Happiness and the Art of Being
Happiness lies deep within us, in the very core of our being. Happiness does not exist in any external object, but only in us, who are the consciousness that experiences happiness. Though we seem to derive happiness from external objects or experiences, the happiness that we thus enjoy in fact arises from within us.
Whatever turmoil our mind may be in, in the centre of our being there always exists a state of perfect peace and joy, like the calm in the eye of a storm. Desire and fear agitate our mind, and obscure from its view the happiness that always exists within it. When a desire is satisfied, or the cause of a fear is removed, the surface agitation of our mind subsides, and in that temporary calm our mind enjoys a taste of its own innate happiness.
Happiness is thus a state of being – a state in which our mind’s habitual agitation is calmed. The activity of our mind disturbs it from its calm state of just being, and causes it to lose sight of its own innermost happiness. To enjoy happiness, therefore, all our mind need do is to cease all activity, returning calmly to its natural state of inactive being, as it does daily in deep sleep.
Therefore to master the art of being happy, we must master the art and science of just being. We must discover what the innermost core of our being is, and we must learn to abide consciously and constantly in that state of pure being, which underlies and supports (but nevertheless remains unaffected by) all the superficial activities of our mind: thinking, feeling and perceiving, remembering and forgetting, and so on.
The art of just being, remaining fully conscious but without any activity of the mind, is not only an art – a practical skill that can be cultivated and applied to produce an experience of inexpressible beauty and joy – but also a science – an attempt to acquire true knowledge by keen observation and rigorous experiment. And this art and science of being is not only the art and science of happiness, but also the art and science of consciousness, and the art and science of self-knowledge.
The science of being is incredibly simple and clear. To the human mind, however, it may appear to be complex and abstruse, not because it is in any way complex in itself, but because the mind which tries to comprehend it is such a complex bundle of thoughts and emotions – desires, fears, anxieties, attachments, long-cherished beliefs and preconceived ideas – that it tends to cloud the pure simplicity and clarity of being, making what is obvious appear to be obscure.
Like any other science, the science of being begins with observation and analysis of something that we already know but do not fully understand, and proceeds by reasoning to formulate a plausible hypothesis that can explain what is observed, and then rigorously tests that hypothesis by precise and critical experiment. However, unlike all other sciences, this science does not study any object of knowledge, but instead studies the very power of knowing itself – the power of consciousness that underlies the mind, the power by which all objects are known.
Hence the truth discovered by means of this science is not something that can be demonstrated or proved objectively by one person to another. It can, however, be directly experienced as a clear knowledge in the innermost core of each person who scrupulously pursues the necessary process of experiment till the true nature of being – which is the true nature of consciousness, and of happiness – is revealed in the full clarity of pure unadulterated self-consciousness.
Just as the science of being is fundamentally unlike all other sciences, so as an art it is fundamentally unlike all other arts, because it is not an art that involves doing anything. It is an art not of doing but of non-doing – an art of just being.
The state of just being is one in which our mind does not rise to do, think or know anything, yet it is a state of full consciousness – consciousness not of anything else but only of being. The skill that is to be learnt in this art is not simply the skill to be – because we always are and therefore require no special skill or effort to be –, nor is it merely the skill to be without doing or thinking anything – because we are able to be so each day in deep dreamless sleep. The skill to be cultivated is the skill to remain calmly and peacefully without doing or thinking anything, but nevertheless retaining a perfectly clear consciousness of being – that is, consciousness of our own being or essential ‘am’-ness. Only in this pristine state of clear non-dual self-conscious being, unclouded by the distracting agitation of thought and action, will the true nature of being become perfectly clear, obvious, self-evident and free from even the least scope for doubt or confusion.
Our first and most direct experience of being is that of our own being or existence. First we know that we exist, and then only can we know of the existence of other things. But whereas our own existence is self-conscious, the existence of each other thing depends on us to be known.
We know our own being because we are consciousness. In other words, our being is itself the consciousness that knows itself. It knows itself because it is essentially self-conscious. Thus it is reasonable to hypothesise that consciousness is the primal and essential form of being. Without consciousness, being would be unknown, and without being, consciousness would not exist.
Our being and our consciousness of being are inseparable – in fact they are identical – and both are expressed by the single phrase ‘I am’. This being-consciousness, ‘I am’, is our most fundamental experience, and the most fundamental experience of every sentient being. ‘I am’ is the one basic consciousness – the essential non-dual self-consciousness – without which nothing would be known. ‘I am’ is therefore the source and foundation of all knowledge.
What then is the use of knowing anything else if we do not know the truth of our own being-consciousness, our self-consciousness, ‘I am’, on the basis of which all else is known? All that we know about the world and all that we know about God – all our sciences and all our religions – are of no real value to us if we do not know the truth about ourself, who desire to know the truth about the world and God.
We are the being-consciousness ‘I am’, yet our knowledge about this ‘I am’ is confused. We all believe ‘I am this body’, ‘I am a person’, ‘I am called so-and-so, and was born on such-and-such a date at such-and-such a place’. Thus we identify our consciousness ‘I am’ with a particular body. This identification is the result of a confused and unclear knowledge of the true nature of consciousness.
Our consciousness ‘I am’ is not something material, whereas our body is merely a bundle of physical matter, which is not inherently conscious. Yet somehow we are deluded into mistaking this material body to be our consciousness ‘I’. As a result of our unclear knowledge of consciousness, we mistake matter to be conscious, and consciousness to be something material.
That which thus mistakes this body to be ‘I’ is our mind. Our mind comes into existence only by imagining itself to be a body. In deep sleep we are unaware of either our mind or our body. As soon as we wake up, our mind rises feeling ‘I am this body, I am so-and-so’, and only after thus identifying itself as a particular body does it perceive the external world through the five senses of that body.
Exactly the same thing happens in dream – our mind identifies itself as a particular body and through the five senses of that body it perceives a seemingly real and external world. When we wake up from a dream, we understand that the body we mistook to be ‘I’ and the world we mistook to be real and external were both in fact only figments of our imagination.
Thus from our experience in dream we all know that our mind has a wonderful power of imagination by which it is able to create a body, to mistake that imaginary body to be ‘I’, and through that body to project a world which, at the time we perceive it, appears to be every bit as real and external to us as the world that we now perceive in this waking state.
Knowing that our mind possesses this wonderful power of creation and self-deception, is it not reasonable for us to suspect that the body we take to be ‘I’ and the world we take to be real in our present waking state may in fact be nothing more than a mere imagination or mental projection, just like the body and world that we experience in dream? What evidence do we have that the body and world we experience in this waking state are anything other than a creation of our own mind? We may be able to point out certain differences between waking and dream, but on analysis we will discover that those differences are superficial, being concerned with quality or quantity rather than with substance.
If we compare the world drama we see in waking or dream to a drama we see on a cinema screen, we may say that the drama seen in waking is a better quality and more impressive production than that seen in dream, but both are productions none the less – productions not of some external agency but of our mind which sees them.
In substance, there is no essential difference between our experience in waking and that in dream. In both states our mind rises, attaching itself to a body by taking it to be ‘I’, and through the senses of that body it sees a world bound within the limits of time and space, and filled with numerous people and other objects, both sentient and insentient, all of which it is convinced are real. How can we prove to ourself that what we experience in the waking state exists at all outside our own imagination, any more than a dream exists outside our imagination?
When we carefully analyse our experience in our three states of waking, dream and deep sleep, it is clear that we are able to confuse our consciousness ‘I’ to be different things at different times. In waking we mistake our present body to be ‘I’, in dream we mistake some other imaginary body to be ‘I’, and in sleep we mistake unconsciousness to be ‘I’ – or at least on waking from sleep what we remember is that ‘I was unconscious’.
What we were in fact unconscious of in sleep was our mind, our body and the world, but not our own existence or being. Our experience in sleep was not that we ceased to exist, but only that we ceased to be aware of all the thoughts and perceptions that we are accustomed to experiencing in the waking and dream states. When we say, ‘I slept peacefully, I had no dreams, I was unaware of anything’, we are confidently affirming that ‘I’ was in sleep – that is, that we existed and knew that we existed at that time.
Because we associate consciousness with being conscious of all the thoughts and perceptions that make up our life in waking and in dream, we consider sleep to be a state of unconsciousness. But we should examine the so-called unconsciousness of sleep more carefully. The consciousness that knows thoughts and perceptions is our mind, which rises and is active in waking and dream, but which subsides in sleep. But this rising and subsiding consciousness is not our real consciousness. We are conscious not only of the two states of waking and dream, in which our mind rises to experience thoughts and perceptions, but also of a third state, sleep, in which our mind has subsided in a state devoid of thoughts and perceptions.
This fact that we are conscious of sleep as a state distinct from waking and dream clearly indicates that we are the consciousness that underlies the rising and subsiding of the transient consciousness that we call ‘mind’. The consciousness that enables us to affirm confidently, ‘I did exist in sleep, but I was unconscious of anything’, is not our ‘rising consciousness’ but our ‘being consciousness’.
This ‘being consciousness’, which exists in all our three states, is our real consciousness, and is what is truly denoted when we say ‘I am’. Our mind, the ‘rising consciousness’ that appears in waking and dream and disappears in sleep, is only a spurious form of consciousness, which on rising mistakes itself to be both our basic consciousness ‘I am’ and this material body.
Thus, by analysing our experience in our three states of waking, dream and deep sleep, we can understand that though we now mistake ourself to be a body limited by time and space, we are in fact the consciousness that underlies the appearance of these three states, in only two of which the sense of being a body and the consequent limitations of time and space are experienced.
However, a mere theoretical understanding of the truth that we are only consciousness will be of little use to us if we do not apply it in practice by endeavouring to gain real experiential knowledge of that truth. By itself, a theoretical understanding will not and cannot give us true and lasting happiness, because it cannot destroy our deep-rooted sense of identification with the body, which is the root of all ignorance, and the cause of all misery.
That which understands this truth theoretically is only our mind or intellect, and our mind cannot function without first identifying itself with a body. Since our mind or intellect is thus a confused knowledge whose existence is rooted in ignorance about who or what we really are, no intellectual understanding can ever by itself give us true self-knowledge. Self-knowledge can only be gained by direct experience of the pure unlimited consciousness which is our real self, because only such experience can root out the ignorance that we are anything other than that consciousness.
Therefore a theoretical understanding of the truth can be of real benefit to us only if it prompts us to investigate our essential consciousness of being – our simple self-consciousness, ‘I am’ – and thereby attain through direct experience a clear knowledge of our own true nature. Only by attaining such a clear knowledge of the consciousness that is truly ‘I’, can we destroy our primal ignorance, the confused and mistaken knowledge that we are the mind, the limited form of consciousness that identifies a body as ‘I’.
If we truly understand that we are not a body, nor the mind which imagines itself to be a body, and that every form of unhappiness that we experience is caused only by our mistaken identification with a body, we will endeavour to destroy that false identification by undertaking practical research to discover who or what we really are. To know what we really are, we must cease attending to any other things, and must attend instead to ourself, the consciousness that knows those other things.
When we attend to things other than ‘I’, our attention is a ‘thought’ or activity of the mind. But when we attend to our essential consciousness ‘I’, our attention ceases to be an activity or ‘thought’, and instead becomes mere being. We know other things by an act of knowing, but we know ourself not by an act of knowing but by merely being ourself. Therefore, when we attend to the innermost core of our being – that is, to our essential and real self, which is simple thought-free non-dual self-conscious being – we cease to rise as the incessantly active mind and instead remain merely as our naturally actionless consciousness of being. Therefore self-attention is self-abidance, the state of merely being what we really are.
So long as we attend to things other than ourself, our mind is active, and its activity clouds and obscures our natural clarity of self-consciousness. But when we try to attend to ourself, the activity of our mind begins to subside, and thus the veil that obscures our natural self-consciousness begins to dissolve. The more keenly and intensely we focus our attention upon our basic consciousness ‘I’, the more our mind will subside, until finally it disappears in the clear light of true self-knowledge.
In this book, therefore, I will attempt to explain both the theory and the practice of the art of knowing and being our real self. The theory of this science and art of self-knowledge is necessary and helpful to us insofar as it enables us to understand not only the imperative need for us to know the reality, but also the practical means by which we can achieve such knowledge.
All the unhappiness, discontent and misery that we experience in our life is caused only by our ignorance or confused knowledge of who or what we really are. So long as we limit ourself by identifying a body as ‘I’, we will feel desire for whatever we think is necessary for our survival in that body, and for whatever we think will make our life in that body more comfortable and pleasant. Likewise we will feel fear and dislike of whatever we think threatens our survival in that body, and of whatever we think will make our life in it less comfortable or pleasant. When we do not get whatever we desire or like, and when we cannot avoid whatever we fear or dislike, we feel unhappy, discontented or miserable.
Thus unhappiness or suffering is the inevitable result of desire and fear, or likes and dislikes. Desire and fear, and likes and dislikes, are the inevitable result of identifying a body as ‘I’. And identifying a body as ‘I’ results from our lack of clear knowledge of our real nature – our essential self-conscious being. Therefore if we want to be free of all forms of misery and unhappiness, we must free ourself from our ignorance or confused knowledge of what we really are.
