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Happiness and the Art of Being

CHAPTER 3

The Nature of Our Mind

Contents

In the previous chapter we saw that what we call our ‘mind’ is just a limited and distorted form of our original and fundamental consciousness ‘I am’ – a spurious form of consciousness that identifies itself with a particular body, and that appears to exist only in the states of waking and dream, and disappears in deep sleep. Since this mind is the primary obstacle that stands in the way of our knowing ourself as we really are, let us now examine it more closely. What is the nature of this limited and distorted form of consciousness that we call our ‘mind’?

Our mind as we now know it is just a bundle of thoughts – thoughts, that is, in the very broadest sense of the term, namely anything that our mind forms and experiences within itself, such as any perception, conception, idea, belief, feeling, emotion, desire, fear or suchlike. All thoughts are just images that our mind forms within itself by its power of imagination. Except our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’, each and everything that our mind knows or experiences is only a thought that it forms within itself.

Even our perceptions are only thoughts or mental images that our mind forms within itself by its wonderful power of imagination. Whether perceptions in the waking state are formed only by our mind’s power of imagination without any external stimuli, as in dream, or whether they are formed by our mind’s power of imagination in response to actual external stimuli, is something we can know for certain only when we discover the ultimate truth about our mind.

Because the fact that all our perceptions are only thoughts is so important, let us examine it a little more closely, using the example of sight. According to the ‘scientific’ explanation of the process of seeing, light from the outside world enters our eyeballs and stimulates electrochemical reactions in the light-sensitive cells at the back of them. These cells then stimulate a chain of further electrochemical reactions along our optic nerves, and these in turn reach our brain and cause more electrochemical activity to take place there. Thus far the process is very clear-cut and simple to understand. But then something mysterious happens. Our mind, which is a form of consciousness that interfaces with our brain, then somehow interprets all this electrochemical activity by forming images within itself that we believe to correspond to the shape, colour and size of external objects, and to their relative distance from our body. But all we actually know when we see something is the image that our mind has formed within itself.

Our belief that such images correspond to actual external objects, and all our scientific explanations of the supposed process by which light from those objects stimulates our mind to form such images, are also only images or thoughts that our mind has formed within itself. The same applies to all the images of sound, smell, taste and touch that our mind forms within itself, supposedly in response to external stimuli.

Therefore all that we know of the external world is actually only the images or thoughts that our mind is constantly forming within itself. Do we not have to accept, therefore, that the world that we think we perceive outside ourself may in fact be nothing other than thoughts that our mind has formed within itself, just as the worlds that we see in our dreams are? Even if we are not ready to accept the fact that the world may actually be nothing but our own thoughts, must we not at least accept the fact that the world as we know it, and as we ever can know it, is indeed nothing but thoughts?

Of all the thoughts that are formed in our mind, the first is the thought ‘I’. Our mind first forms itself as the thought ‘I’, and only then does it form other thoughts. Without an ‘I’ to think or know them, no other thoughts could be formed.

All the other thoughts that are formed in our mind are constantly coming and going, rising and then subsiding, but the thought ‘I’ persists so long as our mind itself persists. Thus the thought ‘I’ is the root of all other thoughts, and is the one essential thought without which there would be no such thing as ‘mind’ and no such action as ‘thinking’.

Therefore our mind consists of two distinct aspects, namely the knowing subject, which is our root thought ‘I’, and the known objects, which are all the other thoughts that are formed and experienced by this ‘I’. However, though it consists of these two distinct aspects or elements, the one fundamental and essential element of our mind is only our causal thought ‘I’.

Hence, though we use the term ‘mind’ as a collective term for both the thinker and its thoughts, our mind is in essence just the thinker, the basic thought ‘I’ that thinks all other thoughts. This simple but important truth is expressed succinctly by Sri Ramana in verse 18 of Upadēśa Undiyār:

[Our] mind is only [a multitude of] thoughts. Of all [the countless thoughts that are formed in our mind], the thought ‘I’ alone is the root [base, foundation or origin]. [Therefore] what is called ‘mind’ is [in essence just this root thought] ‘I’.

Just as on analysis our mind can thus be resolved into being in essence only this fundamental thought ‘I’, so on further analysis this fundamental thought ‘I’ can in turn be resolved into being in essence only consciousness. Because it knows other thoughts, this thought ‘I’ is a form of consciousness, but because it rises or is formed only by feeling ‘I am such-and-such a person’, and because it subsides and loses its separate form in sleep, when it ceases to feel thus, it is not our permanent and real form of consciousness, our pure consciousness ‘I am’. Because it can rise only by identifying a physical body as ‘I’, as it does in both waking and dream, it is a mixed and contaminated form of consciousness, a consciousness that confuses itself with a body, feeling mistakenly ‘I am this body, an individual person called so-and-so’.

What we mean when we say ‘I am such-and-such a person’ is that we are an individual consciousness that identifies itself with an adjunct – a particular body. This identification of our consciousness with a particular body is what defines us as a person or individual. Our individuality or separate and distinct existence is thus nothing other than this adjunct-bound consciousness that feels ‘I am this body’.

By mistaking itself to be a particular body, this consciousness confines itself within the limits of that body, and feels itself to be separate from all the objects and people it perceives outside that body. This seemingly separate individual consciousness ‘I am this body’ is what we call by various names such as the mind, the ego, the psyche or the soul, and it is the first thought that gives rise to and experiences all other thoughts.

In religious terminology, our limited individual consciousness ‘I am this body’ is what is called our ‘soul’, whereas our unlimited fundamental consciousness ‘I am’ is what is called our ‘spirit’, our ‘heart’ or the ‘core of our soul’. The popular belief that our whole self is a compound of these three elements, our body, our soul and our spirit, is rooted in our wrong identification of ourself with a particular body. Though we know ourself to be one, because of our mistaken identification of ourself with a body, we wrongly imagine ourself to be all these three different things. This notion of ours is logically absurd, because since we are one, how can three quite different things be ourself?

Every day in sleep both our body and our soul (our mind or individual consciousness) disappear, yet we continue to exist, and to know that we exist. Therefore, since we remain in sleep without either our body or our soul, neither of these two elements can be our real self. In truth, therefore, these three elements constitute only our false individual self, which is a mere illusion, and not our real self. Our real self, our whole and complete self, does not consist of three elements, but of only one element, the fundamental and essential element that we call our ‘spirit’, which is our single non-dual consciousness of our own being – our true self-consciousness ‘I am’.

Because this non-dual spirit is entirely distinct from our body and our individual soul, it is not limited in any way, nor is it divided. Therefore the spirit that exists as the heart or core of each individual soul is essentially the same single, undivided, non-dual and infinite consciousness of being. What each one of us experiences as our own essential consciousness of being, ‘I am’, is the same non-dual real consciousness that exists in every other living being.

Because our mind or soul is a form of consciousness that has limited itself within the confines of a particular body, and because it sees many other bodies, each of which seems to have a consciousness of its own, in the outlook of our mind there appear to be many other minds or souls. However, because the fundamental consciousness ‘I am’, which is experienced by each one of us as the essential core of our own being, always exists as it is, without limiting itself in any way by identifying itself with an adjunct, there is in reality only one consciousness ‘I am’, even though due to our distorted individualised consciousness we think that the ‘I am’ in each person is different to that in every other person.

The mind or separate individual ‘I’ that we see in each person is just a different reflection of the one original ‘I’ that exists in the innermost depth of each one of us, just as the bright light that we see in each fragment of a broken mirror lying on the ground is just a different reflection of the one sun shining brightly in the sky. Therefore though it is formed only by imagining itself to be a particular body, the mind of each one of us nevertheless contains within itself the light of our original non-dual consciousness ‘I am’. Just as each reflected sun lying on the ground could not be formed without borrowing both the light of the sun and the limited form of a fragment of mirror, so without borrowing the light of consciousness from its original source, ‘I am’, and without at the same time borrowing all the limitations of a physical body, our mind – our root thought ‘I’ – could not be formed or rise into existence.

Thus our mind is a mixture composed of two contrary and discordant elements, the essential element of consciousness and the superimposed element of physical limitations. As Sri Ramana says in verses 24 and 25 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu:

The inconscient body does not say ‘I’; sat-cit [being-consciousness, that is, our fundamental consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’] does not rise [that is, it does not newly appear or come into being]. [However] between [these two], [some spurious consciousness that feels itself to be] ‘I’ rises [imagining itself to be limited] as the extent [dimension, size or nature] of [a] body. Know that this [the spurious consciousness that knows itself as ‘I am this body’] is cit-jaḍa-granthi [the ‘knot between consciousness and inconscient matter’], bondage, the soul, the subtle body [the subtle seed-form of all the gross physical bodies that the mind creates for itself in waking and in dreams], the ego, this saṁsāra [the mundane state of persistent activity], and the mind.

Grasping form [a body] it comes into existence. Grasping form [that body] it persists. Grasping and feeding on form [thoughts or objects] it flourishes abundantly. Leaving form [one body] it grasps form [another body]. If [we] examine [it], [this] formless phantom ego takes flight. Know [that is, know this truth, or experience this disappearance of the ego by examining it].

That is, our mind or ego is a spurious entity, an impostor that poses both as consciousness and as a body composed of inconscient matter. It seems to come into existence and to endure only by grasping an imaginary body as itself, and it feeds itself and flourishes by constantly attending to thoughts or imaginary objects. If we scrutinise it closely, however, it disappears, having no form or real existence of its own.

As Sri Ramana says in verses 17 and 20 of Upadēśa Undiyār:

When [we] scrutinise the form of [our] mind without forgetfulness [interruption caused either by sleep or by thinking other thoughts], [we will discover that] there is no such thing as ‘mind’ [separate from or other than our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’]. For everyone, this is the direct path [the direct means to experience true self-knowledge].

In the place [the state of clear self-knowledge] where ‘I’ [our mind or spurious individual consciousness] merges [by thus scrutinising its own form], the one [real being-consciousness] appears spontaneously as ‘I [am] I’. That itself is the whole [the unlimited and undivided reality].

That is, when our mind or root thought ‘I’ – this mixed and limited consciousness that feels ‘I am this body’ – turns its attention inwards to scrutinise itself, it loses its grasp on its imaginary body and all its other thoughts, and since it has no separate form of its own, it subsides and disappears. What then remains and is known in the absence of this spurious and limited consciousness ‘I am this body’ is our one, non-dual, real and unlimited consciousness ‘I am’, which experiences itself not as ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that’, but only as ‘I am I’.

Whereas our adjunct-bound consciousness that feels ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that’ is a dual form of consciousness, our adjunct-free consciousness that feels only ‘I am I’ is the non-dual, undivided and infinite whole. Since it is infinite, nothing can truly be separate from or other than it. Anything that appears to be separate is merely a false appearance – an apparition or illusion, a figment of our own imagination. Hence our true adjunct-free and therefore non-dual consciousness ‘I am I’ is the sole truly existing reality – the one and only absolute reality.

Sri Ramana also expresses this same truth in verse 2 of Āṉma-Viddai:

Since the thought ‘this body composed of flesh is I’ is the one string on which [all our] various thoughts are attached, if [we] go within [ourself scrutinising] ‘who am I? what is the place [the source from which this fundamental thought ‘I am this body’ rises]?’, [all] thoughts will disappear, and within the cave [the core of our being] self-knowledge will shine spontaneously as ‘I [am] I’. This alone is silence [the silent or motionless state of mere being], the one [non-dual] space [of infinite consciousness], the sole abode of [true unlimited] happiness.

The words ‘nāṉ ār iḍam edu’ used here by Sri Ramana can be taken to mean either one question, ‘what is the place where I abide?’, or two questions, ‘who am I? what is the place?’, depending upon whether the word ār is taken to be an interrogative pronoun meaning ‘who’ or a verbal adjective meaning ‘where [I] abide’.

As in many other instances in his teachings, Sri Ramana here uses the word iḍam, which literally means ‘place’ or ‘space’, in a figurative sense to denote our real being or self, because our real self is the source or ‘birthplace’ from which our individual sense of ‘I’ arises, and because it is also the infinite space of consciousness in which our mind resides. Since all other things are only thoughts that we form in our mind by our power of imagination, the infinite space of our non-dual consciousness of being, ‘I am’, is the original source and only abode not only of our own mind, but also of all other things.

When Sri Ramana says, ‘The thought “this body composed of flesh is I” is the one string on which [all our] various thoughts are attached’, what exactly does he mean by the word ‘thought’? In this context the word ‘thought’ does not mean merely a verbalised or conceptualised thought. It means anything that we form in our mind by our power of imagination. Everything that we form and experience within our mind is a thought or imagination – whether we call it a thought, a feeling, an emotion, a desire, a fear, a belief, a memory, an idea, a conception or a perception. In other words, any other form of objective knowledge or dualistic experience is a thought – an idea or image that we have formed in our mind.

Of all our many thoughts, Sri Ramana says that the one basic thought that supports all our other thoughts is our thought or imagination that a particular body is ourself. Each of our other thoughts is linked directly to this basic thought ‘I am this body’, and they are all held together by it, just as the pearls in a necklace are all held together by a string. That is, since the ‘I’ that thinks all other thoughts is our mind, which creates and sustains itself by imagining itself to be a body, this fundamental feeling that we are a body underlies and supports every thought that we think.

Whenever our mind is active, whether in waking or in dream, we always feel ourself to be a body. Even when we daydream, whatever we imagine is centred around our basic imagination that we are a body. Even if we imagine ourself being in some state of existence that is beyond this present material world, such as either heaven or hell, we imagine ourself being some form of subtle or ethereal body in that other world.

Though we now consider that the body that we experienced ourself to be in a dream, or the body that we will experience ourself to be in some other state such as heaven or hell, is not a material body but is a more subtle body – a mind-created or ethereal body –, when we actually experience such a body, as in dream, we do not feel it to be a subtle body but a solid material body – a body of flesh and blood. That is why Sri Ramana says, ‘The thought “this body composed of flesh is I” is the one string on which [all our] various thoughts are attached’.

The feeling or imagination that a particular body is ourself is the foundation upon which our mind and all its activity is based. In both waking and dream we always feel ourself to be a body. Our mind first forms itself by imagining itself to be a physical body, and then only can it think of any other thing.

Like all our thoughts, this feeling that a body is ourself is an imagination. It is our first and fundamental imagination – our original and most basic thought, which Sri Ramana otherwise refers to as our root thought ‘I’. Whenever our mind rises, whether in waking or in dream, it always does so by imagining itself to be a body. Without this first imagination, we cannot imagine any other thought. Therefore every other thought that we think depends entirely upon this first thought ‘I am this body’.

In fact, the basic and essential form of our mind is only this root thought ‘I’ – our deeply rooted imagination that we are a material body. So why and how does this imagination arise? It arises only due to our imaginary self-ignorance. Because we first imagine that we do not know what we really are, we are then able to imagine that we are something that we are not.

