Happiness and the Art of Being
The Practice of the Art of Being
The art of being is the skill to remain firmly established in the actionless and therefore thought-free state of perfectly clear self-conscious being, which is the state of absolute self-surrender and true self-knowledge.
Like any other skill, the art of being is cultivated and perfected by practice. The more we practise it, the more we will develop the strength that we require to remain steadily poised in our natural thought-free consciousness of our own essential being.
How much practice each one of us will actually require in order to perfect our skill in this art of being will depend upon the relative degree of our present maturity or ripeness of mind. In the case of Sri Ramana, only a moment of practice was required, because at that time his mind was already perfectly ripe and therefore willing to surrender itself and be consumed in the effulgent light of infinitely clear self-consciousness. However, most of us do not possess even a fraction of such ripeness, so we require long and persistent practice of this art of being in order to develop it.
What do we mean when we speak of ripeness or maturity of mind? Our mind will be spiritually ripe when it has been purified or cleansed of all its desires – all its likes and dislikes, its attachments, its aversions, its fears and so on – and when it has thereby developed the willingness and true love to surrender itself entirely and thus subside peacefully in its own essential self-conscious being or ‘am’-ness. Our desires are the obstacles that make us unwilling to surrender ourself to our infinite being, and therefore they are the cause and the form of our unripeness for self-knowledge.
How can we develop the spiritual ripeness that we require in order to be able to surrender ourself entirely in the state of absolute being? Though there are many means by which we can indirectly and gradually begin to cultivate such ripeness, ultimately we can perfect it only by practising the art of being. All the other countless forms of spiritual practice – such as selfless service, dualistic devotion, ritualistic worship, repetition of a name of God, prayer, meditation, various forms of internal and external self-restraint (including the important virtue of ahiṁsā or ‘non-harming’, that is, the compassionate avoidance of causing any form of harm or suffering to any living being), the ‘eightfold limbs’ of yōga and so on – are indirect means which can enable us gradually to purify our mind, cleansing it of the grosser forms of its desires and thereby ripening it, but only to a certain extent.
That is, since all spiritual practices other than the art of being involve an extroversion of our mind, a turning of our attention away from ourself towards something else, they can enable us to free ourself effectively only from the grosser forms of our desires and attachments, but not from the more subtle forms. Until and unless we begin to practise the art of being, keeping our attention fixed firmly and exclusively upon our own essential being, as our own essential being, we cannot gain the inward clarity and focus that is required to detect and prevent the rising of our mind and its desires at their very starting point.
How are we thus able to detect and prevent the rising of our mind by practising the art of being? When we practise this art, our attention is fixed upon our essential self-conscious being, which is the source from which our mind arises along with all its most subtle desires, and so long as our attention thus remains vigilantly and firmly fixed on, in and as its source, our mind will be unable to rise.
However, whenever due to even the slightest slackening of our vigilant self-attentiveness we allow our attention to waver and be diverted by any thought, we will thereby rise in the form of our thinking mind. But by repeatedly practising this art of self-attentive being, we will gain the skill to detect any such slackening in our vigilant self-attentiveness at the very moment that it occurs, and thus we will be able to regain our self-attentiveness instantly and thereby prevent the rising of our mind at the very moment that it occurs.
The more we practise this art of being, the more keen, sharp and clear our self-attentiveness will become, and thereby our skill in the art of crushing the rising of our mind in its very source will steadily increase. Every moment that we succeed in thus vigilantly preventing even the least rising of our mind, the desires that impel it to rise will be steadily weakened, and our love to remain peacefully in our natural state of just being will be proportionately strengthened, until finally it will totally overpower all our remaining and much weakened desires, thereby enabling us to surrender ourself entirely in the infinite clarity of true self-knowledge.
Other than this practice of keenly vigilant self-attentive being, there is no adequate means by which we can weaken and destroy all of our desires, including even our most subtle and therefore most powerful ones. All other spiritual practices involve some sort of activity of our mind, and so long as our mind is active, it will effectively be guarding and protecting all its innermost desires, including its fundamental desire to exist as a separate individual consciousness. By engaging our mind in any activity, we cannot destroy its basic desire for self-preservation, and so long as it retains this basic desire, it will continue to support and nourish it by cultivating other desires.
That is, our mind’s desire for self-preservation, which is satisfied and supported by all forms of spiritual practice other than the totally self-denying art of vigilantly self-attentive being, cannot stand on its own, but must be accompanied by some desire or other for something other than itself. This need is satisfied by every other form of spiritual practice, because all such practices provide our mind with something other than itself to attend to – in fact, they force our mind to attend to something other than itself. Therefore no such practice can train our mind to relinquish all of its desires, particularly its desire to preserve its own separate existence.
Some other spiritual practices do force our mind to subside, but such subsidence is only temporary, because it is not accompanied by clear self-attentiveness. Therefore in the eighth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? Sri Ramana says:
To make the mind subside [permanently], there are no adequate means other than vicāra [investigation, that is, the art of self-attentive being]. If restrained by other means, the mind will remain as if subsided, [but] will emerge again. Even by prāṇāyāma [breath-restraint], the mind will subside; however, [though] the mind remains subsided so long as the breath remains subsided, when the breath emerges [or becomes manifest] it will also emerge and wander under the sway of [its] vāsanās [inclinations, impulses or desires]. The birthplace both of the mind and of the prāṇa [the breath or life-force] is one. Thought alone is the svarūpa [the ‘own form’] of the mind. The thought ‘I’ alone is the first [or basic] thought of the mind; it alone is the ego. From where the ego arises, from there alone the breath also arises. Therefore when the mind subsides the prāṇa also [subsides], [and] when the prāṇa subsides the mind also subsides. However in sleep, even though the mind has subsided, the breath does not subside. It is arranged thus by the ordinance of God for the purpose of protecting the body, and so that other people do not wonder whether that body has died. When the mind subsides in waking and in samādhi [any of the various types of mental absorption that result from yōgic or other forms of spiritual practice], the prāṇa subsides. The prāṇa is said to be the gross form of the mind. Until the time of death the mind keeps the prāṇa in the body, and at the moment the body dies it [the mind] grabs and takes it [the prāṇa] away. Therefore prāṇāyāma is just an aid to restrain the mind, but will not bring about manōnāśa [the annihilation of the mind].
Before going on to discuss the efficacy of other forms of spiritual practice, Sri Ramana begins this paragraph by stating the important truth that ‘To make the mind subside [permanently], there are no adequate means other than vicāra [investigation]’. Why is this so?
Since the state of true self-knowledge, which is the only state in which the mind will remain permanently subsided, is a state of just being, it cannot be brought about by any action or ‘doing’, but only by the practice of just being. Since vicāra or investigation, which is simply the practice of self-attentiveness, does not involve any action but is just a state of self-conscious being, and since every other form of spiritual practice is an action of one kind or another, vicāra is the only practice that will enable us to abide in the state of eternal, infinite and absolute being, which is the state of true self-knowledge.
This same truth is also clearly stated by Sri Adi Sankara in verse 11 of Vivēkacūḍāmaṇi:
Action [karma, which generally means action of any kind whatsoever, but which in this context means specifically any action that is performed for spiritual benefit] is [prescribed only] for [achieving] citta-śuddhi [purification of mind] and not for [attaining] vastu-upalabdhi [direct knowledge or experience of the reality, the true substance or essence, which is absolute being]. The attainment of [this experience of] the reality [can be achieved only] by vicāra and not at all by [even] ten million actions.
That is, except vastu-vicāra, investigation or scrutiny of our essential being or reality, all spiritual practices are actions, and as such they can only serve to purify our mind and thereby make it fit to subside and remain permanently in our own essential being or vastu. However, though they can purify our mind to a certain extent, they cannot by themselves enable us to experience our own true being as it really is. In order to experience an absolutely clear knowledge of our being, we must give up all actions or ‘doings’ and must cultivate perfectly pure love for just being, which we can do only by vicāra, the practice of self-attentive being.
Therefore, when discussing the efficacy of other forms of spiritual practice in the eighth and ninth paragraphs of Nāṉ Yār?, Sri Ramana repeatedly emphasises that they are all only aids that can prepare us for the practice of vicāra or self-attentive being, but that by themselves they cannot bring about manōnāśa, the complete annihilation of our mind, which is the state of true self-knowledge or absolute self-conscious being.
Because the aim of Sri Ramana in the eighth paragraph is to explain the limited value of prāṇāyāma or breath-restraint, which is one of the central practices of yōga, he explains the principle that underlies prāṇāyāma in terms of the yōga philosophy. It is therefore only from the standpoint of the yōga philosophy that he says that the breath does not subside in sleep, that God has arranged it thus in order to protect the body, and that the mind takes away the prāṇa at the time of death.
However, from the viewpoint of his principal teachings, we should understand that all this is only relatively true, and is based upon the false belief cherished by most of us that the body and world exist independent of our mind. According to the truth revealed and explained by him on countless occasions, our body and the world exist only in the imagination of our own mind, like the body and world that we experience in a dream, and hence when our mind subsides in sleep or in death, not only does our breath or life-force subside and vanish along with it, but even our body ceases to exist.
The central import of this paragraph is the truth that is stated in the first two sentences. Our mind will subside permanently only by remaining firmly fixed in the state of self-attentive being, because only in that state will the truth be revealed that our mind is truly ever non-existent. If instead of practising the art of thus remaining fixed in the state of self-attentive being we try to make our mind subside by prāṇāyāma or any other means, it will remain as if subsided for a short while, as it does in sleep, but will again rise and wander under the sway of its deeply engrained impulsions or desires, which are not weakened in the least by such inattentive subsidence, any more than they are weakened in sleep.
Like prāṇāyāma, all other forms of spiritual practice except the art of self-attentive being are merely aids which enable us to restrain our mind temporarily, but which cannot by themselves enable us to destroy it. We can effectively destroy our mind only by remaining in our natural state of perfectly clear self-attentive being, and by no other means whatsoever.
This truth, which was explicitly stated by Sri Ramana in the first two sentences of the eighth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?, is further emphasised by him with some more examples in the ninth paragraph:
Just like prāṇāyāma, mūrti-dhyāna [meditation upon a form of God], mantra-japa [repetition of sacred words such as a name of God] and āhāra-niyama [restriction of diet, particularly the restriction of consuming only vegetarian food] are [just] aids that restrain the mind [but will not bring about its annihilation]. By both mūrti-dhyāna and mantra-japa the mind gains one-pointedness [or concentration]. Just as, if [someone] gives a chain in the trunk of an elephant, which is always moving [swinging about trying to catch hold of something or other], that elephant will proceed holding it fast without [grabbing and] holding fast anything else, so indeed the mind, which is always moving [wandering about thinking of something or other], will, if trained in [the practice of thinking of] any one [particular] name or form [of God], remain holding it fast [without thinking unnecessary thoughts about anything else]. Because the mind spreads out [scattering its energy] as innumerable thoughts, each thought becomes extremely weak. For the mind which has gained one-pointedness when thoughts shrink and shrink [that is, which has gained one-pointedness due to the progressive reduction of its thoughts] and which has thereby gained strength, ātma-vicāra [self-investigation, which is the art of self-attentive being] will be easily accomplished. By mita sattvika āhāra-niyama [the restraint of consuming only a moderate quantity of pure or sattvika food], which is the best among all restrictions, the sattva-guṇa [the quality of calmness, clarity or ‘being-ness’] of the mind will increase and [thereby] help will arise for self-investigation.
Both mūrti-dhyāna and mantra-japa are practices in the path of dualistic devotion, and hence they are efficacious to the extent to which they are practised with genuine love for God. If we try to practise either of them without true love, our mind will constantly wander towards other thoughts because of the strength of its desire for whatever it happens to think about, and hence we will be unable to concentrate it entirely upon any single name or form of God. Therefore when Sri Ramana says that by practising either mūrti-dhyāna or mantra-japa our mind will gain one-pointedness, the meaning he implies is that our love for God will become focused and one-pointed. By thus concentrating our love and attention upon any one particular name or form of God, our desire to think other thoughts will be weakened, and our love to think of God will thereby gain strength. Once our mind has gained this strength of one-pointed love for God, it will be able to practise the art of self-attentive being easily.
Since our love for God cannot be complete until we surrender ourself entirely to him, any devotee who sincerely tries to think of God constantly will naturally develop a yearning to surrender himself or herself entirely to him. In order to surrender ourself thus, we must remain without doing or thinking anything, but simply being calmly and peacefully aware of the all-embracing presence of God.
Since God is the infinite totality or fullness of being, and since he is therefore present within each one of us as our own essential being, ‘I am’, surrendering ourself to him is nothing other than surrendering ourself entirely to being. In other words, it is just being submissively and firmly established in the state of deeply self-attentive and therefore thought-free being, which is the true state of ātma-vicāra or ‘self-investigation’. Practising this art of self-attentive being is also therefore the true state of ‘practising the presence of God’, and for any mind that has developed the love to think of God constantly and one-pointedly, achieving this state of ātma-vicāra or self-attentive being will be easy and natural.
Therefore, though meditation upon a name or form of God is a mental activity and is therefore not in itself the state in which the mind has subsided in being, if practised with true and heart-melting love such meditation can be a great aid in leading our mind to the state of spiritual ripeness in which it will be genuinely willing to surrender itself entirely in the peaceful and all-consuming state of self-attentive being.
Whereas the practice of prāṇāyāma or breath-restraint will enable us to achieve merely a temporary state of mental subsidence, the practice of meditating with love upon a name or form of God will enable us to achieve the state of overwhelming love for God and consequent freedom from other desires, which is the state of mind that we require in order to be able to remain firmly established in our natural state of self-attentive being. However, just as the mental activity of meditating upon a name or form of God, if practised with true love, becomes an aid that prepares our mind for the practice of self-investigation or self-attentive being, so prāṇāyāma, if practised with the right attitude, can also become an aid that prepares our mind for the practice of self-investigation.
What is that right attitude with which a person should practise prāṇāyāma? It is the understanding that achieving a sleep-like state of temporary subsidence of mind is not a worthwhile aim, because it cannot enable us to weaken our desires, and that a true spiritual benefit can therefore be achieved by practising prāṇāyāma only if, before allowing our mind to subside in such a sleep-like state of abeyance, we use the calmness of mind brought about by prāṇāyāma to withdraw our attention from our breath and to fix it instead on our simple self-conscious being.
That is, as a means to calm our mind, which is usually agitated by many other thoughts, prāṇāyāma can give us a relatively thought-free space in which we can practise the art of self-attentive being with a minimum of distraction. However, this aid that can potentially be provided by prāṇāyāma is truly unnecessary, because we can remain in the state of self-attentive being only if we have genuine love for it, and if we have genuine love for it we will remain in it effortlessly without the need for any external aid such as prāṇāyāma to calm our mind. Moreover, because the relatively thought-free space provided by prāṇāyāma is produced by an artificial means and not by a reduction in the strength of our desires, if we try to make use of that space by withdrawing our attention from our breath and fixing it instead upon our own self-conscious being, we are likely to experience a powerful urge to think of anything else as soon as we try to attend to our being.
Therefore, if we really want to do something other than self-investigation in the hope that it will eventually help us to practise self-investigation, trying to meditate with love upon a name or form of God is a much safer and more beneficial course to follow than prāṇāyāma. However, if we truly understand that God is always present within us as our own essential self-conscious being, why should we make effort to attend to anything else instead of simply trying our best to be constantly attentive to our own being?
The other aid to self-investigation that Sri Ramana mentions in the ninth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? is mita sattvika āhāra-niyama. The term āhāra-niyama means ‘food-restraint’, but since the Sanskrit word āhāra etymologically means procuring, fetching or taking, it can apply not only to the physical food that we take into our mouth, but also to the sensory food that we take into our mind through our five senses. Therefore, in order to keep our mind in a condition that is most favourable for us in our efforts to cultivate skill in the art of self-attentive being, we should by every reasonable means endeavour to ensure that both the physical food that we take into our body and the sensory food that we take into our mind are of a suitable quantity and quality.
The quantity and quality of the food we should consume is described by Sri Ramana as mita and sattvika. The word mita refers to the quantity of food we should consume, and means measured, limited, frugal or moderate. The word sattvika refers to the quality of food we should consume, and basically means pure and wholesome, or more precisely, endowed with the quality known as sattva, which literally means being-ness, ‘is’-ness, essence or reality, and which by extension means calmness, clarity, purity, wisdom, goodness and virtue. The restriction or niyama of eating only sattvika food means abstaining from all types of non-sattvika food, which includes all meat, fish and eggs, all intoxicants such as alcohol and tobacco, and all other substances that excite passions or dull the clarity of our mind in any way.
Though Hindus usually consider milk products to be sattvika, in most cases nowadays this is no longer the case, because the modern dairy industry is based upon the cruel and exploitative practices of factory farming. Even milk that is produced by less cruel means such as organic farming is not entirely untainted by cruelty, because it is obtained from cows that have been bred to produce unnatural and therefore basically unhealthy quantities of milk, and because the usual fate of dairy cows and their calves is to end their life by being slaughtered either for their meat, their leather or both.
Since one of the important principles underlying the observance of consuming only sattvika food is ahiṁsā, the compassionate principle of ‘non-harming’ or avoidance of causing suffering to any living being, any food whose production involves or is associated with the suffering of any human being or other creature must be considered as being not sattvika. In our present-day circumstances, therefore, the only food that can truly be considered as being sattvika is that which is organically produced, fairly traded and above all vegan.
Besides the important and morally imperative principle of ahiṁsā, another important reason for taking care about the food we eat is that the effect that food has upon our mind is extremely subtle. If our food has been produced through the suffering of any creature, the subtle influence of that suffering will be contained in that food, and will affect our mind. Similarly if our food has been handled, processed or cooked by a person with unhappy or negative thoughts in their mind, the subtle influence of such thoughts will be contained in that food. Therefore it is generally recommended that a spiritual aspirant should as far as possible eat only food that is raw or that has been freshly cooked from raw or minimally processed ingredients by a person in a happy mood and with kind, caring and loving thoughts in their mind, because kindness and love are the most important sattvika ingredients that can be added to food.
With regard to the ‘food’ that we take into our mind through our five senses, we should as far as possible avoid attending to any sense objects that excite passion, greed, lust, anger, envy or any other such undesirable thoughts and emotions. Though we cannot always avoid being exposed to undesirable sights and sounds, we should try to keep such exposure to a minimum. Moreover, not only should we try to see and hear only sattvika sights and sounds, but we should also restrict the quantity of our sense perceptions to a mita or moderate level. In other words, we should avoid the habit of constantly bombarding our senses with unnecessary stimulation, which with all our modern technology is so abundantly available to us.
What exactly does all this have to do with practising the art of self-attentive being? In order for us to be able to remain steadily poised in the extremely subtle state of self-attentive being, it is essential that we restrain our desires and passions, reduce the quantity and vigour of our thoughts, and cultivate a contented, calm and peaceful attitude of mind. Such desirelessness, contentment, calmness and peace are qualities that in Sanskrit are described as sattva-guṇa or the quality of ‘being-ness’, which is the original and natural quality of our essential consciousness ‘I am’.
Though this quality of sattva or ‘being-ness’ is the basic quality that always underlies the finite consciousness that we call our ‘mind’, our mental activity tends to cloud over and obscure it. Therefore besides this basic quality of sattva there are always two other qualities that function and compete in our mind, namely rajōguṇa, the dissipating quality of rajas, passion, emotion, restlessness, agitation and activity, and tamōguṇa, the obscuring quality of tamas, darkness, dullness, delusion, ignorance, insensitivity, heartlessness, cruelty, meanness, selfishness, pride and baser emotions such as anger, greed and lust. Whereas sattva is the natural quality of our essential being or sat, rajas and tamas are the respective qualities of the two basic aspects of our power of self-deception or māyā, the former being the quality of our power of dissipation or vikṣēpa śakti, and the latter being the quality of our power of obscuration or āvaraṇa śakti.
Our mind is composed of a mixture of these three qualities, but in ever-varying proportions. So long as it exists, each of them will always be present in it to a greater or lesser degree, and throughout our waking and dream states they will be competing to dominate it. At any given time one or more of them will predominate, and their relative predominance will influence our ability to be vigilantly attentive to our essential being, our consciousness ‘I am’.
In order for us to be able to remain calmly and keenly attentive to our true but extremely subtle self-conscious being, the quality of sattva or ‘being-ness’ must predominate in our mind, overpowering and suppressing the other two qualities. So long as either or both of the other two qualities predominate, our mind will lack the clarity and calmness that is required for us to be able to remain keenly self-attentive.
Sri Ramana used to illustrate this by means of two similes. Just as we would be unable to separate the extremely fine fibres of a silk cloth using a thick and heavy iron bar, so we will be unable to distinguish our extremely subtle being so long as our mind is under the sway of tamas, the dense and heavy quality of darkness, insensitivity and pride. Likewise, just as we would be unable to find an extremely small object in the dark using a lamp that is flickering in a strong wind, so we will be unable to discern our extremely subtle and unmoving being so long as our mind is under the sway of rajas, the dissipating and distracting quality of passion and restless activity. Therefore in order to be established firmly and steadily in our natural state of clear and unwavering self-attentive being, we should make every possible effort to cultivate and maintain a predominance of sattva in our mind.
Since the quality of our mind is strongly influenced by the quality of the physical food we eat, Sri Ramana says that by consuming only moderate quantities of sattvika food the sattva quality of our mind will increase, and this will help us in our practice of self-investigation. In order to cultivate this sattva quality, we should not just consume only sattvika food, but should also consume such food only in moderate quantities, because if we eat an excess quantity of even the most sattvika food, it will have a dulling effect upon our mind.
Whereas we can dispense with most other aids, such as prāṇāyāma, mūrti-dhyāna and mantra-japa, observing this restriction on the quantity and quality of food that we consume is one aid with which we should as far as possible never dispense, because whereas other aids distract our mind from our central aim of practising the art of self-attentive being, this restriction on the nature and quantity of our food is no distraction and can only help us in our practice.
If the art of self-attentive being were really difficult, we might require aids such as prāṇāyāma, mūrti-dhyāna and mantra-japa to help us to practise it, but it is in reality not at all difficult. In fact, it is the easiest thing of all, because whereas all other efforts that we make are unnatural to us, self-attentive being is our natural state and truly requires no effort at all. Effort appears to be necessary only because we have a greater liking to attend to other things than to abide attentively in our own being.
Our desire for and attachment to things other than ourself makes us unwilling to let go of everything and remain calm, unattached and unwavering in our thought-free natural state of self-attentive being, and our unwillingness to remain thus makes it appear difficult. However, in itself abiding in this true state of self-attentive being is not at all difficult. Therefore in the refrain and sub-refrain that he composed for his song Āṉma-Viddai Sri Ramana sings:
What a wonder, ātma-vidyā [the science and art of self-knowledge] is [so] extremely easy! What a wonder, [so] extremely easy!
[Our true] self is [so] very real even to ordinary [unlearned] people, that [in comparison even] an āmalaka fruit in [our] palm ends [paling into insignificance] as unreal.
The Sanskrit word vidyā basically means ‘knowledge’, but in actual usage it has a broad range of meanings including philosophy, science, art, learning or any practical skill. Thus the compound word ātma-vidyā, which in Tamil is generally modified as Āṉma-Viddai, means the practical science and art of knowing our own real self or essential being.
Our consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’, which is our true self, is our first and most basic knowledge, and hence it is clearly real to us at all times, even before we learn or understand anything else. ‘As real as an āmalaka fruit in the hand’ is an idiomatic way of saying that something is perfectly clear and obvious, but in comparison to our absolutely clear and real consciousness ‘I am’ even the clarity and reality of such a fruit in our hand pales into complete insignificance. When our true self or essential being ‘I am’ is so very real to each one of us, the science and art of knowing and being ourself is extremely easy – far easier than any other thing imaginable.
In order to know our own real self, we need not do anything. Because we ourself are the reality that we call our ‘self’ or ātman, we cannot know ourself as an object. We know objects by an act of knowing, that is, by paying attention to them. This act of paying attention to an object is a movement of our attention away from ourself towards that object, which we imagine to be other than ourself. Because the process of knowing anything other than ourself involves this stirring of our attention, arousing it from its natural state of reposing as our simple non-dual consciousness of being, and directing it outwards to something that seems to be other than ourself, it is an action or ‘doing’.
However, we cannot know ourself in this same manner, because any movement or action of our attention takes it away from ourself. Therefore we cannot know ourself by any act of knowing, or by any other kind of ‘doing’.
Because our real self is perfectly clear self-conscious being, we can know it only by being it, and not by ‘doing’ anything. By merely being self-attentive, we remain naturally as our own self-conscious being, without doing anything. Therefore, since this art of self-attentive being does not involve even the least action of our mind, speech or body, it is the easiest means – and in fact the only truly adequate means – for us to experience the infinite happiness of true self-knowledge.
Hence in verse 4 of Āṉma-Viddai Sri Ramana sings:
To untie the bonds beginning with karma [that is, the bonds of action, and of all that results from action], [and] to rise above [or revive from] the ruin beginning with birth [that is, to transcend and become free from the miseries of embodied existence, which begins with birth and ends with death, only to begin once again with birth in another mind-created body], [rather] than any [other] path, this path [of simple self-attentive being] is exceedingly easy. When [we] just are, having settled [calmly and peacefully in perfect repose as our simple self-conscious being] without even the least karma [action] of mind, speech or body, ah, in [our] heart [the innermost core of our being] the light of self [will shine forth clearly as our non-dual consciousness of being, ‘I am I’]. [Having thereby drowned and lost our individual self in this perfectly peaceful and infinitely clear state of true self-knowledge, we will discover it to be our] eternal experience. Fear will not exist. The ocean of [infinite] bliss alone [will remain].
To attain this eternal experience of infinite happiness, we need not do anything by mind, speech or body, but must merely subside and settle calmly in our natural state of perfectly clear self-conscious being.
