Ramana Maharshi – do we need a guru?

Ramana smiling

Questioner: I am always at your feet. Will Bhagavan give us some upadesa (teaching) to follow? Otherwise, how can I get help living 600 miles away?

Ramana Maharshi: The sadguru* is within.

Q: Sadguru is necessary to guide me to understand it.

RM: The sadguru is within.

Q: I want a visible Guru.

RM: That visible Guru says that he is within.

*True guru

The above excerpt is from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 434

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Shankara: Neither by Yoga, nor by Sankhya, nor by work, nor by learning, but by the realization of one’s identity with Brahman is Liberation possible, and by no other means.

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Q. Tom, I appreciate this essay very much. I once got into quite an intense discussion with my Vēdānta teacher over this topic. We had just completed Panchadasi. The need for Silence (Samadhi) in conjunction with Self Inquiry was quite explicit in the text. And as you mention the Upanishads state the same.

I do have a question for you. In Vivekachudamani, Shankara makes contradictory statements about attainment. On one hand he extols the importance of meditation and knowledge. And then he seems to negate them. “Neither by Yoga, nor by Sankhya, nor by work, nor by learning, but by the realization of one’s identity with Brahman is Liberation possible, and by no other means.” (verse 56).

Krsna in Gita specifically says one can attain self realization by either approaches. (I understand that self realization, by some definitions is but a stage on the way to Unity.) This might be another conversation.

Is not realization of Brahman the final result of Yoga and Knowledge? If we understand Yoga to be Samadhi, which purifies deep rooted vasanas resulting in calmness. And Knowledge arrived at, on one hand, through direct experience in meditation and on the hand through scriptural study, finally resulting in discrimination between self and non self…

Then further on he extols Niddhyasana (long unbroken meditation/Nirvakalpa Samadhi) as the last step after hearing and contemplating the teachings. Patanjali defines Samadhi as Yoga. So Yoga seems to enter the picture again.

How do we reconcile these apparent contradictions?


 

Tom: Hi, this is a great question and thankfully is easily resolved in the context of the text Vivekachudamani.

Some modern Vedanta teachers insist that in Vedanta words are used in a very precise way, but for anyone who has read the scriptures in Sanskrit for themselves, nothing could be further from the truth. In the original Sanskrit language, the same words are used in a variety of different ways depending on the context, and it is up to the reader to discern this. eg. words such as Atman, Jnana, etc are used in a variety of ways, and traditional commentaries such as Shankara’s commentaries acknowledge this too.

It is usually quite easy to discern the meaning of the words you when you look at the context – usually this simply means to look at the verses either side of the verse in question. In most Vedanta texts, as with most texts in general, a single point is often made across a series of thematically related verses (or sentences). In Vedanta texts, the beginning and end of a section is not clearly marked, but they are easy to spot if you are looking for them:

Now with this in mind, lets look at Vivekachudamani verse 56, which you raise:

56. Neither by Yoga, nor by Sankhya, nor by work, nor by learning, but by the realisation of one’s identity with Brahman is Liberation possible, and by no other means.

Firstly, note the preceding verses that are in this section, starting at verse 51:

51. A father has got his sons and others to free him from his debts, but he has got none but himself to remove his bondage.

52. Trouble such as that caused by a load on the head can be removed by others, but none but one’s own self can put a stop to the pain which is caused by hunger and the like.

53. The patient who takes (the proper) diet and medicine is alone seen to recover completely – not through work done by others.

54. The true nature of things is to be known personally, through the eye of clear illumination, and not through a sage: what the moon exactly is, is to be known with one’s own eyes; can others make him know it?

55. Who but one’s own self can get rid of the bondage caused by the fetters of Ignorance, desire, action and the like, aye even in a hundred crore of cycles?

The theme is clearly that one has to do the work for oneself in order to attain liberation, and that no other, sage or otherwise, can do this work for you.

Now lets look at the verses that follow verse 56 in the same section:

57. The beauty of a guitar’s form and the skill of playing on its chords serve merely to please a few persons; they do not suffice to confer sovereignty.

58. Loud speech consisting of a shower of words, the skill in expounding the Scriptures, and likewise erudition – these merely bring on a little personal enjoyment to the scholar, but are no good for Liberation.

