act of imagination – by imagining itself to be a body, which it creates by its power of imagination. Thus it is nothing but a form of imagination. Since it is itself an imagination, all that it knows is likewise an imagination. Since imagining is a doing or action, the very formation of our ‘knowing consciousness’ in our imagination is a doing, and of all doings it is the first.

Since the rising of our ‘knowing consciousness’ from sleep is a doing or act of imagination, all that it gives rise to – all our dualistic knowledge, which rises in the form of our thoughts, some of which appear to exist externally as our body and the other objects of this world – is just a product of doing, a result of our repeated acts of imagination. Thus from the moment it rises from sleep till the moment it subsides once again in sleep, our mind or ‘knowing consciousness’ is in a state of constant activity or doing. Without doing, without thinking or knowing something other than itself, our mind cannot stand. As soon as it ceases doing, it subsides in sleep, which is a state of mere being.

However, though in sleep we remain as our mere ‘being consciousness’, we somehow appear to lack a perfect clarity of self-knowledge in that state. If we clearly knew our true nature in sleep, we could not again mistake ourself to be a body or anything else that we are not, and hence we would never rise again as our ‘knowing consciousness’ or mind.

Throughout all our normal three states of consciousness, we experience our ‘being consciousness’ as ‘I am’, yet we somehow imagine that it is obscured by a lack of clarity of self-knowledge. This lack of clarity of true self-knowledge is only imaginary, but because in our imagination it appears to be real, it enables us to imagine that we are a ‘knowing consciousness’ in waking and dream, and that we do not clearly know ourself even in sleep, when that ‘knowing consciousness’ has temporarily subsided.

How exactly we are able to sustain this imaginary lack of clarity of self-knowledge even in sleep cannot be understood by our mind or ‘knowing consciousness’. However, if we are able now in our present waking state to scrutinise our ‘being consciousness’ sufficiently keenly, we will discover that this imaginary lack of clarity of self-knowledge never really existed.

That is, if we turn the attention of our ‘knowing consciousness’ away from all forms of duality and focus it keenly upon our non-dual ‘being consciousness’, which we always experience as ‘I am’, we will begin to experience our ‘being consciousness’ more clearly. The more clearly we experience it, the more keenly we will be able to focus our attention upon it. By constantly practising self-attention, therefore, we will eventually be able to focus our attention so keenly upon our ‘being consciousness’ that we will experience it with full and perfect clarity. When we thus come to experience our ‘being consciousness’ with perfect clarity, we will discover that we never really experienced any lack of clarity of self-knowledge.

Our ‘being consciousness’ always knows itself perfectly clearly, and never experiences any lack of clarity of self-knowledge. Our seeming lack of clarity of self-knowledge is merely an illusion, an unreal product of our self-deceptive power of imagination, and is experienced only by our mind or ‘knowing consciousness’. Therefore, as soon as we experience our ‘being consciousness’ with perfect clarity, we will discover that in reality our imaginary lack of clarity of self-knowledge is ever non-existent, and thus the illusion of it will be destroyed forever.

Since our entire experience of duality or multiplicity arises only in our mind, and since our mind is built upon the flimsy foundation of our imaginary lack of clarity of self-knowledge, when this mist-like imaginary lack of clarity is dissolved in the clear light of unadulterated self-consciousness, our mind and all the duality that it now experiences will disappear for ever, just as a dream disappears as soon as we wake up from sleep. Therefore in verse 1 of Ēkātma Pañcakam Sri Ramana says:

Having forgotten ourself [our real self, our pure unadulterated consciousness ‘I am’], having thought ‘[this] body indeed is myself’, [and] having [thereby] taken innumerable births, finally knowing ourself [and] being ourself is just [like] waking from a dream of wandering about the world. See [thus].

Our present waking state is in fact just a dream that is occurring in our long sleep of self-forgetfulness or lack of clarity of true self-knowledge. So long as this sleep persists, we will continue dreaming one dream after another. Between our dreams we may rest for a while in dreamless sleep, but such rest can never be permanent.

Our sleep of self-forgetfulness is imaginary, but from the perspective of our mind, which is a product of it, it appears to be quite real. That is, so long as we feel ourself to be this mind, we cannot deny the fact that we do appear to lack clear knowledge of our real self, as a result of which the knowledge of ourself that we now appear to experience is confused and uncertain.

This lack of clarity of true self-knowledge is what Sri Ramana describes as ‘self-forgetfulness’. He also describes it as a ‘sleep’, because sleep is a state in which we forget our normal waking self. Just as in our everyday sleep we forget our present waking self, so in our primal sleep of imaginary self-forgetfulness we seem to have forgotten our real self, which is our ever-wakeful consciousness of our own essential and infinite being.

So long as we experience this state of imaginary self-forgetfulness, we do not experience ourself as we really are – that is, as infinite and absolute being, infinite and absolute consciousness, and infinite and absolute happiness. Instead we experience ourself as a finite and relative being – a person who seems to exist now but apparently did not exist before his or her birth, and apparently will not exist after his or her death, a person who sometimes rises as this finite and relative consciousness that we call our mind, and sometimes subsides in the state of relative unconsciousness that we call sleep, a person who experiences only finite and relative happiness, mixed with equally finite and relative unhappiness.

In the state of relative unconsciousness that we call sleep, we do not experience ourself as a person, but simply as our own happy self-conscious being. Though in sleep we do not actually experience any form of relativity or finitude, from the perspective of our present waking mind we have to say that sleep is only a relative and therefore finite state, because it is a state which we seem to enter and from which we seem to rise repeatedly. Therefore, though sleep is not finite in itself, relative to our other two states, waking and dream, it does appear to be finite.

Since sleep is a state in which our mind has subsided, it transcends our mind, and hence it cannot be defined categorically as being either finite or infinite, or as being either relative or absolute. From the perspective of our mind, sleep is a finite and relative state, but from the perspective of our true non-dual self-consciousness, ‘I am’, it is our real and natural state of infinite and absolute being, infinite and absolute consciousness, and infinite and absolute happiness.

What we actually experience in sleep is only our non-dual consciousness of our own essential being, ‘I am’, so as such sleep is a state devoid of any form of relativity or finitude. What makes sleep appear to be a relative and therefore finite state is the rising of our mind in the two truly relative and finite states of waking and dream.

As Sri Sadhu Om used to say, if we raise two walls in a vast open space, that one open space will appear to be divided into three confined spaces. Similarly, when our mind imagines the existence of two different types of body – the body that it imagines to be itself in its current state, which it considers to be waking, and the body that it imagined to be itself in another state that it now considers to be dream – the infinite space of our true and absolute self-conscious being appears to be divided into three separate and therefore finite states, which we call waking, dream and sleep.

In reality, the state that we now call ‘sleep’ is our true, natural, infinite and absolute state of unadulterated self-consciousness. However, so long as we feel ourself to be this relative and finite consciousness that we call our mind, we cannot know sleep as it really is. That is, since we do not experience our essential self-consciousness ‘I am’ in its true unadulterated form in our present waking state, from the perspective of this waking state we cannot recognise the fact that we did experience our self-consciousness ‘I am’ in its true unadulterated form in sleep. Therefore, in order to discover what we really experienced in sleep, we must experience our fundamental self-consciousness ‘I am’ in its true unadulterated form in our present waking state.

In the perspective of our real self, which is the non-dual consciousness that knows nothing other than itself, the state that we call sleep is a state of infinite, absolute and unadulterated self-consciousness. However, in the perspective of our real self, our other two states, which we call waking and dream, are equally states of infinite, absolute and unadulterated self-consciousness. That is, in the infinite perspective of our real self, there is only one state, and that state is our single, non-dual, true and natural state of absolute consciousness of our own essential being, ‘I am’.

However, in the limited and distorted perspective of our mind, our one true state of non-dual self-consciousness appears to be three distinct states, which we call waking, dream and sleep. Since in the perspective of our waking and dreaming mind sleep appears to be a separate state, which exists relative to waking and dream, it seems to us now to be a limited state of relative unconsciousness – a state that results from a temporary forgetfulness of our waking and dreaming self, which is the object-knowing consciousness that we call our mind.

Most forms of philosophy and science are concerned only or at least principally with what we experience in our present waking state. Even when they study our other two states, dream and sleep, they do so only from the perspective of our waking mind. Therefore, since all such forms of philosophy and science are centred around the experience of our waking mind, they tend to consider our experience in our other two states as being of only secondary importance.

However, in our search for the absolute reality, dream and sleep are both crucially important states of consciousness, since they each give us essential clues concerning the true nature of our real self. Dream is important to us because it clearly demonstrates the fact that our mind has a wonderful power of imagination by which it is not only able to create a body and a whole world, but is also able to delude itself into mistaking its own imaginary creation to be real. Sleep is important to us because it clearly demonstrates the fact that we can exist and be conscious of our own existence even in the absence of our mind.

In our search for the absolute reality, which transcends all the limitations created by our mind, sleep is in fact the most important of our three states of consciousness, because it is the only state in which we experience our fundamental knowledge – our essential self-consciousness, ‘I am’ – devoid of any other knowledge. Not only does sleep provide us with incontrovertible evidence of the fact that our essential nature is only our non-dual self-consciousness – our unadulterated consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’ – but it also provides us with the vital clue that we require in order to practise self-investigation effectively.

That is, self-investigation or self-scrutiny, which is the practical research that we must perform in order to experience true self-knowledge, is a state of non-dual self-consciousness – a state in which we knowingly abide as nothing other than our own essential self-conscious being. If we did not already have a taste of this non-dual self-consciousness in sleep, it would be difficult for our mind (which is always accustomed to experiencing only duality or otherness throughout its two states of activity, waking and dream) to comprehend what this state of non-dual self-consciousness actually is, and hence when we attempt to practise self-investigation, which Sri Ramana revealed to us is the only means by which we can experience true self-knowledge, it would not be so easy for us to abide knowingly as our own essential self-conscious being, ‘I am’.

Sri Ramana sometimes described sleep as a sample of our true state of non-dual self-consciousness, and at other times he described it as an imaginary state of self-forgetfulness. Why did he refer to sleep in these two different ways, which are seemingly contradictory?

Sleep appears to be a state of self-forgetfulness only from the perspective of our mind, which is itself an imaginary product of our seeming self-forgetfulness. If we had not seemingly forgotten our real self, we could not now imagine ourself to be this mind, which appears to be something other than our real self – our true non-dual consciousness of our own essential being or ‘am’-ness. Therefore, though our self-forgetfulness is truly imaginary, from the perspective of our mind it is a fact that is undeniably real.