The words that Sri Ramana uses here to describe this state of just being are summā amarndu irukka. The word irukka is the infinitive form of the verbal root iru, meaning ‘be’, and is used idiomatically in the sense ‘when [we] are’. The word amarndu is the present or past participle of the verb amar, which means to abide, remain, be seated, become still, become calm, become tranquil, rest, settle down or be extinguished. And the adverb summā means just, merely, leisurely, silently, quietly, calmly, motionlessly, inactively, without doing anything, or in perfect peace and repose. Since summā can be taken as qualifying both amarndu and irukka, the clause summā amarndu irukka means ‘when [we] just are, having settled silently, calmly and peacefully in perfect repose’.
The sense of these three words, especially the word summā, is further emphasised by the preceding words, which mean ‘without even the least action of mind, speech or body’. Therefore the practice of ātma-vidyā, the science and art of knowing our own real self, is just being, without even the least action of mind, speech or body – our mind having subsided and settled peacefully in and as our simple self-conscious being.
This practice of ‘just being’ or summā iruppadu is also clearly explained by Sri Ramana in the sixth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?, where he defines it as ‘making [our] mind to subside [settle down, melt, dissolve, disappear, be absorbed or perish] in ātma-svarūpa [our own essential self]’. Therefore, since this practice of ātma-vidyā is just being our own ever self-conscious being, and since it does not involve any action of our mind, speech or body, it is indeed ‘exceedingly easy’, far easier than any other ‘path’ or form of spiritual practice.
Nevertheless, due to the density of our self-imposed delusion or māyā, and due to the strength of our resulting desires, knowing and being our real self appears in the view of our mind to be difficult. That is, though the state of absolutely clear self-conscious being is truly our natural state, and though it is always experienced by us as ‘I am’, its natural clarity appears to our mind to be clouded and obscured by thoughts, which are impelled by our deeply rooted desires, and hence discerning it clearly in the midst of all these thoughts seems to our mind to be difficult.
This seeming difficulty will persist so long as our mind is under the sway of māyā and its guṇas or ‘qualities’, tamas and rajas. As we saw earlier, trying to focus our attention on our essential consciousness of being when our mind is under the sway of tamōguṇa, the obscuring quality of darkness and insensitivity, is like attempting to separate the fine threads of a silk cloth with the blunt end of a heavy iron bar, and trying to do so when our mind is under the sway of rajōguṇa, the dissipating quality of restlessness and agitation, is like attempting to find a tiny object in the dark with the aid of the flickering light of a lantern buffeted by a strong wind. Hence for those of us whose self-delusion and desires are strong, and in whose mind these two guṇas therefore predominate, calmly attending to and abiding as our own essential consciousness of being will appear to be not easy.
However, just as the only way to learn to talk is to talk, the only way to learn to walk is to walk, and the only way to learn to read is to read, the only way to learn the art of attending to and abiding as our own pure self-conscious being is to practise this art. However many times our attempts fail, we should persevere in trying again and again. As we do so, we will gradually but steadily gain the skill required to abide firmly as our own real self, our true and essential consciousness of being, ‘I am’.
Self-abidance, which is the art of self-attentive being, is not impossible for anyone. All that is needed is persistent effort. Every moment that we are attentive to our natural consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’, however clumsily and imperfectly, the clear light of such relatively unadulterated self-consciousness will be cleansing and purifying our mind, dispersing the darkness of tamōguṇa and calming the agitation of rajōguṇa, and thereby allowing the natural clarity of sattva-guṇa or ‘being-ness’ to manifest itself.
To express the same truth in another way, when we practise the art of self-attentive being, the clarity of our self-attentiveness acts like the scorching rays of the sun, drying up all the seeds of desire in our heart and thereby rendering them infertile. Though the destruction of these seeds of our desires is the ultimate aim and purpose of all forms of spiritual practice, they can in fact be effectively destroyed – scorched and rendered infertile – only by the clarity of our self-attentive being-ness and by no other means.
These seeds of our desires – which in vēdānta philosophy are named as vāsanās, a word that is usually translated as latent mental ‘tendencies’ or ‘inclinations’, but whose actual sense can be better translated as latent mental ‘impulsions’ or ‘driving forces’ – are what rise and manifest in our mind as thoughts. Since their very existence is threatened by the clarity of our self-abidance or self-attentive being-ness, when we try to practise abiding in this state of self-attentive being they rise in rebellion, manifesting in our mind as innumerable thoughts of various kinds.
When they rebel against our self-attentive being-ness in this manner, the only way to vanquish them is to ignore them by keeping our attention firmly fixed upon our own essential being, as explained by Sri Ramana in the following passage from the sixth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:
[…] 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 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. […]
No thought can rise without us to think it. Therefore the easy way for us to divert our attention away from each thought as and when it rises is to remember that it has occurred only to ourself. Instead of allowing ourself to be distracted by any thought that arises, if we vigilantly continue to remember only ourself, each of our thoughts will perish as soon as it attempts to rise, because without our attention it cannot survive.
If however we do become momentarily distracted by any thought, we should immediately divert our attention away from it towards ourself by remembering that it has occurred only ‘to me’. As soon as we remember this ‘me’ to whom that thought had occurred, our attention will return to its source, which is our own consciousness of being, ‘I am’.
This process of drawing our attention back towards our own self-conscious being by keenly scrutinising ourself in an attempt to discover ‘who am I to whom these thoughts have occurred?’ is what Sri Ramana describes when he says, ‘If [we] investigate “who am I?”, [our] mind will return to its birthplace’. Our mind is our power of attention, which becomes extroverted by thinking of things other than ourself, and its birthplace or source is our own being – our basic and essential self-consciousness ‘I am’. Therefore when we divert our mind away from all thoughts and focus it exclusively in our being, we are simply returning it to its own birthplace, the source from which it had arisen.
Our mind rises only by imagining things other than itself, and those imagined things are its thoughts. Therefore, when we turn our mind or attention towards our own essential being, it is diverted away from all its imaginary thoughts, and hence it subsides in its source and remains as our mere self-conscious being. When we thus remain as being instead of rising as our thinking mind, our thoughts are all deprived of our attention, and since no thought can exist unless we pay attention to it, Sri Ramana adds that when our mind thus subsides in its birthplace or source, ‘the thought which had risen will also subside’.
He then concludes by saying, ‘When [we] practise and practise in this manner, to [our] mind the power to stand firmly established in its birthplace will increase’. That is, when we repeatedly practise this art of immediately turning our attention back towards its source whenever it is distracted even to the slightest extent by the rising of any thought, the ability of our mind to remain firmly and self-attentively established as mere being will increase.
Therefore repeated and persistent practice of this art of self-attentive being is the only means by which we can cultivate the ability and strength to remain unshaken by thoughts, and thereby to weaken and eventually destroy all our vāsanās, the seeds of our desires, which give rise to them.
This process of gradually fixing our mind or attention more and more firmly in our own essential self-conscious being by repeatedly and persistently withdrawing it from all thoughts of anything other than ourself is clearly described by Sri Krishna in two extremely important verses of the Bhagavad Gītā, verses 25 and 26 of chapter 6, which Sri Ramana has translated into Tamil as verses 27 and 28 of Bhagavad Gītā Sāram, a selection that he made of forty-two verses from the Bhagavad Gītā that express its sāra or essence:
By [an] intellect [a power of discrimination or discernment] imbued with firmness [steadfastness, resolution, persistence or courage] one should gently and gradually withdraw [one’s mind] from [all] activity. Having made [one’s] mind stand firm in ātman [one’s own real self or essential being], one should not think [even a little] of anything else.
Wherever the [ever] wavering and unsteady mind goes, restraining [or withdrawing] it from there one should subdue it [by always keeping it firmly fixed] only in ātman [one’s own real self].
The key words used here are ātma-saṁsthaṁ manaḥ kṛtvā, which literally mean ‘having made the mind stand firm [or still] in self’, and by clear implication they should be applied to each of the three sentences in these two verses. That is, we should gently and gradually withdraw our mind from all activity or thinking by making it stand firm and motionless in our essential self, having thus made it stand firm and motionless in our essential self we should refrain from thinking of anything whatsoever, and if due to our lack of vigilance it again wanders towards anything else, by making it stand firm once again in our essential self we should restrain its wanderings, withdrawing it from whatever it is thinking of, and thereby subduing it and making it subside in our essential self.
What exactly does Sri Krishna mean when he says that we should make our mind stand firm in self or ātman? The word saṁstha is the word stha, which literally means ‘standing’, qualified by the prefix sam, which literally means ‘with’ or ‘together with’, but which is used to express not only conjunction or union, but also intensity, completeness or thoroughness. Thus saṁstha means standing with, standing united with, standing firm, standing still, standing fixed, or simply firmly abiding, remaining or being. Hence the words ātma-saṁsthaṁ manaḥ denote the state in which our mind is firmly and motionlessly established in our essential being, as our essential being, having consciously subsided and thereby merged, united and become one with it. Therefore what Sri Krishna clearly implies by these words is that we should keep our entire mind or attention firmly fixed or keenly focused upon our real self or essential being, and should thereby remain firmly in the state of clear self-attentive being.
However, until our vāsanās or latent desires are greatly weakened, our mind will continue to be wavering and unsteady, and will therefore repeatedly rush out towards things other than ourself. When our mind is in such a condition, we cannot force it against its will to remain quietly and peacefully in our natural state of self-attentive being, and therefore by repeatedly practising this art of being steadfastly self-attentive we must gently and gradually train it and cultivate in it the willingness to withdraw from its habitual activity of thinking of things other than ourself.
The words in verse 25 that I have translated as ‘gently and gradually’ are śanaiḥ śanair. This repetition of the word śanais, which is an adverb meaning ‘quietly’, ‘calmly’, ‘softly’, ‘gently’ or ‘gradually’, conveys the sense that this practice of withdrawing from all activity by establishing our mind firmly in our own being should be done not only gently and without any force or compulsion, but also repeatedly and persistently.
This same sense is also conveyed in the next verse. That is, whenever and wherever our mind may wander, we should persistently practise restraining it, withdrawing it each time from the objects it is thinking about, and subduing it by establishing it firmly in our own essential being.
Whenever we succeed in our efforts to establish our mind thus in our real self or ātman, we should remain firmly established in that state of self-attentive being without thinking even the least about any other thing. By practising this art of repeatedly drawing our mind or attention back from thoughts towards ourself, we will gradually weaken and eventually destroy all our deeply rooted vāsanās or desires.
This process of destroying our vāsanās as soon as they rise in the form of thoughts is described by Sri Ramana in more detail in the tenth and eleventh paragraphs of Nāṉ Yār?. In the tenth paragraph he says:
Even though viṣaya-vāsanās [our latent impulsions or desires to attend to things other than ourself], which come from time immemorial, rise [as thoughts] in countless numbers like ocean-waves, they will all be destroyed when svarūpa-dhyāna [self-attentiveness] increases and increases. Without giving room to the doubting thought, ‘Is it possible to dissolve so many vāsanās and be [or remain] only as self?’, [we] should cling tenaciously to self-attentiveness. However great a sinner a person may be, if instead of lamenting and weeping, ‘I am a sinner! How am I going to be saved?’, [he] completely rejects the thought that he is a sinner and is zealous [or steadfast] in self-attentiveness, he will certainly be reformed [or transformed into the true ‘form’ of thought-free self-conscious being].
Our vāsanās or latent desires, which are the driving forces that impel us to think, and our thoughts, which are their manifest forms, do not have any power of their own. They derive their power only from us. So long as we attend to them, we are feeding them with the power that is inherent in our attention.
As Sri Sadhu Om used to say, our attention is the divine power of grace, because it is in essence the supreme cit-śakti or power of consciousness, which is our essential being and the absolute reality. Our attention or consciousness is the power that underlies, supports and gives life to our imagination, and as such it is the power that creates this entire world of duality and multiplicity.
Therefore whatever we attend to is nourished and made seemingly real. Our desires and thoughts appear to be real only because we attend to them, and hence the power they seem to have is derived only from our attention. Just as our experience of a dream appears to be real and to have power over us only so long as we attend to it, so all our desires and thoughts appear to be real and to have power over us only so long as we attend to them.
Therefore if we fix our attention entirely and exclusively in our own essential being and thereby ignore all the thoughts that our vāsanās or latent desires impel to rise, we will deprive those latent desires of the power which they need to survive, and which they can obtain only from our attention. The more we thus deprive them of the attention they seek, the weaker they will become, and thus we will gain increasing power to resist the power of attraction with which they have till now been dominating us.
This is the reason why Sri Ramana said in the sixth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?, ‘When [we] practise and practise in this manner, to [our] mind the power to stand firmly established in its birthplace will increase’. That is, the more we practise this art of being vigilantly self-attentive, steadfastly ignoring all our impulses or desires to think of anything else, the more we will gain the strength to remain firmly established in our own naturally and ever clearly self-conscious being.
When our strength or power to remain firmly established in our self-conscious being thus increases, all our latent desires or vāsanās will be progressively weakened and will eventually lose the power that they now have to distract us away from our natural state of just being. This is the reason why Sri Ramana says that ‘they will all be destroyed when svarūpa-dhyāna [self-attentiveness] increases and increases’, and why he says that we should therefore give no room to the rising of any type of thought, but should instead ‘cling tenaciously to self-attentiveness’.
Whatever thought we may feel impelled to think, by clinging tenaciously to self-attentiveness we can then and there weaken not only that particular impulsion or vāsanā but also simultaneously all our latent impulsions to think any thoughts, and with continued tenacity we can eventually destroy completely all our latent impulsions or desires. Therefore if we truly wish to destroy all our latent desires and thereby attain our natural state of true self-knowledge, we must be extremely tenacious and persistent in our practice of self-attentiveness, which is the true art of being.
What in practice does Sri Ramana mean by the words ‘without giving room to thought’ when he says here, ‘Without giving room to the doubting thought whether it is possible to dissolve so many vāsanās and be only as self, we should cling tenaciously to svarūpa-dhyāna [self-attentiveness]’, and when he says in the thirteenth paragraph, ‘Without giving even the slightest room to the rising of any thought except ātma-cintanā [the thought of self], being completely absorbed in ātma-niṣṭha [self-abidance] is giving ourself to God’? Not giving room to the rising of any other thoughts means ignoring them completely, not allowing them even the slightest space within the field of our attention or consciousness. But how in practice is it possible for us to exclude all thoughts from our consciousness? It is possible for us to do so only by filling our attention or consciousness wholly and exclusively with the ‘thought of self’, svarūpa-dhyāna or ātma-cintanā, that is, with clear, keen and vigilant self-attentiveness.
Though Sri Ramana sometimes referred to self-attentiveness as the ‘thought of self’, using words that imply thinking such as dhyāna or cintanā, he often clarified that it is actually a state of just being, and not a state of ‘thinking’ or mental activity. Therefore, since paying attention to anything other than ourself is ‘thinking’, and since being attentive only to ourself is a state not of ‘thinking’ but of just ‘being’, self-attentiveness is the only practical and effective means by which we can exclude all thoughts from our consciousness.
In the last sentence of this paragraph Sri Ramana assures us that if we are zealous or steadfast in self-attentiveness, we will certainly be ‘reformed’ or ‘transformed’. The word that I have translated as zealous or steadfast is ūkkam-uḷḷavaṉ, which means a person who has ūkkam, impulse, ardour, zeal, strength, firm conviction and sincerity. Thus in this context the word ūkkam implies the same ardent tenacity and steadfastness that is emphasised by the words viḍāppiḍiyāy piḍikka vēṇḍum, which occur earlier in this paragraph and which I translated as ‘should cling tenaciously to’. Clinging fast to self-attentiveness with such ardent tenacity, zeal, steadfastness and perseverance is essential if we truly wish to succeed in our efforts to attain absolute happiness, which can be experienced only in the calm and thought-free state of true self-knowledge.
The final word of this paragraph is uruppaḍuvāṉ, which etymologically means ‘will become form’, but which is commonly used in an idiomatic sense to mean ‘will be elevated’ or improved in body, mind or morals, and hence I have translated it as ‘will be reformed’ or ‘will be transformed’. However, since the word uru or ‘form’ can also denote svarūpa, our ‘own form’ or essential self, in this context the meaning implied by uruppaḍuvāṉ is not merely that we ‘will become morally reformed’ or ‘will be transformed into a better person’, but is that we will be transformed into our own true and eternal ‘form’, which is thought-free, infinite, all-transcending, absolute and perfectly clear self-conscious being.
In the eleventh paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? Sri Ramana goes on to explain more about how the practice of self-attentive being enables us to destroy all our vāsanās or latent desires to experience things other than ourself:
As long as viṣaya-vāsanās [latent impulsions or desires to attend to anything other than ourself] exist in [our] mind, so long the investigation ‘who am I?’ is necessary. As and when thoughts arise, then and there it is necessary [for us] to annihilate them all by investigation [keen and vigilant self-attentiveness] in the very place from which they arise. Being [abiding or remaining] without attending to [anything] other [than ourself] is vairāgya [dispassion] or nirāśā [desirelessness]; being [abiding or remaining] without leaving [separating from or letting go of our real] self is jñāna [knowledge]. In truth [these] two [desirelessness and true knowledge] are only one. Just as a pearl-diver, tying a stone to his waist and submerging, picks up a pearl which lies in the ocean, so each person, submerging [beneath the surface activity of their mind] and sinking [deep] within themself with vairāgya [freedom from desire or passion for anything other than being], can attain the pearl of self. If one clings fast to uninterrupted svarūpa-smaraṇa [self-remembrance] until one attains svarūpa [one’s own essential self], that alone [will be] sufficient. So long as enemies are within the fort, they will continue coming out from it. If [we] continue destroying [or cutting down] all of them as and when they come, the fort will [eventually] come into [our] possession.
The investigation or vicāra ‘who am I?’ that Sri Ramana refers to here is the same practice of self-attentiveness that he referred to in the previous paragraph as svarūpa-dhyāna or ‘meditation upon one’s own essential form’. Since this practice of self-attentive being is the only means by which we can effectively weaken and eventually destroy all our vāsanās or latent desires, it is necessary for us to continue practising it tenaciously until all of them have been thoroughly eradicated. Since these latent desires are the driving forces that impel us to think, as long as any thought – any trace of a knowledge of anything other than our mere self-conscious being, ‘I am’ – appears in our consciousness, so long we should tenaciously persevere in clinging to keen and vigilant self-attentiveness.
So long as we continue to be vigilantly self-attentive, we will be effectively annihilating each thought that attempts to rise. Because our keen self-attentiveness will give no room for any thoughts to rise, as and when any latent desire attempts to rise in the form of a thought it will be immediately annihilated at the very moment and place in which it thus attempts to rise.
The ‘place’ or source in which and from which all our thoughts arise is our own essential being or consciousness, ‘I am’. By self-attentiveness we remain in and as our self-conscious being, and thus we cut down each thought then and there as soon as it begins to rise.
If however our self-vigilance slackens even an iota, we will thereby give room to the rising of thoughts, and hence they will rush forth in great numbers in an attempt to distract our attention further away from our being. If we are attracted by these thoughts and therefore fail to regain our self-attentiveness immediately, they will continue to rise with great vigour and will thereby overpower us, subjecting us once again to the delusion of duality.
This self-negligence, self-forgetfulness or slackness in our natural self-attentiveness is named in vēdānta philosophy as pramāda. Since it enables our power of māyā or self-delusion to overpower us with the manifold products of our imagination, beginning with our illusory individuality and including all our desires, our thoughts and the objects of this world, since ancient times sages have repeatedly affirmed the truth that such self-negligence or pramāda is death. That is, when due to our self-negligence we slip down from our firm self-attentive abidance as being, we seemingly transform ourself into the finite and unreal individual consciousness that we call our ‘mind’, and we thereby in effect die to our infinite real self.
When we succeed in our attempts to cling tenaciously to self-attentiveness, we will thereby avoid attending to any other thing, or in other words, we will avoid imagining or thinking of anything other than ourself. Since the forces that impel us to imagine and know things other than ourself are our latent desires, we will be able to refrain from attending to any other thing only when we are able to avoid the fatal error of succumbing to the delusive attraction of the imaginary objects of our desires. Therefore whenever we remain without attending to anything other than ourself, we are at that moment remaining free from all our desires, and hence Sri Ramana says, ‘Being without attending to [anything] other [than ourself] is vairāgya [dispassion] or nirāśā [desirelessness]’.
In this state of self-attentive being, in which all our imaginary knowledge of other things is entirely excluded, all that we know is our own non-dual consciousness of being, ‘I am’. Since (as we have seen in earlier chapters) this non-dual self-consciousness ‘I am’ is the only true knowledge, because it is the only knowledge that is not finite or relative, Sri Ramana says, ‘Being without leaving [our real] self [our own essential self-conscious being, ‘I am’] is jñāna [knowledge]’. That is, whenever we are able to be without leaving our firm and attentive hold on our clear, natural and eternal self-conscious being, ‘I am’, we are at that moment experiencing only the one true, infinite and absolute knowledge.
Since not attending to anything other than ourself and not leaving ourself are just two alternative ways of describing our natural state of thought-free self-attentive being, after defining desirelessness as ‘being without attending to [anything] other [than ourself]’ and true knowledge as ‘being without leaving ourself’, Sri Ramana concludes by saying, ‘In truth [these] two are only one’. That is, the only state of true desirelessness is the state of true self-knowledge. Since this state is not something alien to us but is our own natural and eternal state of being, we can begin to experience it even now by simply remaining vigilantly and firmly as our mere self-attentive being.
Because we always know ‘I am’, our consciousness of our own being is always present. However, because of our desire to pay attention to the thoughts and objects that we have created by our self-deceptive power of imagination, we tend to ignore or overlook this fundamental self-consciousness.
The more strongly our desires impel our mind or attention to flow out towards the objects of our imagination, the more we will tend to overlook our own essential self-conscious being. In other words, the stronger our desires become, the more dense our self-ignorance will grow. Conversely, the weaker our desires become, the more brightly and clearly our natural self-consciousness or self-knowledge will shine. In other words, the degree of our clarity of self-consciousness is inversely proportional to the strength of our desires and the consequent density of our thoughts or mental activities.
Therefore self-consciousness – or self-attentiveness, as we call it when we practise it as a spiritual exercise – is not something that is either white or black. That is, it is not a quality that is either present or absent, but is one that is always present but in widely varying degrees of clarity or intensity.
This is true, of course, only from the standpoint of our mind, which being an extroverted form of attention or consciousness never experiences its own essential consciousness of being with perfect and absolute clarity. From the standpoint of our real self, which is itself the absolute clarity of our consciousness of being, there are no relative degrees of self-consciousness, because its natural and infinite consciousness of its own being alone truly exists.
However, though the absolute truth is that our self-consciousness alone really exists, and that there is therefore no other thing that could ever obscure or diminish its intense and perfect clarity, in the relative and dualistic outlook of our mind self-consciousness appears to be something that we experience with varying degrees of clarity and intensity. From the standpoint of our spiritual practice, therefore, our aim should always be to experience our self-consciousness or self-attentiveness with the greatest possible degree of clarity.
Hence we should try to focus our attention so keenly on our own self-conscious being that all our awareness or knowledge of any other thing is entirely excluded. The more we are able by such keen self-attentiveness to exclude all other knowledge or thoughts, the more clearly and intensely we will become conscious of ourself as we really are.
In order to illustrate this process by which we can make our self-consciousness become increasingly clear and intense, Sri Ramana gives us the analogy of a pearl-diver who sinks deep into the ocean to collect a pearl. Our thoughts, which are the imaginary knowledge that we have of things other than ourself, are like the ever-restless waves on the surface of the ocean. The closer we are to the surface of our mind, the more we will be buffeted about by the movement of our thoughts. However, instead of floating about near the surface, if we sink, dive or penetrate deep into our being, we will increasingly approach the absolute core and essence of our being, which is entirely free of all such movement. The deeper we sink into our being, the less we will be affected by the movement of any thought.
Sinking or diving deep into ourself therefore means penetrating deep beneath the surface activity of our mind by focusing our attention ever more keenly, pointedly, exclusively and firmly upon our ‘am’-ness – our fundamental consciousness of our own essential being, which we always experience as ‘I am’. When our attention penetrates thus into the very essence of our being, our mind will subside or sink into the state of just being, and thus all its activity or thinking will automatically and effortlessly cease.
Only by repeatedly and persistently penetrating thus into the depth of our own ‘am’-ness – our essential self-conscious being – will we eventually be able to reach its innermost depth or absolute core, which is itself the ‘pearl of self’, the perfect state of true and infinitely clear self-knowledge, which we are seeking to attain.
Sri Ramana often used this analogy of diving or sinking into water to illustrate how deeply and intensely our attention should penetrate into the innermost core or essence of our being. For example, in verse 28 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu he says:
Like sinking [immersing or diving] in order to find an object that has fallen into water, diving [sinking, immersing, piercing or penetrating] within [ourself] restraining [our] speech and breath by [means of a] sharp intellect [a keen, intense, acute and penetrating power of discernment or attention] we should know the place [or source] where [our] rising ego rises. Know [this].
The key words in this verse are kūrnda matiyāl, which mean by a sharp, pointed, keen, intense, acute and penetrating mind, intellect or power of discernment, cognition or attention, and they are placed in this verse in such a position that they apply by implication to all the verbs that follow them. That is, we should restrain our speech and breath by a keenly focused and penetrating intellect, we should dive or sink within ourself by a keenly focused and penetrating intellect, and we should know the source from which our ego rises by a keenly focused and penetrating intellect.
But what exactly does Sri Ramana mean in this context by these words kūrnda mati – a sharp, pointed, keenly focused and penetrating mind or intellect? The clue he gives us to answer this question lies in the last two verbs that they qualify. That is, since this keen and penetrating intellect is the means or instrument by which we can dive, sink, immerse or pierce deep within ourself, and by which we can thus know the source from which our ego rises, it must be an intellect – a power of discernment or attention – that is turned inwards and focused keenly, pointedly and penetratingly upon our real self or essential being, which is the source or ‘place’ from which our ego or individual sense of ‘I’ arises. Therefore a kūrnda mati is a keenly, sharply, intensely and penetratingly self-attentive intellect.