Since our mind – our finite individual consciousness, which arises by imagining itself to be a body – is an illusion that comes into existence due to our imaginary self-ignorance, it will be destroyed only when we experience true self-knowledge – that is, only when we experience ourself as we really are. In order to experience ourself thus, we must cease attending to any of our thoughts, and must instead attend keenly to our essential self-consciousness ‘I am’.

When we do so, the clarity of our vigilant self-consciousness will dissolve the illusion of our self-ignorance, and hence we will cease to imagine ourself to be a body or anything else that we are not. Since our basic imagination that we are a body will thereby be dissolved, along with it all our other thoughts will also be destroyed. That is why Sri Ramana says in this verse, ‘[…] if [we] go within [ourself scrutinising] “who am I? what is the place [the source from which this fundamental thought ‘I am this body’ rises]?”, [all] thoughts will disappear, and within the cave [the core of our being] self-knowledge will shine spontaneously as “I [am] I” […]’.

Since all our other thoughts depend for their seeming existence upon our first and fundamental thought ‘I am this body’, and since everything that we know as other than ourself is just one of our thoughts – an image that we have formed in our mind by our power of imagination – when we discover that we are not this body but are only the adjunct-free and therefore infinite non-dual self-consciousness ‘I am’, everything that appears to be other than this fundamental and essential self-consciousness will disappear, just as an imaginary snake will disappear when we discover that what we mistook to be that snake is in fact only a rope.

Therefore, since our body and this whole world are only a series of thoughts or images that we have formed in our mind by our power of imagination, they will all disappear along with our mind when we attain the non-dual experience of true self-knowledge. This truth is clearly implied by Sri Ramana in verse 1 of Āṉma-Viddai:

Though [our] self uninterruptedly [and] undoubtedly [or imperishably] exists as real [that is, though it is the one constant, indivisible, imperishable and undoubtable reality], [this] body and world, which are unreal, sprout and arise as [if] real. When thought [our mind], which is [composed of] the unreal darkness [of self-ignorance], is dissolved [or destroyed] without reviving even an iota [that is, in such a manner that it can never revive even to the slightest extent], in the heart-space [the innermost core of our being], which is [the one infinite] reality, [our real] self, [which is] the sun [of true knowledge or consciousness], will indeed shine spontaneously [that is, by and of itself]. The darkness [of self-ignorance, which is the basis for the appearance of our mind, being the background darkness in which the cinema-show of our shadow-like thoughts is projected] will [thereby] disappear, suffering [which we experience in this darkness of self-ignorance due to the intense activity of our thoughts] will cease, [and] happiness [which is always our true and essential nature] will surge forth.

In this verse Sri Ramana emphatically states that our body and the world that we seem to perceive through it are both unreal, and he implies that they arise as mere thoughts in our mind. Since our mind, which is the sole cause for the seeming existence of both our body and this world, is composed only of thoughts, in this context he uses the word niṉaivu or ‘thought’ to denote it, and he describes it as poy mai-y-ār, which means ‘which is [composed of] unreal darkness’, because it is formed from the darkness of self-ignorance, which is itself unreal, being nothing but an imagination.

Our body and this world are both mere thoughts that we form in our mind by our power of imagination, and like all our thoughts, including our fundamental thought ‘I am this body’, we imagine them due to the darkness of our self-ignorance. Therefore when we destroy this darkness of self-ignorance by experiencing the absolute clarity of true non-dual self-knowledge, our body, this world and all our other thoughts will be destroyed in such a manner that they will never reappear even to the slightest extent.

This state of absolute annihilation of our mind and all its progeny – all our thoughts, including our body, this entire universe and every other world that we imagine – is the state that Sri Ramana describes when he says, ‘poy mai-y-ār niṉaivu aṇuvum uyyādu oḍukkiḍavē’, which means, ‘when thought, which is [composed of] unreal darkness, is dissolved [or destroyed] without reviving even an iota’. Just as when the sun rises the darkness of night is dissolved by its bright light, so when the sun of true self-knowledge dawns our mind, which is formed from the unreal darkness of self-ignorance, will be dissolved by the true light of our absolutely clear self-consciousness.

Though Sri Ramana says in this verse, ‘when thought is destroyed’, he does not explicitly specify how exactly we can bring about this destruction of our mind. This is why in the next verse of Āṉma-Viddai, which we discussed above, he first explains that all our thoughts depend upon our basic thought or imagination that a body is ‘I’, and he then says that if we penetrate within ourself by keenly scrutinising ourself in order to know ‘who am I?’ or ‘what is the source from which this thought that a body is myself originates?’ all our thoughts will disappear.

That is, since the cause and foundation of all our thoughts is our basic imagination that a body is ourself, we can destroy all our thoughts only by destroying this basic imagination, and since this basic imagination is an illusion – a mistaken knowledge about what we are – we can destroy it only by keenly scrutinising it in order to discover the reality that underlies it. We cannot kill an imaginary snake by beating it with a stick, but only by scrutinising it carefully in order to discover the reality that underlies it. Likewise, we cannot destroy our imaginary feeling that we are a body by any means other than keen self-scrutiny or self-attention.

When we look carefully at a snake that we imagine we see lying on the ground in the dim light of night, we will discover that it is not really a snake but is only a rope. Similarly, when we carefully scrutinise our basic consciousness ‘I am’, which we now experience as our mind, our limited consciousness that imagines itself to be a body, we will discover that we are not really this finite mind or body, but are only the infinite non-dual consciousness of our own being.

When we thus experience ourself as being nothing other than our own absolutely non-dual self-consciousness ‘I am’, our primal imagination that a body is ourself will be destroyed, and along with it all our other thoughts will be destroyed, since they are merely shadows that can be formed only in the obscured and therefore limited light of self-ignorance. That is, though we allow our unlimited natural clarity of non-dual self-consciousness to be obscured by an imaginary self-ignorance, we never entirely cease to be conscious of ourself, and hence in the dim light of our distorted self-consciousness, which we experience as our mind, the shadow-play of our thoughts appears to take place. However, since this shadow-play is unreal, it can occur only in the dim light of our imaginary self-ignorance, and hence it will disappear in the clear light of true self-knowledge, in which we experience ourself as the infinite consciousness of being that we always really are.

Thus in this second verse of Āṉma-Viddai Sri Ramana teaches us the truth that when we turn our attention within, towards the core of our being, in order to know the true nature of our real ‘I’, which is the source from which our spurious individual sense of ‘I’ arises, we will discover that we are not this body composed of flesh, but are only the infinite space of non-dual being-consciousness, which is the silent and peaceful abode of perfect happiness. Since all our thoughts depend for their seeming existence upon our mind, which is nothing but the spurious consciousness that imagines ‘I am this body composed of flesh’, they will all disappear for ever when we thus discover that we are not this body but are only the non-dual infinite spirit – the one real self or ātman, which is the sole absolute reality.

This non-dual infinite spirit is our adjunct-free and therefore unadulterated consciousness of our own true being, which in truth we experience eternally as ‘I am’, ‘I am I’, ‘I am nothing but I’, ‘I am only what I am’, or to quote the words of God in Exodus 3.14, ‘I am that I am’.

The same truth that Sri Ramana expresses in the second verse of Āṉma-Viddai is expressed by him in more mystical language in verse 7 of Śrī Aruṇācala Aṣṭakam:

If the thought ‘I’ does not exist, no other thing will exist. Until then, if [any] other thought rises, if, [responding to each such thought by investigating] ‘To whom [does this thought occur]? To me [this fundamental thought ‘I’]. What is the place from which [this fundamental thought] “I” rises and [in which it] merges?’, we sink within [ourself] and reach [our] heart-seat [the innermost core of our being, which is the source from which all our thoughts rise], [we will merge and become one with] the Lord under the shade of the unique umbrella [the non-dual infinite spirit, which outwardly manifests as God, the supreme Lord of all that is]. [In that state of non-dual being] the dream of [duality with all its imaginary pairs of opposites such as] inside and outside, the two karmas [the two kinds of action, good and bad], death and birth, happiness and misery, and light and darkness, will not exist, O boundless ocean of light of grace called Aruna Hill, who dance motionlessly within the court of [our] heart.

The ‘boundless ocean of light of grace called Aruna Hill’, whom Sri Ramana addresses in this verse, is the non-dual infinite spirit, which outwardly manifests as God, who is worshipped in the form of the holy hill Arunachala. This is not the place to answer the question why the non-dual spirit should be worshipped dualistically as an external form, but this question will be answered in the sequel to this present book. Suffice it to say here that Sri Ramana wrote this verse as part of a hymn written in the allegorical and poetic language of mystical love.

The ‘boundless ocean of light of grace called Aruna Hill’ is therefore an allegorical description of God, and he is said to ‘dance motionlessly within the court of our heart’ because he is our unlimited consciousness of being, which shines motionlessly yet vividly as ‘I am’ in the innermost core of our being. The ‘Lord under the shade of the unique umbrella’ is likewise an allegorical description of God, the supreme Lord of all that is, whose reality is nothing but our infinite non-dual consciousness of being, ‘I am’. Therefore, though Sri Ramana describes it allegorically in the language of dualistic devotion, what he is actually describing in the later part of this verse is only the state of perfect non-duality, which we can experience only when we put an end to our dream of duality.

Our dream of duality is known only by our mind, our fundamental thought ‘I’, which is the limited consciousness that feels ‘I am this body’. If we do not rise as this limited consciousness, we cannot know any duality. Since all duality is only an imagination, it does not exist when we do not know it. Therefore Sri Ramana begins this verse by stating the fundamental and all-important truth, ‘If the thought “I” does not exist, no other thing will exist’.

That is, all things depend for their seeming existence upon the seeming existence of our fundamental thought ‘I’, which is a limited and distorted form of our fundamental consciousness of being, ‘I am’. Therefore, in order to put an end to the illusory appearance of duality, we must put an end to the illusory appearance of our first and fundamental thought ‘I’.

In this verse Sri Ramana explains in a few very simple words how we can put an end to the illusory appearance of this primal thought ‘I’. Since every thought that rises in our mind is formed and known only by our first thought ‘I’, and since our first thought ‘I’ rises from and always depends upon our essential consciousness of being, ‘I am’, whatever thought may rise, we can know it only because we first know ‘I am’. Thus every thought can serve as a reminder to us of our own being. In order to show us how we can make the rising of any thought an opportunity for us to remember our being, Sri Ramana gives us the simple formula, ‘To whom? To me. What is the place from which I rise?’.

By giving us this formula, Sri Ramana does not mean that we should constantly question ourself, ‘To whom has this thought occurred? Only to me. What is the place from which this “me” has risen?’. What he means is that we should use any thought that rises to remind ourself of our thinking mind, which we now feel to be ‘I’, because remembering this ‘I’ that thinks and knows each thought will in turn remind us of our essential consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’, which underlies the feeling that we are thinking and knowing thoughts, and which is thus the ‘place’ or source from which our thinking mind arises. That is, whatever thought rises, we should remember, ‘I know this thought because I am’, and thereby we should turn our attention away from the thought towards our own essential consciousness of being – our real self-consciousness ‘I am’.

When we thus turn our attention towards our consciousness of being, ‘I am’, our mind, which had risen to think thoughts, will begin to subside in our true self-conscious being, which is the source from which it has risen. If we are able to focus our attention wholly and exclusively upon our consciousness of being, our mind will subside completely into the innermost core of our being, and thus we will experience our own true being with absolutely unadulterated clarity of non-dual self-consciousness.

When we once experience our true being with such perfect clarity, we will discover that we are the non-dual infinite spirit, and thus we will destroy for ever the illusion that we are a body, a mind or anything other than that spirit. When this illusion is thus destroyed, the dream of duality, which depends upon it, will also come to an end.

This technique of using the rising of each thought to remind ourself of our own essential being, which Sri Ramana explains very concisely in this verse, is explained by him in more detail in the sixth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:

Only by [means of] the investigation ‘who am I?’ will [our] mind subside [shrink, settle down, become still, disappear or cease to be]; the thought ‘who am I?’ [that is, the effort we make to attend to our essential being], having destroyed all other thoughts, will itself in the end be destroyed like a corpse-burning stick [that is, a stick that is used to stir a funeral pyre to ensure that the corpse is burnt entirely]. If other thoughts rise, without trying to complete them [we] must investigate to whom they have occurred. However many thoughts rise, what [does it matter]? As soon as each thought appears, if [we] vigilantly investigate to whom it has occurred, ‘to me’ will be clear [that is, we will be clearly reminded of ourself, to whom each thought occurs]. If [we thus] investigate ‘who am I?’ [that is, if we turn our attention back towards ourself and keep it fixed firmly, keenly and vigilantly upon our own essential self-conscious being in order to discover what this ‘me’ really is], [our] mind will return to its birthplace [the innermost core of our being, which is the source from which it arose]; [and since we thereby refrain from attending to it] the thought which had risen will also subside. When [we] practise and practise in this manner, to [our] mind the power to stand firmly established in its birthplace will increase [that is, by repeatedly practising turning our attention towards our mere being, which is the birthplace of our mind, our mind’s ability to remain as mere being will increase]. When [our] subtle mind goes out through the portal of [our] brain and sense organs, gross names and forms [the thoughts or mental images that constitute our mind, and the objects that constitute this world] appear; when it remains in [our] heart [the core of our being], names and forms disappear. Only to [this state of] retaining [our] mind in [our] heart without letting [it] go outwards [is] the name ‘ahamukham’ [‘I-facing’ or self-attention] or ‘antarmukham’ [‘inward-facing’ or introversion] [truly applicable]. Only to [the state of] letting [it] go outwards [is] the name ‘bahirmukham’ [‘outward-facing’ or extroversion] [truly applicable]. Only when [our] mind remains firmly established in [our] heart in this manner, will [our primal thought] ‘I’, which is the root [base, foundation or origin] of all thoughts, go [leave, disappear or cease to be], and will [our] ever-existing [real] self alone shine. The place [that is, the state or reality] devoid of even a little [trace] of [our primal] thought ‘I’ is svarūpa [our ‘own form’ or essential self]. That alone is called ‘mauna’ [silence]. Only to [this state of] just being [is] the name ‘jñāna-dṛṣṭi’ [‘knowledge-seeing’, that is, the experience of true knowledge] [truly applicable]. That [state] which is just being is only [the state of] making [our] mind to subside [settle down, melt, dissolve, disappear, be absorbed or perish] in ātma-svarūpa [our own essential self]. Besides [this state of non-dual being], these [states of dualistic knowledge] which are knowing the thoughts of others, knowing the three times [what happened in the past, what is happening now, and what will happen in future], and knowing what is happening in a distant place cannot be jñāna-dṛṣṭi [the experience of true knowledge].

Since our mind rises only by attending to thoughts, which it imagines to be other than itself, it subsides only by withdrawing its attention from all thoughts. Though our mind subsides in this way every day in deep sleep, and occasionally in other states such as swooning, general anaesthesia, coma, bodily death, or in a similar state of subsidence brought about artificially by certain forms of meditation or by the yōgic practice of breath-control, in all such states it subsides without clear consciousness of its being.