Our imaginary self-forgetfulness is like a sleep. Just as sleep is the seeming darkness or lack of clarity without which no dream could appear, so our self-forgetfulness is the seeming darkness or lack of clarity without which we could not imagine ourself to be experiencing the states of dualistic knowledge that we call waking and dream.

Though our mind disappears in sleep every day, it reappears from sleep as soon as it has thereby recuperated sufficient energy to engage in another period of activity. It appears, therefore, that in sleep our mind somehow continues to exist in a seed form – a dormant and unmanifest form, which will again become manifest as soon as the conditions become favourable, the favourable conditions in this case being a sufficient internal store of energy to become active once again.

Since our mind reappears after a period of rest in sleep, from the perspective of this mind our idea that in sleep we continue to be unaware or forgetful of our real self – our true non-dual consciousness of our own essential being, ‘I am’ – appears to be quite true. Therefore, when talking from the perspective of our mind, Sri Ramana used to describe sleep as an imaginary state of self-forgetfulness.

However, when we analyse our experience in sleep more deeply, as we have done in this chapter, it becomes clear to us that though we now imagine that we did not experience any consciousness in sleep, we did in fact experience our fundamental consciousness of our own essential being, ‘I am’. Therefore, though sleep does appear to our waking mind to be a state of self-forgetfulness, on more careful consideration we cannot deny the fact that we did indeed experience our natural and eternal self-consciousness even in sleep. Hence, when talking from the perspective of the absolute reality, which is our own infinite self-consciousness, ‘I am’, Sri Ramana used to describe sleep as our true state of non-dual self-consciousness.

The truth is that we do indeed know that we are even in sleep. However, though in sleep we know that we are, we appear not to know what we are. Nevertheless, though we appear not to know what we are in sleep, we should remember that this seeming ignorance or forgetfulness of our real self in sleep is imaginary and therefore unreal, just as our present ignorance or forgetfulness of our real self is imaginary and unreal.

We have never truly forgotten our real self, or been ignorant of it. We merely imagine that we do not know ourself as we really are. However, as Sri Ramana repeatedly pointed out to us, this imaginary self-ignorance or self-forgetfulness is experienced only by our mind, and not by our real self, which always experiences itself as infinite and eternally happy consciousness of just being.

Since in sleep we do not experience our mind, which alone imagines the existence of self-forgetfulness, sleep cannot really be a state of self-forgetfulness. Indeed, in sleep no individual consciousness exists to experience self-forgetfulness. All that exists in sleep is our unadulterated consciousness of our own real self or essential being, ‘I am’. Therefore, though the relative truth about sleep is that it is a state of self-forgetfulness, the absolute truth about sleep is that it is a state of perfect self-consciousness or self-knowledge.

However, though the absolute truth is that sleep is a state of infinite non-dual self-consciousness, which is the only existing reality, so long as we imagine ourself to be this mind, for all practical purposes we have to concede that sleep does indeed appear to be a relative state of self-forgetfulness. Only if we recognise the fact that the sole cause of the appearance of our mind is our imaginary self-forgetfulness or self-ignorance, will we be able to understand that the only means by which we can transcend the limitations that are seemingly imposed upon us by our mind is to destroy this illusion of self-forgetfulness.

In order to destroy this illusion, we must know ourself as we really are, and in order to know ourself as we really are, we must attend to ourself – to our fundamental consciousness of our own essential being, ‘I am’. Therefore, though Sri Ramana experienced the absolute truth – the truth that we have never really forgotten ourself, because we are the perfectly non-dual self-consciousness, which never knows anything other than itself – in his teachings he accepted the relative reality of our present imaginary self-forgetfulness or self-ignorance. This is the reason why he began the above verse of Ēkātma Pañcakam with the words, ‘Having forgotten ourself’.

After saying, ‘Having forgotten ourself’, Sri Ramana says, ‘having thought “[this] body indeed is myself”’, because our present imagination that we are this body arises as a result of our self-forgetfulness. If we clearly knew what we really are, we could not imagine ourself to be anything that we are not. Therefore we could not imagine ourself to be this body if we did not first imagine our seeming self-forgetfulness or lack of clarity of self-consciousness.

Whenever our mind becomes active, whether in waking or in dream, it first imagines itself to be a body, and then through the five senses of that imaginary body it perceives an imaginary world. Our mind cannot function without first limiting itself within the confines of an imaginary body, which it mistakes to be ‘I’. Hence our mind is an intrinsically limited and therefore distorted form of consciousness.

Without imagining itself to be something finite, our mind could not imagine anything that is other than itself. All otherness or duality is an imagination that can come into existence only when we imagine ourself to be a separate and therefore finite consciousness. Though we are in reality the infinite consciousness of just being – the essential non-dual self-consciousness ‘I am’ – we imagine ourself to be this finite object-knowing consciousness that we call our mind.

All that we know as other than ourself – all our thoughts, feelings and perceptions – are merely products of our own imagination, and they appear to exist only because we imagine ourself to be something separate from them. In sleep we experience our non-dual self-consciousness ‘I am’, but we do not experience any otherness, separation or duality. Even in waking and dream we experience this same non-dual self-consciousness ‘I am’, but along with it we also experience the illusion of otherness, separation or duality.

Nothing that we experience is actually other than our own essential consciousness. Our consciousness is the fundamental substance that appears as all other things. Other things are all products of our imagination. What we call our imagination is a power or faculty that our consciousness possesses to modify itself seemingly into the form of our thoughts, feelings and perceptions.

When we imagine our experience of thoughts, feelings and perceptions, we create a seeming separation between ourself and these objects of our consciousness. Therefore if we did not first imagine ourself to be something separate – something limited or finite – we could not experience anything as being other than ourself. Hence, in order to imagine the existence of things other than ourself, we must begin by imagining ourself to be one among the many finite things that we thus imagine.

Thus in order to experience a world, whether this world that we perceive in our present waking state or the world that we perceive in any of our other dreams, we must simultaneously imagine ourself to be a particular body in that world. We can clearly recognise this fact when we consider our experience in dream.

We do not experience a dream in the same manner that we experience a cinema show. When we watch a cinema show or television programme, we experience ourself as a spectator who exists outside the moving picture that we are watching, but when we experience a dream, we experience ourself as a person – a body and mind – who is a part of the dream world that we are experiencing. Similarly, when we experience our present waking state, we experience ourself as a person – a body and mind – who is a part of this waking world that we are now experiencing.

The consciousness that experiences both waking and dream is our mind, and our mind always experiences itself as being a particular body, which is a part of the world that it is currently experiencing. If we did not limit ourself as a body and as a body-bound mind, we could not experience anything as being other than ourself, because in reality we are the unlimited consciousness in which this entire dream of duality appears.

Since we are the infinite consciousness in which all things appear and disappear, we alone really exist, and nothing that appears to exist can really be other than ourself. Therefore our real consciousness can never know anything other than itself – our own real self or essential being, ‘I am’. All otherness is experienced only by our mind, which is a limited and distorted form of our real consciousness.

A dream actually appears within our own mind, but our mind experiences itself as being a body that exists within that dream. Such is the self-delusive power of our imagination. Therefore in verse 3 of Ēkātma Pañcakam Sri Ramana says:

When [our] body exists within ourself [who are the basic consciousness in which all things appear], a person who thinks himself [or herself] to be existing within that inconscient [material] body is like someone who thinks that the screen, [which is] the ādhāra [the underlying support or base] of a [cinema] picture, exists within that picture.

In the kaliveṇbā version of Ēkātma Pañcakam Sri Ramana added the compound word sat-cit-ānanda, which means ‘being-consciousness-bliss’, before the initial word of this verse, taṉṉuḷ or ‘within [our] self’, thereby reminding us that what we are in essence is only the perfectly peaceful consciousness of being, ‘I am’. Other than our basic consciousness of our own being, everything that we know appears within the distorted object-knowing form of our consciousness that we call our mind, which arises within us during waking and dream, and subsides back into ourself during sleep. Our true consciousness of being – our essential self-consciousness ‘I am’ – is therefore like the screen on which a cinema picture is projected, because it is the one fundamental ādhāra or underlying base that supports the appearance and disappearance of our mind and everything that is known by it.

Just as a dream appears within our own mind, so everything that we experience in this waking state appears within our own mind. However, though the world that we now perceive is experienced by us within our own mind, we imagine ourself to be a particular body, which is one among the many objects that exists in this world.

Therefore if we wish to know the truth about ourself and this world, should we not determine which of these two conflicting experiences is real and which is an illusion? Does this world really exist only in our own mind, or is our mind really something that exists only within a particular body in this world? Is this entire universe, which seems to be so vast, extending with no known limit in time or space, merely a series of thoughts in our mind, or are we merely an insignificant person who lives for a few brief years in a small corner of this universe? In other words, is this whole world really in us, or are we really in it?

If this body and world actually exist only in our own mind, as the body and world that we experience in a dream do, our experience that we are confined within the limits of this body cannot be real, and must therefore be an illusion. We could know that it is real, and not an illusion, only if we could prove to ourself that this body and world really do exist outside of and independent of our own mind.

Can we ever prove to ourself that anything that we know exists independent of our own mind? No, except our own essential self-consciousness, ‘I am’, which we experience in sleep in the absence of our mind, we cannot prove to ourself that anything is more than a mere imagination that is created and experienced only in and by our own mind. All we know of our body and this world is only the thoughts or mental images of them which we have formed in our mind by our power of imagination. Except our fundamental consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’, everything that we know can be known by us only within our own mind.

Our belief that our body and this world really exist outside our mind is just wishful thinking. It is a blind belief, because it is not based upon any adequate evidence, and is therefore without any real foundation. When we know in this waking state that the world we perceived and the body we mistook to be ourself in a dream were in fact just figments of our imagination, and therefore existed only in our own mind, what reasonable grounds do we have for believing that our present body and the world that we now perceive are anything more than mere figments of our imagination?