In order to free ourself from this confused knowledge, which makes us feel that we are a body, we must attain a clear knowledge of our real self. The only means by which we can attain such clear self-knowledge is to turn our attention away from our body, our mind and all other things, and to focus it keenly upon our own essential self-consciousness – our fundamental consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’.
Thus the theory that underlies the science and art of self-knowledge enables us to understand that all we need do in order to experience perfect and unlimited happiness is to attain true self-knowledge, and that the only means to attain true self-knowledge is to practise keen scrutinising self-attention. Unless we know ourself as we really are, we can never experience true and perfect happiness, untainted by even the least unhappiness or dissatisfaction, and unless we keenly attend to our essential consciousness of our own mere being – our simple non-dual self-consciousness, ‘I am’ – we can never know ourself as we really are.
For the majority of spiritual aspirants, the process of attaining self-knowledge, like the process of learning any other art or science, is said to be a threefold process of repeated śravaṇa, manana and nididhyāsana, or learning, assimilation and practice. The Sanskrit word śravaṇa literally means ‘hearing’, but in this context it means learning the truth by hearing, reading or studying. The word manana means thinking, pondering, musing, reflection or meditation, that is, dwelling frequently upon the truth that we have learnt through śravaṇa in order to imbibe it and understand it more and more clearly, and to impress it upon our mind more and more firmly. And the word nididhyāsana means keen observation, scrutiny, attentiveness or profound contemplation, that is, in our context, putting what we have learnt and understood by śravaṇa and manana into practice by keenly scrutinising, attending to or contemplating upon our essential self-conscious being, ‘I am’.
In the life of a serious spiritual aspirant, this threefold process of śravaṇa, manana and nididhyāsana should continue repeatedly until the experience of true self-knowledge is attained. In our day-to-day lives our mind encounters innumerable different impressions through our five senses, and thinks innumerable thoughts about those impressions, so the impression made by one thing is quickly replaced by the impression made by other things. Therefore even though we have once learnt about the spiritual truth – the truth that we are not the limited body but are only the unlimited spirit or consciousness – the impression made by that truth will quickly fade if we do not repeatedly study books that remind us of it, and frequently reflect upon it in our mind.
However mere reading and thinking about the truth will be of little benefit to us if we do not also repeatedly attempt to put it into practice by turning our attention back to our mere consciousness of being, I am’, whenever we notice that it has slipped away to think of other things. To stress the paramount importance of such practice, Sri Adi Sankara declared in verse 364 of Vivēkacūḍāmaṇi that the benefit of manana is a hundred times greater than that of śravaṇa, and the benefit of nididhyāsana is a hundred thousand times greater than that of manana.
For some very rare souls, repeated śravaṇa, manana and nididhyāsana is not necessary, because as soon as they first hear the truth, they at once grasp its meaning and importance, turn their attention selfwards, and thereby immediately experience true self-knowledge. But the majority of us do not have the spiritual maturity to be able to experience the truth as soon as we hear it, because we are too strongly attached to our existence as an individual person, and to all that is associated with our life as a person.
By repeated nididhyāsana or self-contemplation, supported by the aid of repeated śravaṇa and manana, our consciousness of our own essential being and our corresponding understanding of the truth will become increasingly clear, and by that increasing clarity we will steadily gain more love to know ourself as we really are, and more detachment from our individuality and all that is associated with it. Therefore, until we gain such true spiritual maturity – the willingness and love to lose our individual self in the experience of true non-dual self-knowledge – we have to continue the process of repeated śravaṇa, manana and nididhyāsana.
Even more rare than those highly mature souls who are able to experience the truth as soon as they hear it, there are some people who without ever hearing the truth experience it spontaneously. But such people are very rare indeed.
All that I write in this book is what I have learnt and understood from the teachings of the sage known as Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, who was one such extremely rare being who experienced the truth spontaneously without ever having heard or read anything about it. He spontaneously attained the experience of true self-knowledge one day in July 1896, when he was just a sixteen-year-old schoolboy. That day he was sitting alone in a room in his uncle’s house in the south Indian town of Madurai, when suddenly and with no apparent cause an intense fear of death arose within him. Instead of trying to put this fear out of his mind, as most of us would do, he decided to investigate and discover for himself the truth about death.
‘All right, death has come! What is death? What is it that dies? This body is going to die – let it die.’ Deciding thus, he lay down like a corpse, rigid and without breathing, and turned his mind inwards to discover what death would actually do to him. He later described the truth that dawned upon him at that moment as follows:
‘This body is dead. It will now be taken to the cremation ground, burnt, and reduced to ashes. But with the destruction of this body, am I also destroyed? Is this body really “I”? Although this body is lying lifeless as a corpse, I know that I am. Unaffected in the least by this death, my being is shining clearly. Therefore I am not this body which dies. I am the “I” which is indestructible. Of all things, I alone am the reality. This body is subject to death, but I, who transcend the body, am that which lives eternally. The death that came to this body cannot affect me.’
Although he described his experience of death in so many words, he explained that this truth actually dawned upon him in an instant, not as reasoning or verbalised thoughts, but as a direct experience, without the least action of mind. So intense was his fear and consequent urge to know the truth of death, that without actually thinking anything he turned his attention away from his rigid and lifeless body and towards the innermost core of his being – his essential, unadulterated and non-dual self-consciousness ‘I am’. Because his attention was so keenly focused on his consciousness of being, the true nature of that being-consciousness revealed itself as a flash of direct and certain knowledge – knowledge that was so direct and certain that it could never be doubted.
Thus Sri Ramana discovered himself to be the pure transpersonal consciousness ‘I am’, which is the one, unlimited, undivided and non-dual whole, the only existing reality, the source and substance of all things, and the true self of every living being. This knowledge of his real nature destroyed in him for ever the sense of identification with the physical body – the feeling of being an individual person, a separate conscious entity confined within the limits of a particular time and place.
Along with this dawn of non-dual self-knowledge, the truth of everything else became clear to him. By knowing himself to be the infinite spirit, the fundamental consciousness ‘I am’, in which and through which all other things are known, he knew as an immediate experience how those other things appear and disappear in this essential consciousness. Thus he knew without the least doubt that everything that appears and disappears depends for its seeming existence upon this fundamental consciousness, which he knew to be his real self.
When reading some of the recorded accounts of his death experience, people often get the impression that when he lay down like a corpse, Sri Ramana merely simulated the signs of physical death. But he explained on several occasions that he did not merely simulate it, but actually underwent the experience of physical death at that time. Because he fixed his whole attention so firmly and intensely upon his non-dual consciousness of being, not only did his breathing cease, but his heart stopped beating, and all the other biological functions that indicate life also came to a standstill. Thus his body literally lay lifeless for about twenty minutes, until suddenly life surged through it once again, and his heartbeat and breath started to function as normal.
However, though life returned to his physical body, the person who had previously identified that body as ‘I’ was dead, having been destroyed forever by the clear light of true self-knowledge. But though he had died as an individual person, he had thereby been born again as the infinite spirit – the fundamental and unlimited consciousness of being, the non-dual self-consciousness ‘I am’.
Though outwardly he appeared to behave as an individual person, his personality was in fact just an appearance that existed only in the view of other people, like the charred form of a rope that remains after the rope itself has been burnt. Inwardly he knew himself to be the all-inclusive consciousness that transcends all limitations, and not merely a separate individual consciousness confined within the limits of a particular body. Therefore, the conscious being that other people saw acting through his body was not really an individual person at all, but was only the supreme spirit – the infinite and absolute reality that we usually refer to as ‘God’.
Soon after this true self-knowledge dawned upon him, Sri Ramana left his childhood home and travelled a few hundred miles north to Tiruvannamalai, a temple town nestled at the foot of the holy mountain Arunachala, where he lived as a sādhu or religious mendicant for the remaining fifty-four years of his bodily life. Since he had ceased to identify himself with the body that other people mistook to be him, he also ceased to identify with the name that had previously been given to that body. Therefore, from the time he left home, he stopped using his childhood name Venkataraman, and he signed his parting note with just a line.
Thus when he first came to Tiruvannamalai, no one there knew his name, so they referred to him by various names of their choosing. More than ten years later, however, one of his devotees, who was a Sanskrit poet and Vedic scholar, announced that he should be called ‘Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi’, and somehow this became the name by which he was generally known thereafter.
However, till the end of his bodily life, Sri Ramana never claimed this or any other name as his own, and he always declined to sign any signature, even when asked to do so. When he was once asked why he never signed his name, he replied, ‘By what name am I to be known? I myself do not know. At various times various people have called me by various different names’. Because he did not experience himself as an individual person, but knew himself to be the one reality, which is the source and substance of all names and forms, but which has no name or form of its own, he responded to whatever name people called him, without ever identifying any of those names as his own.
Of the four words of the name ‘Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi’, only the word ‘Ramana’ is a personal name, and the other three words are titles of various sorts. ‘Ramana’ is a shortened form of ‘Venkataramana’, a variant of his childhood name ‘Venkataraman’, and is a word that is commonly used as a term of affection. Whereas in the name ‘Venkataraman’, the letter ‘a’ in the syllable ‘ra’ is a long form of the vowel and is therefore pronounced with a stress, in the name ‘Ramana’ all the three ‘a’s are short forms of the vowel, and therefore none of the three syllables are pronounced with any stress. Etymologically, the word ramaṇa comes from the verbal root ram, which means to stop, to set at rest, to make steady or calm, to delight or to make happy, and is a noun that means ‘joy’ or that which gives joy, that which is pleasing, charming or delightful, and by extension is used as an affectionate term meaning a beloved person, a lover, husband or wife, or the lord or mistress of one’s heart.
The word bhagavān is an honorific and affectionate title meaning the glorious, adorable and divine Lord, and is used generally as a term meaning ‘God’, and more particularly as a title of veneration given to a person who is considered to be an incarnation of God or a human embodiment of the supreme reality, such as the Buddha, Sri Adi Sankara, or most commonly Sri Krishna, whose teachings are given in the Bhagavad Gītā and in parts of the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. The word śrī is a sacred monosyllable meaning light, lustre, radiance or splendour, and is customarily used as an honorific prefix appended to the names of holy people, places, texts or other objects of veneration. As a reverential prefix, it means ‘sacred’, ‘holy’ or ‘venerable’, but it is also commonly used as a simple title of respect which may be appended to the name of any person in place of the English title ‘Mister’. The word maharṣi (which is commonly transcribed as ‘maharshi’) means a great ṛṣi (commonly transcribed as ‘rishi’) or ‘seer’.
To the world at large, particularly outside India, Sri Ramana is generally known as ‘Ramana Maharshi’ (probably because to a western mind the title ‘Maharshi’ placed after his personal name appears to be a surname, which it is not), and since he is so frequently referred to as such, some people even refer to him simply as ‘the Maharshi’. However those who are close to him seldom use the title ‘Maharshi’ when referring to him. In Indian history and mythology, the term ṛṣi originally denoted one of the inspired poets or ‘seers’ who ‘saw’ and wrote down the hymns of the Vēdas, or any person who was adept in the performance of Vedic rituals and had thereby attained psychic or supernatural powers, but in later times it was used more generally to denote an ascetic or saint who was considered to have achieved some degree of spiritual attainment. The term ṛṣi has therefore never specifically meant a person who has ‘seen’ or attained true self-knowledge, and nor has the term maharṣi (maha-ṛṣi). The few ṛṣis, such as Vasishtha, and later Viswamitra, who did attain true knowledge of brahman, the absolute reality or God, were called not merely maha-ṛṣis but brahma-ṛṣis, a term that denotes a ṛṣi of the highest order. Hence many people feel that it is not particularly appropriate to apply the title ‘Maharshi’ to Sri Ramana, who had attained true knowledge of brahman, and who therefore can be accurately described as being nothing less than a brahma-ṛṣi.
Besides being not particularly appropriate, the title ‘Maharshi’ sounds rather cold and distant when applied to Sri Ramana, so rather than referring to him as ‘the Maharshi’, his disciples and devotees usually prefer to refer to him by the more affectionate and respectful title ‘Bhagavan’. Therefore, if I were writing this book for people who are already his followers, in accordance with the usual custom I would refer to him as ‘Bhagavan’ or ‘Sri Bhagavan’. However, since I am writing it for a wider audience, and particularly for people who have no previous acquaintance with his teachings, I will refer to him by his personal name as ‘Sri Ramana’ or ‘Bhagavan Ramana’.
However, by whatever name I or anyone else may refer to him, to all those who have followed his teachings and thereby attained the blissful state of true self-knowledge, he is ‘Ramana’, the beloved giver of joy, and ‘Bhagavan’, a gracious embodiment of God, the supreme reality, which he discovered to be his own true self, and which he prompted and guided each one of us to discover likewise as our own true self. Sri Ramana is not merely an individual person who lived sometime in the past, nor does he belong to any particular religion or culture. He is the eternal and unlimited spirit, the ultimate and absolute reality, our own true self, and as such he always lives within each one of us as our pure and essential consciousness of being, which we each experience as ‘I am’.