In this context it is important to note that though the Sanskrit words buddhi and mati are usually translated in English by the word ‘intellect’, they do not merely mean ‘intellect’ in the superficial sense in which this word is normally used in English. That is, in English the word ‘intellect’ is normally understood to mean just our superficial power of reasoning or rational thought, whereas in Sanskrit, Tamil and other Indian languages the words buddhi and mati convey a much deeper meaning than this.
The real meaning of these two words, particularly in the sense in which Sri Ramana uses the word mati in this verse, is ‘intellect’ in its original sense, which is derived from the Latin words inter legere, meaning ‘to choose between’, and which therefore denotes our power or faculty of discernment or discrimination. Therefore in this verse the word mati denotes our deep inner power of discernment or ability to distinguish and clearly recognise that which is real – a power that is derived not just from intellectual reasoning or rational thought, but rather from the profound natural clarity of pure self-consciousness which always exists within us, but which is usually clouded over by the density and intensity of our desires and attachments and our resulting thoughts.
Though in the philosophy of advaita vēdānta the two words manas or ‘mind’ and buddhi or ‘intellect’ are often used in such a way that they appear to denote two different entities, Sri Ramana clarified the fact that they are not actually two different entities but are just two different aspects or functions of one single entity – namely our finite individual consciousness, which we usually refer to as our ‘mind’. Therefore whenever a distinction is implied in the meaning of these two words, the word manas or ‘mind’ denotes our mind in its more superficial and dynamic function as a power of thinking, feeling and perceiving, whereas the word buddhi or ‘intellect’ denotes our mind in its deeper and more static function as a calm power of inner clarity, discernment, discrimination or true understanding.
Hence the word mati, which is used in this verse as an equivalent of the word buddhi, means our mind, but rather than just our mind in a vague or general sense, it more specifically means our mind as a power of inner clarity and discernment – a power of attention that is capable of turning itself away from all appearances and focusing itself keenly and clearly upon the one reality that underlies them, namely our own essential self-consciousness ‘I am’.
Since our mind is a separate individual consciousness that deserves this name ‘mind’ only so long as it attends to anything other than our own essential being, and since it subsides and becomes one with our being when it attends to it truly, wholly and exclusively, the keenly self-attentive ‘mind’ that is denoted by these words kūrnda mati actually ceases to be an individual mind or ego as soon as it becomes truly self-attentive and thereby submerges and sinks into the depth of our being, and thus it is transformed by its self-attentiveness into our real self, of which it is now wholly conscious. In other words, a truly kūrnda or keenly self-attentive mind is actually nothing other than our naturally and eternally self-conscious being.
Though Sri Ramana mentions ‘restraining [our] speech and breath’ in association with ‘diving [sinking, immersing or piercing] within’, it is not actually necessary for us to make any special effort to restrain either our speech or our breath, because just as our thoughts or mental activities will all subside automatically and effortlessly when we become intensely self-attentive, so too will our speech and breath. Therefore, if we undertake this simple and direct practice of self-attentive being from the very outset, there will never be any need for us to practise any of the artificial exercises of prāṇāyāma or breath-restraint, because by our mere self-attentiveness we will naturally restrain and bring to a complete standstill all the activity of our mind, speech, breath and body.
Since all these activities are merely imaginations that arise only when we allow our attention to leak out towards anything other than ourself, they will all disappear and become non-existent as soon as we effectively draw our entire attention back into the innermost depth or core of our being, which is the source from which it arises and flows outwards as our mind, intellect or ego.
Though the word mati is used in Tamil in the sense of mind, intellect, understanding, discrimination or discernment, it is actually a word of Sanskrit origin, and in Sanskrit besides these meanings it can also mean intention, resolution, will, desire or devotion. If we understand the words kūrnda matiyāl in this latter sense, they would mean ‘by intense devotion or love’. Though this is not the principal meaning of these words in this context, it is nevertheless appropriate as a secondary meaning, because we will be able to sink or penetrate deep within ourself only if we have great love for the state of just being, which is the true form of God.
Unless we truly have intense love for being, we will be unwilling to surrender ourself to it, and hence our mind together with all its vāsanās or latent desires will continue to rise in rebellion whenever we try to cling firmly to self-attentiveness and thereby to sink deep into our innermost being. Devotion and desirelessness – that is, true love for being and freedom from desire for anything other than being – are like the two inseparable sides of a single piece of paper, and they each increase in direct proportion to the increase of the other. Therefore when Sri Ramana compares vairāgya or freedom from desire to the stone that a pearl-diver ties to his waist, saying that by submerging beneath the surface activity of our mind and sinking deep within ourself with vairāgya we can attain the ‘pearl of self’, he implies that in order to be able to sink to the innermost depth of our being we require not only vairāgya but also great love or bhakti.
Devotion and desirelessness, or bhakti and vairāgya as they are respectively called in Sanskrit and other Indian languages, are not only inseparable but are actually just two different ways of describing the same state of mind. However they are usually spoken of as two separate qualities because they are each a particular aspect of that one state of mind. Because they are both indispensable qualities that we require in order to be able to attain true self-knowledge, they are sometimes said to be the two wings by which we must learn to fly to the transcendent state of absolute being.
Both devotion and desirelessness arise due to another essential quality, which is called vivēka, a Sanskrit word that means discrimination, discernment or the ability to distinguish the real from the unreal, the eternal from the ephemeral, the substance from the form, or the actual truth from what merely appears to be true. True vivēka is not merely an intellectual understanding of the truth, but is a deep inner clarity that exists naturally in the core of our being and that arises in our mind when it becomes purified or cleansed of the grosser forms of its desires. An intellectual understanding of the truth is a useful starting point from which we can commence our inward search for the actual experience of true knowledge, but it will blossom into true discrimination or vivēka only if we apply it in practice by actually turning our mind inwards to discover the true nature of our essential being.
To the extent that our mind is purified of its desires, to that extent will the clarity of true discrimination or vivēka arise within it. Conversely, the more clearly we are able to discriminate, understand and be truly convinced that happiness exists only within ourself and not in any other thing, the stronger will both our devotion and desirelessness become. Thus true discrimination or vivēka enkindles in our mind true devotion or bhakti and true desirelessness or vairāgya, and true devotion and desirelessness clarify our mind, thereby increasing our power of discrimination.
The most potent and effective means by which we can enkindle the clarity of true discrimination in our mind is to be constantly and deeply self-attentive, because when we are self-attentive we are focusing our attention on our consciousness of being, which is not only the light that illumines our mind, but is also the infinite fullness and source of all clarity, knowledge or understanding. Or to explain the same thing in another way, when we are self-attentive we are warding off all the thoughts that cloud and obscure the infinite clarity of being that always shines in our heart or innermost core. Thus by self-attentiveness we are opening our heart to the true grace of God, which is our natural clarity of perfect self-consciousness, and which by its pure light will enable us to discriminate, understand and be truly and deeply convinced of the truth.
If our understanding and discrimination does not give us sufficient strength of conviction to enable us to withdraw our mind easily from everything other than ourself and to focus it intensely upon our own essential being, it must only be a superficial and unclear form of discrimination or vivēka. When our discrimination becomes truly deep, clear and intense – that is, when it becomes a truly kūrnda mati or keenly penetrating power of discernment – it will shine within us as an unshakeable strength of conviction, which we will experience as intense bhakti or love for our natural state of just being and as firm vairāgya or freedom from desire for anything other than being, and thus it will enable us to surrender our finite individual self, our mind or ego, and thereby sink effortlessly into the innermost depth of our essential being.
Just as the weight of a stone enables a pearl-diver to sink deep into the ocean, so the intensity of our bhakti and vairāgya will enable us to sink deep into the innermost core of our being. However, until we actually cultivate sufficiently intense bhakti and vairāgya, whenever we attempt to be vigilantly self-attentive, we will not be able to sink very deep but will continue to float just below the surface of our mind, where our thoughts will continue to disturb us. That is, our self-attentiveness will not be very deep and clear, but will continue to be shallow and clouded by the thoughts that we constantly like to think due to our lack of true vairāgya or desirelessness.
Our liking to think of anything other than ourself is the sole obstacle that prevents us from sinking deep into our real self-conscious being, and such liking is caused by our lack of true discrimination or vivēka. If we were truly convinced that happiness exists only within ourself and not in any other thing, we would certainly gain the love to subside into the peaceful thought-free depth of our own self-conscious being, and would therefore lose our desire to think of anything else. However, though we need this firm conviction, which arises as a result of clear discrimination, in order to be able to remain firmly and deeply self-attentive, the only way to gain it is by practising self-attentiveness.
By repeatedly and persistently practising the art of being self-attentive to whatever extent we can, we will gradually enkindle within our mind the necessary clarity of true discrimination or vivēka, and thus we will cultivate a steadily increasing strength of true love or bhakti and true desirelessness or vairāgya, which will in turn enable us to sink deeper into our naturally ever self-conscious being.
Thus the three inseparable qualities of vivēka, bhakti and vairāgya – which Sri Ramana describes collectively as kūrnda mati or a keenly penetrating power of discernment and love – will drive our mind deeper into our natural state of self-conscious or self-attentive being, and by sinking deep into this state we will cultivate and increase these three qualities. Therefore however weak or strong our present vivēka, bhakti and vairāgya may be, the only way for us to progress from where we now stand towards our goal of attaining the infinitely happy experience of true self-knowledge is to attempt repeatedly and persistently to be ever self-attentive.
After saying that in order to attain the pearl of self-knowledge we should sink deep within ourself with steadfast desirelessness, Sri Ramana goes on to say, ‘If one clings fast to uninterrupted svarūpa-smaraṇa [self-remembrance] until one attains svarūpa [one’s own essential being or real self], that alone [will be] sufficient’. Why exactly does he use the term svarūpa-smaraṇa or ‘self-remembrance’ here?
We never actually forget ourself, because we always know ‘I am’. However, though we are always conscious of our own being as ‘I am’, we tend to ignore or overlook it because we are so interested in attending to things other than ourself, which are all mere products of our imagination. When our mind is thus constantly absorbed in thinking of things other than itself, it in effect forgets its own real self, its essential being, which does not think anything, but just is. Since all our thoughts or imaginations are thus constantly distracting our attention away from our natural consciousness of just being, we can put an end to their distracting influence only by trying to remember our being uninterruptedly.
Self-remembrance is therefore the antidote to our fascination with thinking of things other than ourself. However, because our desire to think of other things is so strong, when we try to cling fast to self-remembrance our mind will rebel and rise in the form of innumerable thoughts, thereby interrupting our effort to remember only ourself.
Whenever our self-remembrance is thus interrupted by the rising of other thoughts, we should again remember our being and thereby withdraw our attention from them. The more we practise remembering ourself in this manner, the more we will gain the strength and ability to cling exclusively and uninterruptedly to our remembrance of our own simple self-conscious being.
This practice or exercise of self-remembrance is not an attempt to regain the memory of something that we have forgotten, as for example we would try to remember where we had placed something that we have lost and are now trying to find, because our own self or essential being is always present and known by us, and is therefore something we have never really lost or forgotten. Rather this practice is an attempt to retain the memory of something that we wish to avoid forgetting, as for example we would try to remember constantly a person or thing whose memory gives us great joy. Self-remembrance is therefore simply another name for self-attentiveness, that is, being constantly attentive, conscious, mindful or aware of our own mere being or ‘am’-ness.
Therefore this term svarūpa-smaraṇa or ‘self-remembrance’ that Sri Ramana uses here in this eleventh paragraph, the term svarūpa-dhyāna or ‘self-meditation’ that he used in the previous paragraph, the term ātma-cintanā, ‘self-thinking’, ‘self-thought’, ‘self-consideration’ or ‘self-contemplation’ that he uses in the thirteenth paragraph, and the term ātma-vicāra, ‘self-investigation’, ‘self-examination’ or ‘self-scrutiny’ that he uses in many other places all denote the same simple practice of self-attentive being. As Sri Ramana says in the sixteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:
[…] The name ‘ātma-vicāra’ [is truly applicable] only to [the practice of] always being [abiding or remaining] having put [placed, kept, seated, deposited, detained, fixed or established our] mind in ātmā [our own real self] […]
What exactly does Sri Ramana mean when he talks of putting, placing, keeping or detaining our mind in ātmā or our own real self? Our real self or essential being is the sole reality that underlies the appearance of our mind, and as such it is its source and natural abode. So long as we know nothing other than our own being, our mind remains naturally in and as our own infinite, undivided and non-dual real self. When however we begin to imagine and know anything other than our own being, our mind seemingly comes out from our real self as a separate and finite individual consciousness, whose nature appears to be thinking – that is, constantly attending to those other things, which it has created by its imagination. Hence putting, placing, keeping or detaining our mind in our real self means preventing it from rising and coming out as a separate thinking or object-knowing consciousness.
Therefore, since our mind comes out from our real self only by attending to things other than itself, and since it remains in our real self whenever it attends to and knows only our own being, putting, placing, keeping or detaining our mind in our real self means fixing or retaining our attention wholly and exclusively in our own essential self-conscious being, without allowing it to come out to know or experience any other thing.
Thus this simple definition given by Sri Ramana, which expresses perfectly the very essence of the practice called ātma-vicāra or self-investigation, can be paraphrased by saying that ātma-vicāra is a name that is applicable only to the practice of always being steadfastly self-attentive or conscious only of our own essential being, ‘I am’.
Self-remembrance or self-attentiveness is a practice that we can train ourself to maintain even while we are engaged in other activities. Whatever we may be doing by mind, speech or body, we always know that we are, so by persistent practice it is possible for us to gain the skill to maintain a tenuous current of self-attentiveness in the midst of all our other activities. When we cultivate this skill to be always tenuously aware of our underlying self-consciousness throughout our waking and dream states, we will also become more clearly aware of our continuing self-consciousness in sleep.
That is, by persistently practising self-attentiveness or self-remembrance whenever our mind is free from any other work, we will gradually become so familiar with our natural and essential self-consciousness that we will continue to be tenuously aware of it even when our mind is engaged in activity, and even when it has subsided in sleep. Though we cannot be wholly or deeply attentive to our being when our mind is engaged in activity, we can nevertheless be tenuously attentive to it at all times. This is the state that Sri Ramana describes as ‘clinging fast to uninterrupted svarūpa-smaraṇa or self-remembrance’, and as ‘always being or remaining keeping our mind fixed in ātmā or our own real self’, and he says that practising thus ‘alone is sufficient’.
Why does he say that ‘clinging fast to uninterrupted svarūpa-smaraṇa or self-remembrance until we attain our own real self will alone be sufficient’? Though in the initial stages of this practice our self-remembrance will be frequently interrupted by the rising of thoughts and the consequent activity of our mind, and though in the more advanced stages of practice it may not be entirely interrupted but is nevertheless greatly diminished by whatever activity our mind may be engaged in, due to our persistence in this practice our vāsanās or latent desires to think of things other than ourself will be steadily weakened, and thus we will gain the vairāgya or freedom from desire that is required for us to be able to sink into the innermost depth of our being, where we can obtain the pearl of true self-knowledge.
So long as we mistake ourself to be this physical body, we will feel impelled to engage in physical, vocal and mental activities, if not at all times at least at certain times, because such activity is necessary for the maintenance of our life in this body. Therefore until we transcend this illusion that we are this body, we will not be able to remain completely untouched by the rising of thoughts. Hence sinking or diving deep within ourself is a practice that we cannot be engaged in uninterruptedly at all times.
However, though we cannot uninterruptedly and at all times be deeply, keenly, intensely and clearly self-attentive until we actually attain the perfect experience of true and absolute self-knowledge, even during the stage of practice we can strive to be uninterruptedly self-attentive at least tenuously. By trying to maintain at least a tenuous degree of self-attentiveness at all times, we can steadily weaken our latent desires and thereby make it easier for ourself to sink deep into our being at certain times, and by sometimes sinking deep into our being, we can gain an increased degree of clarity of self-consciousness, which will make it easier for us to maintain a tenuous but uninterrupted current of self-attentiveness even in the midst of various activities.
However, though attempting to maintain uninterruptedly a tenuous current of self-attentiveness in this manner is an important element of our spiritual practice, we cannot actually attain the true experience of absolute self-knowledge until we thereby gain sufficient vivēka, bhakti and vairāgya to be able to sink into the innermost depth of our being, where the bright and infinite light of perfectly clear and absolutely non-dual self-consciousness is eternally shining as ‘I am’.
In the final two sentences of this eleventh paragraph Sri Ramana gives another analogy in order to illustrate what he had said in the first two sentences, namely:
As long as viṣaya-vāsanās [latent desires for things other than ourself] exist in [our] mind, so long the investigation ‘who am I?’ is necessary. As and when thoughts arise, then and there it is necessary [for us] to annihilate them all by vicāra [self-investigation or self-attentiveness] in the very place from which they arise […]
The analogy he gives to illustrate this process of annihilating all thoughts as soon as they arise is as follows:
[…] So long as enemies are within the fort, they will continue coming out from it. If [we] continue destroying [or cutting down] all of them as and when they come, the fort will [eventually] come into [our] possession.
In this simile, the fort is our own real self, the core of our being, which is the source of our mind, and the enemies that reside within it are our vāsanās or latent desires for things other than our own being. In order to take possession of a fort, we must besiege it, and when we do so the enemies inside will not just remain there peacefully and submissively. For their own survival it is necessary for them to come out in an attempt to break our siege and replenish their food supply.
The food that our latent desires require for their gratification and survival is the knowledge of things other than our being. So long as we feed our mind with the knowledge of otherness or duality, it will survive and flourish, but if we deprive it of such knowledge, it will grow weak, because in the absence of such knowledge its separate identity or individuality will be dissolved. For its own survival, therefore, our mind will rise in rebellion as soon as we try to retain it in our mere being. That is, it will rebel by constantly trying to think of anything other than our own essential self-conscious being.
Since thoughts can rise only when we attend to them, they can be destroyed at the very place and moment that they arise only by our clinging tenaciously to self-attentiveness. If we are steadfast in our self-attentiveness or self-remembrance, every thought that our mind tries to think will perish due to its being ignored by us.
This ignoring of all thoughts by our clinging tenaciously to self-attentiveness is what Sri Ramana describes as cutting down all the enemies as and when they come out of the fort. Therefore if we persist long enough in our practice of self-attentive being, all our vāsanās or latent desires to think will eventually be destroyed, and our mind will thereby sink back into the source from which it arose.
This eventual sinking of our mind or attention back into our source or essential being is what Sri Ramana describes by saying that ‘the fort will [eventually] come into [our] possession’. It is not necessary for us to continue struggling eternally to resist the attraction of things other than ourself and thereby to remain in our mere being, because by struggling to do so for a while we will be able to completely annihilate our desires, which make those other things appear to be so attractive.
Other things attract us because we wrongly believe that we can obtain happiness from them, and we believe this due to our lack of vivēka or true discrimination. However, by being constantly self-attentive, we will be feeding our mind with the natural clarity of vivēka that exists within us as the clear light of our ever self-luminous consciousness of our own being, and thereby we will steadily gain an increasingly strong conviction that happiness lies only within ourself and not in any other thing. The stronger this conviction becomes, the more our bhakti or love for our own being and our vairāgya or freedom from desire for anything other than our being will grow, and the easier it will therefore become for us to resist the false and delusive attraction of knowing anything other than being.
Therefore as a practice self-attentiveness is necessary for us only until such time as all our vāsanās or latent desires are destroyed by the dawning of true self-knowledge, whereupon we will discover that self-attentiveness or self-consciousness is the very nature of our being, and is therefore something that truly does not require any effort or practice. When our mind and all its vāsanās are thus destroyed by our experience of true self-knowledge, our false and imaginary individuality will be dissolved and we will remain effortlessly and eternally as the infinite and absolute consciousness of just being, ‘I am’.
In this state of manōnāśa or complete annihilation of our mind, which is the state that is also known as nirvāṇa or total extinction of the illusion of our individual self, there is nothing further for us to do, and nothing other than our being for us to know. This is the true experience of Sri Ramana and all other sages, and it is clearly expressed by him in verse 15 of Upadēśa Undiyār and verse 31 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu:
When [his] mind-form is annihilated, for the great yōgi who is [thereby] established as the reality there is not a single action [or ‘doing’], [because] he has attained his [own true] nature [which is actionless being].
For one who is [completely immersed in and therefore one with] tanmayānanda [bliss composed only of tat, ‘it’ or the infinite and absolute reality], which rose [as true self-knowledge, ‘I am I’] having destroyed [his finite individual] self, what single thing is there to do [or for ‘doing’]? He does not know any other thing but only [his own real] self. [Therefore] how to think [or who can think] that his state is such-and-such?
The state of true self-knowledge, which is the state of infinite and absolute happiness, is the state of just being – the state in which we have discovered that the finite thinking consciousness that we called our ‘mind’ was a mere illusion that existed only in its own limited and distorted view, and is therefore in reality entirely non-existent. Since our mind is the original cause, source and base of all activity, this mind-free state of just being is entirely devoid of even the least activity, action, karma or ‘doing’.
Since this state of true self-knowledge is thus utterly devoid of our ‘thinking’, ‘doing’ and ‘knowing’ mind, it is also devoid of all knowledge of otherness or duality. Because it is therefore a state that completely transcends all thoughts and words, Sri Ramana asks how anyone could possibly conceive it or think of it as it really is.
Any conception that we may form in our mind about this state of true self-knowledge is therefore inaccurate, because it is merely an attempt to conceive the inconceivable. Likewise any words that we may use to describe it are inadequate, because they are merely an attempt to define the indefinable.
The state of true self-knowledge can never be known by our finite mind, but can be experienced by us only when our thinking mind is destroyed. In order to experience it, therefore, we must turn our mind inwards and drown it in its own source, which is our true and essential being. Hence we can never gain true knowledge from mere words, or by turning our attention outwards to read word-filled books, but only by turning our attention inwards to read the silent book of our own heart.
Words and books can serve a useful purpose only insofar as they point our mind in the right direction in which it must focus its attention in order to be able to experience true knowledge. However, even those few books that direct us to turn our mind selfwards will be truly beneficial to us only if we follow their directions and attempt to make our mind sink with true love and steadfast desirelessness into the deepest core of our own being.
Therefore instead of concentrating our efforts in repeatedly studying a few books that truly convince us and remind us of the need for us to turn our mind inwards, and in sincerely and persistently trying to practise the art of self-attentive being that those books teach us, if we continue reading innumerable books to gather more and more extraneous knowledge, we will be wasting our valuable time and distracting our mind from our true purpose, which is to give up all other knowledge and thereby to sink in the only true knowledge – the simple non-dual knowledge or consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’.
Therefore in the sixteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? Sri Ramana says:
Since in every [true spiritual] treatise it is said that for attaining mukti [spiritual emancipation, liberation or salvation] it is necessary [for us] to restrain [our] mind, after knowing that manōnigraha [holding down, holding within, restraining, subduing, suppressing or destroying our mind] is the ultimate intention [or purpose] of [such] treatises, there is no benefit [to be gained] by studying without limit [a countless number of] treatises. For restraining [our] mind it is necessary [for us] to investigate ourself [in order to know] who [we really are], [but] instead [of doing so] how [can we know ourself by] investigating in treatises? It is necessary [for us] to know ourself only by our own eye of jñāna [true knowledge, that is, by our own selfward-turned consciousness]. Does [a person called] Raman need a mirror to know himself as Raman? [Our] ‘self’ is within the pañca-kōśas [the ‘five sheaths’ with which we seem to have covered and obscured our true being, namely our physical body, our prāṇa or life force, our mind, our intellect and the seeming darkness or ignorance of sleep], whereas treatises are outside them. Therefore investigating in treatises [hoping to be able thereby to know] ourself, whom we should investigate [with an inward-turned attention] having removed [set aside, abandoned or separated] all the pañca-kōśas, is useless [or unprofitable]. Knowing our yathārtha svarūpa [our own real self or essential being] having investigated who is [our false individual] self, who is in bondage [being bound within the imaginary confines of our mind], is mukti [emancipation]. The name ‘ātma-vicāra’ [is truly applicable] only to [the practice of] always being [abiding or remaining] having put [placed, kept, seated, deposited, detained, fixed or established our] mind in ātmā [our own real self], whereas dhyāna [meditation] is imagining ourself to be sat-cit-ānanda brahman [the absolute reality, which is being-consciousness-bliss]. At one time it will become necessary [for us] to forget all that [we] have learnt.
To attain emancipation or salvation from the bondage of imagining ourself to be a finite individual we must know ourself as we really are, that is, as the non-dual, infinite and absolute consciousness of our own essential being. But where must we look in order to know ourself thus? Can we know ourself merely by looking in books or sacred texts? No, we obviously cannot, because to know ourself truly and accurately, we must look within ourself in order to discern the true essence of our own being.
That is, since we ourself are the ‘self’ that we wish to know, we can know ourself only by investigating or examining our innermost being with a keenly focused and inwardly piercing attention. Our power of attention, which is our power to direct and focus our consciousness upon something, is the basic and essential instrument by which we are able to know anything. Without attending to something, we cannot know it. Therefore, unless we actually attend to ourself very keenly and carefully, we cannot truly and accurately know ourself as we really are.
True self-knowledge is not just some theoretical knowledge that we may understand by our intellect, but is only a clear and direct non-dual knowledge that we can acquire only through actual self-experience. By attending to books that provide conceptual information about our real self, we can know only that conceptual information, but we cannot actually know ourself. Whatever conceptual information or theoretical knowledge we may acquire about ourself is extraneous to us, and hence it is something other than ourself. Learning some theoretical information about the taste of chocolate is entirely different to actually experiencing the taste of chocolate. Likewise, learning some theoretical knowledge about our own real self is entirely different to actually experiencing ourself as we really are.