Therefore in all such states, though we know ‘I am’, our consciousness of our being is not perfectly clear, so though we know that we are, we do not know exactly what we are. Because we do not experience a perfect clarity of true self-knowledge or self-consciousness in such states of subsidence, our mind sooner or later rises again from such states, attending once again to its own thoughts, which it imagines to be other than itself.

The reason why our consciousness of our being is not perfectly clear in such states is that our mind subsides in them merely by withdrawing its attention from its thoughts, but without focusing its attention clearly on itself. Only if we focus our attention wholly and exclusively upon our own consciousness of being, ‘I am’, will our mind subside with perfect clarity of self-consciousness. If we are able to make our mind subside in this manner, we will not only know that we are, but also know exactly what we are.

Since we thus experience a perfect clarity of true self-knowledge in that state, we will never again be able to mistake ourself to be anything that we are not, and hence our mind will never rise again. Thus the subsidence of our mind that we can achieve by attending to our consciousness of being will be permanent.

The subsidence of our mind which Sri Ramana discusses in the above paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? is not the usual dull and temporary form of subsidence that we experience in states like sleep, which we bring about by merely withdrawing our attention voluntarily or involuntarily from all thoughts, but is the clear and permanent form of subsidence that we can experience only in the state of true self-knowledge, which we can bring about only by focusing our attention intentionally upon our consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’. Therefore, when he says, ‘Only by the investigation “who am I?” will the mind subside’, he means that we can make our mind subside permanently and with full clarity of self-consciousness only by investigating, examining, inspecting or scrutinising our own consciousness of being, ‘I am’.

Even though our essential being is eternally self-conscious – that is, even though we are always conscious of ourself as ‘I am’ – so long as our mind is active, we will feel we have to make an effort to scrutinise or attend to our essential self-consciousness, our consciousness of our own being. Therefore, since self-attention involves an effort made by our mind, Sri Ramana refers to that effort as ‘the thought “who am I?”’ and says that, after destroying all other thoughts, it will also be destroyed.

Every thought that we form in our mind is a form of effort, because we can form and know any thought only by making an effort to do so. Because we think with great desire and enthusiasm, and because we are thoroughly habituated to doing so, it appears to us that we think effortlessly. However, thinking does in fact require effort, and therefore as a result of thinking we become tired.

Because thinking is tiring, our mind needs to rest and recuperate its energy every day, which it does by subsiding and remaining for a while in sleep. In sleep our mind remains subsided temporarily in our own real self – our true state of self-conscious being – and because our real self is the source of all power, our mind is able to recharge its energy by remaining for a while in sleep.

The energy or power that impels our mind to think is our desire to do so. Desire is the driving force behind all thought and all activity. Unless impelled by some desire, we do not think or do anything. When we make effort to attend to our consciousness of being, we do so because of our desire or love for true self-knowledge.

When we repeatedly practise such self-attention, the clarity of our consciousness of our own mere being increases, and because of the happiness we find in such clarity, our love to attend to our being increases. Since this love to attend to our being is the power that enables us to do so, Sri Ramana says, ‘When [we] practise and practise in this manner, to [our] mind the power to stand firmly established in its birthplace will increase’.

The more we experience the joy of just being, the less we will feel desire to think or do anything, and thus by the practice of self-attention our tendency to think will be gradually weakened and will finally be destroyed. When we have no desire to think anything, we will remain effortlessly established in our own essential being, and thus even our effort to attend to our being will subside. This is what Sri Ramana means by saying that the thought or effort to know ‘who am I?’ will destroy all other thoughts and will itself finally be destroyed.

Sri Ramana says, ‘If other thoughts rise, without trying to complete them [we] must investigate to whom they have occurred’. What he means by saying that we should not try or make effort to complete a thought is that we should not continue attending to it.

Our thoughts rise only because we attend to them, and the more we attend to them the more they flourish. If, instead of thus allowing our effort or attention to flow outwards to think thoughts, we direct it inwards to know the consciousness to whom those thoughts are known, the vigour with which we form our thoughts will begin to wane.

Therefore Sri Ramana says, ‘As soon as each thought appears, if [we] vigilantly investigate to whom it has occurred, “to me” will be clear’. The verb he uses to mean ‘will be clear’ is tōṉḏṟum, which also means ‘will be visible’, ‘will appear’, ‘will spring up’, ‘will rise into existence’, ‘will come to mind’ or ‘will be known’, so by the words ‘to me will be clear’ he means that we will be clearly reminded of ourself, the ‘me’ to whom each thought occurs. In other words, our attention will turn back on itself, away from the thought that it had begun to think.

Though the ‘me’ who knows thoughts is not our real self, our ‘being consciousness’, but is only our mind, our spurious ‘knowing consciousness’ or ‘rising consciousness’, when we turn our attention towards it, it will automatically subside in and become one with our ‘being consciousness’. This is what Sri Ramana means when he then says, ‘If [we thus] investigate “who am I?”, [our] mind will return to its birthplace’.

Because he first says, ‘if [we] vigilantly investigate to whom this [thought] has occurred’, and then in the next sentence says, ‘if [we] investigate who am I’, some people wrongly mistake him to mean that we should first ask ourself to whom each thought has occurred, and that after remembering that it has occurred to me, we should then ask ourself who this ‘me’ is, or ‘who am I?’. In fact, however, since by the mere remembrance of ‘me’ our attention turns back towards ourself, we do not then need to do anything further except to keep our attention fixed on ourself.

Since we can investigate ‘who am I?’ only by scrutinising or attending to our consciousness of our own being, which we always experience as ‘I am’, the mere remembrance of the ‘me’ to whom each thought occurs is itself the beginning of the process of investigating ‘who am I?’. Thus all we need do after remembering that ‘this thought has occurred to me’ is to keep our attention fixed on that ‘me’.

Therefore we can best understand the connection between these two sentences by interpolating the words ‘thus’ or ‘continue thus to’: ‘if [we thus] investigate who am I’, or, ‘if [we continue thus to] investigate who am I’. Even if we choose to interpolate the word ‘then’ instead of the word ‘thus’, we should still understand this ‘then’ in the sense of ‘then continue to’: ‘if [we then continue to] investigate who am I’. That is, we should not understand this clause to mean, ‘if we then initiate a fresh process of investigation by newly thinking “who am I?”’, but should understand it to mean, ‘if we then continue this state of investigation (which we initiated when we remembered ‘me’) by keeping our attention firmly and keenly fixed on our self-conscious being, “I am”’.

When Sri Ramana says, ‘If [we thus] investigate “who am I?”, [our] mind will return to its birthplace’, what exactly does he mean by saying that our ‘mind will return to its birthplace’? In this context the term ‘birthplace’ denotes the source from which our mind has risen, which is our fundamental consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’. Since our mind seemingly rises or leaves its birthplace only by attending to thoughts – which it forms by its power of imagination, but which it imagines to be other than itself – it returns to its birthplace only by withdrawing its attention from all its thoughts.

However, if we are not only to return to our birthplace, but also to be fully conscious of that ‘place’ or natural state of being to which we are thus returning, we must not only withdraw our attention from all our thoughts, but must also turn it back towards ourself, focusing it keenly upon our essential consciousness of our own being. Thus when Sri Ramana says that our ‘mind will return to its birthplace’, he means that our attention will turn back towards our natural self-consciousness, and thus our mind will subside in that perfectly clear consciousness of our own being.

Our mind is in fact nothing but our power of attention. When we direct our power of attention towards thoughts and objects, which we imagine to be other than ourself, we rise as our mind, leaving our natural state of mere being. But when instead we direct our power of attention back towards ourself, we return to our natural state of mere being, and so long as we keep our attention fixed on ourself, without allowing it to stray out towards anything else, we remain as our mere being – that is, as our own essential self. In other words, our outward facing attention is our mind, whereas our inward or ‘I’-ward facing attention is our real self – our own simple and essential self-conscious being.

Our power of attention, which is our power of consciousness or knowing, is not anything separate from us. It is ourself – our own true and essential being. In other words, we ourself are the power of attention or consciousness by which all is known.

When we misuse our power of consciousness by imagining that we are knowing things other than ourself, we seemingly become the separate and therefore finite individual consciousness that we call ‘mind’. But when we do not misuse our power of consciousness in this manner, we remain as we always really are – as the true infinite non-dual consciousness of mere being, ‘I am’.

When we thus remain as our true consciousness of our own mere being, we experience ourself as ‘I just am’, but when we imagine ourself to be a separate individual consciousness or ‘mind’, we experience ourself as ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that’ – ‘I am this body’, ‘I am a person’, ‘I am so-and-so’, ‘I am such-and-such’, ‘I am knowing’, ‘I am doing’ and so on and so forth. Our mind and all that it knows or experiences is therefore just an imaginarily distorted and limited form of our own natural non-dual consciousness of being, ‘I am’, which is our true self.

What we call ‘attention’ is the power that we as consciousness have to direct or focus ourself. When we focus our consciousness upon itself, that is, when we focus ourself upon ourself – upon our mere self-conscious being – we experience the true knowledge ‘I just am’. But when we focus ourself or our consciousness upon anything other than our own essential self, we experience the false knowledge ‘I am knowing this thing other than myself’.

This focusing of our consciousness upon anything other than ourself is what we call ‘imagination’, because everything other than our own essential self-conscious being, ‘I am’, is merely a thought or image that we have formed in our mind by our power of imagination. Since this ‘imagination’, which is another name for our mind, causes us to delude ourself into experiencing things that do not truly exist, it is also called māyā, a word that means ‘delusion’ or ‘self-deception’. Thus our mind or object-knowing attention is merely a product of our own self-deceiving power of imagination, which is the distorted use that we make of our power of consciousness when we use it to imagine that we are experiencing anything other than ourself.

Because our attention is the focusing of our entire being upon something, it has tremendous power. In fact it is the only power that truly exists, and it is the source from which all other forms of power arise. From our experience in dream we know that by misusing our power of attention to imagine and know things other than ourself, we can create an entire world and delude ourself into mistaking that world to be real. Since we know that we can create a seemingly real world by our mere power of imagination in dream, we have no valid reason to suppose that the world we experience now in this so-called waking state is anything other than a creation of our same power of imagination.

Thus our attention has the power to create a world that does not truly exist, and in the process of doing so, it deludes us into mistaking that world to be real. All the power that we see in the world that we imagine to be outside ourself appears to exist only because of our power of attention. All that we experience appears to be real only because we attend to it. Since our attention is so powerful, it is a dangerous weapon that we should use carefully and wisely.

The wise way to use our power of attention is to know ourself. Until we know the truth of ourself, who know all other things, we cannot know the truth of anything else. To know ourself we must attend to ourself – to our own essential self-conscious being, ‘I am’.

Other things appear to come into existence only when we attend to them, and they disappear when we cease attending to them. This is why Sri Ramana says, ‘When [our] subtle mind goes out through the portal of [our] brain and sense organs, gross names and forms appear; when it remains in [our] heart, names and forms disappear’.

What exactly does he mean when he says this? When we attend to or know anything that is seemingly other than our consciousness of being, we feel that our mind or attention is going outwards, away from ourself. When our attention thus goes outwards, it does so either through just the portal or gateway of our brain, or through the portals of both our brain and one or more of our five sense organs. When our attention goes out only through the portal of our brain, we experience thoughts that we recognise as existing only within our own mind, but when our attention goes out still further, not only through our brain but also through our sense organs, we experience objects that we imagine to exist outside and independent of our mind.

Sri Ramana describes both the thoughts that we recognise as existing only within our own mind and the objects that we imagine to exist outside our mind as ‘names and forms’, because every thought is just a mental form or image, and every external object is likewise just a form or image that we experience in our own mind, and because we give or can give a name to every form that we know. Thus in this context the word ‘names’ denotes our verbalised thoughts, whereas the word ‘forms’ denotes our pre-verbalised thoughts. However, since our verbalised and pre-verbalised thoughts are intimately associated and interwoven, the distinction between them is blurred, and hence in Indian philosophy they are regarded as an indistinguishable whole, which is expressed by the compound word nāma-rūpa, which means ‘name-form’.

Because all the thoughts that we think and all the objects that we know are nothing but ‘names and forms’, this compound word nāma-rūpa or ‘name-form’ is frequently used in advaita vēdānta to denote collectively all thoughts and all external objects. One important reason why this term nāma-rūpa is thus used so frequently to denote all thoughts and external objects is that it clearly distinguishes them from our essential consciousness of being, ‘I am’, which is nameless and formless, because it has no definable form and is therefore beyond all mental conception.

Since our mind is in essence mere consciousness, and since it therefore has no form of its own, Sri Ramana describes it as ‘subtle’, whereas he describes all thoughts and external objects as ‘gross’, because they are all mere forms – images that we form in our mind by our power of imagination.

We form all such mental images only by allowing our mind or attention to go outwards, away from ourself. Therefore, when we retain our attention within ourself, not allowing our mind to rise to know anything other than ‘I am’, all such mental images disappear. This is what Sri Ramana means when he says, ‘when it remains in [our] heart, names and forms disappear’. By the word ‘heart’ he means only the core of our being, which is our own fundamental and essential self-consciousness ‘I am’, and which is the source or ‘birthplace’ of our imaginary mind.

Sri Ramana describes this state of retaining our attention in our ‘heart’ or the core of our being as ‘introversion’, but while doing so he significantly uses not just one but two Sanskrit terms to denote ‘introversion’. The second of these two terms is antarmukham, which is the term most commonly used in both Sanskrit and Tamil philosophical literature to denote introversion, and which is a compound of two words, antar and mukham. The word antar means ‘within’, ‘inside’, ‘internal’, ‘interior’ or ‘inward’, while the word mukham means ‘face’, ‘direction’, ‘facing’, ‘turning towards’, ‘turned towards’ or ‘looking at’. Thus the compound word antarmukham means ‘facing inward’, ‘looking inward’, ‘turned inward’ or ‘directing attention inward’.

The first of the two terms that he uses to describe the state of introversion is ahamukham, which is a more rarely used term, but which is actually more meaningful than antarmukham. Like antarmukham, ahamukham is a compound of two words, aham and mukham. In Sanskrit the word aham means only ‘I’, but in Tamil it not only means ‘I’ or ‘self’, but also from another root it means ‘inside’, ‘mind’, ‘heart’, ‘abode’, ‘home’, ‘house’, ‘place’ or ‘space’. Thus the compound word ahamukham means not only ‘introversion’, but also more specifically ‘facing I-ward’, ‘facing selfward’, ‘looking selfward’, ‘turned selfward’ or ‘directing attention towards I’.

Sri Ramana then goes on to say that when our mind or attention thus remains firmly established in our heart or hṛdaya, the innermost core of our being, our first and fundamental thought ‘I’ will vanish, and only our ever-existing real self will shine or be known. That is, when we are able to keep our attention firmly fixed in our consciousness of being, the clarity of self-consciousness that we experience in that state – the clarity of self-consciousness that always exists in our heart, but which we experience only when we keep our attention firmly fixed upon it – will destroy forever our tendency to rise as the thought ‘I’, the spurious individual consciousness that imagines itself to be a body, and thus our real and essential self will remain alone, shining clearly as ‘I am’ or ‘I am I’.