Bhagavan Sri Ramana never sought of his own accord to teach anyone the truth that he had come to know, because in his experience that truth – the consciousness ‘I am’ – alone exists, and hence there is no person either to give or to receive any teaching. However, though he inwardly knew that consciousness is the only reality, he was nevertheless outwardly a personification of love, compassion and kindness, because, knowing both himself and all other things to be nothing but the consciousness ‘I am’, he saw himself in everything, and hence he quite literally loved all living beings as his own self. Therefore, when people asked him questions about the reality and the means of attaining it, he patiently answered their questions, and thus without any volition on his part he gradually revealed a wealth of spiritual teachings.
Many of the answers that he thus gave were recorded in writing, more or less accurately, by his devotees and disciples, but the most accurate and authentic record of his teachings lies in the poetry that he himself wrote, mostly in Tamil, and also in Sanskrit, Telugu and Malayalam. Most of the poetry he wrote was in response to requests made by his disciples, but some of it was composed by him spontaneously. His poetry falls into two general categories – poems that directly convey spiritual teachings, and devotional hymns that convey spiritual teachings indirectly in the allegorical language of mystical love.
Since he was asked questions on a wide range of subjects by people whose interests and level of understanding varied greatly, the answers that he gave were in each case tailored to the needs of the person he was talking to, and hence they did not always reflect the essence of his teachings. Therefore when we read the various records of the conversations that he had with people, they may appear to contain inconsistencies, and to convey no single, clear or coherent set of teachings. However, a very clear, coherent and consistent account of his central teachings can be found in his poetry and other writings, and if we read all the records of his conversations in the light of those central teachings, we can clearly understand that he had a very definite message for all who were ready to hear it.
Before he attained the experience of true self-knowledge, Sri Ramana had not read or heard anything that described that experience, or prepared him in any way for it. Having been brought up in a normal family of south Indian brahmins, he was familiar with the outward forms of the Hindu religion and with a few devotional texts, and having been educated in a Christian missionary school, he was familiar with the outward forms of Christianity and with the Bible. Moreover, having had some childhood friends who were from Muslim families, he also had some familiarity with the outward forms of Islam. But though he had a general idea that all these religions were just different ways of worshipping the same one God, he had had no opportunity to learn anything about the real inner essence that lies behind the outward forms of all religions.
The teachings that he gave in later years were therefore derived entirely from his own inward experience, and did not originate from any outward learning. However, whenever anyone asked him to explain any sacred or spiritual text, he would read it and would often recognise that in one way or another it was expressing the truth that was his own experience. Thus he was able to interpret such texts with authority and to explain their inner meaning in clear and simple words. Since the cultural and religious milieu in which he lived was predominantly Hindu, and since most of the people who sought his spiritual guidance were either born Hindus or were familiar with traditional Hindu philosophy, the texts he was most often asked to explain were those of the Hindu philosophical tradition known as advaita vēdānta. Thus Sri Ramana’s teachings are often identified with advaita vēdānta and are taken to be a modern expression or interpretation of that ancient philosophy.
The word vēdānta literally means the ‘conclusion’ or ‘end’ (anta) of ‘knowledge’ (vēda), and denotes the philosophical conclusions of the Vēdas. These philosophical conclusions are contained in Vedic texts known as the Upaniṣads, and were later expressed more clearly and in greater detail in two other ancient texts known as the Brahma Sūtra and the Bhagavad Gītā. These three bodies of literature, which are known as the ‘triple source’ (prasthāna-traya) of vēdānta, have been interpreted in very different ways, giving rise to three distinct systems of vēdāntic philosophy, the pure monistic system known as advaita, the dualistic system known as dvaita, and the qualified monistic system known as viśiṣṭādvaita. Of these three systems of philosophy, advaita is not only the most radical but also the least convoluted interpretation of the ancient prasthāna-traya of vēdānta, and hence it is widely recognised as being vēdānta in its purest and truest form.
However, advaita is more than just a scholarly interpretation of some ancient texts. Like the literature of any other system of religious or spiritual philosophy, the literature of advaita includes a huge amount of elaborate and abstruse material written by and for scholars, but such material is not the essence or basis of the advaita philosophy. The life and heart of advaita vēdānta lies in a number of crucial texts that contain the sayings and writings of sages like Sri Ramana who had attained true self-knowledge, and whose words therefore reflect their own direct experience of the reality. Thus advaita vēdānta is a system of spiritual philosophy that is based not upon mere reasoning or intellectual speculation, but upon the experience of sages who have attained direct knowledge of the non-dual reality that underlies the appearance of all multiplicity.
The word advaita literally means ‘no-twoness’ or ‘non-duality’, and denotes the truth experienced by sages – the truth that the reality is only one, a single undivided whole that is completely devoid of any duality or multiplicity. According to sages who have attained true self-knowledge, all multiplicity is a mere appearance, a distorted view of the one reality, like the illusory appearance of a snake seen in a dim light. Just as the reality underlying the illusory appearance of the snake is just a rope lying on the ground, so the reality underlying the illusory appearance of multiplicity is only the non-dual consciousness of being that we each experience as ‘I am’.
Sri Ramana’s teachings are therefore identified with advaita vēdānta for three main reasons: firstly because he experienced and taught the same non-dual reality that was experienced by the sages whose sayings and writings formed the foundation of the advaita vēdānta philosophy; secondly because he was often asked to explain and elucidate various texts from the classical literature of advaita vēdānta; and thirdly because in his teachings he made free but nevertheless selective use of the terminology, concepts and analogies used in that classical literature. The reason he thus used the terminology and concepts of advaita vēdānta more than those of any other spiritual tradition, such as Buddhism, Taoism, Jewish or Christian mysticism, or Sufism, is that most of the people who sought his spiritual guidance were more familiar with advaita vēdānta than with those other spiritual traditions, and hence it was easier for them to understand such terminology and concepts. However, whenever anyone asked him to elucidate any text or passage from the literature of those other spiritual traditions, he did so with the same ease, clarity and authority that he elucidated the texts of advaita vēdānta.
Though in his teachings Sri Ramana borrowed some of the terminology, concepts and analogies commonly used in the classical literature of advaita vēdānta, his teachings are not merely a repetition of the old and familiar teachings contained in that literature. Because he was teaching the truth that he had known from his own direct experience, and not merely learnt from books, he was able to set aside all the dense mass of non-essential, complex and ponderous arguments and concepts found in that literature, and to throw a fresh and clear light upon the inner essence of advaita vēdānta.
In his teachings he has revealed the true spirit of advaita vēdānta in a clear and simple manner that can easily be understood even by people who have no previous acquaintance with such philosophy. Moreover, the simplicity, clarity and directness of his teachings have helped to clear the confusion created in the minds of many people who have studied the classical literature of advaita vēdānta, but have been misled by the many well-established misinterpretations of it made by scholars who had no direct experience of the truth. In particular, his teachings have cleared up many misunderstandings that had long existed about the practice of advaita vēdānta, and have clearly revealed the means by which we can attain the experience of true self-knowledge.
Since the means to attain self-knowledge is for some reason seldom stated in clear and unambiguous terms in the classical literature of advaita vēdānta, many misconceptions exist about the spiritual practice advocated by advaita vēdānta. Therefore perhaps the most significant contribution made by Sri Ramana to the literature of advaita vēdānta lies in the fact that in his teachings he has revealed in very clear, precise and unambiguous terms the practical means by which self-knowledge can be attained.
Not only has he explained this practical means very clearly, he has also explained exactly how it will lead us infallibly to the state of self-knowledge, and why it is the only means that can do so. Unlike many of the older texts of advaita vēdānta, the teachings of Sri Ramana are centred entirely around the practical means by which we can attain self-knowledge, and all that he taught regarding any aspect of life was aimed solely at directing our minds towards this practice.
Though this practical means is essentially very simple, for many people it appears difficult to comprehend, because it is not an action or state of ‘doing’, nor does it involve any form of objective attention. Since the practice is thus a state beyond all mental activity – a state of non-doing and non-objective attention – no words can express it perfectly. Therefore, to enable us to understand and practise it, Sri Ramana has expressed and described it in various different ways, each of which serves as a valuable clue that helps us to know and to be the pure consciousness that is our own true self.
Sri Ramana spoke and wrote mostly in Tamil, his mother tongue, but he was also conversant in Sanskrit, Telugu, Malayalam and English. Tamil is the oldest surviving member of the Dravidian family of languages, and has a rich and ancient classical literature. Though in its origins it belongs to a family of languages that is entirely independent of the Indo-European family, for the past two thousand years or so Tamil literature has made rich and abundant use of words borrowed from Sanskrit, the oldest surviving member of the Indo-European family. Therefore, most of the terms Sri Ramana used to describe the practical means by which we can attain self-knowledge are either Tamil words or words of Sanskrit origin that are commonly used in Tamil spiritual literature.
The words he thus used in Tamil have been translated in English by a variety of different words, some of which convey the import and spirit of his original words more clearly and accurately than others. Perhaps two of the clearest and most simple terms used in English to convey the sense of the words that he used in Tamil to describe the practical means to attain self-knowledge are ‘self-attention’ and ‘self-abidance’. The term ‘self-attention’ denotes the knowing aspect of the practice, while the term ‘self-abidance’ denotes its being aspect.
Since our real self, which is non-dual self-consciousness, knows itself not by an act of knowing but merely by being itself, the state of knowing our real self is just the state of being our real self. Thus attending to our self-consciousness and abiding as our self-consciousness are one and the same thing. All the other words that Sri Ramana used to describe the practice are intended to be clues that help to clarify what this state of ‘self-attention’ or ‘self-abidance’ really is.
A few of the terms which he used to describe the practice of ‘self-attention’ or ‘self-abidance’ are in fact terms already used in some of the classical texts of advaita vēdānta. However though such texts have used some of the same terms that Sri Ramana used to express the practice, they have seldom explained the true import of those terms in a clear and unambiguous manner. Thus, even after thoroughly studying the classical literature of advaita vēdānta, many people are left with only a vague understanding of what they can do to attain self-knowledge. As a result, many misconceptions about the practice of advaita vēdānta arose, and some of these misconceptions have been prevalent among students and scholars of advaita vēdānta since time immemorial.
One of the terms that occurs in the classical literature of advaita vēdānta and that Sri Ramana frequently used to denote the practice of self-attention is vicāra (which is commonly transcribed as vichara, since the ‘c’ in vicāra represents the same sound as ‘ch’ in chutney), but the significance of this term was not clearly understood by most of the traditional scholars of advaita vēdānta. According to the Sanskrit-English dictionary of Monier-Williams, the term vicāra has various meanings, including ‘pondering, deliberation, consideration, reflection, examination, investigation’, and it is in these senses that this same word is used in Tamil, as is clear from the Tamil Lexicon, which defines it both as ‘deliberation’ or ‘consideration’, and as ‘unbiased examination with a view to arriving at the truth’ or ‘investigation’. Therefore the term ātma-vicāra, which Sri Ramana frequently used to describe the practice by which we can attain self-knowledge, means ‘self-investigation’ or ‘self-examination’, and denotes the practice of examining, inspecting or scrutinising our fundamental and essential consciousness ‘I am’ with a keen and concentrated power of attention.
Though the term ātma-vicāra can best be translated in English as ‘self-investigation’, ‘self-examination’, ‘self-inspection’, ‘self-scrutiny’, ‘self-contemplation’, or simply ‘self-attention’, in most English translations of Sri Ramana’s teachings it has been translated as ‘self-enquiry’. This choice of the English word ‘enquiry’ to translate vicāra has had unfortunate consequences, because it has created an impression in the minds of some people that ātma-vicāra, or the vicāra ‘who am I?’ as Sri Ramana often called it, is merely a process of questioning or asking ourself ‘who am I?’. This is clearly a misinterpretation, because in Sanskrit the word vicāra means ‘enquiry’ in the sense of ‘investigation’ rather than in the sense of ‘questioning’. When Sri Ramana spoke of the vicāra ‘who am I?’ he did not intend it to imply that we can attain the non-dual experience of true self-knowledge simply by asking ourself the question ‘who am I?’. The vicāra ‘who am I?’ is an investigation, examination or scrutiny of our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’, because only by keenly scrutinising or inspecting our consciousness ‘I’ can we discover who we really are – what this consciousness ‘I’ actually is.
Besides describing the means to attain self-knowledge by the use of terms that mean ‘self-attention’ or ‘self-abidance’, Sri Ramana also described it by terms that mean ‘self-surrender’ or ‘self-denial’. By using the latter terms, he affirmed that the ultimate aim of all forms of dualistic devotion – devotion to a God who is conceived as other than the devotee – is in fact the non-dual state of true self-knowledge. In order to know our true self, we must give up our identification with the false individual self that we now mistake to be ‘I’. Therefore, surrendering or denying our personal self – our mind, which is our confused and distorted consciousness ‘I am this body, a person called so-and-so’ – is essential if we are to know our true unadulterated consciousness ‘I am’, which is our real self.