We can never know ourself by looking outside ourself, but only by looking within. In fact, it is our habit of looking outside ourself, and our intense liking to do so, that actually prevents us from knowing ourself as we really are. We do not need any other knowledge to know ourself, because we always know ‘I am’. All we need ‘do’ to know ourself is to remove all the extraneous knowledge that we have superimposed upon our basic knowledge of ourself as ‘I am’.
The extraneous knowledge that we have superimposed upon ourself comes in many different forms, but what is common to all these manifold forms of knowledge is that we experience them all as ‘I am knowing this’. What is real in this experience is only the ‘I am’ and not the ‘knowing this’, which is merely a transient appearance. Therefore, in order to know the real ‘I am’ as it is, all we have to ‘do’ is to experience it without the superimposition of this ephemeral apparition or adjunct ‘knowing this’.
Of all the ephemeral and imaginary adjuncts that we superimpose upon our basic knowledge ‘I am’, the most fundamental are our body and the other objects that we mistake to be ourself. Because we imagine certain objects such as our body to be ourself, we imagine other objects outside this body to be other than ourself, and hence we create the illusion of a distinction between ourself and other things, and the parallel illusion of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’.
In the philosophy of vēdānta, the objects that we imagine to be ourself are described as the pañca-kōśas, the ‘five sheaths’ or ‘five coverings’, because in effect they enclose or cover our real self, obscuring in our view its true and infinite nature. These ‘five sheaths’ that are classified in vēdānta are our physical body, our prāṇa or the life-force within this body, our thinking mind, our discerning intellect, and the happiness that we experience in sleep as a seeming darkness or ignorance.
Because the distinction between some of these ‘sheaths’ is rather arbitrary, this classification is often simplified by saying that our real self is seemingly enclosed within three bodies, our ‘gross body’, which means our physical body, our ‘subtle body’, which is our mind, and which is usually said to include both our prāṇa and our intellect, and our ‘causal body’, which is the seeming darkness-yet-happiness that we experience in sleep. However, how we choose to classify these phenomena that we imagine to be ourself is unimportant, because none of them are the real ‘self’ that we seek to know.
Sri Ramana mentions this term pañca-kōśas or ‘five sheaths’ in this context only to emphasise the fact that we experience ourself as if we existed inside these ‘sheaths’ or extraneous adjuncts, whereas we experience books as if they existed outside of them. Though books appear to exist outside ourself, we can know them and understand them only through the medium of at least three of these sheaths, namely the senses of our physical body, our mind and our intellect. However, to know our real self, we must set aside or ignore all of these five sheaths, since they are not really ourself, and we must concentrate our entire attention upon our essential self-consciousness – our fundamental consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’.
Therefore, since we cannot study any book without mistaking ourself to be this body and mind, and since we cannot know our real self without giving up this mistaken identification, we can never know ourself merely by studying books. Since the ultimate import of all sacred texts and other truly useful books is that we should know ourself in order to experience true and perfect happiness, we must eventually forget all that we have learnt in books by turning our attention inwards with overwhelming love to know only our own real self or essential being.
Everything that we learn from books or from any other source outside ourself is an extraneous knowledge, which, having come to us at one time, must leave us at some other time. The only knowledge that is eternally with us is our basic knowledge ‘I am’, which is our consciousness of our own essential being.
However, though it is ever present and known by us as our own self-conscious being, the true nature of this eternal knowledge now appears to be clouded and obscured by the transient superimposition of all our other knowledge. Since no knowledge that comes and goes can give us permanent happiness, the only knowledge we should seek is perfectly clear and accurate knowledge of our own being – that is, knowledge of ourself free from the superimposition of any other form of knowledge.
The only truly useful and beneficial knowledge that we can acquire from books or other external sources, including even the most sacred and holy books, is the knowledge that impresses upon us and convinces us of the need for us to turn our attention selfwards in order to experience and directly know our own essential being. So long as our mind feels impelled by its desires to be active, studying a select few books that constantly, repeatedly and convincingly emphasise the truth that in order to experience eternal and infinite happiness we must know our own real self, and musing frequently upon the truth revealed in such books, will be a great aid in giving impetus to our love and efforts to practise self-attentiveness.
This three-fold process of repeatedly reading such books, musing upon their import, and trying to put what we learn from them into practice is known in vēdānta as śravaṇa, manana and nididhyāsana, and is recommended by Sri Ramana and other sages as the means by which we can gradually acquire the skill to remain steadfastly in the state of self-attentive being. However, though śravaṇa or reading the right type of books is recommended by Sri Ramana, this does not mean that we should read an endless number of books. Just a few really pertinent books are quite sufficient to support us in our efforts to practise self-attentiveness.
Whereas studying deeply a few truly pertinent books can be a great aid to our practice of self-attentive being, reading a vast number of books can be a serious impediment. Therefore in verse 34 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Anubandham Sri Ramana says:
For people of little intelligence, wife, children and others [other relatives] form [just] one family. [However] know that in the mind of people who have vast learning, there are not [just] one [but] many families [in the form] of books [that stand] as obstacles to yōga [spiritual practice].
Though a strong attachment to our family can be an obstacle to our spiritual practice, because it can draw our mind outwards and make it difficult for us to remain free of thoughts in the state of self-attentive being, a strong attachment to all the knowledge that we have acquired from studying many books is a still greater obstacle, because it will fill our mind with many thoughts.
If we are really intent upon experiencing the true goal of yōga, which is perfectly clear self-knowledge, we will not feel inclined to read vast quantities of sacred texts or other philosophical books, because we will be eager to put into practice what we have learnt from a few really pertinent books which explain that simple self-attentive being is the only means by which we can experience that goal. If instead we feel enthusiasm only to study an endless number of books, we will merely succeed in filling our mind with countless thoughts, which will draw our attention away from our essential consciousness of our own being. Thus filling our mind with knowledge gathered from many books will be a great obstacle to our practice of self-attentive being.
Excessive study will not only fill our mind with innumerable thoughts, which will cloud our natural inner clarity of self-consciousness, but will also fill it with the pride of learning, which will prompt us to display our vast knowledge to other people, and to expect them to appreciate and praise it. Therefore in verse 36 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Anubandham Sri Ramana says:
Rather than people who though learned have not subsided [surrendered or become subdued, humble or still], the unlearned are saved. They are saved from the ghost of pride that possesses [the learned]. They are saved from the disease of many whirling thoughts. They are saved from running in search of fame [repute, respect, esteem or glory]. Know that what they are saved from is not [just] one [evil].
Of all the obstacles that can arise in our path when we are seeking true self-knowledge, the desire for praise, appreciation, respect, high regard, renown or fame is one of the most delusive and therefore dangerous, and it is one to which the learned are particularly susceptible. Therefore in verse 37 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Anubandham Sri Ramana says:
Though all the worlds are [regarded by them as] straw, and though all the sacred texts are within [their] hand, [for] people who come under the sway of the wicked whore who is puhaṙcci [praise, applause, appreciation, respect, high regard, renown or fame], escaping [their] slavery [to her], ah, is rare [or very difficult].
The first clause of this verse, ‘though all the worlds are straw’, implies that those of us who have studied vast amounts of philosophy may look down upon the normal mundane pleasures of this world, heaven and all other worlds as being a mere trifle, and may therefore imagine that we have renounced all desire for them. The second clause, ‘though all the sacred texts are within hand’, implies that we may have mastered a vast range of scholastic knowledge about various systems of philosophy, religious belief and other such subjects. However, in spite of all our vast learning and our seeming renunciation, if we fall prey to desire for the extremely delusive pleasure of being an object of praise, appreciation, admiration, respect, high regard, acclaim or fame, to free ourself of such desire is very difficult indeed.
The desire for appreciation and respect is very subtle and therefore powerful in its ability to delude us, and it is a desire to which even otherwise perfectly good people can easily fall a prey, particularly if they engage themselves in any activity that seems to benefit other people, such as teaching the principles of religion, philosophy or moral conduct through either speech or writing. This desire is particularly dangerous for a spiritual aspirant, because the pleasure we feel in being appreciated and respected derives from our attachment to our ego or individual personality – our delusive sense that we are the person who is appreciated and respected. Therefore, if we are sincere in our desire to attain true self-knowledge, we should be extremely vigilant to avoid giving any room in our mind to the rising of this desire.
Until we attain the non-dual experience of true self-knowledge, we will not be able to remain completely unaffected either by any recognition, respect, appreciation or praise that we may receive, or by any of their opposites such as disregard, disrespect, depreciation or criticism. Only when we attain true self-knowledge and thereby discover that we are not this individual person who is being recognised, appreciated or praised, or disregarded, disrespected, depreciated or criticised, can we be truly unaffected by them. Therefore in verse 38 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Anubandham Sri Ramana says:
When we always abide unswervingly in our own [true] state [of non-dual self-knowledge], without knowing [the illusory distinction between] ‘myself’ [and] ‘others’, who is there besides ourself? What [does it matter] if whoever says whatever about us? [Since in that state we know that there is no one other than our own essential being, it would be as if we were extolling or disparaging ourself only to ourself.] What indeed [does it matter] if [to ourself] we extol or disparage ourself?
So long as we experience the existence of any person besides ourself, or the existence of anything other than our single, undivided and non-dual consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’, we should not imagine that we have attained true self-knowledge, or that we are impervious to all forms of appreciation and depreciation. Most importantly, we should never delude ourself by imagining that we can be a true spiritual guru to other people, or pose as such, because the true spiritual guru is only the ‘person’ who has ceased to exist as a separate individual person, having merged and dissolved in the absolute reality, thereby becoming one with it, and who therefore knows that the absolute reality, which is our own essential being, alone exists, and that there is truly no person other than it.
So long as we feel ourself to be a separate individual, we should always be wary of the delusion of pride, which can so easily rise within us. Even if, for example, we happen to write a book like this one that I am now writing, exploring and discussing the teachings of a true spiritual guru such as Sri Ramana, we should never allow ourself to fall prey to the subtle and powerful delusion of pride or egoism, imagining that we can claim credit for any clarity or wisdom that might appear in what we write.
If we are able to express any clarity of understanding about the nature of the absolute reality, or about the means by which we can attain it, we should understand that that clarity is not our own, but belongs only to the source from which it arises, which is the one absolute reality that exists within each one of us as our own essential self-conscious being, and which manifests outwardly in the form of the true guru in order to indicate the truth that we are that reality, and that to know it we must turn our attention back on ourself in order to experience and thereby drown in our own essential being. If we have truly understood the teachings of any manifestation of the one true guru, such as Sri Ramana, we will understand that as an individual person we are truly nothing, and that our mind or individual personality is a mere delusion, and is therefore not worthy of any praise or other form of appreciation.
Self-delusive pride is the greatest danger that can arise as a result of excessive study of sacred texts and other philosophical books. The real purpose of studying such books, and the only true benefit we can derive from doing so, is twofold. Firstly it is to understand clearly the means by which we can annihilate our ego, our sense of separate individuality, and thereby experience the one true and absolute knowledge, which is our non-dual consciousness of our own essential being. Secondly and still more importantly, it is to cultivate an overwhelming love to practise that means and thereby drown in the infinite happiness and peace of that true non-dual self-consciousness. Therefore in verse 35 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Anubandham Sri Ramana says:
What [is the use of] people who do not intend to erase the letter [of fate], scrutinising where they who know the letter [the words written in books] were born, knowing [that] letter? O Sonagiri the Wise, say, who else [are they] but people who have acquired the erudition [or nature] of a sound recording machine?
The ‘letter’ is an idiomatic way of referring to destiny, the ‘writing of fate’, and also to the words written in books, the ‘letter of the scriptures’, as opposed to their spirit or true significance. The purpose or spirit of the words written in sacred texts is to teach us how we can ‘erase the letters of fate’ only by annihilating our ego or mind, which imagines that it is doing actions or karmas and experiencing the destiny or fate that results from such actions.
If we study the words written in sacred texts and other philosophical books, but still make no effort to put what we learn from those books into practice by turning our mind inwards to experience our own essential being, which is the source from which we as our ego were ‘born’ or originated, and thereby annihilating this ego, who experiences the letters of fate, all our study and erudition are of no use whatsoever.
Therefore, addressing God poetically as ‘Sonagiri the Wise’, Sri Ramana concludes that if we gain vast erudition by studying books which teach that we can attain true and lasting happiness only by annihilating our ego or mind, yet still have no intention to practise self-scrutiny, which is the only means by which we can annihilate it, we are merely gaining the erudition of a sound recording machine – that is, the ability to regurgitate repeatedly whatever words or concepts we have recorded in our mind as a result of our study.
What initially motivates us to read books on philosophy or religion is our desire to know the truth, but the true knowledge that we seek to acquire cannot be contained in any book or any words. True knowledge is only the absolute knowledge that lies beyond the reach of all thoughts and words.
The words and concepts that are expressed in philosophical writings can only show us the means by which we can attain the true knowledge we seek, which always exists within us as our fundamental non-dual consciousness of our own essential being, ‘I am’. Therefore, in order to attain true knowledge, we must turn our attention away from books and concentrate it instead upon our own essential self-conscious being.
True jñāna-vicāra, investigation or examination of knowledge, is not the study of any philosophical concepts, but is only the keen and vigilant scrutiny of our own fundamental self-consciousness. Therefore in verse 19 of Upadēśa Undiyār Sri Ramana says:
When [we] scrutinise within [ourself] ‘what is the place in which it [our mind] rises as I?’ [this false] ‘I’ will die. This [alone] is jñāna-vicāra.
The word which I have translated here as ‘will die’ is the compound verb talai-sāyndiḍum, which literally means ‘becomes head-bent’, that is, bows its head in shame, modesty or reverence, but which is commonly used in an idiomatic sense to mean ‘dies’. So long as our mind or ego – our false individual sense of ‘I’, which is our basic consciousness ‘I am’ mixed with various adjuncts or upādhis that we imagine to be ourself – appears to exist, we cannot experience the true adjunct-free nature of our real self-consciousness ‘I am’ – that is, our unqualified, undivided, non-dual and absolute consciousness of our own essential being.
Since this mind, our false ‘I’ or ego, rises only by knowing things that appear to be other than itself, and since it seems to exist only so long as we allow it to continue dwelling upon those other things, in order to annihilate it we must turn it away from all its thoughts and concepts – that is, from all forms of knowledge that are extraneous to our fundamental self-consciousness – by concentrating it wholly and exclusively upon our own essential self-conscious being, which is the source from which it had arisen to know all those other forms of knowledge. No matter how many books we may read, we cannot attain true knowledge until and unless we forget all that we have learnt from them by thus concentrating our entire attention only upon our own true non-dual self-conscious being.
If we have great enthusiasm to study a vast number of books, and to remember all the concepts that we have learnt from them, we are likely to forget the true purpose of the books we study. Therefore, rather than reading many books, we would be wise to select a few books which clearly and repeatedly emphasise the need for us to turn our mind inwards and drown it in the source from which it has risen, and that thereby enkindle and sustain our enthusiasm to practise the art of vigilantly self-attentive and therefore thought-free being.
The most important books for us to study are those that contain the teachings of our own guru. Though all sages have taught the same truth, they each have expressed it in different terms and with differing degrees of explicitness, in order to suit the circumstances and the understanding of those they were addressing. Though our own real self has at various times manifested itself in the form of various sages, it has now manifested for us in the form of our own particular guru in order to teach us the truth in a manner that is best suited to our own particular needs.
It does not matter if we have never seen our guru in physical form, as most of us have never seen Sri Ramana, because he is always manifest and available to us in the form of his teachings. Therefore, though we should have respect for the teachings of all sages, the teachings of our own guru are sufficient for us and will provide us with all the help and guidance that we need in order to be able to turn our mind inwards and practise steadfastly the art of self-attentive being.
Whatever books we may read, we should always remember that the only true benefit we can derive from reading is an added impetus or urge to turn our mind inwards and remain firmly self-attentive. If a book does not enkindle in our mind a clear understanding and strong conviction that the only means by which we can attain true happiness is to practise persistently the art of self-attentive being, or if it does not reinforce our existing understanding and conviction concerning this truth, there is truly no benefit in our reading such a book.
In order for us to develop the skill that we require to hold fast to self-attentiveness – that is, in order for us to cultivate the necessary bhakti or love for our own being and vairāgya or freedom from desire for anything other than our being – we must be single-mindedly interested in and focused upon this one aim, and hence we should avoid as far as possible anything that distracts us from it or that scatters our single-pointedness. Therefore, though there may be many books that emphasise more or less directly that we should restrain our mind from running outwards and should instead turn it inwards to attend to our mere being, we would nevertheless be wise to avoid reading more than a select few such books, because the same truth is expressed in many such books in many different ways and with varying degrees of clarity and intensity, and hence by reading too many books our mind will tend to become scattered and thereby to lose its concentrated and keenly focused impetus to cling tenaciously to simple self-attentiveness.
Moreover, though repeatedly reading a select few books may help to clarify our understanding and strengthen our conviction, we should always remember that the truth we seek is not actually contained in those books but only within ourself. The truth or reality transcends all thoughts and words, so it can never be adequately expressed in any book, no matter how sacred we may hold that book to be.
The words in sacred books can never express the truth as it really is, but can only point our mind towards that truth, which exists in the innermost depth of our being. Therefore the benefit we can obtain from reading any book is very limited. As Sri Adi Sankara wrote in verse 364 of Vivēkacūḍāmaṇi, a hundred times greater than the benefit of śravaṇa or reading is the benefit of manana, musing or reflecting upon the truth that we have read, and a hundred thousand times greater than the benefit of manana is the benefit of nididhyāsana or keen self-attentiveness, which is the correct application of the truth we have learnt by śravaṇa and understood by manana.
In the first sentence of this sixteenth paragraph, Sri Ramana says that every sacred text or treatise teaches that to attain emancipation or salvation we should restrain our mind, and that teaching mind-restraint is therefore the ultimate aim or intention of all such texts.
However, though all sacred texts agree on the fact that we should restrain our mind, different texts explain what is meant by ‘mind-restraint’ in different terms. Some sacred texts emphasise only the less subtle aspects of mind-restraint such as curbing the grosser forms of our desires, but though we may curb many or even most of our desires, we cannot restrain our mind completely and perfectly unless we manage to prevent it from rising at all to know even the least thing other than ourself.
Therefore, since we can prevent or restrain the rising of our mind only by being vigilantly self-attentive, in the second sentence Sri Ramana clarifies the true meaning of the term mind-restraint or manōnigraha by saying, ‘For restraining [our] mind it is necessary [for us] to investigate ourself [to know] who [we really are]’. What happens when we truly investigate ourself is revealed by him in verse 25 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu and verse 17 of Upadēśa Undiyār:
Grasping form [a body] it [our mind or ego] comes into existence. Grasping form [that body] it persists. Grasping and feeding on form [thoughts or objects] it flourishes abundantly. Leaving form [one body or one thought] it grasps form [another body or another thought]. [However] 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].
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 and essential self]. For everyone, this is the direct path [to true self-knowledge].
That is, the more keenly we investigate, examine or scrutinise ourself, whom we now feel to be this finite individual consciousness that we call our ‘ego’ or ‘mind’, the more this ‘mind’ will subside and dissolve in our being, because, having no substantial existence or form of its own, it cannot stand in front of the clear and intense gaze of our self-attentiveness. When by repeated practice we gain the ability to maintain our self-scrutinising attentiveness without forgetfulness, our mind will eventually sink into the innermost depth or core of our being, where we will experience the infinite clarity of true self-knowledge, which will dissolve our mind entirely by revealing the truth that no such thing has ever really existed.
That is, in the clear light of true self-knowledge we will discover that we were never the mind that we imagined ourself to be, but were always the real, infinite and absolute consciousness of mere being, just as in the clear light of day we would discover that a rope that in the darkness of night we imagined to be a snake was never a snake, but was always only a rope. Like the snake, our mind is a mere figment of our imagination, and like the rope, our infinite consciousness of being is the sole reality underlying the illusory appearance of this mind. Just as we were actually seeing only a rope even when we imagined it to be a snake, so we are actually experiencing only our own infinite and absolutely non-dual self-consciousness even when we imagine it to be this duality-knowing consciousness that we call our ‘mind’.
Therefore, since our mind is merely an illusion, an insubstantial, elusive and ever-fleeting phantom created by our own imagination, we can effectively restrain it only by knowing the truth that we are really not it, as we now imagine ourself to be, but are only the infinite fullness of being, consciousness and happiness. Until we know this truth as our actual experience of ourself, we will continue to be deluded by this imaginary mind, and we will never really be able to restrain it entirely. Hence, since we can know ourself as we really are only by keenly and attentively scrutinising our being, this practice of self-scrutiny, self-attentiveness or self-investigation is the only means by which we can thoroughly and effectively restrain our mind.
After saying that to attain mukti or emancipation we must restrain our mind, and that to restrain our mind we must investigate or examine ourself in order to know who or what we really are, Sri Ramana goes on to define true emancipation later in the same paragraph by saying:
[…] Knowing our yathārtha svarūpa [our own real self or being] having investigated who is [our false individual] self, who is in bondage, is mukti [emancipation or liberation]. […]
What exactly does he mean by saying that we are in bondage? The ‘bondage’ we are now in is not only our imaginary confinement within the limitations of this physical body, but is more fundamentally our imaginary confinement within the limitations of this finite consciousness we call our ‘mind’. We are in reality the infinite non-dual consciousness that knows nothing other than its own being, which is absolute peace and perfect happiness. Therefore, by imagining ourself to be this finite mind, which rises by knowing duality or otherness, we are seemingly confining our perfectly happy and infinite being within the finite realm of dualistic knowledge, in which we experience a mixture of relative happiness and unhappiness.
If we want to be eternally free from all unhappiness, we must free ourself from the illusion that we are this finite mind, and to free ourself from this illusion we must know ourself as we really are, that is, as infinite being, consciousness and happiness. Since true self-knowledge is our real state of absolute non-duality, it is the state of infinite freedom, because when we experience it we will know that we alone exist, and that there is therefore nothing other than ourself to limit our freedom.
The bondage that we now experience is an illusion, a figment of our imagination, because in reality our infinite being is never limited or bound in any way. Therefore when we experience true self-knowledge, we will know the truth that we have always been perfectly free. Bondage is a state that is experienced only by our unreal mind, and not by our real self. Therefore, since bondage exists only in the limited and distorted view of our mind, and not in the unlimited and clear view of our real self, the concept of liberation or emancipation is true only in relation to our bondage-ensnared mind. Hence in verse 39 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Sri Ramana says:
Only so long as [we imagine] ‘I am a person in bondage’, [will] thoughts of bondage and liberation [arise]. When [we] see [our real] self [by investigating] ‘who is [this] person in bondage?’, [our real] self, [which is] eternally liberated, will remain [alone experiencing itself] as that which is [always] attained. When [our real self remains experiencing itself thus], since the thought of bondage cannot remain, can the thought of liberation [alone] remain in front [of such clear self-knowledge]?
Liberation or true self-knowledge is not actually a state that we can newly attain, because in truth we are always the non-dual consciousness of being, which never ceases to know itself and which is therefore eternally liberated. However, since we now imagine ourself to be this bondage-ensnared mind, from the standpoint of this imaginary experience it is necessary for us to free ourself from this illusion of self-ignorance and bondage. Therefore so long as we experience ourself to be this mind, our notions of bondage and liberation are in effect quite true and perfectly valid. That is, so long as we experience ourself as being bound by limitations, our desire to attain true self-knowledge and thereby to be liberated from such bondage is both valid and necessary.
However, though it is necessary for us now to make every possible effort to attain true self-knowledge by investigating the reality of our mind, which is in bondage, when we actually experience the self-knowledge that we now seek, we will discover that we are not this bondage-ensnared mind but only our eternally liberated real self. When we thus discover that our bondage is entirely unreal, being a mere figment of our imagination, our liberation or emancipation from that bondage will also be unreal. That is, we will discover that we are eternally and infinitely free, and hence we will not feel that we have ever been freed or liberated from anything.
After defining mukti or liberation, and indicating that we can attain it only by investigating or scrutinising ourself, Sri Ramana goes on to define ātma-vicāra or ‘self-investigation’, and while doing so he contrasts it with the practice of dhyāna or ‘meditation’, saying:
[…] The name ‘ātma-vicāra’ [is truly applicable] only to [the practice of] always being [or remaining] having put [placed, kept, seated, deposited, detained, fixed or established our] mind in ātmā [our own real self], whereas dhyāna [meditation] is imagining ourself to be sat-cit-ānanda brahman [the absolute reality, which is being-consciousness-bliss]. […]
Since self-investigation or ātma-vicāra is the practice of remaining with our mind fixed in our real self, which is infinite and absolute being, it is a practice of just being without any mental activity. In contrast, the term meditation or dhyāna is commonly understood to denote the practice of thinking or imagining ourself to be God or brahman, the infinite and absolute reality, whose nature is sat-cit-ānanda or being-consciousness-bliss, and as such meditation is merely a mental activity.
This radical distinction between the practice of true self-investigation or ātma-vicāra and the practice of meditating ‘I am brahman’ was often emphasised by Sri Ramana, as for example in verse 29 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, in which he says:
Without saying ‘I’ by mouth, scrutinising by [our] inward sinking [diving or piercing] mind ‘where does it [this mind] rise as I?’ alone is the path of jñāna [the practice that leads to true knowledge]. Instead [of practising such deep thought-free self-scrutiny], thinking ‘[I am] not this [body or mind], I am that [brahman or the absolute reality]’ is [merely] an aid, [but] can it be vicāra [self-investigation or self-scrutiny]?
True vicāra or self-investigation is only the practice of our sinking or penetrating inwards with our entire mind or attention focused on our source or true being, our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’. Meditating or dwelling upon the thought that we are not this body or mind but are only the infinite and absolute reality may be an aid in helping us to convince ourself of our need to turn inwards to know ourself, but it cannot itself be the actual process of self-investigation, because it is an extroverted activity of our mind.