In order to emphasise the fact that the non-dual reality which alone remains after our individual consciousness ‘I’ has ceased to exist is not anything alien to us but is only we ourself, in the original Tamil text, in the final and main clause of this sentence, ‘[…] [our] ever-existing self alone will shine’, Sri Ramana highlighted in bold type the pronoun tāṉ, which means ‘self’ or ‘ourself’. Though we always experience this ever-existing self as ‘I am’, it will destroy our mind or individual consciousness only if we fix our attention firmly upon it.

Sri Ramana then describes our essential self or svarūpa as being the ‘place’ in which not even the slightest trace of the thought ‘I’ exists. That ‘place’ is our ‘heart’, the innermost core of our being. He refers to it figuratively as a ‘place’ for two reasons, firstly because it is the source or birthplace of our mind (and of all the progeny of our mind, namely its thoughts and the objects that constitute this world), and secondly because we experience it as the core of our being – the central point in the space of our mind, the point from which we conceive all thoughts and perceive all external objects. Besides being described as a ‘place’, it can also be described as a ‘state’, because it is the state of perfect egolessness, the state in which we experience only our pure, uncontaminated and adjunctless consciousness of mere being, ‘I am’.

Sri Ramana also describes this ‘place’ or state of egolessness as being mauna or ‘silence’, because it is the state of perfectly silent or motionless being. Since our real self is thus the state of perfect silence, we can know it only by remaining silent, that is, by just being, without rising to think anything. That is, since the restless activity or chattering of our mind is the noise that prevents us from knowing the silence of pure being, we can experience that silence only by silencing all our mental activity. Therefore silence in this context does not mean mere silence of speech, but complete silence of mind.

Sri Ramana further describes this state of silence or egoless being as the state of ‘just being’. The Tamil words that he uses to mean ‘just being’ are summā iruppadu. The word summā is an adverb meaning ‘just’, ‘merely’, ‘silently’, ‘quietly’, ‘peacefully’, ‘restfully’, ‘leisurely’, ‘without doing anything’, ‘motionlessly’, ‘freely’ or ‘continuously’, while iruppadu is a gerund or verbal noun meaning ‘being’, from the root iru, which is an imperative that means ‘be’.

This term summā iruppadu is a key concept in Tamil philosophical literature, and its imperative form, summā iru, which means ‘just be’, is considered to be the ultimate and most perfect form of spiritual instruction. The reason for the pre-eminence given to this term is that it expresses as perfectly as any words can express the state of true self-knowledge, which is the state of perfect silence. Sri Ramana defines it simply as ‘making [our] mind to subside [settle down, melt, dissolve, disappear, be absorbed or perish] in ātma-svarūpa [our own essential self]’.

The Sanskrit word ātman, which is used in Tamil in various modified forms such as ātmā, āttumā and āṉmā, means ‘self’, ‘spirit’, ‘life’, ‘soul’, ‘mind’, ‘supreme spirit’, ‘essence’ or ‘nature’, and is also used as the singular reflexive pronoun for all three persons and all three genders, ‘oneself’, ‘myself’, ‘yourself’, ‘himself’, ‘herself’ or ‘itself’, or as the genitive form of the reflexive pronoun, in the sense ‘one’s own’, ‘my own’ and so on. In a spiritual context, ātman means our real self, our spirit or essential being, which is also called brahman, the supreme spirit or absolute reality, the essence or sole substance of all things.

The Sanskrit word svarūpa, which in Tamil is usually modified as sorūpam, is a composite noun formed of two parts, sva, which means ‘own’, ‘one’s own’, ‘my own’, ‘your own’, ‘his own’, ‘her own’, ‘its own’, ‘our own’ or ‘their own’, and rūpa, which means ‘form’, ‘appearance’, ‘image’ or ‘nature’. Thus the compound word ātma-svarūpa literally means ‘oneself’s own true nature’, that is, the true nature of our own real self, which is our mere consciousness of being – our essential self-consciousness ‘I am’.

Since our mind is our false self, a spurious form of consciousness that we mistake to be ourself, we can effect its dissolution only by fixing our attention firmly in our real self, the innermost core of our being, which we always experience as our fundamental and essential consciousness ‘I am’. When we dissolve our mind thus in our real own self, the true nature of our real self will reveal itself as mere being – being which is silent, peaceful and devoid of any movement or activity. This state in which we thus dissolve our mind in our real self is therefore described as summā iruppadu, the state of ‘just being’ – that is, the state in which we merely are as we truly ever are, devoid of even the least activity or ‘doing’.

Sri Ramana says that only this state of ‘just being’ can be called jñāna-dṛṣṭi or the ‘experience of true knowledge’. The Sanskrit word jñāna, which is derived from the verbal root jñā meaning ‘to know’, ‘to cognise’ or ‘to experience’, means ‘knowing’ or ‘knowledge’, and in a spiritual context it means true knowledge – that is, knowledge of our own real self. The Sanskrit word dṛṣṭi means the act of ‘seeing’, ‘beholding’ or ‘looking at’, or the faculty of ‘sight’, the ‘eye’, a ‘look’, a ‘glance’ or a ‘view’. Thus the compound word jñāna-dṛṣṭi means the ‘seeing’ or experience of true knowledge. Therefore, since the experience of true knowledge is nothing other than the experience of knowing our own real self, and since we can know our real self only by being nothing other than our real self, the state of just being what we always really are is the experience of true knowledge or jñāna-dṛṣṭi.

In the popular imagination, however, the term jñāna-dṛṣṭi is wrongly believed to mean the power or ability to know certain things that could not normally be known by the human mind, such as what other people are thinking, what will happen in the future, or what is happening in some faraway place. But such miraculous or supernatural powers do not in fact have anything to do with true knowledge. On the contrary, they are merely additional forms of ignorance, delusion or self-deception – forms of delusion that only add to the density of our already existing and deeply rooted delusion about who or what we really are.

Since our mind has created this entire universe by the power of its imagination, there would be nothing that it could not do if only it could master complete control over its imagination. However, since our power of imagination is a power of delusion and self-deception, we can never master it perfectly. If we try to control it in one way, it will deceive us in some other way.

Nevertheless, since our mind is so powerful, it is possible for us to manipulate our power of imagination by certain techniques (such as certain forms of meditation, concentrated repetition of certain mantras or sounds that are supposedly endowed with some mystical power, certain yōgic practices, occult rites and rituals, carefully controlled use of certain entheogenic or so-called mind-expanding herbs, fungi or other drugs, certain other forms of magic that supposedly enable a person to invoke the aid of spirits, jinn, demons, angels, petty deities or dēvas, or some other such artificial means) in such a way as to delude ourself and others into believing that we possess certain miraculous powers, just as in dream we are able to manipulate our power of imagination in such a way as to delude ourself into believing that we are actually flying.

However, since the world we see in this waking state is no more real than the world we saw in a dream, any miraculous powers that we may be able to display in this waking state are no more real than our ability to fly in a dream. Therefore, in verse 35 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Sri Ramana says:

Knowing and being the [absolute] reality [our own essential being], which is [eternally] siddha [attained], is [the only true] siddhi [attainment]. All other siddhis [attainments such as miraculous powers] are merely [like] siddhis that [we] experience in dream. If [we] consider [such siddhis after we have woken up] leaving sleep, will they [still appear to us to] be real? Consider [likewise], will those who have left [or ended] unreality [by experiencing and] abiding in the real state [of true self-knowledge] be deluded [by the deceptive illusion of miraculous powers]?

Whatever we experience in a dream appears to us to be real only so long as we are experiencing that dream. When we wake up and consider what we had experienced, we understand clearly and without any doubt that it was all unreal, being merely a figment of our imagination.

Likewise, all that we experience in this so-called waking state appears to us to be real only so long as we are experiencing this state. When we wake up into our real waking state, which is the non-dual state of perfectly clear self-consciousness or self-knowledge, we will discover that all the duality that we are now experiencing in our present state of self-ignorance is as unreal as all the duality that we experienced in our dream, being nothing but a mere figment of our own imagination.

When we clearly know ourself as we really are – that is, as our non-dual consciousness of our own essential being, ‘I am’, which is the one and only absolute reality – we will discover that we alone are real, and that everything that formerly appeared to be other than ourself is therefore entirely unreal. Experiencing and abiding firmly in this state of absolute clarity is therefore the only attainment or siddhi that is truly worth achieving.

By achieving this self-attainment or ātma-siddhi, we will free ourself from the delusion that we are this mind, the false finite form of consciousness that imagines itself to be experiencing duality or otherness, and thereby we will transcend all our present imaginary knowledge of otherness. Having thus discarded the entire fabrication of duality, will we be deluded by any appearance such as the display of miraculous powers?

If we understand that this whole world is a mere dream, we will find no wonder and take no delight in miracles or any such display of supernatural power. Miracles happen according to people’s faith in them, and such faith is nothing but an act of imagination.

We are only able to fly in a dream because at that time we believe that we can fly. If we did not believe that we could fly, we would not even attempt to do so. Similarly, we would not look for miracles in this world if we did not believe that miracles were possible. If we see a miracle, we must have already believed, either consciously or unconsciously, that such a miracle was possible. We may attribute such miracles to some form of divine agency, but in fact they are nothing but a product of our own imagination, just as this whole world is a product of our own imagination.

Therefore, if we have understood at least theoretically that all knowledge of duality or otherness is merely a figment of our own imagination, like all the knowledge we have of things other than ourself in a dream, we will feel no desire to acquire any form of supernatural power or to perform any miracle. If we were able to perform miracles, we may be able to delude other people, but by doing so the first person we would delude is ourself. Therefore, in verse 8 of Upadēśa Taṉippākkaḷ Sri Ramana says:

A conjuror will delude the people of this world without himself being deluded, [my] son, but a siddha [a person who has acquired siddhis or miraculous powers] deludes the people of this world and is himself [also] deluded [believing his own powers and miracles to be real]. What a wonder this is!

Whatever supernatural power of knowing we may have, whether the power to know what other people are thinking, the power to know what will happen in the future, or the power to know what is happening in faraway places, such power is only a power to know something other than ourself, and it cannot help us to know ourself. All such powers are therefore only a means of self-deception, and cannot be a means to true self-discovery.

No knowledge of anything other than ourself can be true knowledge, because all such knowledge is acquired by us through the delusive and self-deceiving consciousness that we call our ‘mind’. The only knowledge that is true or real is the correct and uncontaminated knowledge of our own real self – our essential non-dual consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’.

The knowledge of anything other than ‘I am’ is merely a form of imagination, and is therefore not really knowledge but only ignorance. Therefore if we wish to attain true knowledge, without which we cannot experience true and perfect happiness, we should not waste our time and energy practising meditation, yōga or any other occult technique with an aim to acquire any form of supernatural power.

Since we know from our own experience in dream that our mind has the power to create an entire world within itself, and since we therefore have to suspect that even this world that we experience in our present waking state is likewise a mere creation of our mind, we know that our mind is already endowed with immeasurable power. However, all the wonderful power of our mind – all its present power and all its potential power – is nothing but the power of our own imagination.

Moreover, all such power is only a power of extroversion, a power that is directed outwards, away from ourself, and therefore it only serves to delude us and to obscure from our experience the clarity of true self-consciousness or self-knowledge, which always exists in the core of our being. That is, since the outward-going power of our mind, the power of our mind to know anything other than ourself, is the power of māyā, the power of delusion or self-deception, it is the obstacle that stands in the way of our knowing our real self.

Hence, if we attempt to increase the outward-going power of our mind in any way, we will merely succeed in increasing the density of our ignorance – the density of the cloud of false knowledge that obscures our ever-existing inner clarity of true self-knowledge. Therefore, in verse 16 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Anubandham Sri Ramana asks:

Since [absolute] peace [or calmness] of mind alone is mukti [liberation from the bonds of self-ignorance or delusion], which is [in truth always] attained, tell [me], how can those whose minds are bound to [the desire for] siddhis [supernatural powers of mind], which cannot be attained without activity of mind, immerse in the bliss of mukti, which is [completely] devoid of movement [oscillation, wavering or activity] of mind?

The opening words of this verse, cittattiṉ śānti, which literally mean ‘peace of mind’, denote the state in which our mind has subsided and dissolved in the absolute peace of mere being, which is completely devoid of any kind of movement or activity. Only in that state of absolute peace and calmness can we experience full and perfect clarity of true self-knowledge.

This peaceful state of true self-knowledge is often described as being the state of mukti, which means ‘liberation’ or ‘emancipation’, because only true self-knowledge can free us from our bondage to finite existence, which is caused by our self-ignorance – our imaginary delusion that we are something other than the infinite and absolute reality, which is what we really are. Sri Ramana describes this state of mukti as being siddha, which means ‘attained’, because it is in truth our ever-existing or eternally attained natural state of being.

Sri Ramana expresses the central idea in this verse in the form of a rhetorical question, a question whose answer is clearly implied in its wording. Since we can experience infinite and absolute happiness only in the perfectly peaceful state of liberation or true self-knowledge, the state in which all mental activity has ceased, it is obvious that we cannot experience such happiness if we allow our mind to be bound by the desire for any form of siddhi, supernatural or miraculous power of mind, because all such mental powers can be attained only by mental activity.

So long as our mind is active we cannot know our real self, which is perfectly peaceful and inactive being, because our mind becomes active only when we imagine ourself to be the limited form of a particular body. When we do not imagine ourself to be any body, as in sleep, all the restless activity of our mind subsides, and we remain peacefully and happily in the state of mere being.

As soon as our mind rises, either in the state of waking or in a state of dream, we imagine ourself to be a body, and through the five senses of that body we see a world, which we imagine to be separate from ourself. Therefore, since all forms of dualistic knowledge, and all forms of activity, come into existence only when our mind rises, the rising of our mind obscures our natural state of peaceful, blissful and inactive being, in which we experience only the non-dual knowledge of our own real self, ‘I am’.

Since the appearance of this world in the waking state, or of any other world in a dream, is caused only by the rising of our mind, we cannot experience the peaceful non-dual state of true self-knowledge so long as we perceive this world. Therefore in the third paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? Sri Ramana says:

If [our] mind, which is the cause of all [dualistic, relative or objective] knowledge and of all activity, subsides [becomes still, disappears or ceases to exist], [our] perception of the world will cease. Just as knowledge of the rope, which is the base [that underlies and supports the appearance of the snake], will not arise unless knowledge of the imaginary snake ceases, svarūpa-darśana [true experiential knowledge of our own essential nature or real self], which is the base [that underlies and supports the appearance of the world], will not arise unless [our] perception of the world, which is an imagination [or fabrication], ceases.