Our individual self, which is the limited and distorted consciousness that we call our ‘mind’ or ‘ego’, and that in theological terminology is called our ‘soul’, nourishes its seeming existence by attending to things other than itself. When we cease attending to other things, as in sleep, our mind or individual self subsides, but as soon as we begin to think of other things, it again rises and flourishes. Without thinking of things other than ‘I’, our mind cannot stand. Therefore, when we attempt to turn our attention away from all objects and towards our fundamental consciousness ‘I’, we are surrendering or denying our individual self, our mind or ego. Self-attention or self-abidance is thus the perfect means to attain the state of ‘self-surrender’ or ‘self-denial’.
This is why in verse 31 of Vivēkacūḍāmaṇi Sri Adi Sankara defines bhakti or ‘devotion’ as sva-svarūpa-anusandhāna or ‘self-attention’, the investigation or close inspection of our own true form or essential nature, which is our fundamental self-consciousness – our non-dual consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’. Sri Ramana expresses the same truth in verse 15 of Upadēśa Taṉippākkaḷ, but at the same time explains why it is so:
Since God exists as ātmā [our essential ‘spirit’ or real self], ātma-anusandhāna [self-investigation, self-inspection or self-attention] is parama-īśa-bhakti [supreme devotion to God].
He also expresses a similar idea in the thirteenth paragraph of his brief treatise Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?):
Being completely absorbed in ātma-niṣṭha [self-abidance, the state of just being as we really are], giving not even the slightest room to the rising of any thought other than ātma-cintanā [the thought of our own real self], is giving ourself to God. […]
People who practise dualistic devotion believe that the highest form of devotion to God – the purest form of love – is to surrender ourself wholly to him. In order to surrender themselves to him, they try to deny themselves by giving up their attachment to all that they consider as ‘mine’, and in particular by renouncing their own individual will. Thus the ultimate prayer of every true devotee is, ‘Thy will be done – not my will, but only thine’.
However, so long as the mind exists, it will inevitably have a will of its own. Desire and attachment are inherent in the mind, the very fabric of which it is made. Therefore, so long as we feel ourself to be an individual ‘I’, we will also have an individual will, and will feel a sense of attachment to ‘mine’. The only way we can surrender our own will and give up all our attachments is to surrender the mind that has an individual will and feels attachment to the body and other possessions.
Trying to surrender our individual will and sense of ‘mine’ – our desires and attachments – without actually surrendering our individuality, our ego or sense of being a separate ‘I’, is like cutting the leaves and branches off a tree without cutting its root. Until and unless we cut the root, the branches and leaves will continue sprouting again and again. Similarly, until and unless we surrender our ego, the root of all our desires and attachments, all our efforts to give up our desires and attachments will fail, because they will continue to sprout again and again in one subtle form or another. Therefore self-surrender can be complete and final only when our individual self, the limited consciousness that we call our ‘mind’ or ‘ego’, is surrendered wholly.
So long as we feel that we exist as an individual who is separate from God, we have not surrendered ourself wholly to him. Though we are in truth only the pure, unlimited and non-personal consciousness ‘I am’, which is the spirit or true form of God, we feel that we are separate from him because we mistake ourself to be a limited individual consciousness that has identified itself with a particular body.
This individual consciousness – our feeling ‘I am a person, a separate individual, a mind or soul confined within the limits of a body’ – is merely an imagination, a false and distorted form of our pure consciousness ‘I am’, but it is nevertheless the root cause of all desire and all misery. Unless we give up this individual consciousness, this false notion that we are separate from God, we can never be free of desire, nor of misery, which is the inevitable consequence of desire.
True self-surrender is therefore nothing but giving up the false notion that we are separate from God. In order to give up this false notion, we must know who we really are. And in order to know who we really are, we must attend to the consciousness that we feel to be ‘I’.
Though the consciousness that we now feel to be ‘I’ is only a false consciousness, a limited and distorted form of the real consciousness that is God, by attending to it keenly we can know the real consciousness that underlies it. That is, attending keenly to this false form of consciousness is similar to looking closely at a snake that we imagine we see lying on the ground in the dim light of dusk. When we look closely at the snake, we discover that it is in fact nothing but a rope. Similarly, if we keenly attend to the limited and distorted individual consciousness that we now feel to be ‘I’, we will discover that it is in fact nothing but the real and unlimited consciousness ‘I am’, which is God. Just as the illusory appearance of the snake dissolves and disappears as soon as we see the rope, so the illusory feeling that we are a separate individual consciousness confined within the limits of a body will dissolve and disappear as soon as we experience the pure non-dual consciousness, which is the reality both of ourself and of God.
We can thus achieve complete and perfect self-surrender only by knowing ourself to be the real consciousness that is devoid of all duality and separateness. Without knowing our true self, we cannot surrender our false self, and without surrendering our false self, we cannot know our true self. Self-surrender and self-knowledge are thus inseparable, like the two sides of one sheet of paper. In fact, the terms ‘self-surrender’ and ‘self-knowledge’ are just two ways of describing one and the same state – the pure non-dual state of consciousness devoid of individuality.
Since true self-knowledge is therefore the state in which our individual consciousness, our mind or ego, is known to be a false appearance that never existed except in its own imagination, Sri Ramana often described it as the state of ‘egolessness’, ‘loss of individuality’ or ‘destruction of the mind’. Another term that is commonly used, both in Buddhism and in advaita vēdānta, to describe this state of annihilation or extinction of our personal identity is nirvāṇa, a word that literally means ‘blown out’ or ‘extinguished’. This is the same state that most religions refer to as ‘liberation’ or ‘salvation’, because only in this state of true self-knowledge are we free or saved from the bondage of mistaking ourself to be a separate individual, a consciousness that is confined within the limits of a physical body.
The sole reality that exists and is known in this state of egolessness, nirvāṇa or salvation is our fundamental and essential consciousness ‘I am’. Since it does not identify itself with any delimiting adjunct, our essential and pure consciousness ‘I am’ is a single, undivided and unlimited whole, separate from which nothing can exist. All the diversity and multiplicity that appears to exist so long as we identify ourself with a physical body, is known only by our mind, which is merely a distorted and limited form of our original consciousness ‘I am’. If this consciousness ‘I am’ did not exist, nothing else could appear to exist. Therefore, our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’ is the source and origin of all knowledge – the one basis of all that appears to exist.
Our essential consciousness ‘I am’ is thus the ultimate reality, the original source from which everything arises, and the final destination towards which all religions and spiritual traditions seek to lead us. Most religions call this fundamental reality ‘God’ or the ‘Supreme Being’, or else they refer to it in a more abstract manner as the true state of being. But by whatever name they may call it – and whether they describe it as a being or a state of being – the truth is that the supreme and absolute reality is not anything other than our own being, the consciousness which we experience as ‘I am’.
In his true form, his essential nature, God is not something or some person who exists outside us or separate from us, but is the spirit or consciousness that exists within us as our own essential nature. God is the pure consciousness ‘I am’, the true form of consciousness that is not limited by identifying itself with a physical body or any other adjunct. But when we, who are that same pure consciousness ‘I am’, identify ourself with a physical body, feeling ‘I am this body, I am a person, an individual confined within the limits of time and space’, we become the mind, a false and illusory form of consciousness. Because we identify ourself with adjuncts in this manner, we seemingly separate ourself from the adjunctless pure consciousness ‘I am’, which is God. By thus imagining ourself to be an individual separate from God, we violate his unlimited wholeness and undivided oneness.
The inner aim of all religions and spiritual traditions is to free us from this illusory state in which we imagine that we are separate from God, the one unlimited and undivided reality. For example, in Christianity this state in which we violate the oneness and wholeness of God by imagining ourself to be an individual separate from him is called the ‘original sin’, which is the root cause of all misery and unhappiness. Because we can become free from this ‘original sin’ only by knowing the truth, Christ said, ‘[…] ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’ (John 8.32). The truth that we must know in order to be made free is the truth that we are nothing but the adjunctless pure consciousness ‘I am’ – that ‘I am’ which is the true form of God, as disclosed by him when he revealed his identity to Moses saying, ‘I am that I am’ (‘ehyeh asher ehyeh’ – Exodus 3.14).
To ‘know the truth’ does not mean to know it theoretically, but to know it as a direct and immediate experience. In order to destroy the illusion that we are a limited individual consciousness, a person separate from the perfect whole which is called God, we must experience ourself as the unlimited and undivided pure consciousness ‘I am’. Therefore, to know the truth and thereby be made free from the illusion called ‘original sin’, we must die and be born again – we must die to the flesh and be born again as the spirit. That is why Christ said, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. […] Except a man be born of […] the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit’ (John 3.3 & 3.5-6).
That is, to experience and enter into the true state of God, we must cease to exist as a separate individual, a consciousness that identifies itself with the flesh and all the limitations of the flesh, and must rediscover ourself to be the unlimited and undivided spirit, the pure, unadulterated and infinite consciousness ‘I am’, which is the absolute reality that we call ‘God’. When we identify ourself with a body made of flesh, we become that flesh, but when we cease to identify ourself with that flesh and know ourself to be mere spirit, we are born again as our original nature, the pure spirit or consciousness ‘I am’.
The need for us to sacrifice our individuality in order to be born anew as the spirit is a recurring theme in the teachings of Jesus Christ. ‘Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal’ (John 12.24-25). ‘Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it’ (Luke 17.33). ‘And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it’ (Matthew 10.38-39). ‘If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?’ (Matthew 16.24-26, and also Mark 8.34-37 and Luke 9.23-25).
That is, in order to rediscover our true and eternal life as the spirit, we must lose our false and transient life as an individual. If we seek to preserve our false individuality, we shall in effect be losing our real spirit. This is the price we have to pay to live as an individual in this world. Therefore, whatever we may gain or achieve in this world, we do so at the cost of losing our real self, the state of perfection and wholeness (which in this context is what Christ means by the term our ‘own soul’). In exchange for regaining our original and perfect state of wholeness, we have only to give up our individuality and all that goes with it. Which is truly profitable, to lose the whole and gain merely a part, or to give up a mere part in exchange for the whole?
In order to give up or lose our individuality, as Christ had done, he says that we must follow him by denying ourself and taking up our cross. To deny ourself means to refrain from rising as an individual separate from God, who is the whole – the ‘fullness of being’ or totality of all that is. To take up our cross means to embrace the death or destruction of our own individuality, because in the time of Christ the cross was a powerful symbol of death, being the usual instrument of execution. Thus, though he used somewhat oblique language to express it, Christ repeatedly emphasised the truth that in order to rediscover our real life as the spirit we must sacrifice our false life as an individual.
This sacrifice of our individuality or identification with the flesh, and our consequent resurrection or rebirth as the spirit, was symbolised by Christ through his own crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. By dying on the cross and rising again from the dead, Christ gave us a powerful symbolic representation of the truth that in order to become free from the ‘original sin’ of identification with the flesh and thereby to enter the ‘kingdom of God’, we must die or cease to exist as a separate individual, and thereby rise again as the pure spirit, the infinite consciousness ‘I am’.
The ‘kingdom of God’ which we can see and enter only by being born again as the spirit is not a place – something that we can find externally in the material world of time and space, or even in some celestial world called heaven. When Christ was asked when the kingdom of God would come, he answered, ‘The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17.20-21).
The kingdom of God cannot be found by observation, that is, by any form of objective attention – by looking externally here or there. It cannot be found in any place outside us, either here in this world or there in heaven, nor indeed is it something that will come in the future. It exists within us even now. To see and enter into it, we must turn our attention inwards, away from the external world of time and space that we observe by means of the limited flesh-bound consciousness that we call our ‘mind’, and towards our true consciousness ‘I am’, which is the underlying base and reality of the observing consciousness ‘I am so-and-so’.
The exhortation ‘behold’ that Christ used in the above passage is very important. He did not merely tell us the fact that the kingdom of God is within ourself, but exhorted us to look and see that it is within ourself. That is, he did not merely tell us the truth that he saw, but told us that we should each see it for ourself. In more modern English, we would express the passage ‘[…] neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you’ as ‘[…] and they should not say, ‘Look here or look there’, because, see, the kingdom of God is within you’. This exhortation that Christ makes to us not to look here or there but to see that the kingdom of God is within ourself, is the essence of the spiritual practice taught by Sri Ramana and all other true sages. We should give up attending to anything outside ourself, and should instead turn our attention inwards to see the reality that exists within us.
The kingdom of God is not a place but a state – our natural state of pure self-conscious being. When we see it within ourself by turning our attention towards the innermost core of our being, we enter into it and become one with it. This is the state of being born again as the spirit – the state of mystical union with God that all Christian contemplatives seek to attain. In this state called the ‘kingdom of God’, the pure consciousness ‘I am’, which is the spirit or true form of God, exists and shines alone in all the splendour and glory of its undivided oneness and unlimited wholeness.