In the eighteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? Sri Ramana says:

Except that waking is dīrgha [long lasting] and dream is kṣaṇika [momentary or lasting for only a short while], there is no other difference [between these two imaginary states of mental activity]. To the extent to which all the vyavahāras [doings, activities, affairs or occurrences] that happen in waking appear [at this present moment] to be real, to that [same] extent even the vyavahāras that happen in dream appear at that time to be real. In dream [our] mind takes another body [to be itself]. In both waking and dream thoughts and names-and-forms [the objects of the seemingly external world] occur in one time [that is, simultaneously].

Though in the first sentence of this paragraph Sri Ramana says that the only difference between waking and dream is that in their relative duration waking is long and dream is short, in verse 560 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai he points out that even this difference is merely an illusion:

The answer which stated that dream appears and disappears momentarily, [whereas] waking endures for a long time, was given as a consoling reply to the question asked [that is, it was a concession made in accordance with the then level of understanding of the questioner]. [In truth, however, time is merely a product of our mind’s imagination, and hence the illusion that waking endures for a long time whereas dream is momentary is] a deceptive trick that occurs due to the adherence of mind-māyā [our power of māyā or self-delusion, which manifests in the form of our own mind].

Since time is a figment of our imagination, we cannot measure the duration of one state by the standard of the time that we experience in another state. We may experience a dream which appears to last a long time, but when we wake up we may find that according to the time experienced in this waking state we have slept for only a few minutes.

Though it may now appear to us that our present waking state endures for many hours each day, and resumes every day for many years, and that in contrast each of our dreams lasts for only a short period of time, this seeming distinction appears to be real only in the perspective of our mind in this waking state. In dream our same mind experiences that dream as if it were a waking state, and imagines that it is a state that endures for many hours each day, and resumes every day for many years.

Time is an imagination that we do not experience in sleep, but is a part of each of the worlds that we experience in waking and dream. Since the world that we experienced in a dream is not the same world that we experience now in this present waking state, the time that we experienced as part of that dream world is not the same time that we are experiencing now. Therefore if we try to judge the duration of dream by the standard of time that we experience now, our judgement will inevitably be distorted and therefore invalid.

The relative reality of all that we experience in waking and dream cannot be correctly judged from either of these two states. When we are dreaming, we mistake everything that we experience in that dream to be real, but when we are in our present waking state, we understand that everything that we experienced in that dream is actually a figment of our imagination. Just as we can correctly judge the reality of all that we experienced in dream only when we step outside that dream into our present waking state, so we will be able to judge correctly the reality of all that we experience now in this so-called waking state only when we step outside it into some other state that transcends it.

From the perspective of the all-transcending state of true self-knowledge, which is the state of non-dual and therefore absolute self-consciousness, Sri Ramana and other sages have been able to judge correctly the relative reality of all that we experience in waking and dream, and they have testified the fact that these two states are equally unreal, because they are both mere figments of our imagination.

In the second sentence of the eighteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? Sri Ramana says, ‘To the extent to which all the occurrences that happen in waking appear to be real, to that extent even the occurrences that happen in dream appear at that time to be real’. This is a fact that we all know from our own experience, but what inference should we draw from it? Since we now know that whatever we experienced in a dream was just our own thoughts, even though at that time it appeared to be as real as whatever we experience in this waking state now appears to be, is it not reasonable for us to infer that whatever we experience in this waking state is most probably likewise just our own thoughts?

Though this is a logical inference for us to draw, we can verify it for certain only when we ascertain the truth about ourself. Unless we know by our own experience what we really are, we cannot be sure of the reality of anything else that we know.

In order to know ourself, we must keenly scrutinise ourself – that is, we must focus our attention wholly and exclusively upon our essential consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’. So long as we have any desire, attachment, fear or aversion for anything other than our own essential self-consciousness, whenever we try to focus our attention upon ourself, we will be distracted by our thoughts of whatever other things we desire, fear or feel averse to. And so long as we believe that those other things exist outside our own imagination and are therefore real in their own right, we will not be able to free ourself from our desire, attachment, fear or aversion for them.

Therefore to help us to free ourself from all our desires, attachments, fears and aversions, Sri Ramana and other sages teach us the truth that everything other than our own self-consciousness, ‘I am’, is unreal, being a mere figment of our own imagination. This is why in verse 559 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai he confirmed the inference that we can draw from the fact that whatever we experienced in a dream appeared then to be as real as what we experience in this waking state appears now to be, stating explicitly:

If dream, which appeared [and was experienced by us as if it were real], is a mere whirling of [our own] thoughts, waking, which has [now] occurred [and is being experienced by us as if it were real], is also of that [same] nature [that is, it is likewise a mere whirling of our own thoughts]. As real as the happenings in waking, which has [now] occurred, [appear to be at this present moment], so real indeed [the happenings in] dream [appeared to be] at that time.

Sri Ramana affirms emphatically that waking and dream are both a ‘mere whirling of thoughts’. That is, they are each a series of mental images that we form in our own mind by our power of imagination. In other words, except our fundamental self-consciousness ‘I am’, everything that we experience in either waking or dream is just a figment of our own imagination.

The state that we now experience as waking is in fact just another dream. Just as we now mistake our present state to be waking, in a dream we likewise mistake our then current state to be waking. We always mistake whatever state we are currently experiencing to be our waking state, and we consider all our other states to be dreams.

What distinguishes one state of dream from another is that in each such state or each series of such states we mistake a different body to be ourself. Since we remember a series of consecutive states in which we mistook ourself to be the same body that we now mistake ourself to be, we consider each of those states to be a resumption of this same waking state. However, we also remember other states in which we mistook ourself to be various other bodies, so we consider those other states to be dreams.

Since the fact that we take various different bodies to be ourself is what makes us imagine that there is a basic distinction between our present so-called waking state and our other states of dream, in the third sentence of the eighteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? Sri Ramana says, ‘In dream [our] mind takes another body’. In our present state of dream, we consider certain other states of dream to be real, because in them we took this same body to be ourself, but we consider yet other states of dream to be unreal, because in them we mistook other bodies to be ourself.

How exactly do we ‘take another body’ in each of our dreams? In a dream we imagine the existence of some other body, and we simultaneously imagine that body to be ourself. Similarly, in our present so-called waking state we imagine the existence of this body and simultaneously imagine it to be ourself. Just as the body that we mistook to be ourself in a dream was merely a product of our own imagination, so this body that we now mistake to be ourself is merely a product of our own imagination.

The relationship between ourself and our body is similar to the relationship between gold and a gold ornament. Just as gold is the one substance of which the ornament is made, so we are the one substance of which our body and all the other objects of this world are made. Therefore in verse 4 of Ēkātma Pañcakam Sri Ramana says:

Is [an] ornament other than [the] gold [of which it is made]? Having separated [freed or disentangled] ourself, what [or how] is [our] body? One who thinks himself [or herself] to be [merely a finite] body is an ajñāni [a person who is ignorant of our one real, infinite and non-dual self], [whereas] one who takes [himself or herself] to be [nothing other than our one real] self is a jñāni, [a sage] who has known [this one real] self. Know [yourself thus as this one infinite self].

In the kaliveṇbā version of Ēkātma Pañcakam Sri Ramana added the word vattuvām, which means ‘which is the substance’, before the initial word of this verse, poṉ or ‘gold’. The word vattu is a Tamil form of the Sanskrit word vastu, which means ‘substance’, ‘essence’ or ‘reality’, and which is a word that is often used in philosophy to denote the absolute reality, our own self-conscious being, which is the one essential substance of which all things are formed. Since Sri Ramana is here using gold as an analogy for our real self, by describing gold as the vastu or ‘substance’ he implies that we ourself are the one real substance of which our body and all other things are merely imaginary forms.

The rhetorical question ‘Having separated ourself, what is [our] body?’ expresses two closely related truths. Firstly, it expresses the truth that our present body does not exist when we separate ourself from it, as we do in both sleep and dream. Secondly, and in this context more importantly, this question is an idiomatic way of expressing the truth that just as an ornament cannot be other than the gold of which it is made, so our body cannot be other than our real self, which is the one substance of which all things are made.

That is, we are consciousness, and everything that we know is merely a form or image that appears in our consciousness – that is, in us – like waves that appear on the surface of the ocean. Just as the water of the ocean is the one substance of which all waves are formed, so our consciousness is the one substance of which all our thoughts – that is, all the objects known by us, including our body – are formed.

Our body and everything else that we know are just a series of thoughts or mental images, which we form in our own mind by our power of imagination. Since everything other than our own consciousness is just a figment of our imagination, our consciousness alone is real, and hence it is the one true substance of which all other things are formed.

In the final sentence of the eighteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? Sri Ramana says, ‘In both waking and dream thoughts and names-and-forms occur simultaneously’. In this context the plural form of the compound word nāma-rūpa, which literally means ‘name-forms’ and which I have translated as ‘names-and-forms’, denotes all the objects of the world, which we imagine exist outside ourself. In each of our states of mental activity, whether we imagine that state to be waking or dream, we experience the fact that the objects that we recognise as being merely thoughts that we have formed in our own mind, and the objects that seem to exist outside ourself, both appear simultaneously.

Therefore in verse 555 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai Sri Ramana says:

Sages say that those [two seemingly different states] that are called waking and dream are [both] creations of our confused [agitated and deluded] mind, [because] in both [states] called waking and dream thoughts and names-and-forms come into existence simultaneously [and] in conjunction. Know for certain that [this is so].

As Sri Ramana often pointed out, all the objects of the seemingly external world are in fact experienced by us only as images that we form in our own mind by our power of imagination, and hence they are only our own thoughts. This is the reason why in the absence of all thoughts, as in sleep, no knowledge of any object is experienced, whereas as soon as our mind becomes active, as in waking and dream, our knowledge of external objects appears together with our other thoughts.

Even now in our present waking state, if we turn our attention away from all thoughts towards our own essential self-consciousness, ‘I am’, all our knowledge of external objects will disappear. Is it not clear, therefore, that all our objective knowledge depends upon our thoughts about the objects that we know? We appear to know an object only when we form an image of it in our mind. Since mental images are what we otherwise call thoughts, all that we know of external objects is only the thoughts of them that we form in our own mind by our power of imagination.

Except our essential self-consciousness, ‘I am’, everything that we know or experience is only a thought – one among the many mental images that we form in our own mind. Just as we understand that everything that we experience in a dream is merely our own imagination, by impartial and thorough analysis we can understand that everything that we experience in our present waking state is likewise merely our own imagination.