59. The study of the Scriptures is useless so long as the highest Truth is unknown, and it is equally useless when the highest Truth has already been known.

60. The Scriptures consisting of many words are a dense forest which merely causes the mind to ramble. Hence men of wisdom should earnestly set about knowing the true nature of the Self.

61. For one who has been bitten by the serpent of Ignorance, the only remedy is the knowledge of Brahman. Of what avail are the Vedas and (other) Scriptures, Mantras (sacred formulae) and medicines to such a one?

62. A disease does not leave off if one simply utter the name of the medicine, without taking it; (similarly) without direct realisation one cannot be liberated by the mere utterance of the word Brahman.

63. Without causing the objective universe to vanish and without knowing the truth of the Self, how is one to achieve Liberation by the mere utterance of the word Brahman? — It would result merely in an effort of speech.

64. Without killing one’s enemies, and possessing oneself of the splendour of the entire surrounding region, one cannot claim to be an emperor by merely saying, ‘I am an emperor’.

65. As a treasure hidden underground requires (for its extraction) competent instruction, excavation, the removal of stones and other such things lying above it and (finally) grasping, but never comes out by being (merely) called out by name, so the transparent Truth of the self, which is hidden by Maya and its effects, is to be attained through the instructions of a knower of Brahman, followed by reflection, meditation and so forth, but not through perverted arguments.

66. Therefore the wise should, as in the case of disease and the like, personally strive by all the means in their power to be free from the bondage of repeated births and deaths.

The theme here is a warning against superficial teachings and the lack of true spiritual practice. This is a warning about teachings that do not recommend meditation and deep spiritual practice and a warning against teachings of no-effort, such as what is sometimes nowaday called neo-advaita. Let us see:

Merely repeating the words (verse 58) and intellectual study of the scriptures (verses 59-61) is not enough. Just proclaiming ‘I am Brahman’ or ‘I am That’ (verse 62 and 64) is not enough. We have not only to read the teachings but put them into practice (‘take the medicine’ cf. verse 62).

Verse 63 lays it out more clearly – what is the practice we have to do? What is the medicine we have to not only read about but actually swallow? We have to efface the body, mind and world and enter into Samadhi (’cause the objective world to vanish’).

This is emphasised in verse 65 where Shankara once again recommends the path of sravana – hearing the teachings, manana – reflecting upon the teachings and nididhyasana – meditation as described in verse 63.

Verse 66 then encourages the seeker to make effort to strive along this path, and not to fall short, not to follow paths that are mere verbal talk without ‘causing the objective world to vanish’ (verse 63).

So in conclusion, it is clear, from the context, that Shankara is admonishing superficial teachings only, and not the true path that he subsequently goes on to explain and recommend.


Lastly, let us look to someone who always preached the true Vedantic teachings, from their heart, but also as found in the scriptures, our Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. What does he write in ‘Who am I?’, questions 4 and 5?

Question 4. When will the realization of the Self be gained?
Ramana Maharshi: When the world which is what-is-seen has been removed, there will be realization of the Self which is the seer.

Question 5. Will there not be realization of the Self even while the world is there?
Ramana Maharshi: There will not be.

 

Does stillness of mind lead to liberation?

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Advaita Bodha Deepika is a traditional text and a masterpiece, summarising the methods and techniques of advaita vedanta. It was a favourite text of Sri Ramana Maharshi and was often recommended by him. Here is what it says about how to attain liberation, the following is from Chapter 3:

17…Master: With complete stillness of mind, samsara will disappear root and branch. Otherwise there will be no end to samsara, even in millions of aeons (Kalpakotikala).

18. Disciple: Cannot samsara be got rid of by any means other than making the mind still?

M: Absolutely by no other means; neither the Vedas, nor the shastras nor austerities, nor karma, nor vows, nor gifts, nor recital of scriptures of mystic formulae (mantras), nor worship, nor anything else, can undo the samsara. Only stillness of mind can accomplish the end and nothing else.

19. D: The scriptures declare that only Knowledge can do it. How then do you say that stillness of the mind puts an end to samsara?

M: What is variously described as Knowledge, Liberation, etc., in the scriptures, is but stillness of mind.

D: Has any one said so before?