The teachings of Sri Ramana thus throw a fresh light upon the spiritual teachings contained in the Bible. In the same manner, they also throw fresh light upon the spiritual teachings of all other religions. Though his teachings are easily recognised as a fresh and clear expression of the ancient teachings of advaita vēdānta, they in fact clarify the inner essence not only of advaita vēdānta but also of all other spiritual traditions. The truth that he taught is not a relative truth that is limited to any particular religion or human culture, but is the absolute truth which underlies all human experience, and which is the source and foundation of the spiritual teachings of all religions. For certain cultural or other reasons, in some religions this truth is expressed less openly and clearly than in others, but it is nevertheless the truth that lies at the heart of every religion.
Though this truth is not recognised by most of the followers of the various religions, particularly by the followers of those religions in which it is hidden more obscurely, it is nevertheless expressed in some form or other in the scriptures and the philosophical and mystical writings of every religion, and it can be discerned and recognised by all who have the eyes to see it. The teachings of Sri Ramana, if understood clearly and correctly, give us the eyes or insight required to discern and recognise it wherever it is expressed, no matter how seemingly obscure may be the words that are used to express it.
All words are open to interpretation – and misinterpretation. This is particularly true of words that speak about the spirit – the reality that lies beyond the limitations of physical matter, and that therefore cannot be perceived by the five senses, or known as an object of consciousness. All interpretations of such words fall into two distinct categories – interpretations that are strictly non-dualistic, admitting no division of the one and only reality, and interpretations that are either completely dualistic, or that at least concede that within the one reality there are divisions and distinctions that are real. Ultimately the interpretation that we each choose to accept depends not upon the truth itself – because the nature of the truth cannot be proved objectively – but upon our own personal preferences.
Most people – whether they hold religious beliefs or cherish a more materialistic outlook on life – prefer to take a dualistic view of reality, because such a view assures them of the reality of their own individuality, and of the world they perceive through their senses, and (if they choose to believe in God) of God as a separately existing entity. Therefore the only basis for a dualistic view of reality is the attachment that people have to their own individuality, to the world that they think gives them happiness, and to their idea of a God who they believe will give them the things that will make them happy.
There is no way that a dualistic view of reality can be proved to be correct and valid. All our knowledge of duality is obtained by our mind and exists only within our mind. If our mind is real, then duality may be real. But the reality of our mind is open to question and doubt.
If we are not overly attached to our existence as a separate individual, we can begin to question and doubt the reality of our mind. If we do so, we will be led unavoidably to a non-dualistic view of reality. Of all the knowledge we know, the one knowledge whose reality we cannot reasonably doubt is our own essential consciousness ‘I am’. Knowledge can exist only if there is a consciousness to know it. Since all knowledge depends for its seeming existence upon consciousness, consciousness is the one fundamental, irreducible and indubitable truth of our experience. Because we know, our consciousness is undoubtedly real.
The one essential quality of consciousness is that it is always self-conscious – it always knows its own existence or being – and that consciousness of its own existence is what we experience as ‘I am’. However, in addition to knowing its own existence, our consciousness sometimes seems to know other things also. When our consciousness thus appears to know things other than itself, we call it our ‘mind’.
What exactly is this ‘mind’, this consciousness that knows otherness and duality? Is it the true form of our consciousness, or merely a false superimposition upon our real self-consciousness ‘I am’? Is it real, or is it merely a false appearance?
Whenever our mind rises, it rises in conjunction with a body, with which it identifies itself, feeling ‘I am this body’. Without identifying itself with a body, our mind cannot rise. Once it has risen, identifying itself with a particular body, through the five senses of that body it perceives the world. Thus our mind’s identification with a body is fundamental to its ability to know the world.
But how does this identification with a body arise? Our mind is a form of consciousness, whereas this body is a physical form composed of inconscient matter. By identifying itself with this body, our mind is confusing two different things as one. It is confusing consciousness, which is not physical matter, with the physical form of this body, which is not consciousness. Therefore our mind is a confused and spurious form of consciousness, a phantom which is neither our real consciousness ‘I am’, nor the physical form of this body, but which mixes these two different things together, feeling ‘I am this body’.
Though our mind usurps the properties of both our consciousness ‘I am’ and this physical body, it is in fact neither of these two things. Since it appears and disappears, and constantly undergoes change, it is not our real consciousness ‘I am’, which neither appears nor disappears, but exists and knows its own existence at all times and in all states without ever undergoing any change. And since our mind is conscious, it is not this body, which is inconscient matter.
Moreover, our mind does not always identify the same body as ‘I’. In waking it takes one body to be ‘I’, but in each dream it takes some other body to be ‘I’. Since it can identify itself with different bodies at different times, it cannot really be any of those bodies.
By identifying itself with a body, our mind deludes itself into experiencing our consciousness ‘I am’ as being something confined within the limits of a body, and a body composed of inconscient matter as being something that is endowed with consciousness. If our mind did not delude itself in this manner, it would not exist as a separate entity called ‘mind’, but would remain as pure consciousness, undefiled by any form of limitation. Because the very nature of our mind is to delude itself into experiencing that it is what it is not, Sri Ramana said that our mind itself is māyā, the primordial power of delusion, illusion or self-deception – the power that makes what is real appear to be unreal, and what is unreal appear to be real.
In dream our mind projects an imaginary body, which it identifies as ‘I’, and through the five senses of that body it perceives an imaginary world. So long as our mind continues to be in that state of dream, it takes the body and world that it experiences in dream to be real. However absurd some of the things which it experiences may appear to be, still our mind deludes itself into believing that those things are real. So long as our mind experiences itself as a body, it cannot but experience all that it perceives through the senses of that body as real. But when we wake up from a dream, we cease to experience the dream body as ‘I’, and we simultaneously cease to experience the dream world as real.
Thus from our experience in dream, and our contrasting experience on waking from dream, we can clearly understand that by the power of its imagination our mind has the ability to create a world of duality and simultaneously convince itself that that world is real. When we know that our mind has this power of simultaneous creation and self-deception, we have to doubt whether all the duality that it now experiences in the waking state is anything other than a product of its own self-deceiving power of imagination.
The only thing whose reality we cannot doubt is our consciousness of our own existence – our non-dual self-consciousness, ‘I am’. Other than this non-dual and fundamental consciousness ‘I am’, everything that we experience is open to doubt. Hence we cannot reasonably avoid doubting the reality of all duality, and suspecting that in fact the only reality is our non-dual consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’.
By what standard can we determine whether or not something is real? A thing can be truly said to be real only if it is absolutely, unconditionally and independently real, and not if its reality is in any way relative, conditional or dependent upon something else. Therefore, according to Sri Ramana, something can be called real only if it satisfies three essential criteria: it must be eternal, unchanging and self-shining.
If something is not eternal, though it may appear to be real for a certain period of time, it was not real before it came into existence, and it will not be real after it ceases to exist, so in fact it is unreal even while it appears to be real. Because it is confined within the limits of time, its seeming reality is relative and conditional. That which is absolutely and unconditionally real must be real at all times, and cannot be limited in relation to anything else.
Moreover, if something undergoes change during the course of time, it is one thing at one time, but becomes another thing at another time, and hence it does not exist eternally as any one thing. Being impermanent, that which changes is not real.
However, the most important criteria by which we can determine something as real is that it must be self-shining. By the term ‘self-shining’, Sri Ramana means ‘self-knowing’ or ‘self-conscious’, that is, knowing itself by its own light of consciousness. That which is absolutely and unconditionally real need not depend upon any consciousness other than itself to be known. If something depends upon something else in order to be known as existing or real, then its reality depends upon the reality of the consciousness that knows it. Since it does not know itself to be real, it is not real at all, but merely appears to be real so long as it is known by the consciousness that knows it.
Measured by this standard, the only existing reality is our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’, because among all the things that we experience or know, it is the only thing that is permanent, the only thing that never undergoes any change, and the only thing that knows its own existence without the aid of any other thing.
Unlike this consciousness ‘I am’, our mind is impermanent, because it appears in the states of waking and dream, and disappears in deep sleep. Even while it does appear to exist, our mind is constantly undergoing change, thinking of one thing at one moment and another thing at another moment. And though our mind appears to know itself by its own power of consciousness, in fact the consciousness by which it knows itself and all other things is only our basic consciousness ‘I am’, which it seemingly usurps as its own, but which is nevertheless independent of it.
Our mind is distinct from our essential consciousness ‘I am’, by the light of which it seemingly knows the existence of itself and other things, because our consciousness ‘I am’ can exist in the absence of our mind, as in sleep. Whereas our consciousness ‘I am’ is permanent, our mind is impermanent. Whereas our consciousness ‘I am’ is ever unchanging being, which always remains as it is, our mind is a constantly changing flow of thoughts. And whereas our consciousness ‘I am’ is always conscious of its own being, our mind is sometimes conscious of itself and other things, and sometimes conscious neither of itself nor of any other thing. Therefore our consciousness ‘I am’ is real, whereas our mind is merely an unreal appearance.
If the essential nature of something is consciousness, it must always be conscious, because nothing can ever be separated from its essential nature. Because consciousness is the essential nature of our consciousness ‘I am’, it is conscious at all times and in all states. Similarly, because the essential nature of our consciousness ‘I am’ is also being or existence, it exists at all times and in all states.
In contrast, since our mind is conscious only during the waking and dream states, and ceases to be conscious in sleep, its essential nature cannot be consciousness. Similarly, since it exists only in waking and dream, but ceases to exist in sleep, its essential nature cannot be being or existence.
In fact, there is nothing that can be pointed out as being the essential nature of our mind, because it is not constantly any one thing. The body cannot be its essential nature, because though it identifies itself with a particular body in the waking state, in dream it identifies itself with some other body, and in sleep it identifies itself with no body at all. Similarly, its essential nature cannot be any thought or even the act of thinking, because throughout the waking and dream states the thoughts it thinks are constantly changing, and in sleep it ceases to think any thought. Though our mind in fact has no essential nature of its own, in the waking and dream states its essential nature appears to be consciousness. However, since it ceases to be conscious in sleep, the consciousness that appears to be its essential nature in waking and dream is in fact borrowed by it from our real consciousness ‘I am’.
Since our mind therefore has no essential nature of its own, we can definitely conclude that it has no reality of its own, but borrows its seeming reality only from our essential consciousness ‘I am’. Our mind is therefore an unreal phantom, something that is in fact neither one thing nor another. It is a false appearance, an illusion or hallucination, a self-deceiving imagination that appears and disappears in our one real consciousness ‘I am’.
However, though our mind deceives itself by appearing in and as our real consciousness ‘I am’, it does not deceive our consciousness ‘I am’, which always remains as it is, knowing only its own existence, and being affected by nothing else whatsoever. Because our real consciousness ‘I am’ always remains as pure consciousness, undefiled by the knowledge of anything other than itself, nothing that appears or disappears can ever affect it even in the least. That is, whatever else may appear or disappear, we always know ‘I am’.
The essential nature of our real consciousness ‘I am’ is only self-consciousness – consciousness of our own existence or being – and not consciousness of anything other than ourself. Because our consciousness of other things appears and disappears, it cannot be the essential nature of our real underlying consciousness ‘I am’. In its real and essential nature, our consciousness ‘I am’ is ever unchanging, and ever unaffected by any change that may appear to occur. Therefore, whatever other knowledge may appear or disappear, it cannot affect our fundamental consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’, which exists and knows its own existence in all states and at all times.
Our mind is therefore a false form of consciousness, an imaginary, confused and self-deceiving form of knowledge, a spurious entity that has no real existence of its own. Since all duality or multiplicity is known only by this mind, it depends for its seeming existence upon this mind – this imaginary, confused, self-deceiving and unreal form of consciousness. Hence our mind is the root cause of the appearance of duality. Without our mind to know it, no duality could exist. Therefore duality can only be as real as our mind, which knows it. Since our mind is an unreal appearance that rises and subsides in our real consciousness ‘I am’, all duality is likewise an unreal appearance.
Therefore we can reasonably conclude that our pure consciousness ‘I am’ is the only existing reality, and that our mind and all the duality or multiplicity which is known by it is only an unreal appearance – an appearance that is unreal because it is impermanent, constantly changing, and dependent for its seeming existence upon the one real consciousness ‘I am’.
Thus, if we have the courage and intellectual honesty to seriously doubt and question the reality of our mind, and to analyse its nature impartially, we will be led unavoidably to a non-dualistic view of reality – to the conclusion that the only existing reality is our fundamental consciousness of our own essential being, our pure non-dual self-consciousness ‘I am’, and that all else is only an illusion or false appearance, an imagination created and known only by our imaginary mind.
This non-dual reality is the one truth about which all religions speak. Though they do not always describe the non-dual nature of this truth in explicit terms, all religions do so implicitly in one way or another.
No religion has a monopoly on the truth. What is true in one religion is true in every religion. The truth can never be in any way exclusive, because if it were, it would only be a partial truth and not the whole truth – a relative truth and not the absolute truth. To be wholly and absolutely true, the truth must be all-inclusive – it must be the one whole that includes everything within itself.