Our belief that our knowledge of this seemingly external world corresponds to something that actually exists outside ourself is merely an imagination – one among the many thoughts that we form in our mind. There is absolutely no evidence – and there never can be any evidence – that the world we now experience actually exists outside ourself, any more than there is any evidence that the world we experienced in a dream actually exists outside ourself.

In verse 1 of Ēkātma Pañcakam, after the first two clauses, ‘Having forgotten ourself’ and ‘having thought “[this] body indeed is myself”’, Sri Ramana adds a third clause, ‘having [thereby] taken innumerable births’. What exactly does he mean by this? How actually do we ‘take innumerable births’?

As we have discussed earlier, our present waking life is actually just a dream that is occurring in our imaginary sleep of self-forgetfulness or self-ignorance. When we imaginarily ignore or forget our real self, which is infinite being, consciousness and happiness, we seemingly separate ourself from the perfect happiness that is our own self. Therefore until we reunite with our own reality, which is absolute happiness, we cannot rest, except during the brief but necessary interludes that we experience in sleep, death and other such states, in which our mind subsides in a state of temporary abeyance or inactivity.

Because we have imaginarily separated ourself from our own infinite happiness, we feel perpetually dissatisfied, and hence our innate love for happiness impels us to search restlessly for the happiness that we have lost. Thus our natural love for happiness, which is our own true being, is seemingly distorted, manifesting in the form of desire, which impels us to be active, thereby driving ourself further away from our true state of being. Whereas true love is our natural state of just being, desire gives rise to ‘doing’ or activity, which distracts us from our essential being.

How does our love for happiness become distorted as desire? Having imaginarily separated ourself from our infinite real self, we now feel happiness to be something other than ourself, and therefore we seek it outside ourself in objects and experiences that we imagine to be other than ourself. In our natural state of true self-knowledge, we experience happiness as our own self, and hence our love for happiness impels us just to be ourself. In our imaginary state of self-ignorance, on the other hand, we experience happiness as if it were something other than ourself, and hence our simple love for happiness is distorted as innumerable desires for things other than ourself – for objects and experiences that we imagine will give us the happiness for which we crave.

Because our self-ignorance clouds our natural clarity of discrimination, it deludes us, making us imagine that in order to be happy we must obtain things other than ourself – whether material objects, sensual experiences or intellectual knowledge. We imagine that certain experiences will make us happy, and certain other experiences will make us unhappy, and hence we desire those experiences that we imagine will make us happy, and we fear or feel averse to those experiences that we imagine will make us unhappy.

Thus our self-ignorance inevitably gives rise to our desires and fears, which impel us to be constantly active, striving by mind, speech and body to experience the happiness for which we yearn so intensely. Until we attain the non-dual experience of true self-knowledge, thereby dissolving the illusion of self-ignorance and all its progeny, we will not be able to free ourself from the gripping vice of desire and fear.

Even when our mind subsides temporarily in a state of abeyance such as sleep or death, our deeply rooted desires and fears are not dissolved, because our basic self-ignorance persists in a dormant form. Therefore as soon as we are sufficiently rested, our dormant desires and fears rouse us from sleep, giving rise either to the experience of this waking state or to the experience of a dream.

All our dreams are caused by our latent desires and fears, and our present waking state is just one of our dreams. Just as all that we experience in a dream is our own thoughts, which are formed by our latent desires and fears, so all that we experience in our present waking state is our own thoughts, which are likewise formed by our latent desires and fears.

Since our present waking life is actually just a dream in our imaginary sleep of self-forgetfulness or self-ignorance, the state that we call death is merely the final termination of this particular dream. The entire life of our present body is one continuous dream, which is interrupted each day by a brief period of rest in sleep, but which resumes as soon as we have recuperated sufficient energy to engage in another period of mental activity. One feature of this dream is that the imaginary body that we now mistake to be ourself appears to grow gradually older and more worn out, until eventually we forsake it permanently. The state in which we thus permanently cease to imagine our present body to be ourself is what we generally call death.

Since death is just the ending of an extended dream, it is merely a state of abeyance or temporary subsidence of our mind, like the sleep that we experience every day. After we have rested for a while in sleep, our latent desires and fears impel our mind to rise and become active once again in another state of dream. Similarly, after we have rested for a while in death, our latent desires and fears impel our mind to rise once again in another state of activity, in which we imagine some other body to be ourself.

Therefore when Sri Ramana said, ‘having taken innumerable births’, he was referring to this repeated process of forsaking one dream body and imagining another dream body to be ourself. Rebirth or reincarnation is therefore not real, but is just a dream – an imaginary event that occurs repeatedly in our seemingly long sleep of imaginary self-ignorance.

Though rebirth is merely a figment of our imagination – a dream created by our own desires and fears – it is as real as our present life in this world, which is itself just as real as our mind, the limited and distorted form of consciousness that experiences this and so many other dreams. Until we know what we really are, thereby putting an end to our imaginary sleep of self-forgetfulness or self-ignorance, we will continue to experience one dream after another, and in each of those dreams we will mistake ourself to be a body that we have created by our own imagination.

Since the fundamental cause of all the suffering and lack of perfect happiness that we experience in this dream-life and so many other dream-lives is our imaginary self-forgetfulness or self-ignorance, we can end all our suffering and attain perfect happiness only by experiencing the absolute clarity of true self-knowledge. Since the illusion of duality is caused by our self-forgetfulness – our forgetfulness of our fundamental non-dual consciousness of our own infinite and absolute being – it will be dissolved only when we experience perfectly clear non-dual self-knowledge or self-consciousness.

By seemingly forgetting our real self, we enable ourself to imagine that we have become a body. Therefore though we have never really ceased to be our infinite real self, we do appear to have become something else. Hence in this first verse of Ēkātma Pañcakam Sri Ramana says that having forgotten our real self, having repeatedly imagined ourself to be a body, and having thereby seemingly taken birth in innumerable different bodies, when we finally know ourself we become ourself once again.

Though he says, ‘[…] finally knowing ourself [and thereby] becoming ourself […]’, he does not mean to imply that the attainment of true self-knowledge is really a process of becoming. Relative to our present state of self-forgetfulness, in which we seem to have become a body and mind, the state of self-knowledge may appear to be a state in which we will once again become our real self, but in reality it is just our natural state of being, in which we remain as we always have been – that is, as our immutable real self.

The word that Sri Ramana actually uses in this verse is ādal, which is a gerund that primarily means ‘becoming’ but can also mean ‘being’. Therefore, though the words ‘iṟudi taṉṉai-y-uṇarndu tāṉ-ādal’, which form the subject of this verse, could be translated as ‘finally knowing ourself [and thereby] becoming ourself’, they can be translated more accurately as ‘finally knowing ourself [and thereby just] being ourself’.

The state of true self-knowledge is our natural, eternal, immutable and non-dual state of self-conscious being. Since it is the absolute reality, which underlies the appearance of all relativity, it can never undergo any form of change or becoming. It never has become anything, and it never will become anything. It just is.

When we imagine that we know anything other than ourself, we seem to become something limited. However, such becoming is only imaginary. In reality, we always remain as we really are – that is, as infinite and absolute being, consciousness and happiness. Hence when we know ourself as we really are, we do not become anything, but simply remain as the infinite and absolute reality that we always have been and always will be. Therefore in verse 26 of Upadēśa Undiyār Sri Ramana says:

Being [our real] self is indeed knowing [our real] self, because [our real] self is that which is devoid of two. […]

Since we are the absolute reality, we are in truth devoid of any form of duality, and hence we can know ourself only by being ourself, which is what we always are. Therefore the state that we call self-knowledge is not a state in which we know anything new, but is only the state in which we shed all knowledge of everything other than ourself.

When we wake up from a dream, we do not become anything new or know anything new. We merely shed the imaginary experience of our dream, and remain as we previously were. Similarly, when we wake up from our imaginary sleep of self-forgetfulness, in which we have experienced innumerable dreams, we will not become anything new or know anything new. We will merely shed the imaginary experience of our self-forgetfulness and all our resulting dreams, and remain as the infinite and absolutely non-dual self-consciousness that we always have been.

Therefore Sri Ramana concludes this first verse of Ēkātma Pañcakam by saying:

[…] finally knowing ourself [and] being ourself is just [like] waking from a dream of wandering about the world. See [thus].

When we wake up from a dream, we know that everything that we experienced in that dream was merely our own imagination, and was therefore entirely unreal. Similarly, when we attain the non-dual experience of true self-knowledge, we will know that everything that we experienced in this state of self-forgetfulness (including our self-forgetfulness itself) is merely our own imagination, and is therefore entirely unreal.

In our present experience, the only thing that is real is our own self-consciousness, ‘I am’. If we did not exist, we could not know our own existence, nor could we imagine the existence of anything else.

The one real basis of all our knowledge and all our experience is our own consciousness. When we say ‘I know’ or ‘I experience’, we imply ‘I am conscious’. However, though we sometimes appear to be conscious of things other than ourself, our consciousness of those other things appears and disappears. Being impermanent, it is only relatively real.

The only thing of which we are permanently conscious is ourself – our own being, ‘I am’. Even when we are conscious of nothing else, as in sleep, we continue to be conscious of our own being, because our being is inherently self-conscious. In other words, we are self-consciousness, and hence we always experience ourself as ‘I am’.

Since our consciousness of other things appears only when our mind is active, it is merely an imagination. But since we are the consciousness that experiences both that imagination and the absence of it in sleep, we are the real consciousness that underlies the imaginary consciousness of otherness.

Since the only form of consciousness that we experience permanently is our own self-consciousness, we can definitely conclude that it is the true and essential form of consciousness. In other words, since we are the fundamental self-consciousness that underlies the appearance of all other forms of consciousness, we alone are the true and essential form of consciousness.

We can also conclude that we are the absolute reality, because we are the fundamental non-dual self-consciousness ‘I am’, which is essentially unqualified and unconditioned, being free from all limits and any form of dependence upon any other thing. Whatever else may appear or disappear, and whatever change or other action may seem to happen, our essential self-consciousness always remains unchanged and unaffected. Therefore, whereas all other things are relative, our true self-consciousness is absolute.

We are absolute being, absolute consciousness and absolute happiness. Therefore if we wish to free ourself from all unhappiness and all forms of limitation, we must know ourself as we really are. That is, we must actually experience ourself as the absolute non-dual self-consciousness that we really are, and that we now understand ourself to be.