20 M: Sri Vasishta had said…


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Beloved Ramana Maharshi says the same in Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 141:

All the jnana* scriptures that teach the way to redemption proclaim in unison that restraining and stilling the mind is the best means for liberation. This is also emphasised by jnanis*.

If, after a certain amount of study, one knows this to be the inner purport of the scriptures, one should then direct ones whole effort towards that [practice]. What is the use of continuously studying more and more scriptures without doing this?

*Jnana, literally meaning knowledge, refers to the teachings of spiritual liberation, whereas jnani, literally ‘knower’, refers to the spiritually liberated sage.

 


In Ramana’s ‘Who am I?’, the question as to the nature of Jnana arises and is simply answered:

Questioner: What is wisdom-insight (jnana-drsti)?

Ramana Maharshi: Remaining quiet is what is called wisdom-insight.


The Katha Upanishad states the same, in verse 2.3.10:

When the five organs of perception become still, together with the mind, and the intellect ceases to be active: that is called the Supreme State [Brahman].


The Advaitic giant, Sri Gaudapada, writes in his Mandukya Karika:

The controlled mind is verily the fearless Brahman’ Chapter 3, verse 35

And in verse 37 of the same chapter he writes:

[Atman is] beyond all expression by words and beyond all acts of mind; It is all peace, eternal effulgence free from activity and fear and attainable by samadhi’ Chapter 3, verse 37


Also see:

The ‘ultimate means’ to liberation

Ramana Maharshi: be still

Ramana Maharshi: a quick and simple method to self-realisation

False enlightenment

Advaita vedanta scholars and false teachers

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The following taken from a traditional vedanta text called Advaita Bodha Deepika (The Lamp of Nondual Knowledge). This text was one of Ramana Maharshi’s favourites and was often recommended by him. This is taken from Chapter 3 which is entitled ‘Sadhana’, or Spiritual Practice, and the bold has been added by myself for emphasis:

Verses 50-51:

Disciple: How is it that even scholars in Vedanta have not succeeded in the pursuit of enquiry?

Master: Though they always study Vedanta and give lessons to others yet in the absence of desirelessness they do not practise what they have learnt.

D.: And what do they do otherwise?

M.: Like a parrot they reproduce the Vedantic jargon but do not put the teachings into practice.

D.: What does Vedanta teach?

M.: The Vedanta teaches a man to know that all but the non-dual Brahman is laden with misery, therefore to leave off all desires for enjoyment, to be free from love or hate, thoroughly to cut the knot of the ego appearing as `I’, you, he, this, that, mine and yours, to rid himself of the notion of `I’ and `mine’, to live unconcerned with the pairs of opposites as heat and cold, pain and pleasure, etc., to remain fixed in the perfect knowledge of the equality of all and making no distinction of any kind, never to be aware of anything but Brahman, and always to be experiencing the Bliss of the nondual Self.

Though Vedanta is read and well understood, if dispassion is not practised, the desire for pleasures will not fade away. There is no dislike for pleasing things and the desire for them cannot leave the person. Because desire is not checked, love, anger, etc., the ego or the `false-I’ in the obnoxious body, the sense of possession represented by `I’ or `mine’ of things agreeable to the body, the pairs of opposites like pleasure and pain, and false values, will not disappear.

However well read one may be, unless the teachings are put into practice, one is not really learned. Only like a parrot the man will be repeating that Brahman alone is real and all else is false.

D.: Why should he be so?

M.: The knowers say that like a dog delighting in offal, this man also delights in external pleasures. Though always busy with Vedanta, reading and teaching it, he is no better than a mean dog.

Ramana Maharshi: a quick and simple method to self-realisation

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In the deep sleep state we lay down our ego [ahankara],
our thoughts and our desires.

If we could only do all this while we are conscious,
we would realise the Self.

(excerpted from Conscious Immortality, Chapter 13)

Ramana Maharshi – limitation is only in the mind

Conscious Immortality Ramana Maharshi

In sleep, in trance, in absent-mindedness there is no differentiation. What is that which was then but is absent now? The difference is due to mind.

The mind is sometimes present and at other times absent; there is no change in the Reality.

The same person who was in sleep is now too, in waking.The Self is the same all through.

Limitation is only in the mind.