When sages and sacred books tell us that we are not this finite body or mind but are only the infinite and absolute reality, their aim is to prompt us to turn our attention inwards to scrutinise ourself in order to discover what we really are. Instead of turning and sinking inwards thus, if we merely think ‘I am not this, I am that’, we have clearly misunderstood the purpose of their teaching. Therefore in verse 32 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Sri Ramana says:
When the Vēdas [or other sacred texts] proclaim ‘that [absolute reality] is you’, our thinking ‘I am that [absolute reality], [and] not this [body or mind]’ [and] not [just] being [that absolute reality by] examining ourself [to ascertain] ‘what [am I]?’ is due to lack of mental strength [or discrimination], because that [absolute reality] always abides as ourself.
When we are told ‘that is you’, we should investigate and know ‘what am I?’. If instead we simply meditate ‘I am that’, Sri Ramana says that this is due to absence or lack of uraṉ or mental strength. The word uraṉ literally means strength of will, self-control or knowledge, but in this context it means specifically strength of conviction. If we are truly convinced that we are that, we will not feel any need or desire to meditate ‘I am that’, but will instead feel only a strong urge and love to scrutinise ourself in order to discover ‘I am what?’.
Since that absolute and infinite reality always exists as our own real self or essential being, we cannot know it until we know ourself. Therefore if we truly have love for the infinite fullness of being that we call ‘God’, we should meditate only upon ourself, and not upon any thought of God, or even upon the thought ‘I am God’.
Any thought that we form in our mind is an imagination, and is experienced by us as something other than ourself, so no thought can be God. Whatever may be our conception of God, that conception is not God, and does not come even close to defining him, because he is the infinite reality, which transcends all thoughts and mental conceptions.
The thought of God is useful to us only so long as we imagine ourself to be this finite individual who feels ‘I am this body’, but if we get rid of this imagination by knowing ourself as we really are, no thought of God will be necessary, because we will experience him directly as our own real self. Until we experience him thus, thinking of him is beneficial, but rather than thinking of him as other than ourself, thinking of him as our real self is more beneficial. Therefore in verse 8 of Upadēśa Undiyār Sri Ramana says:
Rather than anya-bhāva [considering God to be anya or other than ourself], ananya-bhāva [considering him to be ananya or not other than ourself], ‘he is I’, is indeed best among all [ways of thinking of God].
However, since God is our own real self, rather than meditating ‘he is I’ or thinking of him as not other than ourself, putting aside all thoughts of God and meditating only upon our own self or essential being is the most perfect way of meditating upon him. If we are truly convinced that ‘he is I’, why should we continue thinking repeatedly ‘he is I’, instead of just being keenly self-attentive in order to experience ourself as the pure and infinite being that we really are? Therefore in verse 36 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Sri Ramana asks:
If we think that we are [this] body, that [meditation] which is thinking [instead] that ‘no [we are not this body], we are that’ is a good aid [to convince and remind us of the need] for abiding [in the state of true non-dual self-consciousness, in which we experience ourself] as ‘we are that [absolute reality]’. [However] since we [in truth always] abide as that, why [should we be] always thinking that we are that? [In order to know that we are human] do we [need to] think ‘I am a man’?
Thinking that we are God or the absolute reality is beneficial only insofar as it can help us to convince and remind ourself that we should not rise as this thinking mind but should instead abide as our own real self, which is that absolute reality, whose nature is just being and not doing or thinking anything. But just as we do not feel any need to think ‘I am a human being’, because we always experience ourself as such, so there is no need for us to think repeatedly ‘I am that’, because we are always that, whether or not we think so.
Therefore, since we are in truth always only that absolute reality, our aim should be to experience ourself as such, and in order to experience ourself thus, we must subside in our being, remaining without rising to think anything. Therefore in verse 27 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Sri Ramana says:
The state of [just] being, in which ‘I’ [this mind] does not rise [as a seemingly separate entity], is the state in which we are that. Without scrutinising the place [abode or source] where ‘I’ rises, how [is it possible for us] to reach the loss of [our individual] self, [which is the egoless state] in which ‘I’ does not rise? Without reaching [this state of egolessness or annihilation of our individuality], say, how [can we remain] abiding in the state of [our own real] self, in which [we experience ourself as] ‘myself is that’?
We can experience ourself as God, the infinite and absolute reality, only in our natural state of complete egolessness, in which we do not rise as a separate individual ‘I’ or mind. In order to remain without rising as this mind, we must keenly scrutinise our innermost being, which is the source from which we have risen. When we keenly, vigilantly and unwaveringly scrutinise our innermost being, we will sink and merge into it, becoming one with it, and in the resulting state of egoless non-dual self-consciousness we will experience the truth that we are the absolute reality that we now call ‘God’ or brahman.
This practice of keen, vigilant and unwavering self-scrutiny or self-attentiveness is the practice of ‘being having placed [our] mind in [our real] self’, which Sri Ramana described when he said, ‘The name “ātma-vicāra” [is truly applicable] only to [the practice of] always being [abiding or remaining] having put [placed or fixed our] mind in ātmā [our own real self]’, and it is the only means by which we can effectively restrain or prevent the rising of our mind. In contrast to this simple practice of self-attentive being, which is entirely devoid of mental activity, the practice of meditating ‘I am the absolute reality’ is a mental activity, and hence it actually sustains the rising of our mind and prevents its subsidence.
In practice, the meditation or dhyāna that Sri Ramana described when he said, ‘[…] whereas dhyāna is imagining ourself to be sat-cit-ānanda brahman [the absolute reality, which is being-consciousness-bliss]’, is just a process of remembering some information that we have learnt from sacred books or sages, namely that we are in truth the absolute reality, which is infinite being, consciousness and happiness, and trying to imagine ourself as such. So long as we practise such bhāvana or imaginative meditation, we clearly do not know our real self, because if we did, we would not feel any need for such practice. Therefore, since we do not know our real self, we clearly do not know brahman or the absolute reality, nor do we know the true experience of being infinite being-consciousness-bliss. For our self-ignorant mind, terms such as God, brahman, the absolute reality and sat-cit-ānanda or being-consciousness-bliss all denote only mental concepts, and not any actual experience.
Sri Ramana concludes this sixteenth paragraph by saying, ‘At one time it will become necessary [for us] to forget all that [we] have learnt’, because all the information that we have learnt, including all that we have learnt from sacred books about God or the absolute reality, is only a collection of thoughts or mental conceptions, whereas the reality transcends not only all thoughts and concepts, but even the mind which thinks and knows such thoughts and concepts. Therefore, to know ourself as the absolute reality or brahman, we must forget all such thoughts and even our mind that thinks them, and must instead remain self-attentively as our own mere being, which is devoid of all thoughts and mental activity.
When Sri Ramana defines dhyāna or ‘meditation’ as the practice of ‘imagining ourself to be sat-cit-ānanda brahman’, we should not confuse his use of the word dhyāna in this context with his earlier use of the term svarūpa-dhyāna or ‘self-meditation’ in the tenth paragraph. The Sanskrit word dhyāna derives from the verbal root dhyai, which means to think of, imagine, meditate upon, ponder over, reflect upon, consider or recollect, and hence it literally means meditation, thought or reflection. As such, dhyāna is definitely a mental activity, a process of imagining or thinking of something.
However, when the word dhyāna is applied to ourself as in svarūpa-dhyāna, it does not literally mean meditation or thinking, because our real self or being is not an object that we think of. If we try to think of or meditate upon ourself, our thinking mind will begin to subside, because it can rise and be active only by thinking of or attending to things other than itself. Therefore the practice of svarūpa-dhyāna or ‘self-meditation’ is unlike all other forms of meditation, because it is not a mental activity or any form of ‘doing’ or ‘thinking’, but is just the state of self-attentive being.
The true meaning of ‘meditating’ upon being, the reality or ‘that which is’, is beautifully explained by Sri Ramana in the first of the two verses of the maṅgalam or ‘auspicious introduction’ to Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, which he initially composed as a two-line verse in kuṟaḷ veṇbā metre, in which he said:
How to [or who can] meditate upon [our] being-essence? Being in [our] heart as [we truly] are alone is meditating [upon our being]. Know [this].
However, in order to match the metre of all the other verses in Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu and to explain in more detail the subtle truth that he expressed so succinctly in this kuṟaḷ verse, he later added to it two opening lines, thereby transforming it into its present form, which is a four-line verse in veṇbā metre, in which he says:
Other than uḷḷadu [‘that which is’ or being], is there consciousness of being? Since [this] being-essence [this existing substance or reality which is] is in [our] heart devoid of [all] thought, how to [or who can] think of [or meditate upon this] being-essence, which is called ‘heart’? Being in [our] heart as [we truly] are [that is, as our thought-free non-dual consciousness of being, ‘I am’] alone is meditating [upon our being]. Know [this truth by experiencing it].
The Tamil original of this verse is a beautiful composition rich in alliteration and profound in meaning. Of its fifteen metrical feet, the first fourteen begin with the syllable uḷ, which is a root word that has two distinct but closely related meanings. That is, uḷ is the base of a tenseless verb meaning ‘to be’ or ‘to have’, and is also a separate but related word meaning ‘within’, ‘inside’ or ‘interior’.
Of the fourteen words in this verse that begin with this syllable uḷ, eight are various words derived from the former sense of uḷ as the base of a tenseless verb meaning in this context ‘to be’, while the other six are words derived from the latter sense of uḷ as a word meaning ‘within’, ‘inside’ or interior’. Of these six words, three are forms of uḷḷam, which means ‘heart’, ‘core’, ‘mind’, ‘consciousness’ or ‘self’, and the other three are uḷḷal, which means ‘thought’, ‘thinking’ or ‘meditating’.
The first sentence of this verse is a simple question, but one with a very deep and broad meaning, ‘uḷḷadu aladu uḷḷa-v-uṇarvu uḷḷadō?’ As a noun uḷḷadu, which is a term used in Tamil philosophical literature to denote the reality, truth or spirit, is both a compound noun meaning ‘that (adu) which is (uḷḷa)’ and a gerund meaning ‘being’. However these two meanings are essentially identical, because ‘that which is’ is not other than or any way distinct from its own natural state of being, and hence they are both appropriate in this context. The word aladu can be an adversative conjunction meaning ‘or’, ‘if not’ or ‘else’, or it can mean ‘except as’, ‘other than’ or ‘besides’. The compound word uḷḷa-v-uṇarvu means ‘consciousness which is’, ‘existing consciousness’, ‘being consciousness’ or ‘consciousness of being’, and uḷḷadō is an interrogative form of the third person singular verb uḷḷadu and therefore means ‘is there?’ or ‘does [it] exist?’.
Thus this first sentence gives various shades of meaning such as ‘If being were not, could there be consciousness of being?’, ‘Except as [other than or besides] that which is, is there [any] consciousness of being?’ or ‘Can [our] consciousness of being [‘I am’] be other than [our] being?’. Though all these shades of meaning are closely related, parallel and compatible with each other, they are each an alternative and helpful way of understanding the same basic truth.
Among the various shades of meaning implied in this first sentence, an important one derives from the fact that uḷḷadu means ‘that which is’, and therefore in its literal sense it denotes only that which really is, and not anything which merely seems to be. That is, it does not denote merely a relative, finite, partial or qualified form of being, but only the absolute, infinite, indivisible and unqualified form of being – the being which really is. Hence an important meaning implied in this sentence is that if there were not an absolute being, could we be conscious of being?
That is, we are conscious of being only because there is something that really is – something that is absolutely, unconditionally, infinitely, eternally and immutably real. Thus this sentence is a powerful argument that establishes the truth that our mere consciousness of being clearly indicates the existence of an absolute reality – an unqualified form of being, an essential ‘is’-ness or ‘am’-ness which underlies all forms of knowledge.
This essential and absolute being is our own being, ‘I am’, because ‘I am’ is the fundamental being which we always experience and which is the base for our knowledge of all other forms of being. Since our essential being or ‘am’-ness underlies and supports all our knowledge, including our knowledge of time, space and all other such limiting dimensions, it itself must transcend all limitations and must therefore be eternally, immutably, infinitely and absolutely real.
Though the word uḷḷadu or ‘that which is’ may superficially appear to denote some being that exists as ‘that’, an object other than ourself, this is not the sense in which Sri Ramana intends us to understand it. That which really exists, and which we always know as existing, is only our own being, which we experience as ‘I am’.
Our knowledge or consciousness of the being or existence of any other thing appears and disappears, and is therefore just an ephemeral apparition. Moreover, the ‘consciousness’ that knows the being or existence of other things is only our mind, and those ‘other’ things that it knows are all merely thoughts or mental images that it forms within itself by its own power of imagination. Since both our mind and all the ‘other’ things that it knows appear and disappear, their seeming reality is finite, relative and conditional, and hence they cannot be the absolute reality that is denoted by the word uḷḷadu or ‘that which [really] is’.
Therefore, in the context in which Sri Ramana uses it, the word uḷḷadu does not denote any seeming reality that our mind knows as other than itself, but denotes only the absolute reality that underlies and supports the appearance of our mind. That is, it denotes only our own being, the first person being ‘I am’, and not any other form of being, any second or third person being such as ‘it is’. This fact is made even more clear by Sri Ramana in the second sentence of this verse, in which he says that the uḷḷa-poruḷ, the ‘substance that is’ or ‘reality that is’, exists in our heart and is devoid of thought, and that it is in fact that which we call our ‘heart’ or the core of our being. Therefore the words uḷḷadu and uḷḷa-poruḷ denote only the thought-free reality that exists within us as our own essential being.
Whereas most sacred texts and other philosophical writings that attempt to establish the existence of God or the absolute reality do so by arguing that there must be an absolute cause, source or basis for the appearance of this world, in this first sentence of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Sri Ramana establishes the existence of the absolute reality by simply pointing out that we could not be conscious of our own being or existence if we were not that which really is. That is, if we did not really exist, we could not know ‘I am’. Therefore our own essential self-conscious being, which we always experience as ‘I am’, is absolutely real.
Since all other things depend for their seeming existence or being upon our knowledge of them, they are all merely relatively real, and not absolutely real. The only thing that we know as the absolute reality is our own essential being or ‘am’-ness, whereas the being or ‘is’-ness of all other things, including both this entire world and any God whom we conceive as being separate from our own being, are only relative forms of reality.
Therefore in this simple sentence, ‘If that which is were not, would there be consciousness of being?’, Sri Ramana indicates that the only evidence we require to prove the existence of the absolute reality, ‘that which really is’, is our simple consciousness of our own being. Thus he implies that, since our knowledge of all other things depends upon our knowledge of our own being, ‘I am’, any argument that we may give to establish the existence of the absolute reality based merely upon the seeming existence of otherness instead of upon our fundamental knowledge of our own being is inherently flawed.
This is why all the usual arguments about the existence or non-existence of God can never be resolved unless we first consider the reality of our own existence. We can never establish the existence of the absolute reality or ‘God’ on the basis of the seeming existence of this world, but only upon the indubitable existence of ourself.
Because we know the world, we know that we certainly exist to know it. The existence of the world may be a mere apparition or imagination, like the seeming existence of the world that we know in a dream, but our own existence is undoubtedly real, because if we did not really exist, we could not know either our own existence or the seeming existence of any other thing. Therefore Sri Ramana begins the main text of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu by saying in verse 1:
Because we see [or perceive] the world, accepting [the existence of] one mudal [first principle, origin, source, base, fundamental reality or primal substance] which has a power which is manifold [or diverse, that is, a power to appear as if it were many diverse things] is indeed unavoidable. The picture of names and forms [this entire world-appearance], the seer [our mind which perceives it], the underlying [or existing] screen [on which it appears] and the shining light [of consciousness by which we perceive it] – all these are he [this one primal substance], who is [our own real] self.
The one mudal – the sole fundamental reality, basic essence or primal substance – which Sri Ramana refers to in this verse, and which he says is our own real self, is the same absolute reality that he describes as uḷḷadu or ‘that which is’ in the first maṅgalam verse. Because we know ‘I am’, we know that this one original, fundamental and absolute reality, which is our own real self or essential being, does indeed exist. And because when we rise as our mind we seemingly experience within it many other things besides our own being, we know that our single self-conscious being has the power to appear as if it were many diverse things.
All these diverse things – namely this entire world-appearance, which rises in our mind as series of mental images and which is like a motion picture projected upon a screen, our mind, which experiences this picture, the underlying ‘screen’ or substratum of being from which, in which and upon which both our mind and this whole picture of ever-changing mental images appear, and the clear light of consciousness that enables us to experience this entire dream-show – are in essence only the one primal substance or fundamental non-dual reality, which is our own real self or essential being. That is, because all this multiplicity arises in us like a dream, and disappears when our mind subsides in sleep, the substance from which it is formed is only our own non-dual self-conscious being, which is the one fundamental and absolute reality.
Though in this verse Sri Ramana seems to affirm the existence of this one non-dual absolute reality on the basis of our experience of this world-appearance, he actually begins this verse with the word nām, which means ‘we’, thereby placing emphasis not upon the world as such, but only upon ourself, who seem to perceive this world. This emphasis is reiterated by him still more strongly in the final words of this verse, tāṉ ām avaṉ, which mean ‘he who is self’, and which therefore clearly indicate what he actually means by the term ‘one mudal’, namely that ‘he’, the ‘one mudal’ or God, who is the one fundamental reality or primal substance that underlies and appears as all this multiplicity, is only our own real self or essential being. Thus in this verse Sri Ramana actually establishes the existence of the absolute reality based not upon the seeming existence of the world, but only upon the indubitable existence of ourself, who seem to cognise it.
However, whereas in this first verse of the main text of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu he establishes the existence of the absolute reality in an indirect manner based upon our transient consciousness of this world, in the first sentence of the first verse of the maṅgalam or ‘auspicious introduction’ to Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu he establishes it in a direct manner based upon our permanent consciousness of our own simple being. That is, whether or not we perceive this world, we always experience the absolute reality, ‘that which is’, because we are always conscious of our own essential being, ‘I am’.
Since we always clearly know our own being or ‘am’-ness, it is indeed ‘that which really is’, and hence we need no other evidence to convince ourself of the indubitable existence of ‘that which is’. We, who are in essence the self-conscious being that we always experience as ‘I am’, are ourself that which truly is, that which definitely is, that which exists unconditionally and independently, and which is therefore absolutely real.
Another shade of meaning conveyed in this first sentence is based upon the meaning implied by the compound word uḷḷa-v-uṇarvu. That is, since uḷḷa-v-uṇarvu means ‘being-consciousness’ or ‘consciousness of being’, and since the first and fundamental form in which we are conscious of being is the consciousness or knowledge that we have of our own being, which we experience as ‘am’, the meaning implied by uḷḷa-v-uṇarvu is this basic consciousness ‘am’, which is our first person consciousness of our own being. Since ‘am’ is a predicate, it must have a subject, and that subject can only be ‘I’, which is the real being denoted here by the word uḷḷadu. Therefore, one meaning implied in this first sentence is: ‘If the fundamental being “I” did not really exist, could we experience this consciousness “am”?’.
Moreover, since aladu means not only ‘unless’ or ‘if not’ but also ‘other than’ or ‘besides’, another parallel but slightly different shade of meaning conveyed in this sentence is: ‘Can our consciousness ‘am’ be other than our essential being “I”?’. That is, our consciousness of our being, which is denoted by the word ‘am’, is not other than our being, which is denoted by the word ‘I’.
When we interpret aladu as meaning ‘other than’, this same basic meaning stands even without our involving the inferred words ‘I’ and ‘am’. That is, one meaning that is clearly conveyed in this first sentence is: ‘Other than that which is, is there [any] consciousness which is [to know that which is]?’, or more simply, ‘Other than being, is there [any] consciousness of being?’.
In other words, consciousness is itself being, because if it were other than being, consciousness would not be and therefore could not know being. This is the same crucially important truth that Sri Ramana expresses in very similar words in verse 23 of Upadēśa Undiyār:
Because of the non-existence of [any] uṇarvu [consciousness] other [than uḷḷadu] to know uḷḷadu [‘that which is’ or being], uḷḷadu is uṇarvu. [That] uṇarvu itself exists as ‘we’ [our essential being or true self].
The crucial truth which is stated explicitly in this verse of Upadēśa Undiyār, and which is also implied clearly in this first sentence of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, is in perfect accord with the experience of each one of us, because the basic form in which we each experience our consciousness is as our consciousness of ourself or our own being. Our consciousness is conscious of its own being because, since it is consciousness, its being is essentially self-conscious. Or to express the same truth more directly, we are conscious of our own being because, since we ourself are consciousness, our being is essentially self-conscious, and hence our consciousness and our being are inseparable. That is, we are not only being or uḷḷadu, ‘that which is’, but are also consciousness of being or uḷḷa-v-uṇarvu, ‘that which is conscious of that which is’.
Yet another shade of meaning, one that is important in the context of the rest of this verse, derives from the fact that uḷḷa is not only the infinitive, relative participle and adjective form of the verb uḷ, and thus means ‘to be’, ‘which is’, ‘existing’, ‘being’, ‘true’ or ‘real’, but is also the infinitive of the verb uḷḷu, and thus means ‘to think’. Viewed in this latter sense, the meaning of this first sentence would be, ‘Other than that which is, is there a consciousness to think [of it]?’. That is, since we are not separate from the absolute reality upon which we wish to meditate, we can only meditate upon it truly by experiencing it as ourself, and since it is devoid of all thoughts, we can experience it as ourself only by experiencing ourself without any thought as our own simple self-conscious being.
The second sentence of this verse is a longer but still quite simple question, ‘uḷḷa-poruḷ uḷḷal aṟa uḷḷattē uḷḷadāl, uḷḷam eṉum uḷḷa-poruḷ uḷḷal evaṉ?’ The compound word uḷḷa-poruḷ, which denotes the same real and absolute being that is denoted by the word uḷḷadu in the first sentence, literally means the thing, entity, reality, substance or essence which is, or in other words, the existing reality or being essence. The word uḷḷal means ‘thought’ or ‘thinking’, and aṟa means ‘devoid of’. The word uḷḷattē is a locative form of uḷḷam and therefore means ‘in [our] heart’, that is, in the core or innermost depth of our being, and uḷḷadāl means ‘since [it] is’. The words uḷḷam eṉum uḷḷa-poruḷ mean ‘the being-essence, which is called heart’, uḷḷal here means ‘thinking’ or ‘meditating’, and evaṉ means ‘how’ or ‘who’.
Thus this sentence means, ‘Since [this] being-essence is in [our] heart devoid of [all] thought [or all thinking], how to [or who can] meditate [upon this] being-essence, which is called [our] heart?’. That is, since our true and essential being transcends and is therefore devoid of all thoughts, how can any person think of it, conceive it or meditate upon it?
In this sentence the use of the word uḷḷam or ‘heart’ is very significant, because Sri Ramana not only says that our essential being exists in our heart or innermost core, but also says that it is called our heart. In other words, uḷḷam or ‘heart’ is just another name for our essential being, which is the infinite and absolute reality. Since our ‘heart’ or innermost core is our own real self, we ourself are the absolute reality or being that exists in our heart as our heart.
Moreover, in literary Tamil uḷḷam can be used as an alternative form of uḷḷōm, the first person plural form of the verb uḷ, and as such it means ‘are’ as in ‘we are’. In this context, however, uḷḷam is not intended to mean ‘are’ as a first person plural verb, but rather ‘are’ as an inclusive form of the first person singular verb ‘am’, and hence we can translate it simply as ‘am’. Interpreted in this sense, therefore, the words uḷḷam eṉum uḷḷa-poruḷ would mean the ‘being-essence, which is called “am”’.
Thus by using this word uḷḷam in this context, Sri Ramana indicated that the real meaning of the word ‘heart’ or ‘core’ when used in a spiritual context is only our essential self-conscious being, ‘am’, and also that an appropriate name for the absolute reality, the essence or substance that just is, is not only ‘heart’ or ‘core’ but also ‘am’. In fact, since the word ‘am’ necessarily implies the word ‘I’, and vice versa, either jointly or separately ‘I’ and ‘am’ are the most appropriate of all the names we can use to denote the absolute reality or ‘God’, because the absolute reality is always experienced directly by each one of us as ‘I am’.
In the third sentence Sri Ramana concludes by defining what true ‘meditation’ upon the reality is, saying ‘uḷḷattē uḷḷapaḍi uḷḷadē uḷḷal’. As we have seen, uḷḷattē means ‘in [our] heart’, or by implication ‘in am’, and uḷḷal here means ‘meditation’ or ‘meditating’. The word uḷḷadē is the gerund uḷḷadu meaning ‘being’ with the intensifying suffix ē, which means ‘alone’, ‘itself’, ‘certainly’ or ‘indeed’. Thus these three words uḷḷattē uḷḷadē uḷḷal mean ‘being in [our] heart [or ‘am’-ness] alone is meditating’, or in other words, being in our real self or essential self-conscious being, ‘I am’, is truly ‘meditating’ upon it.
However, the most important word in this sentence is uḷḷapaḍi, because it explains precisely what is meant by the words uḷḷattē uḷḷadē or ‘only being in [our] heart’. How exactly we are to be in our heart or true being is uḷḷapaḍi, which means ‘as [it] is’ or ‘as [we] are’. But what does Sri Ramana actually imply in this context by using this term ‘as [it] is’ or ‘as [we] are’? The meaning he implies is ‘devoid of thought’ or ‘without thinking’, because in the previous sentence he revealed the true nature of our being-essence saying that it exists within us ‘devoid of [all] thought’ or ‘devoid of [all] thinking’.
Moreover, since he indicated in the first sentence that our true being is itself our consciousness of being – in other words, that our true being is self-conscious – and that we are therefore the perfectly non-dual consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’, he uses this term uḷḷapaḍi here not only to imply ‘devoid of thinking’ but also to imply ‘as our non-dual consciousness of being’ or ‘as our non-dual self-consciousness’. Therefore the meaning of this entire sentence, ‘uḷḷattē uḷḷapaḍi uḷḷadē uḷḷal’, is: ‘Being in [our] heart as [we truly] are [that is, as our thought-free non-dual self-conscious being, ‘I am’] alone is meditating [upon our being, which is the absolute reality]’.