In order to know ourself thus, we must concentrate our entire attention upon our essential self-consciousness ‘I am’. This concentration of our attention upon ourself is the practice of ātma-vicāra – self-investigation, self-examination, self-scrutiny or self-enquiry – which Sri Ramana taught as the only means by which we can experience true non-dual self-knowledge.

Before concluding this chapter, in which we have attempted to find a satisfactory theoretical answer to the crucial question ‘who am I?’, it is worth narrating an important event in the early life of Sri Ramana. The first person who asked him truly pertinent and useful questions was a humble and self-effacing devotee called Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai, who first came to him in 1901, when he was just twenty-one years old. The first question Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai asked him was ‘Who am I?’, to which he replied simply, ‘Knowledge [or consciousness] alone is I’.

The actual Tamil words spoken by Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai were ‘nāṉ yār?’, which literally mean ‘I [am] who?’, and the words that Sri Ramana, who seldom spoke in those early times, wrote in reply with his finger on the sandy ground were ‘aṟivē nāṉ’. The Tamil word aṟivu means ‘knowledge’ in the broadest sense, and is therefore used to denote many different forms of knowledge, including consciousness, wisdom, intelligence, learning, sense perception, anything that is known, and even ātmā, our real self, which is our fundamental knowledge ‘I am’. In this context, however, it means only our fundamental knowledge ‘I am’ – our essential consciousness of our own being. The letter ē that he appended to aṟivu is a suffix that is commonly used in Tamil to add emphasis to a word, conveying the sense ‘itself’, ‘alone’ or ‘indeed’, and the word nāṉ means ‘I’.

In these two simple words, aṟivē nāṉ, Sri Ramana summarised the essence of his experience of true self-knowledge, which is the basis of the entire philosophy and science that he taught. What he meant by these simple words is that our true and essential nature is only our fundamental knowledge or consciousness ‘I am’, which is the conclusion that we have to arrive at if we critically analyse our experience of ourself in our three ordinary states of consciousness, as we have done in this chapter.

The next question that Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai asked him was ‘What is the nature of [such] knowledge?’, to which he replied either ‘The nature of knowledge is sat-cit-ānanda’ or more probably just ‘sat-cit-ānanda’. The compound word sat-cit-ānanda (which is actually fused into one word, saccidānanda), is a well-known philosophical term, which is of Sanskrit origin, but which is widely understood and frequently used in Tamil and all other Indian languages. It is a term used to describe the nature of the absolute reality, and though it is composed of three words, it is not intended to imply that the absolute reality is composed of three distinct elements, but only that the single non-dual nature of the one absolute reality can be described in three different ways.

The word sat basically means ‘being’ or ‘existing’, but by extension also means ‘that which really is’, ‘reality’, ‘truth’, ‘existence’, ‘essence’, ‘real’, ‘true’, ‘good’, ‘right’, or ‘that which is real, true, good or right’. The word cit means ‘consciousness’ or ‘awareness’, from a verbal root meaning ‘to know’, ‘to be conscious of’, ‘to perceive’, ‘to observe’, ‘to attend to’ or ‘to be attentive’. And the word ānanda means ‘happiness’, ‘joy’ or ‘bliss’. Thus saccidānanda, or as it is more commonly spelt in roman script, sat-cit-ānanda, means ‘being-consciousness-bliss’, that is, being which is both consciousness and bliss, or consciousness which is both being and bliss, or bliss which is both being and consciousness.

True being and true consciousness are not two different things. If consciousness were not the essential nature of being, being would have to depend upon some consciousness other than itself in order to be known, and hence it would not be absolute being, but only relative being – being that existed only in the view of some other existing consciousness.

If we postulate that there is an absolute being that is not conscious of its own existence, and that exists even though it is not known either by itself or by any consciousness other than itself, such a being would be a mere supposition or imagination – a being that exists only in our own mind – and hence it would not be real being. We have no valid reason to suppose that any such unknown being exists. The term ‘being’ or ‘existence’ has a valid meaning only if it is applied to something that is known to exist, and not if it is applied to something whose existence is merely imaginary. Therefore true and absolute being must always be conscious of its own being, and hence consciousness must be its very nature.

Similarly, the very nature of consciousness must be being, because if being were not the essential nature of consciousness, consciousness would not be – it would not exist. A non-existent consciousness, a consciousness that is not, would have absolutely no reality. It would be nothing, and hence it would not be conscious. To be conscious means to be, just as to be truly means to be conscious – to know that ‘I am’.

True and absolute being, being that exists unconditionally and independent of any other thing, must be self-conscious being, being that knows ‘I am’. Though it does not know any other thing, because there is nothing other than it for it to know, it must always know itself. Therefore the consciousness that knows its own being as ‘I am’ is the only true, independent, unconditional and absolute being. Any other being, any being that does not know itself as ‘I am’, is merely a figment of our imagination.

Since in its essential nature being or consciousness has no form, it is devoid of limits, and includes everything within itself. Since a thing can be said to be a thing only if it is, nothing exists separate from or other than being. Everything that exists is therefore in its essential nature just being.

Though a thing can be said to be only if it is known to be, most things do not actually know their own being. A thing that does not know that it is, and that is known only by some consciousness that is seemingly other than itself, does not exist independently or absolutely. Its seeming existence as a ‘thing’ is only relative. Therefore it is not real as the ‘thing’ that it appears to be, but is real only as the mere ‘being’ that is its essence.

The only ‘thing’ that is real as such is consciousness, because only consciousness knows its own being. Therefore, since being is the essential nature of everything, and since being is always conscious of its own being, anything that does not know ‘I am’ is a mere imagination – an illusion, an apparition that, though unreal as the thing that it appears to be, is nevertheless real in its essential nature as mere being.

Though being has no form of its own, it is the indefinable essence of all forms. Being essentially formless, being is devoid of all forms of limitation, and hence it is infinite. Since the infinite includes all things within itself, it is essentially single and non-dual. There cannot be more than one infinite reality, because if there were, none of those ‘infinite realities’ would actually be infinite. Being is therefore the non-dual infinite whole – the totality of all that is.

However, though being is infinite and non-dual in itself, it nevertheless includes within itself all that is finite and dual. Though duality appears to exist in being, it is not the essential nature of being, but is a mere illusion. It is an illusory form of being, an imagination that appears and disappears in being, yet does not affect the essential, formless, infinite and non-dual nature of being even in the least. However, though it is an illusory imagination, duality could not even appear to exist without the underlying support of the essential, infinite and non-dual being.

Just as being is non-dual, so the consciousness of being is non-dual, because it knows only its own being and nothing else. The consciousness that appears to know things that it imagines to be other than itself is not the infinite, absolute and therefore real consciousness, but is only a finite, relative and therefore unreal form of consciousness.

Just as any finite, relative or dual form of being is not the true and essential nature of being, so any finite, relative or dual form of consciousness is not the true and essential nature of consciousness. Therefore the compound word sat-cit denotes only the real and essential being-consciousness, which is completely unconditional, independent, non-dual, infinite and absolute.

Just as the essential, absolute and infinite reality is both being and the consciousness of being, so it is also perfect happiness or bliss. Unhappiness is not a natural condition, any more than either non-existence or unconsciousness is natural. Non-existence, unconsciousness and unhappiness are not in any way absolute, but are merely relative conditions that appear to arise only when we mistake ourself to be the finite form of a physical body.

In sleep, when we do not mistake ourself to be a body or any other finite thing, we exist happily knowing only our own being. Our being, our consciousness of being, and the happiness that we enjoy when we are conscious only of our being, are therefore our essential nature. When everything else is taken away from us, what remains is only our essential nature, and that is our perfectly peaceful and happy consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’. Unhappiness is an unnatural and therefore unreal condition that appears to arise only when by our power of imagination we superimpose some other knowledge upon our fundamental and essential knowledge ‘I am’.

Therefore, as Sri Ramana stated in answer to the second question of Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai, the nature of our fundamental knowledge ‘I am’ is sat-cit-ānanda or ‘being-consciousness-bliss’. This does not mean that our true nature, which we always experience as ‘I am’, is any relative or finite form of being, consciousness or happiness, but only that it is absolute, infinite, eternal, immutable, undivided and non-dual being-consciousness-bliss, as Sri Ramana states explicitly in verse 28 of Upadēśa Undiyār and verse 18 of Upadēśa Taṉippākkaḷ:

If we know what our [real] nature is, then [we will discover it to be] beginningless, endless [and] unbroken sat-cit-ānanda [being-consciousness-bliss].

If we know our real form in [our] heart [in the innermost core or depth of our being], [we will discover it to be] being-consciousness-bliss, which is fullness [infinite wholeness, completeness or perfection] without beginning [or] end.

Though these two verses express the actual truth experienced by Sri Ramana and all other real sages, the idea that we ourself are the infinite and absolute reality may appear to many of us to be fanciful and far-fetched. Though by critically analysing our experience of ourself in our three ordinary states of consciousness, as we did earlier in this chapter, we may have been convinced that in essence we are nothing other than our fundamental consciousness of being, ‘I am’, we may still find it hard to comprehend the fact that our fundamental consciousness or knowledge ‘I am’, which is our real self, is in truth the infinite and absolute reality. Let us therefore examine this idea more closely in order to ascertain whether or not we have any reasonable grounds for believing it to be the truth.

Because sages experience this truth as their own real nature, they do not need any philosophical analysis or theoretical arguments to convince them that it is the truth, but for those of us who mistake ourself to be a finite individual, a clear understanding of the rationality of this idea is necessary to convince us that it is the truth, and that it is the one and only experience that is truly worthy for us to make effort to attain. Let us therefore see what reasonable grounds we may have, if any, to conclude that we are in truth the infinite and absolute reality.

Assuming that we have all been convinced by our earlier analysis that our essential nature is only our basic self-consciousness – our fundamental consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’ – let us take that conclusion as our starting point. Unlike our mind, our superficial ‘knowing consciousness’, which always mistakes itself to be a particular body, our real self, our fundamental ‘being consciousness’, does not mistake itself to be any particular thing, and hence it has no particular form or dimension. Therefore, whereas our mind has limited itself within the dimensions of time and space by identifying itself with a finite body, our real consciousness of being is not limited in any way.

In sleep, when we cease to mistake ourself to be a finite body, we do not feel that we exist in any particular time or place, but feel only ‘I am’. The limits of time and space are ideas that arise only when we imagine ourself to be a particular body in either waking or dream.