The one whole truth that does include everything within itself is the infinite spirit, the single consciousness that we all know as ‘I am’. Everything that appears to exist does so only within this consciousness. Though the manifold forms in which things appear are unreal as such, the one real substance of all things is the consciousness in which they appear. Therefore the one truth about which all religions speak is the single, all-inclusive and non-dual whole, the spirit or consciousness in which all things appear and disappear.
However, because they interpret the spiritual teachings of their religion in a dualistic manner, most of the followers of the various religions tend to believe that their own religion somehow has a monopoly or exclusive claim upon the truth, and is therefore the only means to salvation. For example, throughout the history of Christianity, most ordinary Christians have believed that true salvation can be attained only through the person of Jesus Christ, and that atheists, agnostics and the followers of other religions can be saved only by converting to Christianity. They have justified this unreasonable and arrogant belief by their dualistic interpretation of Christ’s saying, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me’ (John 14.6). Because of their dualistic understanding of his spiritual teachings, they interpret the words ‘I am’ and ‘me’ that he used in this passage to denote only the individual person Jesus Christ, who was born at a certain time in a certain place called Bethlehem.
However, Christ did not mistake himself to be merely an individual person whose life was limited within a certain range of time and place. He knew himself to be the real and eternal spirit ‘I am’, which is unlimited by time and place. That is why he said, ‘Before Abraham was born, I am’ (John 8.58). The person who was Jesus Christ was born long after the time of Abraham, but the spirit which is Jesus Christ exists always and everywhere, transcending the limits of time and place. Because that spirit is timeless, he did not say, ‘Before Abraham was born, I was’, but, ‘Before Abraham was born, I am’.
That timeless spirit ‘I am’, which Christ thus knew to be his own real self, is the same ‘I am’ that God revealed to be his real self when he said to Moses, ‘I am that I am’ (Exodus 3.14). Therefore, though Christ appears to us to be a separate individual person, he and his Father God are in fact one and the same reality, the spirit that exists within each one of us as our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’. That is why he said, ‘I and the Father are one’ (John 10.30).
Therefore, when Christ said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me’ (John 14.6), by the words ‘I am’ and ‘me’ he was referring not merely to the time-bound individual called Jesus, but to the eternal spirit ‘I am’, which he knew to be his own real self. The inner meaning of his words can therefore be expressed by rephrasing them thus, ‘The spirit “I am” is the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the spirit “I am”, which is the Father or source of all things, but by this same spirit’.
The spirit ‘I am’ is not only the truth or reality of all things, the source from which they all originate, and the life or consciousness that animates every sentient being, but is also the only way by which we can return to our original source, which we call by various names such as ‘God’ or the ‘Father’. Except by turning our attention within towards the spirit, the consciousness that we each experience as ‘I am’, there is no way by which we return to and become one with our source. Therefore true salvation can only be attained not merely through the person who was Jesus Christ, but through the spirit which is Jesus Christ – the eternal spirit ‘I am’ that exists within each one of us.
Not only did Christ affirm his oneness with God, his Father, he also wanted us to become one with him. Before his arrest and crucifixion, Christ prayed for us, ‘Holy Father, […] that they may be one, as we [are]. […] that they all may be one; as thou, Father, [art] in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us […] that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one’ (John 17.11 & 21-23). That is, the aim of Christ was that we should cease to mistake ourself to be an individual separate from God and should know ourself to be the one indivisible spirit, the pure fundamental consciousness ‘I am’, which is the reality of God. Thus oneness or non-duality is the central aim of the spiritual teachings of Jesus Christ.
Every religion consists of a vital central core of non-dualistic truth, expressed either explicitly or implicitly, and a thick outer shell of dualistic beliefs, practices, doctrines and dogmas. The differences that we see between one religion and another – the differences that throughout the ages have given rise to so much conflict, intolerance and cruel persecution, and even to bloody wars and terrorism – lie only in the superficial forms of those religions, their outer shells of dualistic beliefs and practices.
All the disharmony, conflict and strife that exist between one religion and another arise only because most of the followers of those religions are too attached to a dualistic view of reality, which limits their vision and prevents them from seeing what all religions have in common, namely the one underlying truth of non-duality. Therefore true peace and harmony would prevail among the adherents of the various religions only if they were all willing to look beyond the external forms of those religions and see the one simple and common truth of non-duality that lies at the heart of all of them.
If we accept and truly understand the truth of non-duality, we will have no cause to quarrel or fight with anyone. We will be happy instead to let each person believe what they want to believe, because if a person is so attached to their individuality that they are unwilling to doubt its reality, no amount of reasoning or argument will convince them of the truth of non-duality. Therefore no one who truly understands this truth would ever try to convince the unwilling. If anyone does try to force the truth of non-duality upon someone who is unwilling to accept it, they are only displaying their own lack of correct understanding of that truth.
Non-duality is not a religion that needs evangelists to propagate it, or converts to join its ranks. It is the truth, and will remain the truth whether or not anyone chooses to accept and understand it. Therefore we can and should do no more than make this truth available to whomsoever is ready to understand it and apply it in practice.
Many religious people believe that it is blasphemy or sacrilege to say that we are one with God, because they mistake such a statement to mean that an individual is claiming himself to be God. But when we say that we are God, what we mean is not that we as a separate individual are God, which would be absurd, but that we are not an individual separate from God. By thus denying that we have any existence or reality separate from God, we are affirming that the reality we call God is one, whole and undivided.
If instead we were to claim that we are in reality separate from God, as most religious people believe us to be, that would be blasphemy or sacrilege, because it would imply that God is not the one and only reality. If we were to have any reality of our own separate from God, then he would not be the whole truth, but only a part or division of some larger truth.
If we believe that the reality that we call God is truly the infinite ‘fullness of being’, the one undivided whole, then we must accept that nothing can exist as other than or separate from him. He alone truly exists, and all else that seems to exist as separate from him is in fact nothing but an illusion or false appearance whose sole underlying reality is God. Only in the state of perfect non-duality is the true glory, wholeness and fullness of God revealed. So long as we experience a state of seeming duality by mistaking ourself to be an individual separate from God, we are degrading and demeaning him, denying his indivisible oneness, wholeness and infinity, and making him into something less than the only existing reality that he truly is.
Though the inner aim of all religions is to teach us the truth of non-duality, in their scriptures this truth is often expressed only in an oblique manner, and can be discerned only by people who are able to read between the lines with true insight and understanding. The reason why the truth is not expressed more openly, clearly and unambiguously in many of the scriptures of the various religions is that at any given point in time the majority of people have not yet reached a state of sufficient spiritual maturity to be able to digest and assimilate it if it is told as it is. That is why Christ said, ‘I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now’ (John 16.12). However, though most of us may be unable to bear and accept the raw and naked truth of non-duality now, with the passing of time we will each eventually gain the spiritual maturity required to understand and accept the truth as it is, and not merely as we would now like it to be.
Our life in this world is a dream that is occurring in our long sleep of self-forgetfulness – forgetfulness or ignorance of our true state of pure non-dual self-consciousness. Until we wake from this sleep of self-forgetfulness by regaining our true and natural state of self-knowledge, dreams such as our present life will continue recurring one after another. When our present body ‘dies’, that is, when we cease to identify ourself with this body, which by our wonderful power of imagination we have now projected as ‘I’ and through which we see the present world, we will subside temporarily in the sleep of self-forgetfulness, but will sooner or later rise again to project another dream body as ourself and see through it another dream world. This process of passing from one dream to another in the long sleep of self-forgetfulness is what is called ‘rebirth’.
As we thus pass through one dream life after another, we undergo many experiences that gradually enkindle within us a clarity of spiritual discrimination, by means of which we come to understand that our life as a separate individual is a constantly fluctuating flow of pleasurable and painful experiences, and that we can therefore experience true and perfect happiness only by knowing our real self and thereby destroying the delusion that makes us feel ourself to be a separate individual. Thus the truth of non-duality is the ultimate truth that each and every one of us will eventually come to understand and accept.
However, a mere theoretical understanding and acceptance of the truth of non-duality is of no real value to us in itself, because it will not remove the basic self-forgetfulness or self-ignorance that underlies our delusion of individuality. Acceptance of the truth of non-duality is only of use to us if it prompts us to turn our attention within towards our real self – our fundamental consciousness of our own being, which we each experience as ‘I am’.
We can never experience the truth of non-duality merely by studying scriptures or other spiritual books, no matter how correctly we may understand and interpret their inner meaning. The truth itself can be discovered and experienced only within us, in the very core of our own being, and not in books or in words, no matter how sacred they may be. Books or words can be helpful to us only if they enable us to understand that we can experience true knowledge only by turning our attention away from the world of objects and ideas and towards the consciousness by which all things are known.
In every religion and authentic spiritual tradition throughout the ages there have been people who have attained the same non-dual experience that Sri Ramana attained – the experience of true self-knowledge. In this book I shall refer to such people as ‘sages’, a term which I will use not just in the usual general sense of a ‘person of great wisdom’ but in the more specific sense of a ‘person of self-knowledge’. Thus whenever I use the term ‘sage’, I use it as an English equivalent of the Sanskrit term jñāni, which means a ‘person of jñāna or [true] knowledge’, or more specifically ātma-jñāni, a ‘person of ātma-jñāna or self-knowledge’.
Just because a person is said to be a saint, prophet, seer, ṛṣi, mystic or some such revered being, he or she may not necessarily be a true sage, because such appellations do not specifically denote a person who has attained true self-knowledge. True sages are however the cream of the saints, prophets, seers, ṛṣis and mystics of all religions and all times, and a sample of such sages may be found in every religion and spiritual tradition.
Many such sages have remained unknown to the world, because though they experienced the ultimate truth, they never attempted to express it in words, or even if they did so, their words were never recorded. However, in every culture and every religion some sages have expressed the truth either in writing or in speech, and hence between them they have left the world a large legacy of spiritual literature, all of which testifies to the non-dual experience they attained.
Though all such sages have experienced the same truth, the words they have each used to express it often differ greatly, and sometimes they may even seem to contradict one another. The reason for this is that no words can adequately express the truth of non-duality, because it lies beyond the range of the dualistic consciousness we call ‘mind’. Words are an instrument used by the mind to convey its feelings, ideas, perceptions and so on, all of which arise from its experience of duality. Since the mind is a form of consciousness that feels itself to be distinct from whatever it knows, it can know only duality, and can never know the non-dual reality that underlies itself.
The words that sages use to express the truth are therefore only pointers, drawing our attention to that which is beyond our mind, yet which lies deep within us, and which contains within itself all things. The true import of their words cannot be understood by the normal worldly intelligence that we use to understand other things, but it can be understood by the inner clarity that shines naturally in our mind when its surface agitation caused by the storm of desire and attachment is calmed at least partially. If we attempt to experience the truth that is indicated by their words by scrutinising our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’ and thereby cultivating skill in the art of just being, we will gain increasingly the inner clarity that is required to perceive the true import of their words.
Because no words can adequately express the truth, all sages have declared it to be ineffable, and many of them have therefore chosen to use the language of allegory to express the inexpressible. The allegorical language that sages have used most commonly to express the journey that we must take in order to merge in the source from which we originated is the language of mystical love. In this language, the individual soul seeking union with God is described as a young girl seeking union with her beloved. Much of the finest spiritual literature in the world is the poetry composed by sages in this language of mystical love, and samples of such poetry can be found in many diverse cultures. When we read such poetry with an understanding of the truth of non-duality, we can clearly see in it an unmistakable expression of that truth.
In the language of allegory the truth is implied rather than stated explicitly, and can therefore remain hidden from readers who have no prior understanding of it. Therefore some sages, when questioned by people who earnestly seek to know the truth, have set aside the language of allegory and have instead attempted to use the language of philosophy to express the truth more explicitly and clearly. However, even the language of philosophy cannot express the truth perfectly, but can only indirectly indicate the nature of it and the means of attaining it.
The philosophical terminology that sages in different cultures and different ages have used to express the truth differs greatly, and if understood only superficially may often appear to be conflicting. For example, many sages have used terms such as ‘God’ to refer to the absolute reality, while others like Buddha and Mahavira have avoided using such a term. This has led some people to claim that such sages have denied the existence of God. But such a claim is misleading, and arises from an overly simplistic understanding both of the reality and of the term ‘God’.
The sole aim of the teachings of Buddha and Mahavira, like that of all other sages, was to lead us to the one absolute reality. The terminology they each used when talking about that reality may vary, but the reality about which they all talked is the same. That reality can be known only by direct non-dual experience, and can never be conceived by the mind, nor expressed by words. Being infinite, it transcends all the conceptual qualities that our finite minds attribute to it, so it cannot be correctly described as being either this or that. It is everything, and at the same time it is nothing. Therefore it is equally correct, and also equally incorrect, either to refer to it as ‘God’ or not to refer to it as ‘God’.
The term ‘God’ has no fixed meaning. In certain contexts it means one thing, and in other contexts it means another thing, because it is a name given to a wide range of notions that people hold about the supreme or ultimate reality. Some of our notions about God are decidedly anthropomorphic, whereas others are more abstract, but none of them are either entirely correct or entirely incorrect.