The same Self is here and now, in the wakeful state, as in deep sleep when no limitation is felt. There was no mind in sleep whereas it is now active. The Self exists in the absence of mind also.

The above excerpt has been taken from Conscious Immortality, Chapter 13

Ramana Maharshi – no ignorance, no knowledge

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The ‘I’ is always there.

There is no knowing it.

It is not a new knowledge to be acquired.

There is an obstruction to its knowledge called ignorance. Remove it.

But ignorance or knowledge is not for the Self. They are overgrowths to be cleared.

Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk 49

Ramana Maharshi: Conscious Immortality

Conscious Immortality Ramana Maharshi

The following is taken from Chapter 14 of Conscious Immortality and is instructive about the path to complete liberation. As often is the case with Ramana’s writings, there is much packed into each phrase. My comments have been interspersed in blue italics, and I pray you find these to be of assistance. If they are not, please feel free to ignore them:

“The Self is like a powerful hidden magnet within us. It draws us gradually to itself, though we imagine we are going to it of our own accord.

We imagine that we are seeking, whereas actually we are being moved by the Self, as is everything else likewise being orchestrated by Oneness. Next the basic teaching is given in concise form:

“When we are near enough, it puts an end to our other activities, makes us still, and then swallows up our own personal current, thus killing our personality. It overwhelms the intellect and over floods the whole being.

The teaching goes like this: first we naturally drop and turn away from outer (egoic) activities as we realise that we no longer need them. Then we become still. Lastly after having been still for some time, our personhood is ‘swallowed up’ by the self. Then all that remains is fullness, the Self. That’s all there ever was.

“We think we are meditating upon it and developing towards it, whereas the truth is that we are as iron filings and it is the Atman-magnet that is pulling us towards itself. Thus the process of finding Self is a form of Divine Magnetism.

Again the notion of personal doership is being undercut here – we are all but puppets of the Lord. We take ourselves to be the orchestrator of our actions, whereas we are His instruments playing His song. So does this mean that we do not have to practice?

It is necessary to practise meditation frequently and regularly until the condition induced becomes habitual and permanent throughout the day. Therefore meditate.

You lost sight of the bliss because your meditative attitude had not become natural and because of the recurrence of vasanas. When you become habitually reflective, the enjoyment of spiritual beatitude becomes a matter of natural experience.

Ramana instructs us to practice meditation regularly, so that the meditative attitude becomes the predominant habitual way of being. How to meditate? This will be explained below:

“It is not by a single realisation that “I am not the body but the Atman” that the goal is reached. Do we become high in position by once seeing a king? One must constantly enter into samadhi and realise one’s Self, and completely blot out the old vasanas and the mind, before it becomes the Self.

Here Ramana makes a central point. It is often mistakenly thought that realising who you are is a one time affair. However here Ramana emphasises that this realisation alone is insufficient for true liberation to dawn. One must time and time again sink into Samadhi and remove the habitual tendencies (vasanas) that cause us to identify as a finite body-mind entity. This simple but essential teaching is often side-stepped by those who would like the fruits of liberation without the need to actually practice and drive out the vasanas/habitual ignorance.

The example that one cannot become a king simply by seeing a king is cited by Ramana. This example is reminiscent of that given in Chapter 7 of Advaita Bodha Deepika, one of Ramana’s favourite texts, where it is repeatedly told that mere knowledge of the king by a beggar does not transform the beggar into a king. Similarly, the jiva is not so easily transformed into the Self, so to speak, by simply knowing of the Self. So, how can the jiva be ‘transformed into the Self’? Ramana will enlighten us:

“If you keep to the thought of the Self, and be intently watching for it then even that one thought which is used as a focus in concentration will disappear and you will BE, the true Self. Meditation on Self is our natural state.

Only because we find it hard do we imagine it to be an arbitrary and extraordinary state. We are all unnatural.

The mind resting in the Self is its natural condition, but instead of that our minds are resting in outward objects. After the expulsion of name and form (nama-rupa) which compose the external world, and by dwelling on existence-knowledge-bliss (sat-chit-ananda), take care to prevent the re-entry into the mind of the expelled name and form.

Here the essence of spiritual practice is given: we are to rest as the self. How to do that? We are to not rest in outward objects, we are to pay no attention to name and form (nama-rupa) and instead dwell on awareness-consciousness-Being-Bliss.