Even now in this waking state, if we try for a moment to ignore our body and mind and to be conscious only of our own being, ‘I am’, we will be able to recognise that our consciousness ‘I am’ is not something that is limited within the bounds of our physical body. It just is, and is not something that can be located at any particular point in time or space.

Even when we identify ourself with a body and therefore feel ourself to be located at a particular point in time and space, we always know ‘I am’. Our consciousness or knowledge ‘I am’ is therefore unaffected by any changes in time and space. It exists unconditionally, and since it exists in all our three states of consciousness, it exists independent of any body, and therefore independent of time and space.

Just as the time and space that we perceive in a dream are both ideas that exist only in our own mind, so the time and space that we perceive in our present waking state are likewise both ideas that exist only in our own mind. When our mind subsides, as in sleep, time and space both cease to exist, or at least they disappear and are no longer known by us. Therefore, since we have no reason to suppose that they exist in any way independent of or separate from the idea or mental image that we have of them, we can reasonably hypothesise that they are both mere thoughts, a fact that is confirmed by Sri Ramana and other sages. Since time and space as we know them arise only in our mind, and since our mind rises only in our fundamental being-consciousness ‘I am’, is it not reasonable for us to infer that our being-consciousness transcends both time and space?

Just as it transcends time and space, it transcends every other imaginable dimension. Only that which has a particular definable form, and which therefore occupies a distinct and definable extent in one or more dimensions, can be said to be limited or finite. But since our fundamental and essential being-consciousness ‘I am’ has no definable form or extent, it is not limited in any way, and is therefore infinite. Since everything that we know arises in our mind, and since our mind arises in our being-consciousness, all finite things are contained in our infinite being-consciousness, ‘I am’.

So long as we do not imagine ourself to be a body or any other object that seems to appear in our consciousness, we are infinite. Our being and our consciousness of being are both infinite, or to be more precise, they are both the one infinite and non-dual reality. Since our being is infinite, nothing can be separate from it, and hence it alone truly exists.

However, when we imagine ourself to be a body, innumerable other objects seem to arise in our consciousness, and we imagine that each of them truly exists. Thus by our power of imagination we give a seeming being or reality to many things, and thereby we delude ourself into believing that each thing has its own independent and finite being.

In reality, however, nothing has an independent or separate being. Being is not a finite thing that can be divided into parts, but is the one infinite and therefore indivisible whole, other than which nothing can be. Since it is infinite, it includes everything within itself, and hence it is the one essential being of each and every thing. No particular thing is real as the particular thing that it appears to be – as its particular form, or as the particular name, description or definition that we give to its form – but is real only as the being that it essentially is. Other than being, nothing is.

Since we always know ourself as ‘I am’, our essential being is itself our consciousness of our being. Our consciousness of our being, our knowledge ‘I am’, is the one fundamental basis of all our other knowledge. If we did not know ‘I am’, we could not know any other thing. Whatever we may know, we know it only because we first know our own being as ‘I am’. Therefore our fundamental knowledge ‘I am’ – our real and essential self-consciousness or being-consciousness – is the true foundation that underlies and supports the seeming existence of all other things.

Without depending upon the support of our being, nothing else could appear to be. All other things appear to be only because we are. We are therefore the one fundamental and absolute being, other than which nothing is. Since nothing is other than us, we are infinite, and include all things within ourself – that is, within our own self-conscious being. We are therefore the one non-dual and infinite being.

Because the one non-dual and infinite being is our own essential self, which we always experience as ‘I am’, we refer to it as ‘our own’ being. However, though we have no real being other than the one infinite reality, is it correct for us to consider it to be just ‘our’ being? Since it is the only being that really is, is it not the essential being of all things – of everything that appears to exist?

Yes, to the extent that ‘things’ exist, they do all share in the one common being of the infinite reality. However, there is a fundamental difference between the being that we imagine we see in other things and the being that we experience in ourself.

All the things that we know as other than ourself are only thoughts or mental images that exist in our own mind, and therefore they are known not by themselves but only by our mind. But whereas other things are not conscious of their own being, we are conscious of our own being. Therefore, though in other things we know only being, in ourself we know both being and consciousness.

The consciousness that we imagine we see in other people and in other creatures is not actually experienced by us, but is only inferred by us, just as we infer that each person and creature that we see in a dream has consciousness. The only consciousness that we know directly and not by mere inference is our own consciousness. Since we know that our consciousness is, and since we do not exist apart from our consciousness, our consciousness is itself our being, and hence we experience it as ‘I am’.

Just as the consciousness that we see in all other people and creatures is only inferred by us, so the being that we see in all other things is only inferred by us. The only being we know directly is our own being. The being or existence of all other things is known by us not directly but only through the imperfect channel of our mind, our limited and distorted consciousness that feels ‘I am this body’. The seemingly separate being or existence of other things deludes us and reinforces in our mind the illusion that being or reality is divided, mutable and relative.

The seemingly separate being of other things depends upon the seemingly separate being of our mind, because it is known only by our mind, and not by our essential non-dual consciousness of being, which knows only itself and no separateness or otherness. The seemingly separate being of our mind depends upon the real being of our essential consciousness ‘I am’, because without identifying that real consciousness as itself our mind would not appear to know either its own being or the being of any other thing.

However, since it appears and disappears, the separate being or existence of our mind is not real being, but is only a semblance of real being. A thing that appears to be at one time, and ceases to be at some other time, is not real being, but is only a seeming form of being – a being which depends upon time and is therefore conditional. If a thing really is, it must be at all times and under all conditions.

The only being that is at all times and under all conditions is our own essential being, which we always know as ‘I am’. Not only does it exist at all times and under all conditions, but it also exists immutably, without ever undergoing any change. In contrast, the being of all other things appears and disappears, and constantly undergoes change. Moreover, unlike all other things, our own essential being always knows itself, and does not depend upon any other thing to be known. Therefore it is the only being that really is.

Since the being of all other things is not real but is only an illusion or apparition, and since the only real being is our own essential being, ‘I am’, real being is in fact never divided, even though it appears to be divided as many separate ‘beings’ – as the separate being of each of the many different things that appear to be. Our own real and essential being is always single, non-dual and indivisible, and since nothing exists apart from it, it is infinite and includes all things within itself.

Therefore what Sri Ramana and other sages tell us about their experience of true self-knowledge, namely that they know themself to be the one and only truly existing reality, whose nature is beginningless, endless, eternal, undivided, non-dual and infinite being, consciousness and bliss, is not as fanciful and far-fetched as it may initially appear to be.

What they experience as the truth of their own real self or being is also the truth of our own real self or being, because our being is no different from their being. We appear to be separate from them only because we mistake ourself to be a finite body, but even when we mistake ourself to be such, we still know our essential being as ‘I am’. In reality, therefore, what each and every one of us experiences as ‘I am’ is the one eternal, undivided, non-dual and infinite being.

The fundamental difference between the experience of sages such as Sri Ramana, who know themself to be the one infinite and undivided self-conscious being, and the experience of those of us who imagine ourself to be anything other than this one infinite and undivided self-conscious being, which is our true and essential self, lies only in the limitations that we imaginarily superimpose upon our truly infinite being. This fundamental difference is expressed by Sri Ramana in verses 17 and 18 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu:

[Both] to those who do not know themself [and] to those who have known themself, the body [is] indeed ‘I’. [However] to those who do not know themself ‘I’ [is limited to] only the extent of the body, [whereas] to those who have known themself within the body ‘I’ itself shines devoid of limit [boundary or extent]. Understand that this indeed is the difference between them.

[Both] to those who do not have knowledge [that is, true self-knowledge] [and] to those who do have [true self-knowledge], the world is the reality. [However] to those who do not know [themself] the reality is [limited to] the extent of the world, [whereas] to those who have known [themself] the reality abides [or pervades] devoid of form as the ādhāra [support, substratum, foundation or base] to [the imaginary appearance of] the world. Understand [that] this is the difference between them.

That which limits a finite thing is only its form, because its form defines its extent in time and space, and thereby separates it from all other forms. If we are a definite form, we are limited within the confines or extent of that form, but if we have no definite form, we are unlimited or infinite.

Because we imagine ourself to be the form of this body, we have seemingly limited ourself within a certain extent of time and space, and hence we feel ourself to be separate from everything that exists outside this limited extent of time or space. Moreover, because we imagine the form of this body to be ‘I’, we mistake it to be real, and hence we mistake all the other forms that we perceive outside this body to be real.

Since Sri Ramana and other sages teach us that we are not the body that we imagine ourself to be, and that the world is not real as we imagine it to be, it is reasonable for us to infer that such sages do not experience their body as ‘I’ or this world as real. Why then does Sri Ramana say in these two verses that to sages, who are those who have known themself as they really are, their body is ‘I’ and the world is real?

To understand why he says this, we have to understand the exact meaning of what he says in the second half of each of these two verses. In verse 17 he says that for sages ‘I’ shines devoid of any limit, boundary or extent, thereby implying that in their experience ‘I’ is the infinite reality that is the essence or true substance of everything, including this body. Similarly, in verse 18 he says that for sages the reality is the formless substratum, foundation or base that supports the world, thereby implying once again that in their experience the reality is the one essence or true substance that underlies everything, including all the manifold forms of this world.

That is, since our true self or real ‘I’ is the infinite reality, nothing can be separate from or other than it. Therefore it alone truly exists, and whatever else appears to exist is not anything other than it, but is just an imaginary form that it appears to be. Since neither our body nor this world can have any reality other than our own consciousness, in which they appear as thoughts or mental images, they are in essence nothing but our own consciousness.

Since sages experience only the absolute reality, which is infinite, indivisible and therefore perfectly non-dual self-conscious being, they do not experience any forms or any limitations. They know only the formless and limitless reality, which is their own true self.

Since they know that the one real ‘I’ alone is, they know that there is nothing that is not ‘I’ or not real. Hence from their absolute non-dual perspective, they say that everything is ‘I’ and is therefore real. That is, since they do not experience this body or world as limited forms but only as their own formless and therefore unlimited reality, they say that this body is ‘I’ and this world is real.

Therefore, when Sri Ramana says that for sages this body is ‘I’ and this world is real, he does not mean that our body as such is ‘I’ or this world as such is real, but only that as our own formless and limitless real self, which is their true essence and sole reality, they are both ‘I’ and real.