In vēdānta, therefore, a distinction is made between two basic forms of God. One form is called saguṇa brahman, which means ‘brahman with guṇas’, and the other form is called nirguṇa brahman, which means ‘brahman without guṇas’. The word brahman means the absolute reality, the supreme being or God, and the word guṇa means quality or attribute. Thus saguṇa brahman is the relative form of God, God with qualities and attributes as conceived by the human mind, while nirguṇa brahman is the absolute and real form of God, God without any conceivable quality or attribute. The God of human conception, whatever that conception may be, is saguṇa brahman, whereas the reality of God, which transcends all human conception, is nirguṇa brahman. Thus nirguṇa brahman is the substance or absolute reality that underlies saguṇa brahman, the God of our limited conception.
Though God as saguṇa brahman is not the ultimate or absolute reality, he and all the divine qualities we attribute to him are as real as our own individuality. Therefore so long as we take ourself to be a separate individual, God and all his divine qualities are for all practical purposes real. But when we attain the experience of true self-knowledge and thereby destroy the false notion that we are an individual consciousness that is separate from God, God will remain as our own real self or essential being, the absolute reality or nirguṇa brahman, which transcends all human conception.
Because the aim of the Buddha and Mahavira was to teach us the means by which we can attain the absolute reality, which is beyond all guṇas, qualities or attributes, they did not consider it necessary to talk about ‘God’, a term that is generally understood to mean saguṇa brahman, the supreme being endowed with divine qualities. Other sages, however, have used the term ‘God’ either as a word referring to nirguṇa brahman, the absolute reality that transcends all qualities, or because they understood that the people to whom they were speaking had need of a concept of a personal God who would aid them in their efforts to attain the transpersonal reality. There is thus no fundamental difference between the teachings of sages who have used the term ‘God’ and those who have not used this term. Both are speaking about the same absolute reality, but have simply chosen to express it in different terms.
The fact that the Buddha clearly acknowledged the existence of the absolute reality or nirguṇa brahman is evident from one of his important and well-known teachings, which is recorded in the Tipiṭaka 220.127.116.11.3 (Udāna 8.3):
There is, mendicants, that which is not born, that which has not come into being, that which is not made, that which is not fabricated. If there were not, mendicants, that which is not born, that which has not come into being, that which is not made, that which is not fabricated, here [in this world or in this lifetime] escape from that which is born, from that which has come into being, from that which is made, from that which is fabricated, would therefore not have been [a state that could be] clearly known [or experienced]. But because, mendicants, there is indeed that which is not born, that which has not come into being, that which is not made, that which is not fabricated, therefore escape from that which is born, from that which has come into being, from that which is made, from that which is fabricated, is [a state that can be] clearly known [or experienced].
Though there is a wealth of profound meaning in these words of the Buddha, this is not a suitable place to examine them in depth, so we will study them in more detail in a sequel to this book that I have already begun to write.
Another superficial difference between the teachings of the Buddha and those of advaita vēdānta is that the Buddha taught the truth of anattā, a Pali term that is a modified form of the Sanskrit word anātmā, which means ‘no self’, whereas sages of the advaita vēdānta tradition teach that ātmā or ‘self’ is the sole existing reality. Some people claim that this is a fundamental contradiction between their respective teachings, whereas in fact this is merely a superficial difference in terminology.
When Buddha taught that there is no ‘self’ or ātmā, he was referring only to our finite individual self or jīvātmā, which all sages of the advaita vēdānta tradition also say is unreal. And when those sages teach that ‘self’ or ātmā is the sole existing reality, they are referring not to our false individual self but only to our real self – our true being or essential ‘am’-ness, our pure, unlimited, undivided, unqualified and absolutely non-dual consciousness of our own being, which alone remains in the state of nirvāṇa, in which the false appearance of our individual object-knowing consciousness is completely extinguished. Thus there is no contradiction at all between the truth of ‘no self’ or anattā taught by the Buddha and the truth that ‘self’ or ātmā is the sole existing reality taught by advaita vēdānta.
The teachings of different sages appear to differ from one another, or even to contradict one another, for three main reasons. Firstly, it is because of the different terminology that they have used to teach the truth, which words can never express perfectly, but can only indicate. Secondly, it is because they had to adapt their teachings to suit the receptivity of the people they were teaching. And thirdly, it is because their original teachings have often become mixed with the ideas of their followers, many of whom had no direct experience of the truth they taught, nor even a clear and correct understanding of it.
The records that have survived of the teachings of many sages were not written by those sages themselves, but were recorded by their followers, often long after their lifetime. Therefore such records often do not reflect the teachings of those sages perfectly, but only reflect the understanding that some of their literate followers had of their teachings.
In almost all religions and spiritual traditions, the original teachings of sages have become mixed up with elaborate systems of theology, cosmology, philosophy and psychology, which bear very little relation to the actual experience of those sages. Such theologies and cosmologies originate from the minds of people who were unable to understand the simplicity and immediacy of the truth taught by the sages, and who therefore created such elaborate and complex systems of belief in an attempt to explain what they themselves could not understand. Because they originated in this manner, all the complex theologies and cosmologies that exist in every religion only serve to confuse people and obscure from their minds the simple truth of non-duality taught by sages.
However, in spite of all the confusing complexity found in the spiritual literature of the world, running throughout that literature there is a common thread of simple truth, which we can easily discern if we are able to understand the original teachings of the real sages. Because the same fundamental truth of non-duality has been expressed in the recorded words of sages from so many diverse cultures throughout the ages, modern students of philosophy often call it the ‘perennial philosophy’, a term that corresponds to the ancient Sanskrit term sanātana dharma, which literally means ‘that which always upholds’ or ‘that which is ever established’, and which therefore by implication means the ‘eternal truth’, the ‘eternal law’, the ‘eternal principle’, the ‘eternal support’, the ‘eternal foundation’, the ‘eternal nature’, the ‘eternal essence’, the ‘eternal way’ or the ‘eternal religion’.
Fortunately for us, Sri Ramana’s teachings were not only recorded in his lifetime by many of his followers, some of whom understood them very clearly, but were also written by him in various poems and other works. Since he composed poetry not only in the language of allegory and mystical love, but also in the language of philosophy, and since in his poetry he described the reality and the means of attaining it in very clear and unambiguous terms, he has made it extremely easy for us to understand the simple truth that underlies the teachings of all sages.
Having read and understood his teachings, if we read the teachings of any other real sage, we can easily recognise that the same truth is expressed in all of them. Moreover, his teachings also serve as a key that enables us to unravel and extract the true teachings of the sages from the dense mass of extraneous theologies, cosmologies and philosophies with which they have become mixed in every religion and spiritual tradition.
Therefore readers who are already familiar with the sanātana dharma, the timeless and universal truth or ‘perennial philosophy’ taught by all sages, will find that the teachings of Sri Ramana also express that same basic philosophy. However, they will also find that his teachings throw a clear and fresh light upon that philosophy, elucidating many subtle and profound truths that have seldom been expressed so explicitly by other sages, particularly with regard to the practical means by which we can attain the true experience of non-dual self-knowledge.
Because the teachings of Sri Ramana are a simple yet very profound revelation of the fundamental and absolute reality that underlies the appearance of all multiplicity and diversity, they express the ultimate truth that is the inner essence of all religions and spiritual traditions. Hence people of many diverse religious and cultural backgrounds have recognised that his teachings are a profoundly insightful and authentic exposition of the true import of their own religion or spiritual tradition, and have understood that after studying his teachings they need not study any other spiritual texts.
Though the same simple truth of non-duality can be found expressed in all the spiritual literature of the world if we search for it hard enough, it is not necessary or advisable for us to waste our time searching for it in the vast jungle of scriptures and sacred writings, where it is usually hidden among a dense mass of extraneous ideas. That is why in verse 60 of Vivēkacūḍāmaṇi Sri Adi Sankara warned all serious spiritual aspirants to avoid excessive study of the scriptures or śāstras, which he described as a ‘great forest of delusive snares of noisy words’ (śabda jālaṁ mahāraṇyaṁ) and a ‘cause of unsteadiness, bewilderment and confusion of mind’ (citta-bhramaṇa kāraṇam), and advised us that with the guidance of a sage who knows the truth we should instead try to investigate and know the truth of our self through direct experience.
For us to attain such direct non-dual experience of our own real self, all the guidance required can be found expressed in an extremely clear and simple manner in the teachings of Sri Ramana. If we read and understand his teachings, there will be no need for us to study any other scriptures or sacred writings, because from his teachings we will learn that the truth does not lie outside us in any books, but only within us, in the innermost core of our being, and that the only means to experience it is therefore to turn our attention selfwards to know the reality of the consciousness by which we know all other things.
Though Sri Ramana wrote and spoke comparatively little, and that too mostly only in response to questions put to him or requests made to him by other people, through those relatively few words that he wrote and spoke he has given us a complete set of spiritual teachings – a set of spiritual teachings which are so clear, simple, profound and all-embracing that they contain the seed or foundation of an entire philosophy and science of ourself and of every essential aspect of our whole life as an individual existing in this world of duality and multiplicity.
In this book I attempt to develop this seed and build upon this foundation by presenting in the clear light of his spiritual teachings a detailed analysis of our entire experience of ourself in our three normal states of consciousness, waking, dream and deep sleep, of our experience of the world that we perceive around us, and of the notions and beliefs that we hold not only about ourself and the world, but also about God and many other crucial aspects of our life as an individual in this world of baffling diversity and complexity. However, though I initially intended to explore his teachings in this book from a broad and comprehensive range of different angles, when I actually attempted to cover all the many different aspects of his teachings in sufficient detail and depth, I found that what I had written and what I still had to write was far more than could be comfortably contained within a single volume. Therefore I decided to limit myself in this present book to an in-depth exploration of only the most essential aspects of his teachings, and to cover more peripheral aspects in some subsequent books.
The detailed analysis that I present in this book consists of ideas that I have learnt from three principal sources. In part it consists of ideas that I have learnt directly from the writings and recorded sayings of Sri Ramana, in particular from the most comprehensive and profound record of his sayings that his pre-eminent disciple Sri Muruganar preserved in the form of Tamil verses in Guru Vācaka Kōvai. In part it consists of ideas that I learnt personally from Sri Sadhu Om, who was one of the closest disciples of Sri Ramana (by which term I mean not those who merely lived close to him physically, but those who followed his teachings most closely and truly), who was a lucid and extremely profound exponent of his teachings, in whose close company I had the good fortune to live for more than eight years, and under whose guidance I studied Guru Vācaka Kōvai and all the original writings of Sri Ramana in minute detail and great depth. However, for the most part it consists of my own understanding of Sri Ramana’s teachings, an understanding that I have gained by studying his teachings deeply and in the original Tamil in which he wrote and spoke them, by reflecting upon them for many years, and by attempting to practise the empirical technique of self-investigation that he taught as the only means by which we can experience true self-knowledge.
However, though the ideas that I express in this book are a mixture of ideas that I have learnt directly from the writings or recorded sayings of Sri Ramana, of ideas that I have learnt through the channel of the profound explanations of his teachings that I heard from Sri Sadhu Om, and of ideas that I have formed from my own reflections upon and understanding of his teachings, I believe that the actual source of all these ideas is only Sri Ramana, without whose inspiration and inner guidance I would not have been able to understand his teachings with any degree of clarity, or thereby to write this book.
Whereas what I write is based merely upon my repeated śravaṇa and manana and my limited experience of nididhyāsana – that is, upon what I have read, upon my own personal reflections, and upon the limited experience that I have gained by attempting to practise contemplation, the empirical method of self-investigation taught by Sri Ramana – I believe that his words are derived from his direct, perfect and complete experience of the non-dual true knowledge about which he speaks. Similarly, I believe that the words of his foremost disciples, such as Sri Muruganar and Sri Sadhu Om, are based upon the experience of true self-knowledge that they attained by his grace and inner guidance, which drew their attention inwards and thereby dissolved their separate individuality in the non-dual consciousness of being, ‘I am’, which is the true form of Sri Ramana, and the real and essential nature of each and every one of us.
Therefore I believe that the ideas that I express in this book, which are based largely on what I have learnt and understood from the words of Sri Ramana and these two disciples of his, are not merely speculative hypotheses, but are facts that have been verified by their transcendent experience, and by the transcendent experience of many other sages. However, as Sri Ramana himself emphasised, mere belief in certain ideas is not true knowledge, so we must all hold our beliefs tentatively, and must endeavour to verify them for ourself by seeking to attain true experiential knowledge of the fundamental and absolute reality through empirical research, that is, through practical self-investigation. Therefore, the sole aim of all the theory discussed in this book is to guide us and encourage us in our practical quest for the direct, immediate, non-dual and absolute experience of true self-knowledge.
When I first started to write the material that is contained in this book, I had no idea that I would later decide to form the ideas that I was writing into a book. I have for long been in the habit of writing my private reflections about the teachings of Sri Ramana, but I always did so for my own benefit, because I find that writing helps me to clarify my thinking and to enkindle in my mind fresh ideas and new angles or ways of understanding his teachings. In my experience, musing on his teachings, and expressing my musings in writing, is a great aid and encouragement in my attempt to practise his teachings in the midst of my day-to-day life.