The world and everything else that we know – except our own real self, our non-dual consciousness of our own essential being, ‘I am’ – is merely a figment of our imagination, a fabrication or illusion created by our own mind, which is the power of māyā, our delusive and self-deceiving power of imagination. Therefore in the seventh paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? Sri Ramana says:

That which actually exists is only ātma-svarūpa [our essential self]. The world, soul and God [which are the three basic elements of finite existence] are imaginations [or fabrications] in it [our essential self], like [the imaginary] silver [that we see] in a shell. These three [basic elements of relativity or duality] appear at the same time [such as when we rise up from sleep] and disappear at the same time [such as when we subside in sleep]. [Our] svarūpa [our ‘own form’ or essential self] alone is the world; [our] svarūpa alone is ‘I’ [the consciousness that appears as our individual self, our mind or soul]; [our] svarūpa alone is God; everything is śiva-svarūpa [our essential self, which is śiva, the absolute and only truly existing reality].

Since our individual self or soul, and the world and God (that is, God as a separate entity) that appear along with it, are all mere imaginations superimposed upon the one fundamental reality, which is our own real self, their appearance prevents us from experiencing that reality as it actually is, that is, as our own absolutely inactive, non-dual, self-conscious being. Therefore we cannot experience the true nature of our own real self unless we cease imagining the existence of any such form of duality or relativity.

Any world that we may perceive is nothing but a series of mental images or thoughts that we form in our mind by our power of imagination. Since the world is therefore nothing but our own thoughts, and since the root of all our thoughts is our primary thought ‘I am this body’, the appearance of the world, which includes the appearance of the body that we mistake to be ourself, obscures our true knowledge of ourself – our non-dual consciousness of our own essential being, ‘I am’. This process of obscuration is explained clearly by Sri Ramana in the fourth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:

That which is called ‘mind’ is an atiśaya śakti [an extraordinary or wonderful power] that exists in ātma-svarūpa [our essential self]. It projects all thoughts [or causes all thoughts to appear]. When [we] see [what remains] having removed [relinquished, discarded, dispelled, erased or destroyed] all [our] thoughts, [we will discover that] solitarily [separate from or independent of thoughts] there is no such thing as ‘mind’; therefore thought alone is the svarūpa [the ‘own form’ or basic nature] of [our] mind. Having removed [all our] thoughts, [we will discover that] there is no such thing as ‘world’ [existing separately or independently] as other [than our thoughts]. In sleep there are no thoughts, [and consequently] there is also no world; in waking and dream there are thoughts, [and consequently] there is also a world. Just as a spider spins out [a] thread from within itself and again draws [it back] into itself, so [our] mind projects [this or some other] world from within itself and again dissolves [it back] into itself. When [our] mind comes out from ātma-svarūpa [our essential self], the world appears. Therefore when the world appears, svarūpa [our ‘own form’ or essential self] does not appear [as it really is, that is, as the absolute and infinite non-dual consciousness of just being]; when svarūpa appears (shines) [as it really is], the world does not appear. If [we] go on investigating the nature of [our] mind, ‘tāṉ’ alone will finally appear as [the one underlying reality that we now mistake to be our] mind. That which is [here] called ‘tāṉ’ [a Tamil reflexive pronoun meaning ‘oneself’ or ‘ourself’] is only ātma-svarūpa [our own essential self]. [Our] mind stands only by always following [conforming or attaching itself to] a gross object [a physical body]; solitarily it does not stand. [Our] mind alone is spoken of as sūkṣma śarīra [our ‘subtle body’, that is, the subtle form or seed of all the imaginary physical bodies that our mind creates and mistakes to be itself] and as jīva [our ‘soul’ or individual self].

The world that we imagine we perceive outside ourself is in fact nothing but our own thoughts, a series of mental images that our mind projects from within itself, and experiences within itself. It is therefore a creation and projection of our own mind, just like the world that we experience in a dream.

Since our thoughts are the veil that obscures our true nature, which is perfect peace and happiness, our experience of thoughts and the world created by our thoughts is the real cause of all our unhappiness. As Sri Ramana says at the end of the fourteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (a complete translation of which is given in the final pages of the first chapter):

[…] What is called the world is only thought. When the world disappears, that is, when thought ceases, [our] mind experiences happiness; when the world appears, it experiences unhappiness.

The happiness that we experience when the world disappears along with all our other thoughts is our own real self, our essential being. Though Sri Ramana says that our mind experiences happiness when our thoughts cease, that which actually experiences happiness at that time is not our mind as such, but is only our true self, which is the sole reality underlying the false appearance of our mind. Our mind as such is only thoughts. In the absence of thoughts, what remains is not our mind but only our own essential being – our pure self-consciousness, ‘I am’, which is ever uncontaminated by any thought.

So long as we attend to thoughts, our mind appears to exist, but when we turn our attention away from all thoughts to scrutinise the essential consciousness aspect of our mind, we will discover that our mind is truly not a separate entity but is only our own real self, the nature of which is non-dual consciousness of being, ‘I am’. This is what Sri Ramana means in the fourth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? when he says cryptically, ‘If [we] go on investigating the nature of [our] mind, “self” alone will finally appear as [our] mind’.

The Tamil verb muḍiyum, which I have here translated as ‘will finally appear’, literally means ‘will end’, but also has many other meanings such as ‘will be accomplished’, ‘will be complete’ or ‘will appear’. When he says, ‘[…] “self” alone will end as mind’, he means that when we persistently scrutinise the essential nature of our mind we will finally discover that what now appears to be our mind is in fact nothing other than our real self, our fundamental consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’. He expresses this same truth in verse 17 of Upadēśa Undiyār:

When [we] scrutinise the form of [our] mind without forgetfulness, [we will discover that] there is no such thing as ‘mind’ [separate from or other than our real self]. For everyone, this is the direct path [the direct means to experience true self-knowledge].

We are nothing but pure and absolute consciousness – not consciousness of anything other than ourself, but just consciousness of our own essential being, which we always experience as ‘I am’. When we imagine that we are conscious of anything other than ‘I am’, we appear to be our mind, a separate object-knowing consciousness. But when we examine this consciousness that appears to know things other than itself, it will dissolve and disappear, and what will remain is only our true non-dual consciousness of being, because there is truly no such thing as ‘mind’ other than our fundamental and essential self-consciousness ‘I am’.

When our mind appears, the world appears along with it. The appearance of the world depends upon the appearance of our mind. But our mind cannot stand alone without a world. Whenever our mind appears, it does so by attaching itself to a physical body, which it mistakes to be itself. The body which we mistake to be ourself is a part of the world, but due to our identification of that one particular body as ‘I’, we create an artificial distinction between what we imagine to be ourself and what we imagine to be other than ourself.

This false distinction is created by our mind, but without it our mind cannot stand. Though the world is its own imaginary creation, our mind cannot imagine a world without simultaneously imagining itself to be a particular body in that world.

This is why in the fourth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? Sri Ramana says, ‘[Our] mind stands only by always following [conforming or attaching itself to] a gross object [a physical body]; solitarily it does not stand’. This is our experience in both waking and dream. We never experience our mind without feeling ourself to be a particular body in a seemingly objective world. Therefore Sri Ramana often described our mind as the consciousness ‘I am this body’, for which he sometimes used the traditional Sanskrit term dēhātma buddhi, which literally means ‘body-self sense’, that is, the sense, feeling, thought or imagination that our body is ourself. He also says that our mind is what is called the sūkṣma śarīra or ‘subtle body’, because it is the seed or subtle form of all the imaginary physical bodies that it creates by its power of imagination and mistakes to be itself.

Our imagining a particular body to be ‘I’ is prerequisite to our perception of the world, because it is through the five senses of the body that we imagine to be ourself that we perceive the world. As Sri Ramana says, this world is projected by our mind, and in the process of this projection, the five senses of our body function like the lens in a cinema projector. Though we feel that we perceive the world through our five senses, we in fact not only perceive it but also project it through our senses.

Just as thinking is a two-fold process of forming and experiencing thoughts in our mind, so perception is a two-fold process of projecting and experiencing the world. Forming a thought and experiencing it are not two separate actions, but are just two inseparable aspects of the single process of thinking. Similarly, projecting external objects and experiencing them are not two separate actions, but are just two inseparable aspects of the single process of perception.

Thinking and perception are both processes of imagination. The only difference between them is that we recognise that the thoughts we think exist only in our own mind, whereas we imagine that the world we perceive exists outside our mind. However, this distinction is not real, but exists only in our own imagination.

In a dream we imagine that the world we perceive at that time exists outside our mind, but when we wake up we recognise that it actually existed only within our mind. The world that we perceive now in this so-called waking state is experienced by us in exactly the same manner that we experience that world in our dream, so we have no valid or adequate reason to suppose that it is not merely a figment of our imagination, just as that other world was.

In both waking and dream we first experience a body, which we mistake to be ourself, and then through the five senses of that body we experience a world that seems to exist outside ourself. Whenever we experience a body as ourself and a world as existing outside ourself, whether in waking or in dream, that experience appears to us to be real. Only after waking up from a dream are we able to recognise without the least doubt that it was only a figment of our imagination, a projection of our own mind.

In a dream the body that we mistake to be ourself is a projection of our own mind. When we begin to dream, the first thing we do is simultaneously to imagine a body and to delude ourself into experiencing that body as ourself. Without this self-induced delusion that an imaginary body is ourself, we could not experience the imaginary world that we perceive at that time. Whenever we perceive a world, we always do so from within the confines of a particular body, which we feel to be ourself.

Hence our perception of any world is dependent upon our imagining ourself to be a body in that world, which in turn is dependent upon our mind, the finite consciousness that imagines itself to be that body. Therefore in verses 5, 6 and 7 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Sri Ramana says:

[Our] body [is] a form [composed] of five sheaths [the pañca kōśas or five adjuncts that seemingly cover and obscure our consciousness of our real self when we imagine any of them to be ourself]. Therefore all five [of these ‘sheaths’ or adjuncts] are included in the term ‘body’. Without [some kind of] body, is there [any such thing as a] world? Say, having left [all kinds of] body, is there [any] person who has seen [this or any other] world?

The world [is] nothing other than a form [composed] of five [kinds of] sense perception [sight, sound, smell, taste and touch]. Those five [kinds of] sense perception are objects [known] to [our] five sense organs. Since [our] mind alone cognises the world through [these] five sense organs, say, without [our] mind is there [any such thing as a] world?

Though the world and [our] mind rise and subside as one [that is, together and simultaneously], the world shines [or is known only] by [our] mind. Only that [our own real self] which shines without [ever] appearing or disappearing as the space [or base] for the appearing and disappearing of the world and [our] mind [is] poruḷ [the true substance, essence or absolute reality], which is the whole [the infinite totality of all that is].

Sri Ramana begins verse 5 by saying that our body is a form composed of five sheaths, and that all these five sheaths are therefore included in the term ‘body’. As we saw when we discussed the meaning of verse 22 of Upadēśa Undiyār in the final pages of the previous chapter, the pañca-kōśas or ‘five sheaths’ are our physical body, the life-force in our body, our mind, our intellect and the darkness of relative ignorance that we experience in sleep.

These five ‘sheaths’ or adjuncts appear to obscure our natural consciousness of our real self because we imagine ourself to be one or more of them in each of our three usual states of consciousness, waking, dream and sleep. In waking and dream we experience ourself as a combination of four of our five sheaths – a physical body, the life in that body, our mind and our intellect – and hence through the five senses of our physical body we experience a world of material objects.

In sleep, on the other hand, we cease to experience ourself as any of those outer four sheaths. Instead we identify ourself with our innermost sheath, which is a seeming darkness or ignorance, because we imagine ourself to be unconscious of anything, and hence at that time we do not know any world other than that darkness.

We perceive a physical world only when we imagine ourself to be a physical body in that world. Therefore in verse 5 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Sri Ramana asks, ‘[…] Without [some kind of] body, is there [any such thing as a] world? Say, having left [all kinds of] body, is there [any] person who has seen [this or any other] world?’.

In verse 6 he points out the obvious truth that everything that we call the ‘world’ is just a combination of the five types of sense perception – sights, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations – which we experience through the medium of our five sense organs. However, that which actually experiences these five types of sense perception is only our mind. Therefore Sri Ramana asks, ‘[…] Since [our] mind alone cognises the world through [these] five sense organs, say, without [our] mind is there [any such thing as a] world?’.

That is, the appearance of any world depends not only upon our body, through the five senses of which we perceive it, but also upon our mind, which is the consciousness that actually knows it. This dependence of the appearance of any world upon our mind is further emphasised by Sri Ramana in verse 7, in which he says, ‘Though the world and [our] mind rise and subside together, the world shines by [our] mind’.

What exactly does he mean by saying that the world shines by our mind? Here the word oḷirum or ‘shines’ means ‘appears’, ‘becomes perceptible’ or ‘is known’. That is, the world appears or is known only due to our mind, which is the consciousness that cognises it.

Any world appears or is known only when our mind attends to it. In our present waking state this world appears because our mind attends to it, whereas in dream some other world appears because at that time our mind is attending to it. Therefore our mind does not depend upon the appearance of any particular world, whereas the appearance of any particular world does depend upon our mind.

Though the world and our mind both appear and disappear, underlying their appearance and disappearance is a reality that neither appears nor disappears. That reality is our own real self – our essential non-dual consciousness of our own being, which we always experience as ‘I am’. In both waking and dream our mind appears along with a world, whereas in sleep our mind and all worlds disappear. However in all these three states we continue to experience ourself as ‘I am’.

Since our essential self-consciousness – our knowledge that we are – persists even in the absence of our mind, it is clearly more real than our mind. Since it transcends all the limitations that are experienced by our mind, it is not limited in any way, and hence it is both infinite and absolute. It is the one enduring reality, and hence it is the true substance that appears as our mind, our body, this world and every other thing.

Therefore, referring to our basic self-consciousness ‘I am’, which we experience continuously, Sri Ramana concludes verse 7 by expressing his own transcendent experience of true self-knowledge:

[…] Only that which shines without [ever] appearing or disappearing as the space [or base] for the appearing and disappearing of the world and [our] mind [is] poruḷ [the true substance, essence or absolute reality], which is the whole [the infinite totality of all that is].

Just as a rope appears to be a snake without ever ceasing to be a rope, so our non-dual self-consciousness ‘I am’, which is the one absolute reality, appears as our mind and all the duality experienced by our mind without ever ceasing to be what it really is.

Sri Ramana summarises the truth that he expresses in the above three verses of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu in verse 99 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai:

[This or any other] world does not exist without [a corresponding] body [that we imagine to be ourself], [any such] body does not exist at any time without [our] mind, [our] mind does not exist at any time without [our essential] consciousness, and [our essential] consciousness does not exist at any time without [our true] being [our own reality or ‘am’-ness].

The existence of any world is dependent upon the body through which we perceive it. The existence of any such body is dependent upon our mind, which experiences it as ‘I’. The existence of our mind is dependent upon our essential consciousness, without which it could not know either its own existence or the existence of any other thing.