The final word with which Sri Ramana then concludes this verse is uṇar, which is an imperative meaning ‘know’ or ‘be conscious’, and which implies in this context either ‘understand this truth’ or ‘experience your real being by thus being as you really are’.
Thus in this verse the conclusion to which Sri Ramana leads us is that we can never conceive or think of the absolute reality, which is both our being and our consciousness of our being, because it transcends all thinking and can therefore never be reached or grasped by any thought, and that the only way to ‘meditate’ upon it or to know it is therefore just to be it as it is, that is, as our simple thought-free and non-dual consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’.
In the first of the two verses of his pāyiram or preface to Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, Sri Muruganar writes that Sri Ramana joyfully composed this clear and authoritative text in response to his request, ‘So that we may be saved, [graciously] reveal to us the nature of reality and the means to attain [join, reach, experience or be united with] it’. Accordingly, in this first maṅgalam verse Sri Ramana reveals to us both the essential nature of reality and the means by which we can experience it, which is possible only by our being one with it.
In the first two sentences of this verse Sri Ramana reveals several crucial truths about the nature of the one absolute reality, which is uḷḷadu or ‘that which is’. Firstly he explains that it is not only being but also consciousness, because other than ‘that which is’ there cannot be any consciousness to know ‘that which is’. Therefore ‘that which [really] is’ is self-conscious – that is, it is absolutely non-dual self-conscious being.
Secondly he says that that truly existing reality or ‘being-essence’ exists devoid of thoughts, or devoid of thinking. That is, it is not a mere thought or mental conception, but is the fundamental reality that underlies and supports the seeming existence of our thinking mind and all its thoughts. However, though it supports the imaginary appearance of thoughts, in reality it is devoid of thoughts, and hence devoid of the thinking consciousness that we call our ‘mind’, because both this thinking mind and its thoughts are unreal. In the clear view of the one self-conscious reality, thoughts do not exist, because they appear to exist only in the distorted view of our mind, which is itself one among the thoughts that it imagines and knows.
Thirdly he says that it exists ‘in heart’, that is, in the innermost core of our being. In other words, it is not merely something that exists outside us or separate from us, but is that which exists within us as our own essential reality. He also adds that it is called ‘heart’, thereby indicating that the word ‘heart’ does not merely denote the abode in which the reality exists, but more truly denotes the reality itself. Moreover, since the word uḷḷam means not only ‘heart’ but also ‘am’, by saying that the truly existing reality or ‘being-essence’ is called uḷḷam Sri Ramana reveals that it is not something that exists as an object but is our own self – our essential being or ‘am’-ness.
In other words, the absolute reality exists not only in us but also as us. It is the real ‘heart’ or core of our being. That is, it is our own very essence, substance or reality. It is that which we really are. Other than as the one absolute reality, we truly do not exist.
Because we mistake ourself to be this thinking mind or object-knowing consciousness, the one fundamental reality is said to exist within us, but this is only a relative truth – a truth that is only true relative to the distorted perspective of our mind, which experiences dualities such as subject and object, ‘self’ and ‘other’, ‘inside’ and outside’, and so on. Since the one fundamental reality transcends all such dualities, the absolute truth about its nature is not merely that it exists within us, but that it exists as us.
Finally, by asking, ‘uḷḷa-poruḷ uḷḷal evaṉ?’, which means ‘how to [or who can] meditate [upon this] being-essence?’, Sri Ramana emphasises the truth that since the absolute reality is that which transcends thought, it cannot be conceived by mind or reached by thought. Therefore, since its nature is such, what is the means by which we can ‘reach’ it, ‘attain’ it or experience it as it really is?
Since it is not only that which is completely devoid of thought, but is also that which is essentially self-conscious, and since it is our own ‘heart’ or essential being, the only way we can experience it is by just being it. In other words, the only means by which we can ‘attain’ this one non-dual absolute reality is by simply remaining as we always truly are – that is, as our own true, essential, thought-free, self-conscious being. Therefore in the third sentence of this verse Sri Ramana says, ‘Being in [our] heart as it is alone is meditating [upon this truly existing reality, which is called ‘heart’]’, thereby declaring emphatically that this practice of ‘being as we are’ is the only means by which we can experience the absolute reality as it is.
Thus in this first maṅgalam verse Sri Ramana succinctly reveals both the essential nature of reality and the means by which we can ‘reach’ it, ‘attain’ it or experience it as it really is. Hence in a nutshell this verse expresses the very essence of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, and all the other forty-one verses of this profound text are a richly elaborated explanation of the fundamental truths that he expressed so briefly yet so clearly and powerfully in this first verse.
Indeed, since it reveals so clearly not only the nature of the one absolute reality but also the only means by which we can actually experience it, this verse summarises the essence not only of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu but of the entire teachings of Sri Ramana. Therefore it is truly the cūḍāmaṇi or crest-jewel of his teachings, and if we are able to understand its full import correctly, comprehensively and clearly, we have truly understood the very essence of his teachings.
As in all his other teachings, in this verse Sri Ramana explains to us the nature of reality for a single purpose, namely to direct our mind towards the one practice that will actually enable us to experience reality as it truly is. Unless we understand the real nature of our goal, we will not be able to understand why the only one path by which we can ‘reach’ that goal is to practise just being as we always really are.
If our goal were something other than ourself, there would be some distance for us to travel in order to reach it. But since we ourself are the goal that we seek, there is absolutely no distance between us and it, and hence the path by which we can reach it cannot be essentially any different from it. That is, between us and our goal, which is our own real self, there is truly no space to accommodate any path that is other than our goal. Hence our path and our goal must be one in their essential nature. Since our goal is just thought-free self-conscious being, our path must likewise be just thought-free self-conscious being. This is the essential truth that Sri Ramana reveals so clearly in this verse, and that he reiterates in so many different words throughout his other teachings.
In our natural state of absolutely non-dual self-knowledge, which is our goal, our experience of our thought-free self-conscious being is effortless, because it is what we always really are. However in our present state, in which we imagine ourself to be this thinking mind, we appear to be not devoid of thought, as in truth we are, and hence we feel that we have to make effort to experience our thought-free self-conscious being. Thus the only difference between our path and our goal is the effort that now seems to be necessary in order for us to abide in our natural state of thought-free self-conscious being.
In this path, the effort that we have to make is not actually an effort to be, because we always effortlessly are, but is an effort to avoid mistaking ourself to be this thinking mind. So long as we imagine ourself to be this mind, we do not experience ourself as the true thought-free self-consciousness that is our real nature. Therefore in order to avoid mistaking ourself to be this thinking mind, we have to make effort to focus our entire attention upon our essential self-conscious being, ‘I am’, thereby withdrawing it from all thoughts.
This state in which we focus our entire attention upon our own self-conscious being, thereby excluding all thoughts, is the true state of ‘meditation’, which Sri Ramana describes in this verse as uḷḷattē uḷḷapaḍi uḷḷadē or ‘only being in heart as it is [or as we are]’. That is, since the true nature of our essential self or ‘heart’ is just thought-free self-conscious being, ‘being in heart as it is’ is just the state of abiding calmly and peacefully in our own essential self as our own essential self – that is, free of all thoughts as our own true non-dual self-conscious being, ‘I am’.
Thus the only path by which we can ‘reach’ or ‘attain’ our own essential self, which is the one and only absolute reality, is this simple practice of keenly attentive self-consciousness – self-consciousness that is so keenly attentive that it gives absolutely no room for the rising of any thought. Since no thought can rise unless we attend to it, when we focus our entire attention upon our own essential self-consciousness, ‘I am’, we automatically exclude the possibility of any thought arising.
That is, thoughts arise only because we think them, and this act of thinking involves an imaginary diverting of our attention away from our essential self-consciousness, ‘I am’. Therefore the only effective means by which we can remain completely free of all thoughts – and hence completely free of our mind, which can rise and appear to exist only by thinking – is by just being attentively, keenly and vigilantly self-conscious.
This state of thought-free and therefore mind-free self-conscious being alone is the state that Sri Ramana describes as ‘being as we are’, and it is not only our path but also our goal. When we practise this vigilantly attentive and therefore thought-excluding self-consciousness with effort, it is the path, and when we experience it effortlessly as our unavoidable natural state, it is our goal, which is the absolutely non-dual state of true self-knowledge.
The experience of true self-knowledge that we will attain by practising this art of being as we really are, without thinking of any other thing, is clearly described by Sri Ramana in the fifth and final verse of Āṉma-Viddai:
In the uḷḷam [heart, mind or consciousness] which investigates [itself] within [itself], [by just being] as it is [as clear self-conscious being] without thinking of [anything] other [than itself], ātmā [our real self], which is called Annamalai [and which is] the one poruḷ [absolute reality or essential being] that shines as the eye to [our] mind-eye, which is the eye to [our five physical] senses beginning with [our] eyes, which illumine [or enable us to know the material world, which is composed of the five elements] beginning with space, [and] as the space to [our] mind-space, will indeed be seen. [For us to be able to remain thus as we really are] grace is also necessary. [In order to be a suitable receptacle to imbibe grace, we should] be possessed of love [for just being as we are]. [Infinite] happiness will [then] appear [or be experienced].
The word Annamalai is a name that Sri Ramana often used when referring to God, the absolute reality, which is the paramātman, the transcendent spirit ‘I am’, the one real self of all living beings. Using the word kaṇ or ‘eye’ as a metaphor for consciousness, he describes this absolute reality as the ‘eye to [our] mind-eye, which is the eye to [our five physical] senses beginning with [our] eyes, which illumine [or enable us to know the material world, which is composed of the five elements] beginning with space’.
That is, the absolute reality is our essential self-consciousness – our fundamental consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’ – which is the true light of consciousness that illumines our mind, enabling it to know both itself and all other things, which are merely thoughts that it forms within itself by its power of imagination, which is a distorted function of consciousness. There is truly no ‘eye’, ‘light’ or consciousness other than our fundamental non-dual consciousness of our own being, but when we imagine that consciousness to be our mind, it is seemingly reflected in the adjuncts or upādhis that we imagine to be ourself, and thereby it seems to know things other than itself.
That is, the limited consciousness that we call our ‘mind’, and which Sri Ramana here refers to as our ‘mind-eye’, is a reflected and thereby distorted form of consciousness, an apparition whose sole underlying reality is our real non-dual consciousness of being. Hence he describes our real consciousness as the ‘eye to [our] mind-eye’ not because it actually knows anything through our mind, but because it is the one reality that we mistakenly experience as our mind. Since our mind could not know anything if the light of our real consciousness were not shining within it as ‘I am’, that ‘light’ is the ‘eye’ that illumines our mind.
Our mind is in turn the ‘eye’ to our five senses, because it is the consciousness that sees through our eyes, hears through our ears, and so on. Our five senses function like lenses through which we direct our mind in the form of our attention to perceive the seemingly external world, which is considered to be composed of five ‘elements’ or basic qualities known as space, air, fire, water and earth (which in approximate terms may be described respectively as the qualities of accommodation, motility or non-cohesive fluidity, transformation, cohesive fluidity and solidity). Since this directing of our attention through our senses thus enables us to know this imaginary world, Sri Ramana says figuratively that our senses ‘illumine [the material world, which is composed of the five elements] beginning with space’.
Besides describing the absolute reality, which is our own real self, our fundamental and essential consciousness of being, as the ‘eye to [our] mind-eye’, he also describes it as the ‘space to [our] mind-space’. The physical space or bhūtākāśa in which all the objects of this universe are contained is itself contained within our mind-space or cittākāśa, which is in turn contained within our consciousness-space or cidākāśa.
That is, just like the world that we experience in our dream, this entire universe and the physical space in which it is contained are mere thoughts or mental images that we form in our mind by our power of imagination, and hence the ‘space’ in which this physical space is contained is our own mind. Likewise, since our mind rises and subsides within ourself, the ‘space’ in which this ‘mind-space’ is contained is our own fundamental consciousness of our being.
In order for us to ‘see’ or experience within ourself this absolute reality, which is ātman, our own true self or spirit, the ‘eye to [our] mind-eye’ and the ‘space to [our] mind-space’, Sri Ramana says we only have to ‘investigate within as it is without thinking of [anything] other’. That is, we have to investigate or scrutinise ourself within ourself, by just being as we really are, that is, as our clear self-conscious being, without thinking of anything other than ourself. Only by practising this art of simple self-attentive being can we experience the absolute reality as our own self or essential being.
However, after saying this, Sri Ramana adds an important proviso, ‘aruḷum vēṇumē’, which means ‘grace also is certainly necessary’. What exactly is the ‘grace’ that he refers to here, and why does he emphasise the need for it in this context?
Grace is a power – the supreme and only truly existing power. It is the power that is inherent in our real self, and that is indeed not different from our real self, because our real self is absolute, infinite and therefore perfectly non-dual being, consciousness, happiness and love. Grace is the power of love, the love that our real self has for itself, the love that it has just to be as it is, as perfectly self-conscious and infinitely blissful being.
Grace is therefore not a power that is extraneous or alien to us. It is our own power, our power of love for ourself – for our own essential self-conscious and blissful being.
Our power of grace is the true and original nature of all other forms of power. The first other form of power that seemingly arises from grace, which is the only real power, is our power of māyā or self-delusion. Our power of māyā arises because we seemingly choose to forget or ignore our true, infinite, undivided and non-dual self-conscious being, and to imagine ourself to be a finite consciousness that experiences the existence of duality or otherness. This self-imposed self-forgetfulness or self-ignorance is not real, but is a mere imagination, and it is experienced not by our real self, but only by our mind, which is itself part of the imagination that it experiences.
Other than our mind or power of imagination, which is just a distorted and illusory function of our simple non-dual consciousness of being, there is no such thing as māyā or self-delusion. Our power of māyā arises in the form of our own mind, and it and its effects appear to exist only so long as we imagine ourself to be this mind – that is, only so long as we ignore our true non-dual self-conscious being, and therefore fail to investigate or scrutinise the real, fundamental and essential nature of our mind. If we keenly scrutinise our mind, which we experience as our seemingly finite individual consciousness ‘I’, in order to discover what it really is, it will dissolve and merge in our true non-dual self-conscious being, because it has no reality other than that.
However, in order for us to investigate or scrutinise our mind effectively, Sri Ramana says that grace is necessary. Why is this so? When we undertake the practice of self-investigation or self-attentive being, we feel ourself to be this mind, which is the power of māyā or self-delusion. If we believe that we can attain our natural state of true self-knowledge by our own efforts, that is, by the power of our own mind, we will surely fail, because our mind is the power of self-delusion, and hence it will delude us in an infinite variety of ways in order to ensure its own survival. In order for us to attain true self-knowledge, therefore, we must surrender our mind, that is, we must entirely dissociate ourself from it. So long as we continue to cling to the illusion that this mind is ourself, it will continue to delude us.
Therefore, since we cannot rely upon the power of our mind to enable us to experience ourself as we really are, upon what power must we instead depend? Only upon the power of grace, which is the source from which our mind derives its limited power. We can attain absolute true knowledge only by the infinite power of grace, and not by the finite power of our mind, because no finite power can produce an infinite or absolute result.
Therefore, so long as we continue to experience ourself as this finite consciousness that we call our ‘mind’, which we will continue to do until it is dissolved entirely in the clarity of true self-knowledge, we must depend entirely upon the power of grace to motivate us and impel us in our efforts to practise the thought-free and therefore mind-free art of self-attentive being.
How in practice can we depend entirely upon the power of grace? Or in other words, how can we avoid depending even in the least upon the self-delusive power of our mind?
The answer is given by Sri Ramana in the next clause, ‘aṉbu pūṇumē’, in which aṉbu means ‘love’ and pūṇumē literally means ‘put on’, ‘wear’, ‘undertake’, ‘assume’, ‘be possessed of’, ‘be yoked with’, ‘be caught by’, ‘be ensnared by’, ‘be entangled with’ or ‘be fettered with’. Thus aṉbu pūṇumē’ basically means ‘be possessed of love’, or simply ‘have love’.
Only by true, whole-hearted and all-consuming love for our natural state of just being can we truly become a receptacle fit to receive, imbibe and assimilate grace. As explained by Sri Ramana in verse 966 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai, which we discussed in the previous chapter, grace is always available to us, existing in the core of our being as the clear light of our own absolute self-consciousness, ‘I am’. To receive, imbibe and assimilate it, therefore, all we need do is to turn our entire attention towards it. But in order to be able to turn and keep our attention firmly fixed in the clear light of grace, which is our own essential consciousness of being, devoid of even the least contamination in the form of thinking or knowing otherness, we must have overwhelming love for being.
What obstructs and obscures the clear light of grace is only the rising of our mind with all its restless activity of thinking and its resulting knowledge of duality or otherness. Therefore we can experience and assimilate grace only to the extent to which our mind subsides, or in other words, only to the extent to which we surrender ourself to being.
Normally, however, our mind is not willing to surrender itself entirely by subsiding self-attentively in our own essential being, and hence when we try to turn our attention towards ourself it rises in rebellion, trying to think of anything other than our simple being. Only when we succeed in cultivating overwhelming bhakti or love for just being, and consequently steadfast vairāgya or freedom from even the least desire to think of anything other than being, will our mind willingly submit to its own annihilation.
The overwhelming and all-consuming love for absolute being that we require in order to be able to surrender ourself entirely to the infinite fullness of being that we call ‘God’ is cultivated within us both by the magnetically attractive power of grace, which is always shining in the innermost core of our being as infinite peace, happiness and love, and by our responding to it by willingly turning our attention towards it and thereby trying to abide as our own naturally self-conscious being.
All we can ‘do’ to cultivate the required love in our heart is to yield to the attracting power of grace by tenaciously persevering in our practice of the art of self-attentive being. If we sincerely and repeatedly attempt to keep our entire attention fixed in our mere being, grace will bestow upon us every form of help that we need, both inwardly and outwardly, and will thereby steadily nurture within us the true love that we require.
The power that motivates us and enables us to turn our mind inwards and to abide firmly as our simple self-conscious being is not the power of our mind, but only the power of true love or grace, which is the power of our own real self. The power of our mind is a power of extroversion, self-delusion and egocentric desire, and hence it can never enable us either to turn within or to remain firmly in the egoless and thought-free state of just being. It is in fact the power that by its very nature drives our attention outwards and therefore prevents us from abiding as being.
Therefore we should never imagine that by our own egotistical power we can attain the non-dual experience of true self-knowledge. Without the power of grace we can never cultivate the perfectly submissive and heart-melting love that we require to abide eternally as the infinite and mind-free reality.
If we imagine that we can attain the supreme and egoless state of absolute oneness with the infinite reality by the finite power of our own mind and our mind-driven efforts, we are merely allowing our mind to delude us into believing its power to be real. The seeming power of our mind is not only trivial in comparison with the infinite power of grace, but is actually entirely unreal. It is in truth merely a self-deceptive illusion, and if we scrutinise it keenly to discover the reality that underlies it, it will dissolve and disappear in the clear light of pure self-conscious being.
So long as our mind tries to assert its own power in an attempt to turn its attention away from all thoughts towards itself, it is merely struggling with itself, thereby giving reality to its own seeming existence, and hence it will not be able to subside truly and completely. It can subside completely only by lovingly yielding itself and all its self-assertive power to the true power of grace, which is the naturally attractive power of the perfect peace and happiness that we can experience only in the state of thought-free self-conscious being. Hence we will be able to surrender our mind completely only when, by the all-loving power of grace and by our reciprocal love and effort just to be, we steadily gain the inner clarity that is necessary for us to be able to experience fully the overwhelming attraction of the infinitely blissful state of just being.
When we sincerely, lovingly and submissively persevere in practising the art of being to the best of our ability, the power of grace, which is the infinite happiness of absolute self-conscious being, will steadily attract our mind more and more strongly, and thus it will naturally draw it gently within, into the innermost depth of our being, where it will consume it in the perfect clarity of true non-dual self-knowledge.
What we will then experience is expressed by Sri Ramana in the final clause of this verse, ‘iṉbu tōṇumē’, which means simply ‘happiness will certainly appear’ or ‘happiness will certainly shine forth’. That is, when, by the power of grace and by our responding to it appropriately by willingly subsiding into our natural state of self-conscious being, we are finally overwhelmed entirely by our love for just being, the apparition of our unreal mind or ego will vanish, and in its place we will experience ourself as infinite and eternal happiness.
In order to yield ourself entirely to the power of grace and thereby just to be as we really are, we must be extremely vigilant to avoid giving even the least room to the rising of our thinking mind. Since we allow our mind to rise only by imagining anything other than our own being, in order to avoid allowing it to rise we must keep our attention firmly fixed in our mere being. In other words, to be as we really are, we must be vigilantly self-attentive.
Sri Ramana has therefore taught us that vigilantly, steadfastly and tenaciously practising this art of self-attentive being is the only means by which we can surrender our mind or false individual self entirely and thereby experience our real self or infinite being. To practise this art successfully we must have a true and deep love for being. That is, we must have a sincere and wholehearted love just to be, and not to be ‘this’ or ‘that’ or anything else.
So long as we have even the least liking or desire for anything other than being, we will be impelled by that desire to rise as our mind to experience that thing. Therefore we must free ourself from all our desire for anything other than our essential being, and as we saw earlier, the only way we can do so effectively and entirely is by clinging tenaciously to our practice of self-attentiveness or svarūpa-dhyāna.
Self-attentive being is both our means and our end – our path and our goal. Since the nature of our true self or absolute reality is eternally self-conscious being, being that is ever clearly conscious only of itself and of nothing else, we can experience it only by being as it is – that is, as thought-free self-conscious being. The only difference between our path, which is our practice of self-conscious being, and our goal, which is our natural and effortless state of self-conscious being, lies in the effort that we now seem to require in order to remain as our self-conscious being.
The effort that we now require to remain as our naturally and eternally self-conscious or self-attentive being is only the effort we need to make in order to resist the impelling force of our own desires. Our desires impel us to rise as this finite object-knowing consciousness we call our ‘mind’, to imagine things other than ourself, and to attend to or think of those ‘other’ things. Therefore so long as even the least desire remains in our heart, we have to make a tenacious effort to remain attentively as our self-conscious being.
Effort is the application of force. To resist the driving force of our desires and to remain steadily and motionlessly poised as being, we have to apply an equal and opposite force. That opposite force is the force of our love to be. If the force of our love to be is not equal to or greater than the force of our desires to think, our desires will overpower us and we will begin to think of the objects of our desire. Therefore the practice of the art of being is the practice of cultivating the force of our love to be and applying it to resist the delusive force of our desires for other things.
By repeated and persistent practice of this art of self-attentive being, we will steadily gain the love we require to remain effortlessly as being. Only when our love grows by means of our sincere and tenacious efforts to be ever self-attentive, and when it thereby finally overwhelms us entirely, will we achieve the skill to remain effortlessly in our natural state of just being, which is our thought-free and therefore perfectly clear self-consciousness, ‘I am’.
The love we have just to be is the purest and most perfect form of love. Since our natural state of just being is the true form of God, attending to and thereby abiding as our essential being is the only way we can truly express our love for God. As Sri Ramana says in verse 9 of Upadēśa Undiyār and verse 15 of Upadēśa Taṉippākkaḷ:
By the strength of [such ananya] bhāva [the attitude or conviction that God is not other than ourself], being [abiding or remaining] in sat-bhāva [our natural state of being], which transcends [all] bhāvana [imagination, thinking or meditation], is alone para-bhakti tattva [the true state of supreme devotion].
Since God exists as ātmā [our own real self or essential being], ātmānusandhāna [self-contemplation or self-attentiveness] is paramēśa-bhakti [supreme devotion to God].
When we rise as our mind or finite individual self, we seemingly separate ourself from God, who is our own true being, and thereby we commit the ‘original sin’ of imagining divisions in the infinite and indivisible being that is God. By imagining ourself to be separate from God, we are defiling his infinity, reducing him in our view to something less than the infinite fullness of being that he really is. Therefore if we wish to restore to God what we have unrightfully usurped from him, we must surrender our finite self back into his infinite being, and we can do this only by remaining in the egoless state of absolutely non-dual self-consciousness, which is our natural state of infinite, undivided and therefore thought-free being.
In order to be able to give ourself entirely to God in this manner, we must be overwhelmed by an unreserved and all-consuming love for him. So long as we retain even the least love for our existence as a separate individual, we will resist yielding ourself entirely to him. However, the more we practise abiding as our perfectly thought-free and clearly self-conscious being, the more we will experience the taste of the infinite peace and happiness which are the real nature of our being, and thereby our love for being will steadily increase, until eventually it will consume our mind and drown it for ever in the ocean of infinite being, consciousness, happiness, peace and love.
Abiding in this state of absolute bliss is the true way of serving God in the manner in which he wants us to serve him. This important truth about the only manner in which we can render real service to God is stated by Sri Ramana in verse 29 of Upadēśa Undiyār:
Abiding permanently in this state of para-sukha [supreme or transcendent happiness], which is devoid of [both] bondage and liberation, is abiding in the service of God.
When we imagine ourself to be a finite individual, we are doing a great disservice to God, because we are thereby making it necessary for him to draw us back into himself. Therefore so long as we imagine ourself to be separate from him, nothing that we may do is truly a service to him. The only service he requires of us is for us to surrender ourself entirely to his will, which is that we should remain happily as one with himself. Therefore surrendering our finite self by abiding as our essential non-dual self-conscious being, which is both the thought-free state of supreme happiness and the absolute reality that we call ‘God’, is truly abiding in his service.
Since our natural state of supreme happiness is the state of just being, it is completely free of any doing or thinking, and hence it is devoid of all thoughts, including the thoughts of bondage and liberation. Bondage and liberation are a pair of opposites, and therefore they exist only in the unreal state of duality. In the non-dual state of true self-knowledge or absolute oneness with God, all thoughts of bondage and liberation disappear along with our thinking mind and all its imaginary duality.