Therefore what Sri Ramana is affirming in these two verses is not the reality of the limited forms of this body and world, but is only the reality of our own essential formless and therefore infinite being, which always experiences itself and nothing other than itself.

Though we are infinite and absolute being, we do not know ourself as such because we ignore our essential being and imagine ourself to be a finite body. So habituated have we become to ignoring our own being that even in sleep, when we cease imagining ourself to be a body, and therefore cease knowing any other thing, we appear to be ignorant of the real nature of our essential being, ‘I am’.

However, though we appear to be ignorant of our real nature in all our three states of consciousness, in truth our essential being always knows itself clearly as the infinite, absolute and non-dual consciousness ‘I am’. Our essential being never ignores or is ignorant of our real nature. That which is ignorant of our real nature is only our mind, and therefore we appear to be ignorant of our real nature only because we imagine ourself to be our mind.

Since our self-ignorance is therefore not real but only imaginary, in order to put an end to it all we need do is cultivate the habit of remembering or being attentive to our own essential being, ‘I am’. As Sri Ramana says in the eleventh paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:

[…] If one clings firmly to uninterrupted svarūpa-smaraṇa [remembrance of one’s own essential nature or real self, ‘I am’] until one attains svarūpa [that is, until one attains true knowledge of one’s own essential nature], that alone [will be] sufficient. […]

In this one sentence, Sri Ramana encapsulates the empirical method of ātma-vicāra or self-investigation, which is the only means by which we can attain true self-knowledge – true experiential knowledge of our own real nature. Since we appear not to know the true nature of our essential being, our own real self, only because of our long-established habit of ignoring it, we can know it only by cultivating the opposite habit of constantly remembering or being attentive to it.

In practice we may initially be unable to remember our being-consciousness ‘I am’ uninterruptedly, but by remembering it repeatedly and frequently, we can gradually cultivate the habit of remembering it even while we are engaged in other activities. Whatever we may be doing or thinking, we are, and therefore we can remember our ‘being’ even while we seem to be ‘doing’. As we become more accustomed to remembering our being, we will find that we remember it more frequently and easily, in spite of any amount of distracting external influences.

As our self-remembrance thus becomes more firmly established, our clarity of self-consciousness will gradually increase, until finally we are able to experience and know our essential being with full and perfect clarity. When we once experience ourself as we really are, our delusion of self-ignorance will be destroyed, and thus we will discover that we are nothing but our own real and essential being, which always knows itself with perfect and ever-unfading clarity.

Since we have examined in so much detail Sri Ramana’s replies to the first two questions that Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai asked him, it is appropriate to mention here another fact that is related to them. Following on from his first two questions, Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai asked Sri Ramana many other questions, and Sri Ramana answered most of them by writing either on the sandy ground, or on a slate or slips of paper that Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai gave him. Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai copied many of these questions and answers in a notebook, and more than twenty years later he was requested by other devotees to publish them as a small booklet. The first edition of this booklet was published in 1923 under the title Nāṉ Yār?, which means ‘Who am I?’, or more precisely ‘I [am] Who?’.

Before its publication, a draft of this booklet was shown to Sri Ramana for his approval, and when he read it he noticed that Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai had expanded his original answer to the first question, adding a detailed list of things that we mistake ourself to be, but that in fact we are not. On seeing this, he remarked that he had not answered in such a detailed manner, but then explained that, because Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai was familiar with nēti nēti, he had added such detail thinking that it would help him to understand his answer more clearly.

By the term nēti nēti, Sri Ramana meant the rational process of self-analysis described in the ancient texts of vēdānta, a process that involves the analytical elimination or denial of everything that is not ‘I’. The word nēti is a compound of two words, na, which means ‘not’, and iti, which means ‘thus’, and hence nēti nēti literally means ‘not thus, not thus’. The ancient texts of vēdānta use these words nēti nēti when explaining the rational basis for the theory that our body, our senses, our life-force, our mind and even the ignorance that we seemingly experience in sleep are all not ‘I’.

During the ten years or so that followed the first publication of Nāṉ Yār? various versions of it were published, and various other versions of it exist in manuscript form in the notebooks of Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai. Each of these versions has a different number of questions and answers, with slight variation in their actual wording, and with a varying amount of content in some particular answers. The standard and most authentic version, however, is the essay version that Sri Ramana himself wrote a few years after the first version was published.

Sri Ramana formed this essay version, which consists of twenty paragraphs, by rewriting the first published question and answer version, and possibly by drawing on some of the other versions, and while doing so he made several improvements, removing all but the first question, rearranging the order in which the ideas in his answers were presented, and making some changes to the actual wordings.

Of all the changes he made, the most significant was to add an entirely new paragraph at the beginning of the essay. This opening paragraph, a translation of which is given in the previous chapter of this book, serves as a suitable introduction to the subject ‘Who am I?’, because it explains that the reason why we need to know who we are is that happiness is our real nature, and that we can therefore experience true and perfect happiness only by knowing ourself as we really are.

However, though he made such changes, out of respect for Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai he did not remove the detailed nēti nēti portion that he had inserted, but instead simply instructed that the first question and the actual words of his first two answers should be printed in bold type in order to distinguish them from the inserted portion. The first question, the inserted portion and Sri Ramana’s first two answers together constitute the second paragraph, the meaning of which is as follows:

Who am I? The sthūla dēha [the ‘gross’ or physical body], which is [composed] of the sapta dhātus [the seven constituents, namely chyle, blood, flesh, fat, marrow, bone and semen], is not ‘I’. The five jñānēndriyas [sense organs], namely the ears, skin, eyes, tongue and nose, which individually [and respectively] know the five viṣayas [sense ‘domains’ or types of sense perception], namely sound, touch [texture and other qualities perceived by touch], form [shape, colour and other qualities perceived by sight], taste and smell, are also not ‘I’. The five karmēndriyas [organs of action], namely the vocal cords, feet [or legs], hands [or arms], anus and genitals, which [respectively] do the five actions, namely speaking, walking, holding [or giving], defecation and [sexual] enjoyment, are also not ‘I’. The pañca vāyus [the five ‘winds’, ‘vital airs’ or metabolic forces], beginning with prāṇa [breath], which perform the five [metabolic] functions, beginning with respiration, are also not ‘I’. The mind, which thinks, is also not ‘I’. The ignorance [the absence of all dualistic knowledge] that is combined with only viṣaya-vāsanās [latent inclinations, impulsions, desires, liking or taste for sense perceptions or sense enjoyments] when all sense perceptions and all actions have been severed [as in sleep], is also not ‘I’. Having done nēti [negation, elimination or denial of whatever is not ourself by thinking] that all the abovesaid things are not ‘I’, not ‘I’, the knowledge that [then] stands detached alone is ‘I’. The nature of [this] knowledge [‘I am’] is sat-cit-ānanda [being-consciousness-bliss].

The qualification of the word ‘knowledge’ by the addition of the defining clause ‘that stands detached [separated or alone] having done nēti [by thinking] that all the abovesaid things are not I, not I’ is potentially misleading, because it could create the impression that simply by thinking nēti nēti, ‘not thus, not thus’ or ‘this is not I, this is not I’, we can detach our essential consciousness or knowledge ‘I am’ from everything with which we now confuse it. In fact, many scholars who attempt to explain the ancient texts of vēdānta, which often describe this process of nēti nēti or negation of all that is not our real self, interpret it to be the actual means by which we can attain self-knowledge. However, the sages who first taught the rational process of self-analysis called nēti nēti did not intend it to be understood as the actual technique of practical or empirical research, but only as the theoretical basis upon which the empirical technique of ātma-vicāra or self-investigation should be based.

The rational and analytical process which is described in the ancient texts of vēdānta as nēti nēti or ‘not thus, not thus’ is essentially the same as the logical analysis of our experience of ourself that we described earlier in this chapter. If we did not first critically analyse our experience of ourself in this manner, we would not be able to understand either the reason why we should seek true self-knowledge, or what exactly we should scrutinise in order to know our real self.

So long as we imagine that we are really our physical body, our thinking mind or any other object, we will imagine that we can know ourself by attending to such things, and hence we will not be able to understand what is really meant by the terms ātma-vicāra, self-investigation, self-examination, self-scrutiny, self-enquiry, self-attention, self-attentiveness or self-remembrance. Only when we understand the essential theory that we are nothing other than our fundamental non-dual self-consciousness – our adjunct-free consciousness of our own mere being, which we experience just as ‘I am’ and not as ‘I am this’ – will we be able to understand what actually is the ‘self’ or ‘I’ that we should scrutinise or attend to.

Once we have understood that we are truly not our physical body, our thinking mind or any other object known by us, we should not continue thinking, ‘this body is not I’, ‘this mind is not I’, and so on, but should withdraw our attention from all such things, and focus it wholly and exclusively upon our real and essential being. We cannot know our real self by thinking of anything that is not ‘I’, but only by investigating, scrutinising or attending keenly to that which is really ‘I’ – to that which we really are, to our essential being. Unless we withdraw our attention entirely from all other things, we will not be able to focus it wholly and exclusively upon our essential being, which we always experience as ‘I am’, and unless we focus it thus upon our essential being, we will not be able to attain the non-dual experience of true self-knowledge.

For those of us who happen to be familiar with all the concepts and terminology of ancient Indian philosophy and science, the portion added by Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai may appear to be of some use as an aid to understanding Sri Ramana’s simple answer, ‘Knowledge alone is I’. However, the presentation and wording of this added portion does not truly reflect Sri Ramana’s natural style of teaching, or his usual choice of words.

His natural style was always to answer questions briefly, simply and to the point. Unless he was talking to someone whose mind was already steeped in the complex and often obscure concepts and terminology of traditional vēdānta, he generally avoided using such concepts and terminology, and instead used only simple Tamil words, or words borrowed from Sanskrit whose meaning was clear and straightforward. Since many people who came to him were not well versed in traditional vēdāntic or yōgic concepts, he avoided as far as possible cluttering and burdening their minds with such concepts, except for a few that were really useful and pertinent.

In particular, he avoided all the detailed descriptions and classifications of the ‘non-self’ – whatever is not our real self –, which are given in many traditional texts. As he writes in the seventeenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:

Just as no benefit [is to be gained] by a person, who should sweep up and throw away rubbish, scrutinising it, so no benefit [is to be gained] by a person, who should know [his or her real] self, calculating that the tattvas, which are concealing [our real] self, are this many, and scrutinising their qualities, instead of gathering up and rejecting all of them. It is necessary [for us] to consider the world [which is composed of these tattvas] like a dream.