How exactly does this sequence of dependence take place? Our real consciousness – that is, our basic self-consciousness ‘I am’ – does not depend upon any other thing, because it always exists and knows its own existence. Our mind, on the other hand, does not always exist, or at least it does not always know its own existence. It knows its own existence only in waking and dream, but not in sleep. It appears to know its own existence only when it superimposes an imaginary body upon our real self-consciousness ‘I am’, thereby experiencing that body as ‘I’, and only after it has thus imagined itself to be a body is it able to experience a world through the five senses of that body. Therefore the appearance of the world depends upon our body, the appearance of our body depends upon our mind, and the appearance of our mind depends upon our essential self-consciousness ‘I am’.

After expressing this sequence of dependence, Sri Ramana concludes by saying, ‘[…] consciousness does not exist at any time in the absence of being’. By saying this, he does not mean to imply that consciousness is some separate thing that is dependent upon being, but only that consciousness itself is being.

If consciousness were other than being, it would not be – that is, it would not exist – and hence it could not know either itself or any other thing. Similarly, if being were other than consciousness, it could not know itself, and hence it would have to depend upon some consciousness other than itself in order to be known. Hence in order to be independently and therefore absolutely real, being must be conscious of itself, and consciousness must be.

The real being is only our own being, because our being is self-conscious, whereas the seeming being or existence of every other thing is known only by us, and is therefore dependent upon us. Since our being is self-conscious, it is a perfectly non-dual consciousness, and hence it is not dependent upon any other thing either to be or to be known to be. Being completely independent, it is free from all forms of limitation, all conditions and all relativity. It is therefore the one infinite and absolute reality.

In this verse of Guru Vācaka Kōvai the word that I have translated as ‘being’ is uṇmai, which usually means ‘truth’ or ‘reality’, but which etymologically means ‘is’-ness or ‘am’-ness. Since real being or ‘am’-ness is self-conscious, it is not an objective form of being, but is the one infinite reality that underlies and supports the appearance of all objectivity or duality. It is the fundamental consciousness that makes the appearance of all other things possible.

Since our mind, our body, this world and every other conceivable thing depend upon our non-dual self-conscious being, and since they all appear and disappear, they are all mere imaginary appearances, and the sole reality that underlies and supports their appearance is only our own being or consciousness. In other words, the one substance that appears as everything is only our own essential being-consciousness, ‘I am’.

Whereas every other thing is only relatively real, being a mere imagination, our own consciousness is the one and only absolute reality. In essence, therefore, everything is only our own consciousness. Hence our consciousness alone is real. Other than it, nothing truly exists. This is the final conclusion to which Sri Ramana leads us.

However, understanding theoretically that everything is only our own consciousness is not an end in itself. Sri Ramana leads us to this conclusion in order to convince us that the only means by which we can experience the absolute reality is to experience ourself as the infinite non-dual consciousness of being that we really are. In order to experience ourself thus, we must divert our attention away from all other things, and focus it wholly and exclusively upon ourself – that is, upon our own self-conscious being, which we always experience as ‘I am’.

Our present knowledge of duality or otherness is what obstructs us from experiencing our own consciousness as the adjunct-free and absolutely non-dual self-consciousness that it truly ever is. Since our knowledge of duality arises only when we imagine ourself to be a body, we cannot experience ourself as the infinite, undivided, non-dual and absolute reality so long as we experience the seeming existence of any other thing.

In order to remove our imaginary knowledge of duality, we must cease to imagine ourself to be this or any other body, and in order to cease imagining ourself thus, we must know ourself as we really are. Our mind rises, imagining itself to be a body and thereby experiencing things that appear to be other than itself, only because of our self-ignorance, and hence it will be destroyed only by true self-knowledge.

Our primal imagination that we are a physical body is the foundation upon which our mind is built. Whenever our mind rises, whether in a dream or in a so-called waking state, it always imagines itself to be a body. Without this fundamental imagination ‘I am this body’, it could not rise and imagine any other thing.

When our mind is active, perceiving the world or thinking thoughts (all of which pertain to the world in one way or another), we always feel, ‘I am a person called so-and-so, I am distinct from this world around me, and from all the other people and creatures that I see in this world’, and these feelings are all rooted in our fundamental imagination that a particular body is ourself. Whatever else we may be experiencing, this fundamental imagination ‘I am this body’ is always there in the background, underlying all our experiences.

In our essential nature, we are just formless consciousness, and as such we do not think any thoughts or experience anything other than ‘I am’. We experience this natural state of formless consciousness in deep sleep, which is a state in which we know nothing other than our essential being, ‘I am’. The fact that we can be and can know our being in the formless state of deep sleep clearly indicates that in our essential nature we are not any form, but are just formless consciousness of being.

Though we are formless consciousness, in the waking and dream states we imagine ourself to be the form of a particular body. The form-bound consciousness that seemingly comes into existence when we thus attach ourself to a body is what we call our ‘mind’. Our mind, which in reality is just formless consciousness, forms itself as a form-bound consciousness by imagining itself to be the form of a particular body.

The basic form that our mind takes upon itself is its fundamental imagination ‘I am this body’. This fundamental imagination is itself our mind. Other than this imagination ‘I am this body’, our mind does not exist as a separate entity. Our mind arises only when it forms itself as this fundamental imagination, and only after forming itself thus does it begin to form all its other imaginations. Therefore the root of all imagination is our primal imagination ‘I am this body’.

In the fifth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? Sri Ramana describes more about this primal imagination ‘I am this body’, which he refers to as the thought ‘I’ that rises in this body:

What rises in this body as ‘I’, that alone is [our] mind. If [we] investigate in what place the thought ‘I’ rises first in [our] body, [we] will come to know that [it rises first] in [our] heart [the innermost core of our being]. That alone is the birthplace of [our] mind. Even if [we] remain thinking ‘I, I’, it will take [us] and leave [us] in that place. Of all the thoughts that appear [or arise] in [our] mind, the thought ‘I’ alone is the first thought. Only after this rises do other thoughts rise. Only after the first person appears do the second and third persons appear; without the first person the second and third persons do not exist.

Though our body is an imagination, an image that our mind has formed within itself, our mind cannot rise without imagining this mental image to be itself. Such is the enigmatic nature of māyā, our self-deceptive power of imagination.

Being a mental image, our body actually exists only in our mind, but we delude ourself into imagining that our mind exists only within our body. As a result of this delusion, when our mind rises we feel that it rises within the confines of our body.

The limited feeling ‘I’ that rises within this body, mistaking it to be itself, is our mind. Though this feeling ‘I’, which is a thought or mental image, seems to arise or originate within this body, if we scrutinise it keenly in order to ascertain from where in this body it originates, we will discover that it does not actually originate from any place within this body, but only from the innermost core of our being.

In spiritual literature this innermost core of our being, which is our fundamental and essential consciousness ‘I am’, is what is called our ‘heart’ or hṛdaya. As Sri Ramana often explained, the word ‘heart’ in this context does not denote any organ within our body, but is synonymous with our real self, the formless and infinite spirit, which is the absolute reality and which we always experience as our fundamental consciousness of mere being, ‘I am’.

Our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’ is referred to as our ‘heart’ or the core of our being because we experience it as the centre from which we experience all other things. In every experience and every knowledge our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’ is present as both the centre and the base.

All our knowledge is based upon and centred in our first and fundamental knowledge ‘I am’. All our other forms of knowledge appear and disappear, but this knowledge or consciousness ‘I am’ remains as our only constant and unchanging knowledge. It is therefore the ‘heart’ or core of all that we consider to be ourself, and of all that we as an individual know, experience and do.

Because it is the source from which our mind and everything known by our mind arises, Sri Ramana says that our ‘heart’ or real self is the ‘birthplace’ of our mind. Though he uses the word ‘place’ to denote the core or ‘heart’ of our being, he does not use it in the literal sense of a place existing within the limited dimensions of time and space, but only in a figurative sense. That is, though the core of our being is not confined within the limits of time and space, he refers to it figuratively as a ‘place’ because we always experience it as the central point in time and space, as the ‘now’ and ‘here’, the single point from which we perceive and conceive all other points in time and space.

Some people appear to have difficulty in understanding the simple fact that our true being is formless and infinite consciousness, presumably because they are either unable or unwilling to conceive of any consciousness beyond their present finite consciousness of themself as a physical body. Because they cannot conceive that they are anything more than their limited mind-body complex, and because some of them are therefore enamoured by the idea of cakras or mystic centres located at certain points within the physical body, such people often used to ask Sri Ramana at which point in the physical body the hṛdaya or spiritual ‘heart’ is located. Knowing that such people were unable or unwilling to comprehend the simple truth that the word ‘heart’ truly denotes the infinite reality, the formless spirit or consciousness, Sri Ramana used to appease their curiosity by saying that the spiritual ‘heart’ is located two digits to the right from the centre of our chest.

The reason why he specified this particular point as being the location of the ‘heart’ in our physical body is that this is the point in our body at which our sense of ‘I’ appears to originate and from which it spreads throughout our body. However this location of our ‘heart’ is not absolutely true, but is true only relative to our body. This location is only as real as our body, and our body is no more real than our mind, of which it is a creation. Since our body is a mere imagination, like the whole world of which it is a part, how can any point in it be our true ‘heart’, the core of our being, which is the infinite and absolute reality?

Therefore, to all people who were able to understand the simple truth of his teaching, namely that our essential self is the sole reality, and that our mind and everything known by it except ‘I am’ is a mere figment of our self-deceiving imagination, Sri Ramana often emphasised the truth that the spiritual ‘heart’ is not any place in our body but is only our own real self, our fundamental and essential consciousness of being, ‘I am’.

Not only is the location of our spiritual ‘heart’ in this physical body merely a relative truth, it is also a truth which is of no practical value. When someone once asked him whether we should meditate on the right side of our chest in order to meditate upon our spiritual heart, he replied, ‘The “heart” is not physical. Meditation should not be on the right or on the left. Meditation should be on our self. We all know “I am”. What is this “I”? It is neither inside nor outside, nor is it on the right or on the left. “I am” – that is all’. For practical purposes, all we need know about the spiritual ‘heart’ is that it is our basic consciousness ‘I am’, which is the core of our being, and the centre of all that we experience.

In this fifth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? Sri Ramana teaches that the means by which we can experience a clear knowledge of this ‘heart’, which is the source or ‘birthplace’ of our mind, is to keenly scrutinise our primal thought ‘I’ in order to ascertain from ‘which place’ or from what it has originated. Though he expresses this process of self-investigation or vicāra by saying, ‘If [we] investigate in what place the thought “I” rises first in [our] body, [we] will come to know that [it rises first] in [our] heart. That alone is the birthplace of [our] mind’, this is essentially the same process that he expresses more directly in the sixth paragraph (which we cited in full earlier in this chapter) by saying, ‘If [we] investigate “who am I?”, [our] mind will return to its birthplace’.

Our mind or attention returns to its source or ‘birthplace’, the innermost core of our being, whenever we cease thinking of anything other than our own essential self-conscious being, which we always experience as ‘I am’. Our mind rises from its source only by thinking, that is, by imagining and attending to anything other than itself, so it naturally subsides and merges in its source whenever it stops thinking. This subsidence and merging of our mind in our essential being happens every day when we fall asleep. However in sleep we do not experience a clear unclouded knowledge of our true being, because we subside in sleep only by withdrawing our attention from other things, but without focusing it keenly upon our own consciousness of being – our essential self-consciousness ‘I am’.

Our mind rises due to the cloud of self-forgetfulness or self-ignorance with which we have seemingly obscured our natural clarity of pure self-consciousness. We mistake ourself to be this finite body-bound consciousness called ‘mind’ only because we have chosen seemingly to ignore our true being, the infinite and uncontaminated consciousness ‘I am’. This voluntary self-ignorance or self-forgetfulness persists until we choose to remember what our true being really is. We can remember what we really are only by focusing our attention wholly and exclusively upon our essential being, our consciousness ‘I am’, because the true nature of our essential being is pure non-dual self-consciousness.

Since we subside and merge in the state of sleep without focusing our attention wholly and exclusively upon our essential consciousness of being, ‘I am’, the cloud of our self-ignorance or self-forgetfulness continues to exist in sleep. The ordinary sleep that we experience every day is just a state in which our mind rests from its ceaseless activity and recuperates its energy to engage in more activity. By temporarily merging and becoming one with its original source, which is the true source of all power, our mind is able to recharge its energy, which it then expends on another bout of activity in either waking or dream. Having expended its limited supply of energy, our mind must again merge in sleep to renew that supply.

No machine can gain energy merely by ceasing to be active. We cannot recharge a battery simply by ceasing to use it for a while. In order to recharge it, we have to connect it to some source of power, such as the mains electricity or a generator. Likewise, our mind does not renew its energy in sleep merely because it is inactive. It does so because in sleep it is connected to a source of power, which is our own essential being. The power that our mind derives by remaining for a while in sleep does not come from anywhere outside ourself. It comes only from a source within ourself, and that source is our own real self or spirit, the essential nature of which is our mere consciousness of being – our self-consciousness ‘I am’.

In sleep all that we experience is ‘I am’. But by merely experiencing this consciousness ‘I am’ for a while, our mind is able to recharge its energy. However, though we do experience the knowledge ‘I am’ in sleep, we do not experience it with perfect clarity. Though our mind has subsided in sleep together with all its knowledge of other things, the clouding influence of our basic self-forgetfulness persists. Therefore though in sleep we know that we are, we do not clearly know what we are.

The reason why we do not clearly know what we are in sleep is that we subside in that state merely by withdrawing our attention from other things, but without focusing it upon ourself. In order to know what we are, we must focus our attention keenly upon our own essential being. This focusing of our attention wholly and exclusively upon ourself, our consciousness of being, ‘I am’, is what Sri Ramana calls ‘self-investigation’ or ātma-vicāra.

Sri Ramana describes this simple process of ‘self-investigation’ in various different ways, each of which is suited to a particular context. In the sixth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?, in the context of how we should deal with other thoughts, which tend to distract us whenever we try to attend to our mere being, he describes it as a process of investigating, ‘To whom do these thoughts occur? To me. Who am I?’. In the fifth paragraph, in the context of how our mind always rises as a limited sense of ‘I’ that is seemingly confined within a body, he describes it as a process of investigating in what place the thought ‘I’ rises first in our body.

Because our mind always rises in a body by imagining that body to be ‘I’, Sri Ramana says that we should investigate in what place it rises in our body. However he explains that when we do so we will discover that it does not actually rise from any place within our physical body but only from our ‘heart’, the non-physical core of our being.

In order to ascertain from where our mind rises as ‘I’, we must focus our attention keenly upon the essential consciousness that we experience as ‘I’. When we do so, our attention will automatically be withdrawn from our body and from everything else, and will be centred entirely in our basic sense of being – our own fundamental self-consciousness, ‘I am’. Therefore, by suggesting that we investigate from where in this body our mind rises as ‘I’, Sri Ramana is providing us with a trick to divert our attention away from our body towards the essential consciousness that, when seemingly contaminated with our cognition of this body and the world that we perceive through it, enables us to feel that this body is ‘I’.