When we first learn about this art of self-attentive being, and understand the importance of practising it to our utmost ability, many of us wonder how we can practise it in the midst of all our day-to-day activities. Our mundane life in this world and the absolute truth taught by Sri Ramana and other sages appear to be two completely different states of reality, divided by such a vast chasm that it is difficult for us to imagine how we can in practice even begin to reconcile the two of them. How can we actually practise this art of being when our mind is being constantly pulled hither and thither by the outward demands of our life in this world and by the inward pressure of our desires and attachments?
Whatever may be the circumstances of our life, and however great may be the external and internal pressures upon us, we always know ‘I am’. Therefore the chasm that we imagine existing between ourself and the absolute reality is unreal. The absolute reality is our simple self-conscious being, which we always experience as ‘I am’, and therefore it is our nearest and dearest. There is nothing so close or so dear to us as the absolute reality, because it is our own real self.
Since we always experience it as ‘I am’, it is always possible for us to attend to it. Nothing can truly prevent us from being self-attentive whenever we want to be. The imaginary chasm or divide that seems to separate us from the infinite fullness of being, consciousness and happiness is in fact nothing but our own desires.
However, our desires have no reality or power of their own. They appear to be real and powerful only because we give them reality and power by attending to them. If we steadfastly ignore them by clinging tenaciously to self-attentive being, they will be powerless to distract us from our natural state of being.
In practice, however, most of us experience difficulty in holding firmly and uninterruptedly to self-attentiveness, because our desire to think of other things is greater than our love to remain as our naturally thought-free and self-conscious being. But no matter how much difficulty we experience, if we persist in our efforts to draw our attention back to our own being whenever we notice that it has slipped away to think of other things, we will gradually gain the skill – the love and desirelessness – that we require to remain simply as our self-conscious being.
As Sri Sadhu Om used to say, ‘Where there’s a will there’s a way, but where there’s no will there’s a hill’. That is, if we sincerely want to practise self-attentiveness, we will find that it is possible for us to do so, even if only falteringly and intermittently, but if we lack a sincere wish to practise it, we will feel that it is too difficult for us. Ultimately all difficulty is in our own mind, because it can never really be difficult for us to be self-attentive, even if only momentarily. If we feel that being self-attentive is too difficult for us, we feel so only because we really do not have sufficient will even to try, or after trying a little to persist in our attempts.
Even if we are able to be self-attentive only momentarily, that will be sufficient as a start. However, to gain a real benefit from such momentary self-attentiveness, we must persist in our attempts to catch such moments as frequently as possible, and to hold on to each such moment as long as possible. The more frequently we remember to withdraw our attention towards ourself, and the longer we manage to maintain our self-attentiveness each time that we thus catch it, the more quickly we will cultivate the love that we require to be firmly self-attentive.
One question that is often raised is whether or not it is necessary for us to sit with closed eyes in order to practise self-attentiveness. The simple answer to this is that it is certainly not necessary, because we can be self-attentive whatever our body may be doing or not doing, and whether our eyes are open or closed.
Self-attentiveness has nothing to do with either the posture of our body or the closing of our eyes, but is only a matter of our attention. Our eyes may be open but our attention may still be focused on our being, and conversely our eyes may be closed but our attention may nevertheless be dwelling upon thoughts of things other than ourself.
However, though it is not essential for us to sit in ‘meditation’ with closed eyes in order to practise self-attentiveness, it may sometimes be helpful for us to do so. In order to sink into a state of deep and intense self-attentiveness, we may find it helpful to refrain not only from mental activity but also from physical activity.
However refraining from physical activity does not necessarily mean sitting with our eyes closed. Our body may be sitting or lying or in any other posture, so long as our attention is not on it but only on our essential self-conscious being. Likewise, our eyes may be open or closed so long as our attention is not going outwards either to see or to think of any object in the outside world.
The attitude we should have to our body whenever we attempt to experience clear and intense self-attentiveness is expressed by Sri Ramana in the words piṇam pōl tīrndu uḍalam, which mean ‘leaving the body like a corpse’, and which were the words that he added between verses 28 and 29 when he expanded the two plus forty verses of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu into a single verse in kaliveṇbā metre. Though he added these words to the last line of verse 28, in their meaning they form part of the first sentence of verse 29, which with their addition means:
Leaving [our] body like a corpse, and without saying ‘I’ by mouth, scrutinising by [our] mind sinking [diving or piercing] inwards ‘where does [this mind] rise as I?’ alone is the path of jñāna [the practice that leads to true knowledge]. […]
In this context, ‘leaving [our] body like a corpse’ may either refer to the attitude with which we should withdraw our attention from it, or to the posture in which we should leave it. When as a sixteen-year-old boy Sri Ramana was overwhelmed by a sudden and intense fear of death, he lay down like a corpse and turned his entire attention towards his essential being in order to discover whether his being or ‘I’ would survive the death of his physical body. Because he withdrew his attention entirely from his body, his mind and all other things, and instead focused it wholly and exclusively upon his consciousness of his own being, he instantly experienced true self-knowledge, and thus his mind was dissolved for ever in the infinite and absolute reality.
Thus in his own case Sri Ramana not only withdrew his attention from his body as if it were a lifeless corpse, but also laid his body down as if it were a corpse that had been laid out in preparation for its cremation. This does not mean, however, that we should necessarily lie down when we practise self-attentiveness. We certainly can practise self-attentiveness while lying down, but in practice we may often find it preferable to sit instead of lying, because while sitting upright it is usually easier for us to remain alert and thereby to avoid drowsing off into sleep or a dream.
However the posture of our body really does not matter, because the only thing that is important during our intense practice of just being is that our attention is withdrawn entirely from our body and from every other object or thought, and instead focused keenly and vigilantly upon our mere consciousness of being.
Therefore when Sri Ramana said, ‘leaving [our] body like a corpse’, he did not merely mean that we should physically lay it down like a corpse, but that we should mentally withdraw our attention from it as if it had become a lifeless corpse – something with which we no longer have any connection. Since our sole aim during moments of intense practice is to penetrate deep within our being, we must entirely disregard our body, and hence we should not concern ourself in the least with its posture or any other such trivial matter.
So long as our attention is fixed only on ourself and on nothing else, it does not matter what posture our body may be in, or whether it happens to be active or inactive. As Sri Ramana used to say, the only āsana (posture) that is required is nididhyāsana (deep contemplation or attentiveness, which in the context of his teachings means keen self-attentiveness). In fact we may often find it easier to be self-attentive while our body is engaged in some mechanical activity such as walking, which does not require any significant attention, than when we are sitting or lying down with our eyes closed, because as soon as we close our eyes to meditate upon our being, our mind tends to struggle to resist such meditation or self-attentiveness, and hence we may quickly forget why we have closed our eyes and instead begin thinking of anything except our own being.
If we sincerely attempt to practise self-attentiveness whenever our mind is not pressingly engaged in any other work, we will soon find what suits us best in terms of bodily posture or activity. Whether we are sitting, lying, walking or engaged in any other physical activity, we should attempt as frequently and as intensely as circumstances permit to focus our attention keenly on our being, or at least to maintain a certain degree of self-attentiveness. Therefore all questions about bodily posture are missing the whole point of the art of self-attentive being, which is that we should concentrate our entire attention upon our being and should thereby ignore our body and all other things.
Another question that is often raised is whether or not we should set aside certain periods of time each day to practise self-attentiveness. Again the answer to this question is that it is not necessary for us to do so, but that we may find it to be helpful.
It is all a matter of personal preference and lifestyle. So long as we find it helpful, we should set aside certain periods of time each day to practise self-attentiveness, but if we find that our set periods of ‘meditation’ are just becoming a mechanical routine, and that we are not really spending those periods usefully engaged in clear and steady self-attentiveness, we should find some better way of ensuring that we spend some time each day engaged in self-attentiveness.
To experience our true and essential being with perfect clarity does not in truth require any time. If we have an overwhelming and all-consuming love to know ourself, we can attain true and eternal self-knowledge by just a moment of total self-attentiveness, as Sri Ramana himself did.
Just as death is something that happens in an instant, and is not something that we can ever experience partially, so the experience of true self-knowledge ‘happens’ in an instant, and can never be experienced partially. Either we imagine ourself to be a finite individual, as we do so long as we still feel that our self-attentiveness or self-conscious being is a practice and not something entirely natural and unavoidable, or we are wholly consumed by the absolute clarity of true self-knowledge, in which case we will know that we have always been nothing other than infinite and perfectly clear self-conscious being.
Our aim during practice, therefore, is to experience that one moment of absolute unqualified self-attentiveness. Hence long periods of ‘meditation’ are not necessary. It may be helpful for us at times to sit quietly for a while attempting to focus our attention wholly and exclusively upon our being, but if our mind rebels too strongly we should relax for a while and try again later with a fresh and calm mind. If we struggle for too long a period to oppose the force of our desires to think, our mind will become agitated, and will therefore cease to be a suitable instrument for practising self-attentiveness. But if we relax our efforts for a while and allow our mind to become relatively calm once again, then we will be able to practise self-attentiveness with a renewed vigour.
In practice what we need is not long hours seated in a desperate struggle to maintain continuous self-attentiveness, but rather many brief periods of time here and there throughout each day when we try with fresh vigour and intense enthusiasm to experience our naturally ever self-conscious being. During the midst of our normal daily activities, there are many times when our mind is not pressingly engaged in any particular work, and normally during such times we allow our mind to wander and think of many trivial and unnecessary matters. Each such time is a precious opportunity for us to be self-attentive.
Most of the thoughts we think each day are not pressingly urgent, but are merely the way in which our mind usually chooses to occupy itself. Therefore if we have a true love for self-attentiveness, instead of wasting most of our day in idle thoughts, we can very easily spend many moments here and there attempting to be self-attentive. This frequent drawing of our mind back towards ourself is what Sri Ramana sometimes referred to as the practice of ‘self-remembrance’.
Therefore, as Sri Sadhu Om used to say, what we need is not long periods of ‘meditation’, which usually turn out to be merely a futile struggle attempting to resist the force of our desire to think, but rather just many intermittent attempts to be self-attentive. If we remember to make such intermittent attempts frequently throughout the day, each individual attempt may only last a brief while, but all such brief attempts will together add up to a considerable amount of time spent in the state of self-attentive being.
By thus practising self-attentiveness intermittently, we will make each attempt with a fresh vigour and therefore a more intense clarity. Rather than longer periods of unsteady and therefore unclear self-attentiveness, shorter periods of more intense and therefore clearer and more precise self-attentiveness will be more beneficial.
Yet another question that is sometimes raised is whether it would not be beneficial for us to renounce all our worldly activities and responsibilities and to dedicate ourself solely to a life of contemplation. For some people a lifestyle of external renunciation may be beneficial, but for most of us such a lifestyle is not only unnecessary but also inappropriate. What is really important is not external renunciation but only internal renunciation.
Whatever may be our external lifestyle, we are always free inwardly to renounce our desires and attachments. If we succeed at least partially in such inward renunciation, no external lifestyle will be an obstacle to our practising the art of self-attentive being. Conversely, however, if we fail inwardly to renounce our desires, no amount of external renunciation will be of any use to us. The only obstacle to our practice of self-attentiveness is our own desires, and is not anything in the external world.
Our ability to be clearly and steadily self-attentive is proportionate only to our love for being and our corresponding freedom from desire for anything else, and has nothing to do with our external lifestyle. No matter what our external lifestyle may be, if we have even a little love to know ourself and to be free of our desires, we will to that extent be able to practise the art of self-attentive being.
However, though our external lifestyle cannot directly influence our ability to be self-attentive, our practice of self-attentiveness may to some extent influence our lifestyle. That is, since our practice will gradually weaken and erode our desires, we will naturally begin to lose interest in many of the seeming pleasures of life that we formerly desired, and hence we will feel contented with a simpler, less extroverted and less busy style of life.
However, there is really no need for us to concern ourself about the outward mode of our life, because our external life is moulded by our destiny, and our destiny is ordained by God in such a way that will be most beneficial to our spiritual progress. Whatever we experience in our outward life is according to the will of God, and is therefore what is most conducive to our practice of self-attentive being.
Even the seeming difficulties and obstacles that arise in our life are intended by God to create in our mind the state of vairāgya or desirelessness, which is otherwise called equanimity or ‘holy indifference’. Only if we learn to be inwardly detached from our life in this world, will we gain the strength that we require to turn our mind inwards to drown in the perfect clarity of true self-knowledge.
For most of us, this spiritual path of persistently trying to practise the art of self-attentive being may appear at times to be anything but a smooth, peaceful and trouble-free course, because our self-deluded and desire-driven mind will certainly try to create many obstacles in our way. However, whatever obstacles our mind may create, we can overcome all of them by undaunted perseverance. Except by tenaciously persevering in our practice of self-attentiveness, there is no way that we can effectively overcome all the seeming obstacles that we as our mind create for ourself.
One of the many self-deceptive tricks that we as our mind tend to play on ourself is to expect and look for some cognisable results from our practice, and to feel dejected when we do not experience the results that we hope for. However, any cognisable results that we may experience on this path are deceptive, because they are experienced only by our mind, whose nature is to delude itself with appearances, and to distort and thereby see out of proportion whatever it happens to experience. Therefore nothing that is experienced by our mind can be a true indicator of our spiritual progress.
As Sri Ramana used to say, our perseverance is the only true sign of our progress. That is, if we persevere in our practice, that is clear evidence of our love for being, and so long as we have that love, we are surely making progress. If, on the other hand, we fail to persevere, that indicates that we lack the love that we require to make rapid progress. However, if we make even a little effort to be self-attentive, or at least have a liking to try, to that extent we do have love for being, so we should not feel dejected because of our inadequate perseverance, but should continue to persist in our attempts to whatever extent we find possible. Even a little sincere effort will go a long way towards cultivating in our heart the true love that we require to reach our ultimate goal of absolute self-knowledge.
Whenever we find that our enthusiasm and perseverance are faltering, we should read once again the teachings of Sri Ramana, or books that explore and discuss their import and significance, and we should ponder deeply over their meaning, because such repeated śravaṇa (reading) and manana (musing) will rekindle our enthusiasm to persevere in nididhyāsana, the practice of keen self-attentiveness. We cannot force our mind to remain calmly and peacefully self-attentive, but by repeated śravaṇa, manana and nididhyāsana we can gently tempt it to return again and again to our natural state of peaceful self-attentive being.
Our mind is like a runaway horse, and our natural state of calm self-conscious being is like its stable. Just as we would not use physical force to catch and pull a runaway horse back into its stable, but would simply tempt it to return willingly by gently and patiently holding a handful of grass in front of it, so we should not try in vain to overcome our desires and the resulting self-deceptive workings of our mind by confronting and fighting with them, but should gently and stealthily tempt our mind by whatever means possible to return willingly to our natural state of serene self-conscious being, which is its source and natural abode.
Until our mind is completely dissolved in the infinite luminescence and clarity of true self-knowledge, we will continue to experience ourself as a finite individual, and as such we will feel ourself to be one among the many living beings in this world, and hence we will have to interact constantly with other people. When we interact with other people, our deeply rooted vāsanās or mental impulsions will tend to rise vigorously to the surface of our mind in the form of subtle and therefore strong likes and dislikes, attachments and aversions, possessiveness, selfishness, greed, lust, anger, jealousy, pride, egoism and other such undesirable feelings and emotions.
Thus our interactions with other people are a good opportunity for us to recognise such bad qualities in ourself, and to resist the sway that they hold over us by applying the vairāgya or ‘holy indifference’ that we are gradually cultivating through our practice of self-attentive being. Therefore in the last two paragraphs of Nāṉ Yār? Sri Ramana gives us some valuable tips regarding the inward attitude with which we should interact with other people and conduct ourself in this world. In the nineteenth paragraph he says:
There are not two [classes of] minds, namely a good [class of] mind and a bad [class of] mind. The mind is only one. Only vāsanās [impulsions or latent desires] are of two kinds, namely śubha [good or agreeable] and aśubha [bad or disagreeable]. When [a person’s] mind is under the sway of śubha vāsanās [agreeable impulsions] it is said to be a good mind, and when it is under the sway of aśubha vāsanās [disagreeable impulsions] a bad mind. However bad other people may appear to be, disliking them is not proper [or appropriate]. Likes and dislikes are both fit [for us] to dislike [or to renounce]. It is not proper [for us] to let [our] mind [dwell] much on worldly matters. It is not proper [for us] to enter in the affairs of other people [an idiomatic way of saying that we should mind our own business and not interfere in other people’s affairs]. All that one gives to others one is giving only to oneself. If [everyone] knew this truth, who indeed would refrain from giving?
The only thing that we should truly dislike is our own likes and dislikes, because they agitate our mind and disturb our natural peace and equanimity. We dislike certain people because we feel they are the cause of the irritation and annoyance that we feel when we interact with them or think of them, but in fact the real cause of our irritation and annoyance is only our own likes and dislikes. If we were completely free of likes and dislikes, no other person could make us feel any aversion or other negative emotion.
What truly disturbs us when we interact with a person we dislike is not actually that person’s aśubha vāsanās or disagreeable impulsions, but is only our own aśubha vāsanās, because our aśubha vāsanās are what manifest as our likes and dislikes. Our likes and dislikes are both forms of desire, and like all forms of desire they drive our mind outwards, away from the infinite peace and happiness that exists in the core of our being. Therefore if we truly wish to turn our mind inwards and thereby dissolve it in our perfectly clear consciousness of being, we must reject all our likes and dislikes, and develop instead a love only for being.
All our selfish attitudes, feelings, emotions, reactions and behaviours, such as our possessiveness, greed, lust, anger, jealousy, pride and egoism, are rooted in our likes and dislikes. Therefore to the extent to which we are able to free ourself from our likes and dislikes, we will accordingly free ourself from all forms of selfishness and from all the disagreeable feelings and emotions that they arouse in us. Since our interactions with other people tend to bring to the surface of our mind all our deep-rooted likes and dislikes, they are God-given opportunities for us not only to identify our likes and dislikes but also to curb them.
By practising the art of self-attentive being, we cultivate the skill to restrain not only our likes and dislikes but also their root, which is our mind. Hence our practice of self-attentiveness will make it easier for us to recognise and curb the likes and dislikes that arise in our mind when we interact with other people. Conversely, by curbing our likes and dislikes when we interact with other people, we are cultivating our vairāgya or freedom from desires, and this will in turn help us in our practice of self-attentive being.
When Sri Ramana says that it is not proper for us to allow our mind to dwell much upon worldly matters, or for us to interfere in the affairs of others, he does not mean that we should be indifferent to the sufferings of other people or creatures. It is right for us to feel compassion whenever we see or come to know of the suffering of any other person or creature, because compassion is an essential quality that naturally arises in our mind when it is under the sway of sattva-guṇa or the quality of ‘being-ness’, goodness and purity, and it is also right for us to do whatever we reasonably can to alleviate such suffering.
However, suffering is an unavoidable fact of embodied existence, and there is little that we with our limited powers can do to alleviate the many forms of suffering that exist and will always exist in this world. Therefore if we allow our mind to dwell upon the sufferings and injustices in this world, we will only lose our own peace of mind, and to little or no avail.
Rather than imagining that we can really do anything significant to alleviate the suffering in this world, it would be more beneficial if we simply take care to avoid contributing in any way to that suffering. For example, hundreds of millions of animals are subjected to unnecessary and unjustifiable suffering due to the cruel practices of factory farming, and every day millions of them are cruelly slaughtered just to satisfy the unnatural and inhumane craving that people have to eat their flesh. This is a sad fact of life, and a very sorry reflection on the so-called civilisation and humanity of the modern human race, but there is little we can actually do to prevent all such cruelty from happening. However, though we cannot prevent it, we can easily avoid contributing to it simply by refraining from eating meat, fish, eggs or any other animal-derived products.
Similarly, so many unjustified wars are fought in this world, all as a result of human greed, and every year more than a hundred million children and adults die of starvation and other poverty-related causes, in spite of all the abundant food and other material resources that a large section of the human race are enjoying. Many factors contribute to such sufferings, but at the root of all those factors lies human selfishness and greed. Though in the complex economy of the modern world, in which we are all to some extent unavoidably involved, it is difficult for us to know exactly what effects our means of earning and each of our spending habits and other forms of behaviour are having on the lives of those less fortunate than ourself, to whatever extent possible we should try to avoid contributing by our own actions to the sufferings that are caused by this unjust economy, and we can avoid this by simplifying our lifestyle and minimising our dependence upon material possessions and other objects of sense enjoyment.
Most importantly, however, though we cannot know all the repercussions that each of our actions may be having on other people and creatures, we do know that the root cause of much of the suffering that exists in this world is the selfishness and greed that exists in the minds of people like ourself. Therefore, to avoid contributing to the sufferings of others, the most essential thing that we must do is to root all selfishness and greed out of our own mind, and we can do this effectively only by turning our mind inwards to drown it in our own self-conscious being, which is the source from which it rises together with all its selfishness and greed.
So long as our mind is turned outwards, dwelling upon worldly matters or trying to interfere in the affairs of other people, we will be overlooking the defects that exist in our own mind. Therefore, before trying to rectify the defects of this world or of other people, we should first succeed in rectifying our own defects, which we can effectively do only by withdrawing our attention entirely from this world and from matters that concern other people, and vigilantly focusing it upon our own self-conscious being in order to curb and prevent the rising of our mind, which is the root of all our defects. This is the reason why Sri Ramana says that it is not proper for us to allow our mind to dwell much upon worldly matters, or for us to interfere in the affairs of others.
Moreover, in the final analysis, this world and all the sufferings that we see in it are created by our own power of imagination and exist only in our own mind, just as the world and the sufferings that we see in a dream are. If we feel compassion on seeing the sufferings of other people and animals in our dream, and if we wish to alleviate all such suffering, all we need do is to wake up from that dream. Likewise, if we truly wish to put an end to all the sufferings that we see in this world, we must strive to wake up from this dream that we mistake to be our waking life, into the true waking state of perfectly non-dual self-knowledge, by tenaciously practising the art of self-attentive being.
However, though our life in this world is in fact just a dream, so long as we experience this dream we should not dismiss the sufferings of others as being simply unreal and therefore of no consequence. We who experience this imaginary dream are ourself a part of it, and hence everything that we experience or witness in this dream is just as real as we are.
So long as we feel ourself to be a person – a body-bound mind – who is experiencing this dream, we cannot but feel that the joys and sufferings that we are undergoing are perfectly real, and so long as we thus feel that our own joys and sufferings are real, we cannot deny that the joys and sufferings of other people and creatures are equally real and just as consequential. Hence, since we each naturally wish to avoid any form of suffering being caused to ourself, we should wish equally strongly to avoid any form of suffering being caused to any other sentient being.
Therefore, when Sri Ramana advises us to avoid interfering in the affairs of others or allowing our mind to dwell much upon worldly matters, he does not suggest that we should avoid such actions of body, speech or mind due to heartless indifference, but only that we should do so due to holy indifference – compassionate indifference, truly loving and caring indifference.
Sri Ramana never advised anyone to be heartlessly indifferent – uncaringly and unkindly indifferent – to the sufferings of others. On the contrary, through his own actions he clearly exemplified how compassionate, tender-hearted and caring we should all be, and how strictly we should avoid causing even the least hiṁsā or harm to any other living being.
Though Sri Ramana seldom taught the importance of compassion explicitly in words, he did teach it very clearly through his own life – through his every action and attitude. In every situation, his attitude and his response through speech or action clearly demonstrated his unbounded love, compassion, tender-heartedness, kindness, consideration and ahiṁsā – sensitive and careful avoidance of causing any harm, injury or hurt to any living being.
Compassion, kindness and love shone through every action of Sri Ramana because that is what he was. His very being was itself the fullness of love – infinite and all-inclusive love. Because his seeming individuality had merged and been consumed in the infinite light of true self-knowledge, he was truly one with the absolute reality, whose nature is perfectly non-dual and indivisible being, consciousness, happiness and love.
He therefore loved all of us – each and every sentient being – as his own self, because he experienced himself as the one infinite reality, other than which none of us can be. He truly was and is the real and essential self of each and every one of us, and hence none of us can be excluded from his infinite love – his all-inclusive self-love – which is his own essential being.
Therefore the seeming ‘person’ that was Sri Ramana was a perfect embodiment of parama karuṇā – supreme compassion, grace, kindness and love. His kindness and love were equal to all. To him sinner and saint were all alike. He showed the same simple care, kindness, tenderness, love and compassion to people whom we may consider to be bad as he did to people whom we may consider to be good.
His love and kindness were absolutely impartial. He showed no greater love, kindness or concern for his most sincere devotees – those who most truly understood and put his teachings into practice – than he did either for those people who disregarded him, disparaged him or even ill-treated him, or for those devotees who were unconcerned about his teachings, or who misunderstood them, or who even tried to distort, misinterpret or misrepresent them.
In fact, if he ever seemed to show any partiality, it was not for those who loved him most sincerely, but only for those who had least love or no love at all for him. Devotees who loved him most sincerely, and who earnestly tried to follow his teachings by turning their mind inwards and surrendering it to him in the core of their being, sometimes felt that outwardly he seemed to ignore them, and to give his attention only to other less sincere devotees. However, if they understood him correctly, they knew that he outwardly gave his attention to those who were most in need of it, and that if he outwardly ignored us it was only to encourage us to turn inwards to seek the true form of his love, which is always shining blissfully in our heart as our own non-dual self-conscious being, ‘I am’, waiting to draw us within by its magnetic power of attraction.
The reason why he showed equal love and kindness to each and every person, irrespective of the fact that a particular person may have been the worst of sinners or the greatest of saints, was that in his view there is no essential difference between a sinner and a saint, between an atheist and a devotee, or between a cruel person and a kind person. He knew that in essence every person is the same single non-dual self, which he experienced as himself. If at all there seems to be any such thing as a separate person, he or she appears to be such only due to his or her imaginary ignorance of the true nature of the one real non-dual self, which we all always experience as our own essential self-consciousness, ‘I am’.