However, the greatest obstacle that for many years has prevented me from devoting enough of my time to this valuable exercise of writing my musings has been the necessity to work long hours and to expend a great deal of mental energy in a ‘nine-to-five’ job for which I felt no affinity. I felt that for the sake of earning a living I was wasting too much of my life engaged in activities that were draining my energy and diverting my attention away from the real purpose of life, which for each of us is to turn our attention inwards to know who we really are.
Since I believe that I had been singularly blessed to have had the opportunity to study the teachings of Sri Ramana in great depth under the close and clear guidance of Sri Sadhu Om, whose unique clarity of understanding arose both from his wholehearted and single-minded devotion to Sri Ramana and his teachings, and from his own profound spiritual experience, which resulted from such devotion, I recently began to feel that if I were to share my writings with others by forming them into a book, some people might be interested to read them and a few might perhaps be benefited by them. In particular I felt that my writings might help people who were entirely unacquainted with the teachings of Sri Ramana and with the philosophical, spiritual, religious and cultural background against which they were set, because not only have I studied them in the original Tamil in which he wrote them, but I am also able to rethink them in English, which is my own native language, as a result of which I am able to understand them from the perspectives of both a Hindu and a non-Hindu mindset.
With these thoughts in mind, I began tentatively to edit all that I had written into the form of a book, thinking that at least I could see what shape it would take and thereby test whether or not it might prove useful to any sincerely interested readers. While doing this, I found that I needed to write many more ideas in order to form a coherent and comprehensive exposition of his teachings, and I became pleasantly surprised to find a wealth of fresh ideas arising in my mind and finding expression in my writings.
Nevertheless, I continued to feel diffident about the idea of publishing my private musings upon the teachings of Sri Ramana, and I felt so for two main reasons. Firstly and most importantly, I do not wish to fall victim to the subtle and powerful delusion of pride and egoism that might result if my writings were to be appreciated by many people. And secondly, since the spiritual teachings of Sri Ramana are the love of my life, and since I revere them as the most worthy object of meditation, adoration and inward worship, I am not entirely comfortable about the idea of utilising my love of them as a means to earn a livelihood.
However I have gradually overcome these two reservations. I have overcome the first one by deciding that pride and egoism are challenges that we all have to face if we are to follow the spiritual path, and that we can conquer them not merely by avoiding external circumstances that could strengthen them, but only by facing them with an honest recognition of our own weaknesses and imperfections, and a consequent sense of complete dependence upon the protecting power of divine grace. And I have overcome the second one by reconciling my mind to the fact that, since I have to earn a livelihood in some manner, I may as well try to do so writing about the subject I love, since this will help me to keep my mind immersed in the teachings of Sri Ramana, rather than allowing it to become immersed in any more worldly occupation. Therefore, after much hesitation, I have finally decided to take the plunge and have this first volume published.
When I began to form my writings as a book, I planned to divide it into two parts in one volume. According to the initial outline I had in mind, the first part was going to be called ‘The Essentials’ and would be largely concerning ourself, both our true self and our false self, whereas the second part was going to be called ‘The Peripherals’ and would be largely concerning things that we imagine to be other than ourself, such as the world and God. As this idea developed, my proposed outline came to consist of this introduction, ten chapters in the first part, eighteen chapters in the second part, and an appendix.
However, by the time I had written almost two hundred thousand words, but had still not completed writing even half of what I expected to write, I understood that it would be far too much to fit into a single volume. Therefore I decided to form this introduction and the proposed first part into this present book, Happiness and the Art of Being, to form the proposed second part into a separate book, which I have tentatively entitled The Truth of Otherness, and to form the proposed appendix into a third book entitled Yōga and the Art of Being.
When I decided to split the then partially written book into these three volumes, I had already written many portions of each of these volumes, but none of them were complete. Though the material that I had written for this present book came to nearly one hundred thousand words, most of the chapters were still incomplete and some had not even been started. Therefore, since this book was logically the first volume in the series of then partially developed books, and since it would form the foundation of the subsequent volumes, I decided that I should try to complete it first. In order to complete the next two volumes, I still have much to write, and by the time I have finished, it may be necessary for me to split them further into more volumes.
Because this book has been formed from a collection of material written at different times, some chapters contain a certain amount of material that is not directly pertinent to the title of that chapter, but is nevertheless connected to the other material within that chapter. For the same reason, within certain chapters the overall flow of ideas is not entirely sequential, and may sometimes appear to have taken a few steps backwards. Though I have taken trouble to edit the material in an easy flowing and logically coherent fashion, in many places I decided not to sacrifice certain valuable ideas just for the sake of a perfectly polished flow. I am aware, therefore, that some of the ideas in this book are presented in a slightly rambling fashion, but I believe that the overall value of such ideas will justify their inclusion.
Moreover, certain ideas in this book are repeated in several different contexts. I have allowed such repetition to occur because each time a particular idea is repeated, it is examined from a fresh angle, and therefore its repetition will help us to understand it more deeply and in a broader perspective. Furthermore, by reiterating a particular idea in a new context, we are not only able to examine it from a fresh angle, but are also able to use it to clarify whatever subject is then under discussion.
In a book such as this, repetition of certain central ideas is in fact unavoidable. Though the material in this book and in the subsequent volumes covers a wide range of subjects, all these subjects are in one way or other related to the central subject, which is our search for true and absolute happiness, a happiness that can be experienced only in the state of actionless, thought-free and therefore perfectly peaceful being, which is the state of true self-knowledge, the state in which we remain only as our own real self, knowing nothing other than our own essential being. Because we examine all these subjects from the perspective of our search for true self-knowledge, certain central themes necessarily recur throughout this book, and will also recur in the subsequent volumes.
Of all the central themes that recur throughout this book, the centremost is our fundamental, essential and non-dual consciousness of our own being, our simple self-consciousness ‘I am’, which is not only our true self, but is also the one and only absolute reality, the source and substance of all things, and the abode of perfect, eternal and infinite happiness. This self-consciousness ‘I am’ is the only thing that we experience permanently, and it is the centre and foundation of all our knowledge and experience. As such, it has to be the primary concern of any serious philosophical or scientific investigation. Unless we know the true nature of this fundamental consciousness, without which we would know nothing else, the truth of any knowledge that we may have about anything else is dubious and open to question.
All the other recurring themes in this book are closely related to this one centremost theme, our fundamental self-consciousness ‘I am’, and the more frequently they recur, the more important they are to our search for true self-knowledge. Their recurrence serves an important purpose, because it enables us to explore the foundations of this philosophy and science of self-knowledge from various different perspectives, and thereby to develop a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of it.
The deeper and more comprehensive our understanding grows, the firmer will become our conviction that we can experience infinite happiness only if we know the true nature of our own self, and that the most important and essential thing in our life is therefore to seek and attain true self-knowledge. The firmer this conviction becomes, the more strongly we will be motivated to withdraw our attention from all other things, and to fix it wholly and exclusively in the core of our being – in our essential self-consciousness, ‘I am’.
Though the philosophy presented in this book is based largely upon the testimony of Sri Ramana and other sages, we cannot attain true knowledge merely by understanding this philosophy intellectually. The reason why sages have expressed their experience of the absolute reality in words is only to prompt us and guide us to attain that same experience. Therefore the philosophy presented here is not an end in itself, but is only a means to a much greater end, the experience of true self-knowledge. This philosophy is not only a theoretical philosophy but also a practical science, and hence the sole purpose of all its theory is to motivate us and guide us in its practice, the empirical method of self-investigation and consequent self-surrender.
When we begin to study any science, whether it be one of the many sciences concerned with knowing some aspect of the objective world, or this science of self-knowledge, which is concerned not with knowing any object but only with knowing the consciousness by which all objects are known, it is necessary for us to have tentative trust in the experience and testimony of those who have already acquired practical knowledge of that science. When we study physics, for example, we initially have to accept many of its advanced discoveries, such as the theory of relativity, on trust. Only later, when we become personally involved in experimental physics, will we be in a position to test the truth of such theories for ourself. If from the outset we were to refuse to believe any of the truths discovered by physicists until we ourself had tested and verified each one of them, we would unnecessarily impede our speed of learning, and we would never have time to acquire the knowledge required to engage in advanced experimental physics.
All learning requires a keen, inquisitive and questioning mind, but just as honest doubt plays an important part in the learning process, so too does tentative trust. Knowledge is acquired most efficiently and effectively by an intelligent use of both doubt and trust. A discriminating student knows what is to be doubted, and what is to be tentatively trusted.
More than in any other science, in this science of self-knowledge doubt is essential, because to know the truth that underlies all appearances, we must doubt the reality of everything – not just the reality of the objects known by our mind, but the reality of our knowing mind itself. However, though doubt plays such a vital role in the process of acquiring self-knowledge, tentative trust in the testimony of sages, who have already attained the experience of true self-knowledge, is nevertheless extremely helpful.
Since the testimony of sages challenges us to question and doubt all the beliefs that we have cherished for so long about what we are and about the reality of our life in this world, we may initially find it difficult to trust their words. That is why, rather than asking us to believe anything that we do not already know, Sri Ramana based his teachings upon an analysis of our own everyday experience. When we critically analyse our experience of the three states of consciousness that we undergo each day, we cannot reasonably avoid doubting most of what we normally take for granted about who we are and about the reality of all that we experience in these states.
In order to acquire knowledge that we cannot reasonably doubt, we must first disentangle ourself from all the confused and uncertain knowledge we now have about ourself. Such disentanglement can be achieved only by turning our attention away from all objects of knowledge and towards ourself, the consciousness by which everything is known. This process of disentanglement is the journey of self-discovery that all sages urge us to undertake.
As explained above, this book presents a philosophical analysis of our everyday experience of ourself, and the purpose of this analysis is only to enable us to obtain a clear theoretical understanding of who we really are, and thereby to ascertain the practical means by which we can attain direct experience of our own real nature. Though in this journey of self-discovery we will be guided by the revelations of Sri Ramana and other sages, we will nevertheless be relying primarily upon our own personal experience of our being or consciousness, and thus we will as far as possible avoid the need to rely upon belief in what we ourself do not actually know. If we take this journey depending always upon our own experience of ourself as our guide, we will be able to verify for ourself the truth of all that has been revealed through the words of sages, who have taken this journey before us.
However, while we are proceeding on this journey of self-discovery, and before we complete it, we are likely to discover that our rational analysis of our already existing experience of our own being and consciousness, together with our experience of practising the art of self-conscious being, will inspire in our mind a steadily increasing trust in the words of sages. Such trust should not be mistaken to be mere ‘blind belief’, because it is a trust born not of intellectual blindness but of a deep inner clarity of mind gained by dwelling repeatedly upon the true light of self-consciousness, which ever shines in the core of our being, as the core of our being, but which till now we have always habitually ignored due to our infatuation with the external world of sense perceptions.
Though it is possible for us to turn our attention away from the external world and towards our own essential consciousness ‘I am’ in order to discover our true nature even without our placing our trust in the words of anyone, in practice while pursuing the journey of self-discovery, and while confronting all the obstacles that inevitably arise on the way, we can derive much benefit by trusting and learning from the testimony of those who have taken and completed this journey before us. Therefore in the forthcoming sequel to this book, while investigating certain peripheral subjects which, though not essential, are nevertheless closely related to the journey of self-discovery, we will come across certain explanations which have been given by Sri Ramana and other sages who have completed that journey, but which we cannot verify from our own experience until we complete the journey and discover for ourself the truth that they have experienced. Each one of us is free to decide for ourself whether or not we wish to trust such explanations.
However, though we may not be able to verify the truth of such explanations until we attain the experience of true self-knowledge, we can at least understand that they are all logical implications, or at least reasonably possible implications, of the conclusions and truths that we arrive at by analysis and deduction in this present book. Therefore if we have been convinced by the conclusions that we deduce in this book from our critical analysis of our everyday experience of our three states of consciousness, waking, dream and deep sleep, it should not be too difficult for us to trust at least tentatively most of the explanations that are given in the sequel to this book.
If we do trust them, or at least accept them as tentative hypotheses to be tested by means of self-investigation, we will find them to be helpful to us in our attempts to turn our attention away from the external world and towards our essential self-consciousness ‘I am’ in order to remain merely as this fundamental consciousness of our own being. However, even if we are unwilling to trust anything that we do not already know for certain, we can still pursue this journey of self-discovery by taking all our doubts to their logical conclusion – by doubting the reality of our doubting mind, and therefore turning our attention towards the consciousness that underlies it in order to know the ultimate source from which it has arisen along with all its doubts.
The aim of this book or any subsequent books is not to persuade anyone to believe anything, but is only to prompt all of us who have a truly enquiring mind to question critically our habitual view of ourself, the world and God, and to encourage us to embark upon the journey of self-discovery by investigating our consciousness ‘I am’, which is the centre and fundamental basis of all our experience and knowledge.
Let us now embark upon this journey of self-discovery, and verify for ourself the truth revealed in the words of Sri Ramana and other sages.