We are to take care not to allow the mind to again shoot outwards into the world and dwell on the forms (that it itself projects).

We are to cultivate thought of this Self, and eventually this thought too will disappear and all that will be left is Self without any trace of jiva or the idea that I am a limited body-mind entity.

 

Robert Adams outlining a wonderful path to Self-Realisation

This is a beautiful and instructive post from Robert Adams outlining a wonderful path to Self-Realisation. It was originally put together and posted by someone else on Facebook but I thought is was such a nice post that I’ve blogged it here for the benefit of you all.

The essential points below are:

1. Do not attempt to change whatever is happening.

2. Instead adopt an attitude of love, forgiveness and mercy throughout your daily life

3. Don’t worry too much about the body, mind and world or whatever experiences arise. No need to suppress either, just let things be and occur by themselves as much as you are able to. Allow life to take care of life.

4. When you are filled with love and forgiveness and mercy, perform self-enquiry again and again. This practice is emphasised below with instructions on how to do this.

5. Rest in the resultant Silence and allow yourself to ‘become’ That, watch yourself become more joyful and less concerned about thoughts and the world. Soon you will realise there is only That 

Now read the words from Robert Adams below. Take your time to read it properly as there are some beautiful variations of the teachings which are very potent. I think it’s really worth spending a few days or weeks just reading this, absorbing the message and actually practicing it. But, as always, do what feels right for you.

 

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Robert Adams:

You come under the law of karma […] when you believe you’re not awakened, you’re not free, you’re not liberated when you react to person, place or thing. […] I know there are many people in Advaita Vedanta who tell me, “Well you know Robert karma does not exist. Only the Self exists. Only effortless pure awareness exists. So why are you telling us about karma?” In truth you have to look at yourself and ask yourself, “Have I experienced pure awareness? Have I experienced absolute reality? I can’t afford to put on an act. It will only go against me.” […] So while we’re on the path to liberation we have to be very careful what we do with our lives. Every little thing is karmic. It is only when you awaken, when you are liberated that none of this exists. This is why I tell you so often, “Do not fool yourself.” Look at how many times a day you become angry. You feel cheated, you feel exploited. You feel something is wrong someplace. You feel depressed. You go and do something to cause this condition to stop and whatever you do you’re accruing karma. There is only one way to overcome this. And that is to forget about the world, forget about your body, forget about situations and go deep within yourself inquiring, “To whom does this come? Who is experiencing karma?”

[…]

Karma seems to be real and you’re affected with it all day long. Whatever you do, wherever you go you’re always affected by karma. It is karma that moves your body. It is karma that makes you do things. It is karma that causes situations to come into your life. Do not try to change a condition. Do not intend to change the situation. For you may appear to change it but this is only an appearance. It will come back again in full force. There is only one way to get rid of it and that is to transcend it by forgiveness, mercy and love. And as you practice forgiveness, mercy and love you inquire,

“To whom all this is coming to?

Who is experiencing these things?

Who is going through all these things?”

And again you will discover the I-thought,

“I am. I am going through all of these things. I appear to be going through karma. I appear to be suffering. I appear to want to get even with someone.”

You’re beginning to realize it’s not you. It is the I. Which is only a thought. Just knowing this alone makes you feel good. For you begin to see that you are free. You are bright and shining. You are sat-chit-ananda, nirvana, ultimate oneness.

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It is the I that appears to have the problems. You separate yourself from the I, by self-inquiry. And then you can go further by inquiring,

“Where did the I come from?”

You never answer that question. By inquiring that is sufficient. And you will find that you’re in the silence, the void. Just by going this far you will feel better than you’ve felt in years. You will feel such joy and such peace. This has nothing to do with enlightenment. But you’re going to feel joy and peace. More so than you ever felt before. Just by inquiring,

“Where does the I come from?”

The reason that you feel such joy and peace is because you begin to realize that you are not the I. You have absolutely nothing to do with the problems of the I. It is the I that feels anger. It is the I that feels pain. It is the I that feels rejection. But you ask yourself,

“What have I got to do with I? I have absolutely nothing to do with the I.”

Therefore again you ask,

“Then where did the I come from? Who gave it birth? What is its source?”