That is, in plainer English, just as we would derive no benefit by scrutinising a mass of rubbish, instead of just sweeping it up and throwing it away, so we will derive no benefit by enumerating and investigating the nature of the tattvas, which constitute all that is ‘non-self’ and which therefore obscure our knowledge of our real self, instead of rejecting all of them and thereby knowing our real self, which is the one true being or essential substance that underlies their imaginary appearance.

The word tattva, whose etymological meaning is ‘it-ness’ or ‘that-ness’, basically means that which is real, true and essential, the ‘reality’, ‘truth’ or ‘essence’, but it is commonly used to mean any basic element or constituent quality that is considered to be real. In this context, therefore, the plural term tattvas denotes all the ontological principles – the basic elements, essential components or abstract qualities of which all things are supposed to be made. The various schools of Indian philosophy each give their own classification of these so-called tattvas, and each reckon that there are a different number of them, a number that usually does not exceed thirty-six.

However, though some of them may use a different word to describe it, most of these schools agree that the original and fundamental tattva is paramātman, the ‘supreme self’ or ‘transcendent spirit’, which is also called puruṣa, the primal ‘person’ or ‘spirit’. This puruṣa or paramātman is in fact our own real self, our own spirit or essential self-conscious being, which we always experience as ‘I am’. Since this primal spirit ‘I am’ is the only tattva that exists permanently, without either appearing or disappearing, it is the only real tattva.

That is why in verse 43 of Śrī Aruṇācala Akṣaramaṇamālai Sri Ramana prays to Arunachala, who is our real self in its function as guru, the power of grace that bestows true self-knowledge:

tāṉē tāṉē tattuvam idaṉai-t

tāṉē kaṭṭuvāy aruṇācalā

The Tamil word tāṉ is a singular reflexive pronoun meaning ‘oneself’, ‘myself’, ‘itself’, ‘yourself’ and so on, and the letter ē that is appended to it is an emphatic suffix that conveys the sense ‘itself’, ‘alone’ or ‘indeed’. Thus the meaning of this quintessential prayer is:

Myself itself alone is tattva [the reality]. Show this [to me] yourself, Arunachala.

Our real self is the only truly existing tattva, the one non-dual, infinite and absolute reality, and we can know this only when it shows itself to us, which it does by drawing our mind or power of attention inwards, towards itself, thereby dissolving us and absorbing us as one with itself, our own essential being. So long as we pay even the least attention to anything other than our essential being, we cannot know ourself as we really are.

Since all the other so-called tattvas – which include our intellect, our ego, our mind, our five sense-organs, our five organs of action, the five tanmātras, which are the subtle essences of each of the five forms of sense perception, namely sound, touch, form, taste and smell, and the five elements, namely space, air, water, fire and earth – appear and disappear, they are merely ephemeral apparitions or illusions, and hence they are not real tattvas. Since the world is composed of these ephemeral and illusory tattvas, it is itself a mere illusion, and therefore Sri Ramana concludes the seventeenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? by saying that we should consider it to be a mere dream. Hence, since our body is a part of this illusory and dream-like world, we should consider it likewise to be merely an unreal illusion, a product of our own power of imagination.

Since none of these other tattvas are real, neither they nor anything composed of them can be our true self, and therefore we should not waste our time and energy thinking about them, enumerating them, classifying them or examining their properties, but should ignore them entirely and instead attend only to our real ‘I’ – our fundamental and essential consciousness of our own true being. The only need we have to consider our body, our mind and all our other adjuncts is to understand the fact that they are unreal, and are therefore not ‘I’.

Hence in verse 22 of Upadēśa Undiyār Sri Ramana briefly states the essential conclusion that we should arrive at by means of the rational process of self-analysis, which in the ancient texts of advaita vēdānta is called nēti nēti or ‘not thus, not thus’:

Since [our] body, mind, intellect, life and darkness [the seeming absence of knowledge that we experience in sleep] are all jaḍa [inconscient] and asat [unreal or non-existent], [they are] not ‘I’, which is [cit or consciousness and] sat [being or reality].

The five objects that Sri Ramana declares in this verse to be not ‘I’, namely our body, mind, intellect, life and darkness, are generally known in vēdānta as the pañca-kōśas or ‘five sheaths’, because they are the five adjuncts that seemingly cover and obscure our consciousness of our real self. These five adjuncts or ‘sheaths’ are the annamaya kōśa or ‘sheath composed of food’, which is our physical body, the prāṇamaya kōśa or ‘sheath composed of prāṇa, life, vitality or breath’, which is the life-force that animates our physical body, the manōmaya kōśa or ‘sheath composed of mind’, which is our mind or faculty of mentation and cognition, the vijñānamaya kōśa or ‘sheath composed of discriminative knowledge’, which is our intellect or faculty of discernment or judgement, and the ānandamaya kōśa or ‘sheath composed of happiness’, which is the happy but seemingly unconscious form in which we experience ourself in sleep.

However, instead of using these technical Sanskrit terms to denote these five adjuncts, Sri Ramana used five simple Tamil words, which literally mean body, mind, intellect, life and darkness. The word uḍal or ‘body’ here denotes our physical body or annamaya kōśa, the word poṟi, which usually means ‘sense organ’, here denotes our mind or manōmaya kōśa, the word uḷḷam, which usually means ‘heart’ or ‘mind’, here denotes our intellect or vijñānamaya kōśa, the word uyir or ‘life’ denotes our life-force or prāṇamaya kōśa, and the word iruḷ or ‘darkness’ denotes our ānandamaya kōśa, the blissful absence of objective knowledge that we experience in sleep.

However, what is important in this verse is not the terms that are used to denote these adjuncts that we imagine to be ourself, but is the conclusion that they are not actually our real self. Our real self is sat and cit, being and consciousness, whereas our body, our life-force, our mind, our intellect and the seeming darkness of sleep are all asat and jaḍa, that is, they have no real being or consciousness of their own. They appear to exist only when we know them, and we do not know any of them in all our three normal states of consciousness.

Of these five adjuncts, we experience our mind and intellect, which are actually just two functions of the one individual consciousness that we generally call our mind or ego, in both waking and dream, but not in sleep. We experience our present physical body and the life-force within it only in this waking state, and in each of our other states of dream we experience some other physical body and its corresponding life-force. And we experience the fifth adjunct, the seeming darkness of sleep, only in sleep.

Therefore, since we experience none of these five adjuncts in all our three states of consciousness, they cannot be our real self. They are not our real being, or our real consciousness. They are merely impostors – phantoms that we imagine to be ourself for a short period of time, but from which we are able to separate ourself at other times. Independent of our real self-conscious being, ‘I am’, they do not exist, nor do they know their own existence.

Though our mind may appear to be conscious of itself now, it is not conscious of itself at all times and in all states. Its seeming self-consciousness is therefore not inherent in it, and hence is not real. It borrows its seeming self-consciousness from our real self-consciousness, which alone is conscious of itself at all times and in all states.

The being and the consciousness of our body, our mind and our other adjuncts are not real, but are mere apparitions – illusions created by our power of imagination. Their being and their consciousness appear to be real only when we mistake them to be ourself. By our power of imagination we superimpose these adjuncts upon our own real being and consciousness, and hence they appear to exist and to be conscious.

Because these adjuncts have no inherent and permanent being or consciousness of their own, Sri Ramana concludes that they are all asat – unreal or devoid of true being or existence – and jaḍa – inconscient or devoid of true consciousness. Therefore they cannot be ‘I’, our real self, which is absolute being or sat and absolute consciousness or cit.

Once we have thus understood that our body, our mind and all our other adjuncts are not our real self, we should ignore them. Instead of wasting our time and energy examining or thinking about them or anything else that is not our real self, we should direct all our energy and effort into scrutinising only ourself – our own essential self-conscious being, which we always experience as ‘I am’ – because we can know who or what we really are only by keenly scrutinising or attending to our own real and essential self.

As we have seen in this chapter, by analysing our experience of ourself in our three states of consciousness, we are able to gain a clear theoretical understanding of what we really are. However, this theoretical understanding is not an end in itself, but is merely the means to discover how we can gain true experiential knowledge of our real nature. Since we have learnt by our critical analysis that our true nature, our real self, is only our non-dual ‘being consciousness’, which we always experience as ‘I am’, all we need do in order to gain true experiential self-knowledge is to scrutinise our ‘being consciousness’ with a keenly focused power of attention.

Our real consciousness is only our ‘being consciousness’ – our essential self-consciousness ‘I am’. Our mind or ‘knowing consciousness’ is merely an unreal form of consciousness, which exists only in its own imagination, and which is therefore experienced only by itself, and not by our real ‘being consciousness’. Since the imaginary rising of this unreal ‘knowing consciousness’ is the cloud that seemingly obscures our real ‘being consciousness’, preventing us from experiencing it as it really is, let us now proceed to examine the nature of this unreal ‘knowing consciousness’ – our own self-deceptive mind.

Though our ultimate aim, as we discussed above, is to ignore our mind and to attend only to our own true self, which is the reality that underlies it, we will nevertheless derive great benefit from examining the nature of our mind more deeply and thereby understanding it more clearly. There are two main reasons for this:

The first and most important reason is that it is essential that we should understand and be firmly convinced of the fact that our mind is unreal and is therefore not our true self or ‘I’ – our essential and real form of consciousness. Since our mind is an impostor who deludes us into mistaking it to be ourself, we must be able to see through its self-deceptive nature in order to recognise our real self, which underlies its false appearance, just as a rope underlies the false appearance of an imaginary snake.

The second reason is that when we try to scrutinise our real self, the only obstacle that will actually stand in our way will be our own mind. Since our mind is the primary enemy that will oppose and obstruct all our efforts to know our real self, we should understand this enemy correctly in order to use it to our advantage and to avoid falling a prey to all its subtle and self-delusive tricks. In particular, we should understand the unreality and insubstantiality of our mind, because only then will we be truly convinced of the fact that the only means to overcome it and all its self-delusive tricks is to ignore it by attending only to our real underlying consciousness – our essential non-dual self-consciousness ‘I am’.

Therefore, before investigating the nature of our real consciousness in chapter four, let us first investigate the nature of this unreal consciousness that we call our ‘mind’.

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