In whatever way he may describe this process of self-investigation or self-scrutiny, the sole aim of Sri Ramana is to provide us with clues that will help us to divert our attention away from our thoughts, our body and all other things, and to focus it wholly and exclusively upon our fundamental and essential consciousness of being, which we always experience as ‘I am’. In his writings and sayings there are many examples of how he does this. In this fifth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?, for instance, after first suggesting that we should investigate in what place the thought ‘I’ rises in our body, he goes on to give us a still simpler means by which we can consciously return to the source from which we have risen, saying, ‘Even if [we] remain thinking “I, I”, it will take [us] and leave [us] in that place’.

He expresses this same truth in slightly different words in verse 716 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai:

Even if [we] incessantly contemplate that [divine] name ‘I, I’ [or ‘I am I’], with [our] attention [thereby fixed firmly] in [our] heart [that is, in our real ‘I’, which is the core of our being], it will save [us], taking one [that is, ourself] into the source from which [our] mind [or thought] rises [in such a manner as] to destroy [our] ego, [which is] the body-bound embryo [germ, cause or foundation from which all other things arise].

In this verse the words ‘that name’ refer to the name ‘I’, ‘am’, ‘I am’ or ‘I [am] I’, which he declared in the preceding verses 712 to 715 to be the original and most appropriate name of God. When we contemplate this name ‘I’, our attention will be drawn to our basic self-consciousness, which we always experience as ‘I am’, and thereby our mind will be drawn back to its own source.

When our mind or ego thereby sinks back into our real self, which is the source from which it had risen, it will be destroyed, being consumed in the infinite clarity of unadulterated self-consciousness. Since our mind deludes us, causing us to imagine ourself to be bound within the limitations of a physical body, the destruction of our mind in the clear light of true self-knowledge is the only real salvation, and hence Sri Ramana says that we will be saved by contemplating upon the original name of God, which is ‘I’, ‘I am’ or ‘I am I’.

Sri Ramana describes our mind as ūṉ ār karu ahandai, which means the ‘ego, [which is] the body-bound embryo’, because it comes into existence only by imagining itself to be a body, and because it thereby gives rise to the appearance of all other things. The Tamil word karu, which I have translated as ‘embryo’, also means ‘germ’, ‘efficient cause’, ‘substance’ or ‘foundation’, and it derives from the Sanskrit word garbha, which means ‘womb’ or ‘the interior’. In this context, therefore, it implies that our ego or mind is the embryo or seed from which all duality or otherness is born, the substance of which it is formed, the active cause or creator that brings it all into being, the foundation that supports its appearance, and the womb inside which it is all contained.

Since our body and all other things are imaginary appendages that distract our attention away from our essential self-consciousness ‘I am’, we can free ourself from them only by keeping our attention fixed firmly upon our self-consciousness. A simple and easy means by which we can draw our attention back towards our self-consciousness, and which will help us to a certain extent to keep it fixed there, is to remember the name ‘I’ or ‘I am’ incessantly.

This is a very practical clue given to us by Sri Ramana, and it is particularly useful for those people who initially have difficulty in understanding what exactly is meant by the term ‘self-attention’. Such people are so accustomed to objective attention that they cannot understand how we can attend to our non-objective and formless consciousness ‘I am’, and hence they complain that they cannot find any such thing as ‘I’ to attend to. Because they imagine that they must look for an ‘I’ as if it were some kind of subtle object, they complain that it is too elusive for them to be able to attend to it.

The real cause of their imagined difficulty, however, is that our consciousness ‘I’ is not an object of any kind, but is the subject that knows all objects. We cannot objectify our first person consciousness ‘I’, and if we try to do so we will be diverting our attention away from the real ‘I’ that we should be attending to. Though our consciousness ‘I am’ is not an object, it is nevertheless something that we always know. None of us doubt the obvious truth ‘I am’, even though we do not have a perfectly clear knowledge of what exactly this ‘I am’ is.

Since many people experience such difficulty in grasping exactly what Sri Ramana means when he says that we should attend to our mere consciousness ‘I am’, he sometimes suggested that they should continuously think ‘I, I, I’ or ‘I am, I am, I am’. If we think thus, our attention will naturally be drawn back to the consciousness that is denoted by the words ‘I’ and ‘I am’.

Whenever we think of the name of a person or an object, a remembrance of that person or object naturally comes to our mind. The thought of any name will bring to our mind the form or thing denoted by that name. Likewise, the thought of the name ‘I’ or ‘I am’ will draw our attention to the subject, the non-objective consciousness denoted by that name. Therefore thinking ‘I, I, I’ is a useful aid to the practice of self-attention, at least until such time as we become familiar with the experience of attending to our mere consciousness of being.

However, since even the verbalised thought ‘I’ or ‘I am’ is an object known by us, the practice of thinking ‘I, I, I’ or ‘I am, I am, I am’ can become a distraction, preventing our attention from penetrating deep into the consciousness that is actually denoted by the words ‘I’ or ‘I am’. This practice of thinking continuously ‘I, I’ is therefore beneficial only to a certain extent, but it will drop off naturally when it has become unnecessary, that is, when we have become sufficiently accustomed to the experience of true self-attention. However, even when we have become accustomed to attending to our mere being, we may sometimes find that thinking ‘I, I’ or ‘I am, I am’ a few times can be an aid to divert our attention away from other thoughts and to centre it exclusively upon our own essential self-conscious being.

In this extremely valuable small treatise Nāṉ Yār? Sri Ramana has given us many other clues that can help us to practise self-attention. For example in the eleventh paragraph, when describing how we must overcome all our viṣaya-vāsanās, our deeply rooted mental impulsions or desires to attend to things other than our own real self, he says:

[…] 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 plain English the Sanskrit term svarūpa-smaraṇa can best be translated as ‘self-remembrance’, which is just another way of describing the state of self-attention. However, every word has its own particular flavour, and by using the word smaraṇa or ‘remembrance’ in this context Sri Ramana is able to convey a shade of meaning that would not have been conveyed if he had instead used the word ‘attention’. The word ‘remembrance’ suggests something that we already know but have forgotten or overlooked.

We always know ‘I am’, but we somehow overlook or ignore it because we are too enthralled by the delusive attraction of other things. If we wish to free ourself of the bondage of attachment to anything other than our own real self, all we need do is to remember uninterruptedly our essential consciousness of being, ‘I am’. Since our self-forgetfulness is the root cause of all our unhappiness and all our other problems, self-remembrance is the only antidote that will cure all our problems.

Moreover, whereas terms such as ‘self-investigation’, ‘self-examination’, ‘self-enquiry’, ‘self-scrutiny’ and ‘self-attention’ tend to suggest an active process of investigating, examining, enquiring into, scrutinising or attending to ourself, the term ‘self-remembrance’ tends to suggest a more passive state of simply remembering ourself. All these words do of course denote the same ‘process’ or state, which is not actually a process of doing anything, but is only a state of just being. However, though they all denote the same state of just being, each of them depicts that state in a subtly different manner, so Sri Ramana used whichever such term was most appropriate to the context in which he was speaking.

Another two terms that he often used to denote this same state of just being were ātma-niṣṭha, which means ‘self-abidance’, and ātma-cintanā, which literally means ‘self-thought’ or the ‘thought of ourself’. The first of these two terms, ‘self-abidance’, is particularly significant, because it implies the truth that attending to and knowing ourself is not an action, but is just the state of consciously abiding as our real self, or in other words, simply being what we really are, which is perfectly thought-free self-conscious being. However, the other term, ‘self-thought’, could easily be mistaken to imply that self-attention is an act of ‘thinking’ of ourself.

Though these two terms seem to imply conflicting meanings, Sri Ramana uses both of them in the first sentence of the thirteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? in the context of describing the state of complete self-surrender:

Being completely absorbed in ātma-niṣṭha [self-abidance], giving not even the slightest room to the rising of any thought except ātma-cintanā [the thought of our own real self], is giving ourself to God. […]

The reason why he uses the term ātma-cintanā or ‘self-thought’ in this context is to emphasise the fact that in order to abide in the state of perfect self-surrender we should not attend to or ‘think of’ anything other than our own essential being, ‘I am’. If we think of anything else, we rise as this separate object-knowing consciousness that we call our ‘mind’. Thinking is therefore what separates us from God. Hence, if we truly wish to surrender our individual self or mind entirely to God, we must refrain from thinking anything.

Why then does Sri Ramana say ‘except ātma-cintanā’ in this sentence? He makes this exception because ātma-cintanā or ‘self-thought’ is not actually a thought like any other thought that we think. Thinking of anything other than our true self is an action, and as such it requires the rising of our mind or individual self to perform that action, whereas ‘thinking of’ our true self is not an action. When we try to ‘think of’ our true self, our attention turns inwards, towards our essential self-conscious being, and thus our mind subsides in the source from which it originated. This subsidence of our mind in the innermost core of our being, ‘I am’, which is the true form of God, is the state of true and perfect self-surrender.

Therefore, though ātma-cintanā literally means ‘self-thought’ or the ‘thought of ourself’, it is truly not a state of thinking but is simply the state of just being. Whenever Sri Ramana talks about ‘thought of ourself’, ‘thinking of ourself’ or ‘thinking of I’, he is not using the words ‘thought’ or ‘thinking’ in a precise sense, but is using them loosely to mean ‘attention’ or ‘attending’.

A thought or the act of thinking is actually just the act of paying attention to something. When we attend to anything other than our essential being, our attention takes the form of an action, which we call ‘thinking’, but when we attend only to our essential being, our attention remains as being. Therefore if we try to ‘think’ of ourself – of our true being or ‘I am’ – our mind will become motionless, all our thinking will cease, and we will remain in the state of just being.

In its strict sense, thinking is the act of forming and experiencing a thought in our mind. Our forming a thought and our experiencing that thought are not two separate actions, because we form a thought by our very act of experiencing or knowing it. As such, thinking is a process of imagination, a process by which we conjure up the experience of images, thoughts or feelings in our mind.

This process of thinking is what gives our mind a seeming identity or separate existence. When we think, we rise as the separate consciousness we call our ‘mind’, and when we do not think, this mind of ours subsides and dissolves in its source, which is our essential being or true self.

Our mind is the separate and finite consciousness in which we form and experience all our thoughts or imaginations. However, it is not only that in which all our thoughts are formed and experienced, but also that by which they are formed and experienced. Moreover, since our mind forms itself by its act of thinking, it is itself a thought, a product of its own imagination. Therefore, since our mind always experiences itself as the ‘I’ which thinks all other thoughts, Sri Ramana often refers to it as the thought ‘I’.

In the fifth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?, after explaining that this thought ‘I’, which seems to rise in our body, actually rises from our ‘heart’, the innermost core of our being, and that by attending to this thought ‘I’ we can return to that source, Sri Ramana goes on to say:

[…] Of all the thoughts that appear in [our] mind, the thought ‘I’ alone is the first thought. Only after this rises do other thoughts rise. Only after the first person appears do the second and third persons appear; without the first person the second and third persons do not exist.

In the clause ‘the thought “I” alone is the first thought’, which is highlighted in bold type in the original Tamil text, the word that I have translated as ‘first’ is mudal, which has various related meanings such as first, foremost, primary, root, base, basis, origin and cause, all of which are appropriate in this context. Not only is this basic thought ‘I’ the first thought to rise and the last thought to subside, it is also the origin and cause of all other thoughts. Without it no other thought can rise, because this primal thought ‘I’ is the thinker that thinks all those other thoughts.

Being not only a thought but also the thinker, it is fundamentally different to all our other thoughts, because it is the knowing subject, whereas they are all just known objects. That is, it is the only thought that is endowed with an element of consciousness. It is conscious both of all other thoughts, and of itself as ‘I’. However, because it appears to be limited within the confines of a physical body, it is not a pure uncontaminated form of consciousness, but is a mixture of consciousness and all the limitations of this body that it imagines to be ‘I’.

When Sri Ramana says, ‘Of all the thoughts that appear in [our] mind […]’, he means every type of thought, including all our verbalised thoughts, our concepts, our beliefs, our memories, our dreams, our feelings and our perceptions. Except our essential consciousness ‘I am’, everything that we know is a thought, an impression or image that appears in our mind.

When describing the dependence of all our other thoughts upon our primal thought ‘I’, Sri Ramana refers to the latter as the ‘first person’, and the former as the ‘second and third persons’. Which of our other thoughts does he refer to as ‘second persons’, and which does he refer to as ‘third persons’? Our ‘second person’ thoughts are all those thoughts that we recognise as existing only in our own mind, and which we therefore feel are most close and intimate to us, whereas our ‘third person’ thoughts are all those thoughts that we imagine to be external objects that we perceive through one or more of our five senses.

All our other thoughts – that is, both our ‘second person’ thoughts and our ‘third person’ thoughts – arise in our mind only after our ‘first person’ thought ‘I’ has arisen. In the absence of our first person thought ‘I’, neither our second person thoughts nor our third person thoughts can exist. Except our essential consciousness ‘I am’, everything that we know depends for its seeming existence upon our mind, our first person thought ‘I’, which is the consciousness that knows them.

Our mind, our compound consciousness ‘I am this body’, is merely an imagination superimposed upon our real consciousness ‘I am’, just like an imaginary snake that is superimposed upon a rope. In the dim light of dusk, when we see a rope lying on the ground, we may imagine it to be a snake. But if we look closely at that imaginary snake, we will see that it is in fact nothing but a rope. Similarly, if we look at the compound consciousness ‘I am this body’ sufficiently closely and keenly, we will discover that it is in reality nothing but the pure and simple consciousness ‘I am’, and that the adjunct ‘this body’ is merely an illusion superimposed upon it by our power of imagination.

This illusory body, and all the other objects or thoughts known by our mind, will continue to appear real so long as we attend to them, just as a dream continues to appear real so long as we experience it. Our power of attention is what gives a seeming reality to the things that we know. The delusion ‘I am this body’ will therefore be sustained so long as we continue to attend to this body or to any of the objects that we know through the media of its five senses. To disperse this delusion, we must cease attending to any object known by our mind, and must instead turn our attention back on ourself in order to know our underlying consciousness ‘I am’.

Therefore in order to experience our real consciousness ‘I am’ as it is, unlimited and undefiled by identification with any form, we must turn our attention away from all forms – all objective thoughts, feelings or mental images such as our body and this world – towards the one essential element of our mind – our basic consciousness ‘I am’. So long as we continue to cling or attend to any form of objective thought, we can never experience our consciousness ‘I am’ as it really is. Instead, we will continue to delude ourself into believing that our mind and everything known by it are real.

Can anything known by our mind actually be real? Or rather, can anything that we know through the deceptive medium that we call our ‘mind’ be real? Except our essential self-consciousness ‘I am’, each and everything that we know is only a thought of some form or another. All thoughts are a form of knowledge, and conversely, all knowledge other than our basic consciousness ‘I am’ is a form of thought.