Not only are we all in essence the same one non-dual self, but as people we are all also equally ignorant of our own true nature. Even our theoretical knowledge of our own true nature does not make us any less ignorant than another person who has no such theoretical knowledge, because this theoretical knowledge exists only in our own mind, which arises only because of our basic underlying self-ignorance or self-forgetfulness.
In our self-ignorant view, Sri Ramana appears to us to be a person like us, and even our honest belief and conviction that he is in reality not a person but only our own infinite real self is a faith that exists only in our own mind. So long as we experience ourself as a person, and not as the one infinite and undivided real self, we cannot experience Sri Ramana as our own essential self, but can only know him as a person, albeit a person immeasurably superior to ourself.
Therefore in our self-ignorant view, Sri Ramana seemed to be a person, and as such he seemed to see each one of us as a separate person. However, even insofar as he seemed to see each of us as a person, he did not see any essential difference between us. He saw us all as being equal in our ignorance of our real self. In his view there was no person who was any more or any less ignorant than any other person. We either know ourself as we really are, or we ignore our real nature and experience ourself as a person – a finite body-bound mind.
Since in his view we are all equally ignorant, we are all equally in need of his kāraṇam illāda karuṇai – his causeless grace, mercy, compassion, kindness and love. Nothing that we can do can make us worthy of his grace, and equally nothing that we can do can make us unworthy of his grace. Just as the rain falls on the good and evil alike, his divine grace and love is equally available to all creatures, including the greatest saints and the most evil sinners, the most brilliant intellectuals and the dullest of fools, the richest and the poorest, kings and beggars, human beings and all the so-called lesser animals.
His grace or love is uncaused because it is his essential nature. As the one infinite real self, he cannot but love us all as himself, because he experiences us all as himself. Since his grace is infinite, and not dependent upon any cause other than itself, it can never either increase or decrease. In truth it is the only reality – the one absolute reality, which is eternal, immutable and self-shining.
Though Sri Ramana is truly the one infinite reality that we call ‘God’, who is always making his grace available to each and every one of us by shining eternally in the innermost depth of our heart as our nearest and dearest – our own true self-conscious being, ‘I am’ – he manifested himself in human form in order to teach us that we can experience the perfect and ever-undiminishing happiness that we all seek only by turning our mind selfwards and thereby surrendering it in the absolute clarity of our own non-dual self-conscious being, which is the true form of his grace or love.
His human form was thus an embodiment of parama karuṇā or supreme compassion, grace, mercy, tender-heartedness, kindness, care and love, and as such no creature could ever be excluded from his infinite kindness and love. And though his human form passed away in 1950, before most of us were even born, his grace, love and inner guidance are ever available to us, because they are the one eternal reality that ever shines within us as ‘I am’, our own most beloved self. Moreover, not only does he always remain as our own essential self, but he also continues to be manifest outwardly in the form of his precious teachings, which are still available to remind us constantly of our need to turn selfwards in order to experience the infinite happiness of true self-knowledge.
In order to avail of his love or grace in all its infinite fullness, all we have to do is to turn selfwards and to drink thus at the source from which it springs. Though his grace is always helping us, so long as we attend to anything other than our own essential self we are ignoring it, and by doing so we are in effect closing the doors of our heart on it, obstructing it from flowing forth and consuming us in its infinite clarity.
His grace is the light of consciousness that shines within us, enabling us to know both ourself and all the imaginary objects that we have created in our mind. Both subject and object are illumined only by his grace, and without his grace as their essential substance and reality they could not even seem to exist.
However, so long as we attend to any form of object – whether the objects that we recognise as being only thoughts in our own mind, or the objects that we imagine exist in a world outside our mind – we are misusing the light of his grace, and we are distorting his infinite non-dual self-love and experiencing it as our desire for some objects and our aversion for other objects. Rather than misusing his grace in this manner to know objects, or expecting it to fulfil any of our petty desires, we should derive true benefit from it by using it to know ourself.
That is, our mind, which is the distorted light of consciousness that we now use to know objects, is a reflected form of our original light of self-consciousness, which is his grace. Therefore if we turn our mind away from all objects towards the source of its light, it will merge in that source like a ray of sunlight that is reflected from a mirror back towards the sun. By thus turning the reflected light of our mind back on ourself, we are surrendering ourself to our original light of grace – our fundamental self-consciousness, ‘I am’, which is the true form of love that we call ‘Sri Ramana’.
When Sri Ramana manifested himself in human form, the compassion, tender-heartedness, kindness and love that he showed towards every person he encountered was an outward expression of the infinite, eternal, undivided and non-dual love that he experienced as his own self, and that always shines within each one of us as our own essential self-conscious being, ‘I am’. Therefore the impartiality of his outward kindness and love demonstrated clearly the absolute impartiality of his true inward grace, which is always surging in the heart of every sentient being.
The same love that he showed to all people he showed to every other creature. He did not consider any animal to be any less worthy of his kindness, love and compassion than any human being, and animals naturally responded to the love they felt in him, and therefore approached him without any fear. Numerous stories and incidents in his life have been recorded that beautifully illustrate his extraordinary relationship with both wild and domesticated animals – the tender-heartedness, kindness, care and love that he showed to them, and their reciprocal fondness for and trust in him.
Moreover, not only was he equally kind to and caring about individual animals of every species, but he also showed his strong disapproval whenever any person treated unkindly or caused any harm to any animal. He would not tolerate or allow people to kill even poisonous animals such as snakes and scorpions, and he pointed out that our fear of such animals is caused only by our attachment to our own bodies. He said that just as we cherish our life in our present body, so every other creature equally cherishes their life in their present body, and hence we have no right to deprive any creature of its cherished life, or to cause it harm or suffering of any kind whatsoever.
One very clear illustration of his unbounded and absolutely impartial compassion and love was an incident that occurred when he was a young man. One day while he was walking through a thicket his thigh accidentally brushed against a hornets’ nest, disturbing its numerous occupants, who immediately flew out in a rage and began to sting his offending thigh. Understanding their natural response, and feeling sorry for the disturbance that he had accidentally caused them, he stood quite still and, in spite of the intense pain that they were inflicting upon him, patiently allowed them to sting his thigh until they were all fully satisfied and returned to their nest. In later years, when Sri Muruganar wrote a verse (which is now included in Guru Vācaka Kōvai as verse 815) asking him why he felt repentant and allowed the hornets to sting his thigh even though the disturbance he caused them was not intentional, he replied by composing verse 7 of Upadēśa Taṉippākkaḷ, in which he said:
Though the swarming hornets stung the leg so that it became inflamed and swollen when it touched and damaged their nest, which was spread [and concealed] in the midst of green leaves, and though it [the act of disrupting their nest] was a mistake that happened accidentally, if one did not at least feel sorry [pity for the hornets and repentant for the trouble caused to them], what indeed would be the nature of his mind [that is, how thoroughly hard-hearted and insensitive it would be]?
By his own life and example Sri Ramana taught us the great importance not only of kindness, love, tender-heartedness, consideration, compassion and ahiṁsā, but also of humility, selflessness, desirelessness, non-acquisitiveness, non-possessiveness, non-wastefulness, generosity, contentment, self-restraint, self-denial and utter simplicity of lifestyle. None of these qualities were cultivated or practised by him with any effort, but were all quite effortless, because they were natural effects of his absolute egolessness.
Because he did not experience himself as an ego, a finite and separate individual consciousness, he did not experience any person, animal, plant or inanimate object as being other than himself, and hence in the infinite fullness of his love – his absolutely non-dual self-love – there was no room for even the least trace of selfishness, greed, desire, attachment, possessiveness, unkindness, insensitivity or any other defect that tends to arise when we mistake ourself to be a finite body-bound ego or mind. He therefore lived what he taught, and taught only what he himself lived.
His actions, his attitude and his response to each person, to each animal and to each outward situation and event were therefore teachings that were no less powerful or significant than his spoken and written words. He exemplified in his life the same state of absolute egolessness that he taught us as being the only goal worth seeking. Therefore, though we cannot emulate his perfectly egoless life so long as we mistake ourself to be a person, a body-bound mind or ego-consciousness, we can learn much from it, and if we truly wish to lose our false individual self in our own natural state of absolutely egoless self-conscious being, we should humbly and sincerely try to apply what we are able to learn from his outward life in our own outward life.
That is, if we truly wish to be absolutely egoless, we must begin even now to practise the selfless qualities and virtues that are natural to egolessness. If we do not love and cherish such qualities, we do not truly love the state of perfect egolessness.
The consistently selfless simplicity of Sri Ramana’s lifestyle was legendary and witnessed by thousands of people. Though his devotees built an āśrama, a community dwelling-place and religious institution, around him, he never claimed anything as his own. And though there were rich people who offered him and honestly desired to give him anything that he might want, he availed himself of nothing other than the minimum food, clothing and shelter that were necessary for the survival of his body.
From the time he left home at the age of sixteen till the end of his bodily lifetime, he lived the simple life of a sādhu, a religious mendicant. His only clothing was a kaupīna, a simple loincloth. Until his devotees built a simple dwelling-place for him, he lived only in caves or in maṇḍapams, open temple hallways. Even in the later years of his life, when he lived in a small hall that his devotees had built for him, its doors were open to visitors day and night, and he shared it freely with other permanent or temporary residents, who lived and slept there with him. He had no private life or time for himself, but was available always for anyone who needed him.
He preferred to eat only the simplest of food, and even when he was offered any type of special food, whether a delicacy such as a sweet or a savoury titbit, an elaborately prepared feast, or even a medicinal tonic for bodily health, he would eat it only if it were first shared equally with all people who were present. Just as he shared his shelter, his time and his entire life with everyone in his presence, so he shared with them freely and equally whatever food or other material thing he was given.
The only type of food that he strictly avoided, and that he advised others to avoid equally strictly, was any form of non-vegetarian food such as meat, fish or eggs. In this and many other ways he taught us emphatically that we should always avoid any action that would cause even the least harm, injury or suffering to any creature.
By both his words and his example he taught us the virtue of perfect ahiṁsā or compassionate avoidance of causing any harm, injury or hurt to any sentient being. Through his life and his teachings he clearly indicated that he considered ahiṁsā or ‘non-harming’ to be a greater virtue than actively trying to ‘do good’. Whereas ahiṁsā is a passive state of refraining from doing any action that could directly or indirectly cause any harm or suffering to any person or creature, ‘doing good’ is an active interference in the outward course of events and in the affairs of other people, and even when we interfere thus with good intent, our actions often have harmful repercussions.
When we try to do actions that we believe will result in ‘good’, we often end up causing harm either to ourself or to others, or to both. The danger to ourself in our trying to do ‘good’ to others lies principally in the effect that such actions can have on our ego. If we engage ourself busily and ambitiously in trying outwardly to do ‘good’, it is easy for us to overlook the defects in our own mind, and to fail to notice the subtle pride, egotism and self-righteousness that tend to arise in our mind when we concentrate on rectifying the defects of the outside world rather than rectifying our own internal defects.
Moreover, what we consider to be ‘good’ is often quite different to what other people consider to be ‘good’, so unless we are very careful the ‘good’ that we try to do to others may in fact be unwanted. Even if we feel strongly that our idea of ‘good’ is right and some other people’s idea of it is wrong, we should be careful not to try to impose our idea of ‘good’ upon them, because when we do so our efforts will only create resentment and conflict, which will usually result in causing more harm than any actual good.
Most actions have multiple effects, so the repercussions of our actions are often not what we intend them to be. The greater the ‘good’ that we try to do, the greater the harm that may result. Since the beginning of human history, many social, political and religious reformers have come and gone, but none of their attempted reforms have ever resulted in unmixed good. Any action or series of actions that has a significant impact upon this world inevitably results in a mixture of good and bad – benefit and harm.
Many of the greatest evils and injustices in this world have resulted from supposedly well-intentioned social, political, economic or religious reforms. Even in the name of God countless conflicts have occurred, which have sometimes even resulted in cruel persecutions, wars and terrorism. From all this we should understand that attempts to do good can result in great harm, and that our primary moral duty is therefore to avoid causing any harm rather than to try to do any good.
In many situations, far greater good can result by our refraining from doing any action than could possibly result by our doing any action, because whatever good might result from any action that we could do would not compensate for the harm that would result from it. In other words, our inaction – our just being without doing anything – can often be truly more beneficial than any amount of action or ‘doing’ could be.
As a general rule, if any action is likely to cause harm to any sentient being, we should refrain from doing it, even though it may also result in some good. Moreover, whatever action we may decide either to do or to refrain from doing in any particular situation, we always should remember that the ultimate good, which is the infinite happiness of true self-knowledge, can never be achieved by any amount of action or ‘doing’, but only by just ‘being’ – that is, by our abiding peacefully in our own natural state, which is the egoless, thought-free and therefore absolutely actionless state of perfectly clear self-conscious being.
This is not to say, however, that we should not do anything to help other people or creatures when an immediate need arises, but only that we should not be too ambitious in our desire to do good. We should respond appropriately to any situation we find ourself in, but we need not actively seek situations in which we imagine that our help may be required. Moreover, even when a situation does arise in which our help appears to be required, we should take care to do only whatever help or ‘good’ is truly appropriate, and we should at the same time be very vigilant not to cause any form of harm in our attempt to do good.
From the example set by Sri Ramana, we should understand that it is good for us to be always humble, unselfish, kind, caring, considerate, gentle, compassionate, generous and sharing, and that all our outward actions and reactions – which in many cases may appropriately include our refraining from doing certain actions or any action whatsoever – should always be guided by these inward qualities of mind and heart. The great importance of such true generosity, kindness and care was clearly emphasised by Sri Ramana when he concluded this nineteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? by saying:
[…] All that one gives to others one is giving only to oneself. If [everyone] knew this truth, who indeed would refrain from giving?
All that we give to others (especially the tender-hearted love, kindness, compassion, sympathy, affection, care and consideration that we give to them) we are giving only to ourself because no one – no person, animal, plant or any other thing – is truly other than ourself, our essential self-conscious being or ‘am’-ness.
This is the real meaning of the teaching of Christ, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind […] Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Matthew 22.37, 39, and Mark 12.30-31). We cannot truly love either God or our neighbour – any of our fellow sentient beings – as ourself unless we actually experience them as ourself, and if we do not love them as ourself, we cannot really love them with all our heart, soul and mind.
Love for anything other than ourself can never be a whole love, but can only be a divided and therefore partial love, because we always love ourself more than we can ever love any other person or thing. Therefore if we truly wish to love either God or our neighbour wholly – with all our heart, soul and mind – we must experience them as ourself, and in order to experience them thus, we must experience ourself as we really are – that is, as the one infinite and indivisible absolute reality, which is the real essence or true substance of all that is. Hence, since we cannot experience ourself thus as the one infinite, undivided, non-dual and all-inclusive whole so long as we attend to anything that appears to be other than ourself, in order to experience and love both God and our neighbour as ourself, we must withdraw our mind entirely from their imaginary outward forms and focus it keenly and exclusively upon our own essential self-conscious being, ‘I am’, which alone is their real and essential form.
Therefore until we merge and lose ourself entirely in our natural state of absolutely non-dual self-conscious being, which alone is the state of true self-knowledge, our love for God and for our neighbour will only be partial and imperfect. However, even though we may not yet actually experience and love all our fellow sentient beings as ourself, if we have really understood at least theoretically that they are truly not other than ourself, we will naturally feel compassion for them and will therefore empathise with all their sufferings. When we feel such compassion and empathy for all sentient beings, we will naturally refrain as far as possible from causing even the least harm or suffering to any of them.
However, our love, compassion and concern for other people and animals should not lead us to believe that we can do any great good in this world, or that this world needs us to reform it. Whenever any person told Sri Ramana that he had an ambition to reform the world in some way or to do any other such ‘good’, he would say, ‘He who has created this world knows how to take care of it. If you believe in God, trust him to do whatever is necessary for this world’. On many occasions and in many ways, Sri Ramana made it clear that our duty is not to reform the world but only to reform ourself.
To people who lacked subtle understanding, he would say that since this world is created by God, he knows how to take care of it, thereby indicating that this world is exactly as God intends it to be, and that he intends it to be thus for the true benefit of all concerned. However, to people of more subtle understanding, he would say that this world is a creation of our own mind, and exists only in our mind in the same manner that a dream exists only in our mind, and that whatever defects we see in this world are therefore reflections of our mind’s own defects. Hence, rather than trying to reform the reflection, we should try to reform the source of it, which is our own mind. If we reform our mind by restoring it to our natural state of just being, its reflection will also merge and become one with our true being, which is the infinite fullness of unalloyed happiness and love.
Though all the manifold problems of this world can be effectively solved only by our turning our mind inwards and drowning it in its source, which is our own absolutely non-dual self-conscious being, so long as our mind is turned outwards, we will continue to mistake ourself to be just a body-bound person – one among the many such body-bound creatures living in this material world. When we thus mistake ourself to be a finite person, we inevitably become involved in the activities of our body, speech and mind, and our actions unavoidably have an effect upon other people and creatures.
Therefore in this dualistic state of activity we are responsible for the effects of our actions, and hence we must take care not to cause any harm to any of our fellow embodied beings. The benefit of our thus carefully practising the virtue of ahiṁsā or ‘non-harming’ is twofold. Not only do we thereby avoid as far as possible causing any harm or suffering to any other sentient beings, but we also thereby cultivate the tenderness of mind that is required for us to be able to turn within and merge in our natural state of just being.
If we are heartlessly indifferent to the sufferings of others, we will not be able to succeed in any effort that we may make to turn within, because such heartlessness is caused only by the density of our ego – by our strong attachment to and identification with our own individual self. Only when our attachment to our own ego is greatly attenuated will we have the vairāgya, desirelessness or detachment that is necessary for us to be able to relinquish all thoughts or attention to anything other than our own essential self-conscious being, and as an inevitable consequence of this attenuation of our ego, true heart-melting kindness, love and compassion will also naturally arise within us.
Only to the extent to which our ego and all its desires and attachments are truly attenuated will the real love for just being arise in our heart. When this true love for just being arises within us, it will impel us to try repeatedly to withdraw our mind from all objects and to rest in our own essential self-conscious being. However, until our love for just being consumes us entirely, our mind will often slip down from our natural state of self-conscious repose, and whenever we thus experience this seemingly external world our heart-melting love for just being will manifest as tender-hearted compassion, kindness, love and consideration for all other sentient beings, who are each in essence nothing other than our own self-conscious being.
Sri Ramana used to say that bhakti is jñāna-mātā – that is, that devotion or love is the mother of true self-knowledge. In this context bhakti means true heart-melting love for just being – love, that is, for our own infinite self-conscious being. Since our true self-conscious being is infinite, it knows no other, and hence if we truly love our own being we will not feel anything – particularly any sentient being – to be excluded from it or from our love for it.
Therefore so long as we experience even the least duality or otherness, our true love for just being will be experienced by us as a tender-hearted and all-inclusive love and compassion for our fellow sentient beings. Hence if we cultivate true love for just being, as we will naturally do by our persistent practice of self-attentiveness, we need make no separate effort to cultivate any other qualities such as compassion, tenderness or kindness for other sentient beings, because such qualities will result automatically from our love for true being.
However, though we need not make any special effort to cultivate qualities such as compassion or sensitivity for the feelings of others, by cherishing such qualities we can indirectly nourish our love for just being, which alone can enable us to experience the egoless state of true self-knowledge. Only an extremely tender-hearted mind will be overwhelmed by such great love for just being that it will be willing to surrender itself entirely, turning its attention wholly towards its own self-conscious core or essence and thereby subsiding and merging within, losing itself in the absolute clarity of true non-dual self-knowledge.
Just as compassion is a natural effect of true love for just being, so ahiṁsā or ‘non-harming’ is a natural effect of compassion. If we feel true compassion and tenderness for the feelings of others, we will automatically take care not to do any action that might cause any harm or suffering. Therefore the most important quality that we should strive to cultivate is the true love to subside and rest in our natural state of self-conscious being. If we cultivate this one essential quality, all other qualities will flourish effortlessly and naturally in our heart.
Absolute ahiṁsā is possible only in the non-dual state of true self-knowledge. The first hiṁsā or ‘harm’ – that is, the first action that causes harm, injury and suffering both to ourself and to all ‘others’ – is the rising of our own mind. When our mind does not rise, everything remains peacefully merged in the true state of non-dual self-conscious being, which is the state of infinite happiness. The imaginary rising of our mind is not only the primal form of hiṁsā, but is also the cause and origin of all other forms of hiṁsā.
Therefore, so long as we imagine ourself to be this body-bound mind or ego, we cannot experience absolute ahiṁsā, and we cannot entirely avoid doing any form of hiṁsā. Hence if we truly wish to avoid causing any harm whatsoever, we should not only try carefully to regulate all our actions of mind, speech or body in accordance with the morally imperative principle of ahiṁsā, but should also try to destroy the root cause of every form of hiṁsā, which is our own mind or ego. In order to destroy this root cause of all suffering, the only means is to turn our mind away from all otherness or duality and thereby to drown it in the infinite clarity of our own self-conscious being. This is the reason why Sri Ramana says in the nineteenth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:
[…] It is not proper [for us] to let [our] mind [dwell] much on worldly matters. To the extent possible, it is not proper [for us] to enter [or interfere] in the affairs of other people […].
The fact that we can truly do good to the world only by withdrawing our mind from it and searching within ourself for the real cause of all suffering is aptly and beautifully illustrated by the compassionate life of Lord Buddha. Like Bhagavan Ramana, Bhagavan Buddha was an embodiment of parama karuṇā or supreme compassion, kindness and love. As a young man, when he came to know of the inevitable sufferings of embodied existence such as disease, old age and death, he was overwhelmed by an intense desire to discover the root cause of all suffering and the means to destroy that cause. Therefore, though he had great love for his wife, son, father, aunt and other relatives and friends, he left them all and lived the life of a wandering mendicant, earnestly searching for the true knowledge that would put an end to all suffering.
Though at an early stage of his search he hoped to attain such knowledge by practising severe bodily austerities, he eventually understood that no such external means could enable him to attain the truth that he was seeking, and that he could attain it only by searching calmly within himself. Thus by turning his mind away from his body and this world, he was able to experience the true state of nirvāṇa – the absolute extinction of his mind or false finite self.
The reason why Lord Buddha left his beloved wife, child and other relatives was not because he did not care for them. He left them only because his love for them was so great that he could not bear the thought that he was powerless to save them from the inevitable sufferings of embodied existence, and he was therefore determined to find the means to do so.
Only because his love and compassion were so great that he was impelled to withdraw his mind from those he loved most in order to find the real solution to the sufferings of all embodied beings, was he able to attain the true knowledge that enabled him to teach us all the means by which we can attain nirvāṇa, the true state of just being, in which all suffering is extinguished along with its cause, our mind or illusory sense of finite selfhood.
In order to attain true self-knowledge – the state of absolutely non-dual self-conscious being – and thereby to extinguish the root of all suffering, we need not outwardly renounce either our family or the entire world, as Lord Buddha did, but we must inwardly renounce all thought of our false finite self and everything else other than our own essential self-conscious being. Still more importantly, in order to be sufficiently motivated to be able to surrender or let go of our false finite self, we must be impelled by the same intensity of tender-hearted love that impelled Lord Buddha and every other true sage to melt inwardly and surrender themself in the all-consuming fire of true self-knowledge.
All the suffering that we see in this world is only a dream that arises due to the rising of our own mind, so if we are truly concerned about the sufferings of others, we should earnestly try to wake up from this dream by surrendering our self-deceptive mind in the clarity of our own essential self-conscious being. However, though true heart-melting love for our own essential being, which is also the essential being of every other person and creature, is the only means by which we can wake up from this dream of duality or otherness, our present finite love will blossom as the absolute fullness of infinite love only when we have actually destroyed this illusory dream of duality in the perfect clarity of true non-dual self-knowledge.
This world and everything that we experience in it, including our body and our own individual personality with all its likes and dislikes, appear to exist only because we have risen as this finite object-knowing consciousness that we call our mind. Therefore if our mind subsides and ceases to exist as a separate individual consciousness, everything else will also subside and cease to exist. Hence in the final paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? Sri Ramana concludes by saying:
If [our individual] self rises, everything rises; if [our individual] self subsides [or ceases], everything subsides [or ceases]. To whatever extent we behave humbly, to that extent there is goodness [or virtue]. If [we] are restraining [curbing, subduing, condensing, contracting or reducing our] mind, wherever [we] may be [we] can be [or wherever we may be let us be].
The key word in the second sentence of this paragraph is taṙndu, which I have translated as ‘humbly’, but which is actually the past or perfect participle of taṙ, a verb that has many meanings such as to bow, worship, fall low, be low, be bowed down, become subdued, be suspended, be deep, be engrossed in anything, descend, decline, sink, diminish, decrease, stay, rest, stop, bend, droop or hang down. In this context, therefore, proceeding or behaving taṙndu means conducting ourself humbly in this world, submitting to the will of God, with our mind subsided, subdued, submerged or resting calmly in our own essential self-conscious being.
To the extent that we live our life thus, says Sri Ramana, there is naṉmai – goodness, righteousness, benefit, benefaction, virtue or morality. That is, the relative goodness of any of our actions or of our behaviour in general is determined solely by the extent to which, while acting or behaving, we are truly humble, subdued, desireless, calm, equanimous and resigned to the will of God.
In the final sentence Sri Ramana says that if we are able to be thus, always restraining, curbing, subduing or reducing our mind, ‘wherever [we] may be [we] can be’ or ‘wherever [we] may be let [us] be’. These concluding words, eṅgē-y-irundālum irukkalām, imply that in whatever place or circumstances we may be placed in our life, it is always possible for us just to be. If we always keep our mind subsided in our true and natural state of self-conscious being, no external circumstances can prevent us from remaining thus.
Therefore, since we have no duty or responsibility other than just to be in our own self-conscious and blissful being, and since there is no higher happiness than simply to be thus, summā irukkalām – let us just be.