And you keep quiet. A feeling of total love will overpower you. For you’re learning to sit in the silence.

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That’s the most important point. You want to get to the place where thoughts do not bother you, where things do not annoy you. Where there are no problems and there are no solutions. Where there is no good and there’s no bad. You want to get beyond duality and rest in the silence. Many of you are getting a glimpse of what I’m talking about right now, as you rest in the silence. You’re not thinking about it, you’re not trying to analyze it, you’re not trying to make it happen, you’re just resting in the silence. Perfectly still. All of a sudden thoughts come up again. You start over again. You begin again. You inquire,

“To whom do these thoughts come?

Who is thinking these thoughts?

I am?

If I is thinking these thoughts then it has absolutely nothing to do with me. It appears to me as if everything is attached to the I. All of the emotions, the fears, the frustrations, it’s all attached to the I.”

Again you say,

“Where did the I come from?

What is the source of I?

Who gave it birth?”

You never attempt to answer. You sit in the silence.

.

Some of you are beginning to feel how good it is to sit in the silence right now. The mind is completely empty. The fears are gone. There is nothing left to tell you anything. You are quiet, still. Thoughts pop up again. It makes no difference if they’re good thoughts, bad thoughts or in-between. The whole idea is to empty the mind of all thoughts. You inquire again,

“Who is thinking these thoughts?

I am?

Who am I?

What is the source of I?

Who gave it birth?

Where does this I come from that is giving me all this trouble and keeps thinking and thinking?

And bringing up to me all these morbid thoughts, all sorts of happy thoughts, all sorts of thoughts.

Where did this I come from?

What is its source?”

And again you enter the silence. Where everything is totally still. Where there is no movement. The vasanas have disappeared. There is just perfect stillness. You’re beginning to discover something very interesting. You’re beginning to discover that you´re able to sit in the silence for longer and longer periods without thought. It’s taking longer and longer before a thought comes to you.

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Yet you are not falling asleep. You’re feeling a peace that you’ve never felt before. You’re beginning to feel an all encompassing love. You begin to experience that the whole universe is an emanation of your own mind. And what you have done is you have pulled the entire universe into your heart, everything! All of the galaxies, the milky ways, the planets, the earth with all of it’s manifestations, everything has vanished. That’s total silence. […] […] When you’re sitting in the silence and the world is still available to you that is not silence. That’s a false silence. The true silence is when the whole world, the whole universe, people, places and things have all disappeared. You have pulled them back into the heart centre. That is the true silence. For there is no longer anything to think about. Everything is gone. There is just the void. The beautiful precious void. And you’re beginning to sit in that void, in that silence for longer and longer periods. When you come out of it the world appears to you again but it’s different. It begins to be different for you. You no longer look at the world in the same way. You no longer see the universe in the same way. You begin to feel everything as an image. You see images on the screen of life. The images keep changing, changing, changing but the screen is always the same. And something begins to tell you that you are that screen. You have always been the screen. Unchanging, absolute pure reality.

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But you are not free yet. This comes and it goes. Little by little the thoughts come back again. You begin to feel anger again but less than you did before. You begin to have less interest in your body. The things about your body that used to bother you stop bothering you, stop annoying you. People no longer make you angry or frustrated. This happens little by little. And you can’t wait to practice again. When you are by yourself and you’re not disturbed you sit down in your favorite chair and you begin to inquire,

“To whom do these thoughts come?

Why they come to me. I still feel thoughts. Maybe less than I did before but I still feel things,”

you further inquire,

“who is the I that feels these things?

Where did the I come from?

Who gave birth to this feeling I?

What is its source?”

And now you begin to feel that the I is only a thought. It is one of the thoughts that you’ve been thinking about all these years called the I-thought. Yet everything is attached to it and you keep seeing it and thinking about it. But now you’re inquiring,

“To whom does it come?

Who’s feeling it?

What is its source?”

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And you go back into the silence. Now every time you get into the silence you feel better and better. You feel lighter and lighter. The world again, the universe they’re getting sucked into your heart. The whole universe has gone. All existence has disappeared. Including yourself. There is nothing but the silence.

(long silence)

(…)

Om … shanti, shanti, shanti, peace.

— The above is taken from Robert Adams Collected Works, Talk 136: The True Silence