All thoughts are known by us only through the medium of our mind, which is our first thought ‘I’, but our essential consciousness ‘I am’ is known by us directly, not through our mind or any other medium. All the knowledge that we have of everything other than ‘I am’ depends for its seeming reality upon the reality of the mind through which we know it. If our mind is unreal, all things known by it must also be unreal, since they are only thoughts that it has formed within itself.

The only thing that appears to be known by our mind yet is nevertheless not dependent upon our mind for its reality is our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’, because it is not merely a thought that our mind has formed within itself. Even in the absence of our mind, in thought-free states such as sleep, we experience this basic consciousness ‘I am’. Moreover, what our mind actually knows is not our consciousness ‘I am’ as it really is, but is only our consciousness ‘I am’ obscured by our imagination ‘I am this body’. On waking from sleep, the first thing our mind knows is ‘I am’, but as soon as it knows ‘I am’ it superimposes upon it this false identification ‘I am this body’.

Thus from its very outset our mind is a lie, a false mixture of our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’ with a physical body composed of inconscient matter. When its most basic knowledge, the knowledge it has of itself, is thus a lie or falsehood, how can we trust any other knowledge that our mind may acquire? All that our mind knows is based upon its first knowledge, its wrong knowledge ‘I am this body’. Because it always superimposes this false identification ‘I am this body’ upon our pure, original and fundamental consciousness ‘I am’, our mind can never know our pure uncontaminated consciousness as it really is.

The one essential quality of consciousness is that it is always self-conscious – it always knows its own existence or being – and that consciousness of its own existence is what we call ‘I am’. However, in addition to knowing its own existence, consciousness sometimes also seems to know other things. When our consciousness thus knows other things, we call it our ‘mind’.

The nature of our mind is to know otherness or duality. Our mind is thus a mixed consciousness, a consciousness in which our fundamental knowledge ‘I am’ is mixed with the knowledge of other things. However, whereas the knowledge of other things is something that appears and disappears, and while appearing constantly undergoes change, our basic knowledge ‘I am’ does not appear or disappear, but exists permanently and without undergoing any change. Moreover, whereas the knowledge of otherness depends upon our consciousness in order to be known, our basic knowledge ‘I am’ does not depend upon anything else in order to be known, because it is itself the consciousness by which all things are known.

Thus in the mixed consciousness that we call our ‘mind’, what is real is only our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’. This fundamental and uncontaminated consciousness ‘I am’ seems to become the mixed consciousness called ‘mind’ only when we superimpose upon it the knowledge of other things. But whereas our basic consciousness ‘I am’ is permanent and therefore real, all our knowledge of other things is merely a temporary appearance, and is therefore unreal. Our consciousness ‘I am’ alone is real because it alone satisfies all three conditions by which we can judge something to be real. That is, it is permanent, unchanging, and not dependent upon any other thing, either to exist or to be known to exist.

Our mind is a temporary form of consciousness that appears and disappears, and that constantly undergoes change during the time of its appearance. Though it appears to know its own existence as ‘I am’, it actually borrows this knowledge of its own existence from our real consciousness, which underlies it and gives it a seeming existence of its own.

Our knowledge ‘I am’ is experienced by us even in sleep, when our mind has disappeared, but when our mind appears in waking or in dream, it usurps from us this basic knowledge ‘I am’, and masquerades as if this knowledge were its own. Our knowledge or consciousness ‘I am’ is our real self, and hence it is the one thing that we experience always, but our mind is not our real self, because we only experience it temporarily.

There is therefore a clear distinction between our knowledge ‘I am’ and our mind, which merely assumes this knowledge in waking and dream, as if it were its own, but is separated from it in sleep. Thus the seeming union of our mind with our knowledge ‘I am’ is not a real oneness, but is only a transitory appearance. Therefore our mind is not independently conscious of its own existence. To know its own existence as ‘I am’, it depends entirely upon our real consciousness, without whose support it could not appear to exist.

Being impermanent, constantly subject to change, and entirely dependent upon our real consciousness, both for its seeming existence and for its seeming knowledge of its own existence, our mind is not real. Whatever reality it appears to have is only relative, and not absolute. That which is only relatively real is not truly real at all, but merely appears to be real. Only that which is absolutely and unconditionally real can be called ‘real’ in the truest sense of this word.

In the previous chapter we described our mind as our ‘knowing consciousness’, because its nature is to be always knowing things that it imagines to be other than itself. Since it rises and subsides, or appears and disappears, we can also describe it as our ‘rising consciousness’, in contrast to our real consciousness, which is our ‘being consciousness’, the consciousness that just is, and that never rises to know anything other than itself.

Our mind or ‘rising consciousness’ cannot rise or come into existence without imagining itself to be a distinct and separate entity, and without simultaneously imagining something other than itself to know. It imagines itself to be a separate entity by imagining a physical body and by simultaneously imagining that imaginary physical body to be itself. Thus our mind or ‘rising consciousness’ rises by imagining ‘I am this body’, and it simultaneously imagines that it knows things other than itself. Without simultaneously imagining both of these things, our mind cannot rise.

As soon as we wake up from sleep, we feel as if we have woken up or risen in a particular body, which we feel to be ourself, and we simultaneously feel as if we have become aware of a world around us, which we feel to be other than ourself. This feeling of rising as a body and of knowing other things is all an imagination, but so long as we identify ourself with our ‘rising consciousness’ it appears to us to be quite real.

We are able to know things other than ourself only through the medium of our mind, our limited ‘rising consciousness’. Generally we divide all the objects that we know into two broad categories, our thoughts and the external objects perceived by us. In this context the term ‘our thoughts’ includes all the ‘second person’ objects known by us, that is, all our thoughts, feelings and emotions, and everything else that we recognise as existing only in our own mind. The term ‘external objects’, on the other hand, includes all the ‘third person’ objects known by us, that is, everything that we perceive through any of our five senses, and that we therefore imagine exists outside of and independent of our mind.

If we are asked whether we think that our thoughts exist apart from our knowledge of them, most of us would readily admit that they can exist only if we know them. We may think that we are only vaguely aware of some of the thoughts in the background of our mind, but any thought exists only to the extent to which we know it. A thought is essentially just an image in our mind, an object that exists only in our own consciousness, and as such it exists only because we know it.

However, though we recognise that for their seeming existence our thoughts depend upon our knowledge of them, we imagine that the external objects that we perceive through our five senses somehow exist independent of our knowledge of them. But this distinction that we make between our ‘thoughts’ and ‘external objects’ is false.

Whatever we know, we know only in our own mind. Even the ‘external objects’ that we think we perceive outside ourself are actually experienced by us only as images in our own mind, and therefore they are also thoughts that we form and know by our power of imagination. Except our basic consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’, everything that we know is just a thought that we have formed in our mind.

Knowing anything other than ourself is therefore synonymous with thinking. It is a process of imagination, and can happen only when we imaginarily limit our consciousness as something other than the thoughts and objects that we know. Limiting ourself as a mind, a separate individual form of consciousness, is therefore the fundamental and essential factor in the process of thinking or knowing things other than ourself.

Though we usually imagine that our mind rises as soon as we wake up from sleep, and does not subside until we again fall into sleep, our mind actually rises and subsides countless times each second. With the rising of each thought, our mind rises to think and know it, and with the subsidence of each thought our mind momentarily subsides, before rising almost instantaneously to think and know some other thought.

Thinking is essentially a process of forming and simultaneously knowing thoughts. As we discussed earlier, our forming a thought and our knowing that thought are not actually two separate actions, because we form thoughts only by imagining them, and imagination necessarily involves knowing what we imagine.

Since our mind forms its thoughts only by imagining them, and since imagining something essentially involves attending to and knowing a mental image or thought, all thoughts are ultimately formed only by our attention or power of knowing. In other words, our power of imagination, which forms all our thoughts, is just a faculty of our power of knowing or consciousness.

Since at any single moment our mind can attend to and know only one thought, it cannot imagine or form more than one thought at the same time. Therefore, as we discussed in the first chapter, our thoughts rise and subside in our consciousness one at a time. Each consecutive thought can rise or be formed only after the previous thought has subsided or dissolved.

However, because each individual thought rises and subsides in an infinitely small period of time, during each second a countless number of consecutive thoughts can rise and subside in rapid succession. Therefore, because of the rapidity with which thoughts thus rise and subside, our surface mind is unable to discern the rising and subsiding of each individual thought, and therefore cognises only the collective impression formed by a series of such individual thoughts.

This is similar to our eye being unable to discern each individual spot of light on a television screen, as a result of which it cognises only the collective impression formed by a series of such spots covering the entire screen in rapid succession. The picture that we see on the screen of a cathode-ray tube television is formed by many horizontal lines of light, each of which is formed by many individual spots of light of varying colours and intensity. These individual spots of light, which are known as pixels (the syllable ‘pix’ standing for pictures, and ‘el’ standing for element), are formed on the screen one at a time by a ray of electrons discharged from the cathode at the back of the tube. Controlled by the steady sequence of oscillations of the magnetic or electrostatic field through which the ray of electrons is sprayed, in a fraction of a second the entire television screen is covered with a series of pixels of varying colours and intensity, thereby collectively forming a complete picture.

Because each individual pixel is formed only momentarily, and dissolves almost immediately, within a fraction of a second the oscillating ray of electrons is able to form another pixel of different colour and intensity upon the same spot on the screen, and thus in each successive fraction of a second it forms a slightly different picture upon the screen. Because the cognitive power of our eyes is not sufficiently subtle and refined for us to be able to perceive distinctly the rapid formation and dissolution of each individual pixel, or even the slightly less rapid formation and dissolution of each entire picture that is formed on the screen by a single sweep of the ray of electrons, what we cognise is not many rapidly changing individual spots of light but only a complete and continuously changing picture.

Each individual thought that momentarily rises and subsides in our mind is similar to a pixel that is momentarily formed and dissolved on a television screen. Because each individual thought rises or is formed only momentarily, and subsides or dissolves almost immediately, within an infinitely small fraction of a second our mind can form another thought in its place. Because the cognitive power of our mind is usually not sufficiently subtle and refined for us to be able to discern distinctly the extremely rapid formation and dissolution of each individual thought, what we usually cognise is not many rapidly rising and subsiding individual thoughts but only a single but continuously changing flow of thoughts.

However, if we practise being attentive to our infinitely subtle consciousness of being, ‘I am’, our power of attention or cognition will gradually become more subtle and refined, and eventually we will be able to cognise each individual thought as it rises. When by the practice of self-attentiveness our power of attention is thus refined and made sufficiently subtle to be able to detect distinctly the rising or formation of each individual thought, it will also be able to cognise clearly our pure and essential being, which always underlies and supports the formation of our thoughts, and which momentarily remains alone in the gap between the dissolution of one thought and the formation of our next thought.

When our power of attention or cognition thus becomes sufficiently refined to enable us to experience clearly our essential consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’, in the clarity of that pure self-consciousness or self-knowledge our mind will be dissolved, being a mere apparition that had risen only due to our lack of clear self-knowledge. That is, since our mind is merely a limited form of consciousness that feels ‘I am this body’, it cannot arise or be formed in the bright light of true self-knowledge, which shines only as our adjunct-free and therefore unadulterated self-consciousness ‘I am’. And since this illusory feeling ‘I am this body’ is our first and fundamental thought, which is the root or base of all our other thoughts, when this feeling is dissolved by true self-knowledge no other thought will be able to rise or be formed in our consciousness.

As we saw earlier in this chapter, our mind first forms itself as our root thought ‘I’, and then only does it form each other thought. Our root thought ‘I’ is the thinker, the agent who thinks all other thoughts. Therefore underlying the formation of each individual thought is the formation of our root thought ‘I’.

No thought can be formed without our thought ‘I’ being formed first. That is, we cannot form any other thought without first forming ourself as the thought ‘I’, which is the agent that thinks that thought. However, the obvious corollary of this truth is that we cannot form ourself as the thinker or first thought ‘I’ without simultaneously thinking or forming some other thought.

Without forming some other thought to cling to, we cannot rise as the thinking thought ‘I’. The nature of our first thought ‘I’ is to think other thoughts, and without thinking other thoughts it cannot appear to be formed as a separate individual consciousness. That is, our essential consciousness of being, ‘I am’, seemingly forms itself into our first thought ‘I am this body’ only by thinking some other thought.

Therefore, along with the formation and dissolution of each of our other thoughts, our thought ‘I’ is formed and dissolved. In other words, the repeated formation and dissolution of our fundamental thought ‘I’ is part and parcel of the formation and dissolution of each of our other thoughts. Hence in the brief gap between the dissolution and formation of each two consecutive thoughts, our mind or root thought ‘I’ is itself dissolved and re-formed.

Thus this gap between each two thoughts is a miniature sample of sleep, and the rising and subsiding of each thought is a miniature sample of waking or dream. Therefore our states of waking and dream are a macrocosm of which the formation and dissolution of each one of our individual thoughts is the microcosm.

Therefore if we gradually refine our power of attention or cognition by our persistent practice of self-attentiveness, we will eventually be able to cognise the underlying reality that remains between each successive subsidence and subsequent rising of our mind or root thought ‘I’. That underlying reality is our essential self-consciousness, which we always experience as ‘I am’.

Though we always experience our true self-consciousness ‘I am’, at present we do not experience it as it really is, because we are experiencing it mixed with the distorting limitation of our mind. Therefore if we are able to experience it clearly in the momentary mind-free gap that exists between the subsidence of one thought and the rising of the next thought, we will be able to know it as it really is, unadulterated by even the slightest form of duality or otherness.

Hence when we practise self-attentiveness, our aim is to experience our own natural self-consciousness unadulterated by even the slightest appearance of our mind or any object known by our mind. Instead of experiencing ourself as a body or any other adjunct, we should attempt to experience ourself clearly as our true adjunct-free self-consciousness ‘I am’.

The immediate substratum, background or screen upon which our states of waking and dream, and all our individual thoughts within those states, are formed and dissolved is the state of sleep, in which we experience only our own essential consciousness of being, but in a manner that is somehow not perfectly clear or distinct. However, the ultimate substratum or space in which not only waking and dream but also sleep are formed and dissolved is our true state of self-conscious being, ‘I am’, in which we experience our fundamental and essential consciousness of being in its full, natural and absolute clarity.

Therefore, since the entire universe and the physical space in which it is contained are nothing but thoughts that we have formed in our mind by our own power of imagination, in advaita vēdānta it is said that the physical space or bhūtākāśa is contained within the space of our mind or cittākāśa, and that the space of our mind is contained within the space of our true consciousness or cidākāśa.

If we can cognise how within our own consciousness we form and dissolve our thoughts, we will have understood the secret of how the entire universe is created and destroyed. To attain first-hand and immediate knowledge of this secret, we need not tax our mind pondering over any of the various religious or scientific theories of the origin of the universe, but need only scrutinise our own consciousness, which is the source from which and the space in which all our thoughts and this entire universe arise, momentarily stand, and then again subside. Both ‘Genesis’ and the ‘Big Bang’, which are each believed by certain groups of people to account for the appearance of this universe, occur in our mind every moment, with the formation of each one of our thoughts.

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