Annamalai Swami: Bhagavan watched me very closely in the years that I served him in the ashram. One time I went to the Mother’s temple where many people were talking about worldly matters.
Bhagavan called me back, saying, ‘Why should you go to that crowd? Don’t go to crowded places. If you move with the crowd, their vasanas will infect you.’
Bhagavan always encouraged me to live a solitary life and not mix with other people. That was the path he picked for me. Other people got different advice that was equally good for them.
But while he actively discouraged me from socialising, he also discouraged me from sitting quietly and meditating during the years that I was working in the ashram. In this period of my life, if Bhagavan saw me sitting with my eyes closed he would call out to me and give me some work to do.
On one of these occasions he told me,
‘Don’t sit and meditate. It will be enough if you don’t forget that you are the Self. Keep this in your mind all the time while you are working. This sadhana will be enough for you. The real sadhana is not to forget the Self. It is not sitting quietly with one’s eyes closed. You are always the Self. Just don’t forget it.’
Bhagavan’s way does not create a war between the mind and the body. He does not make people sit down and fight the mind with closed eyes. Usually, when you sit in meditation, you are struggling to achieve something, fighting to gain control over the mind. Bhagavan did not advise us to engage in this kind of fight. He told us that there is no need to engage in a war against the mind, because mind does not have any real, fundamental existence. This mind, he said, is nothing but a shadow. He advised me to be continuously aware of the Self while I did the ordinary things of everyday life, and in my case, this was enough.
The above is an excerpt taken from Final Talks by Annamalai Swami, p. 67
The following excerpt is from Chapter 7 of the above book:
Annamalai Swami: Enquire ‘Who am I?’ or ‘What is my real nature?’ The nature of the Self is nothing but peace. If you are not aware of that peace, it means that you are identifying with something that is not the Self. As long as you hear, taste and smell things, you identify with the body. When the perceptions and the perceiver of them vanish, you become aware of the peace that is there all the time.
If you are not aware of that peace, it means that you are identifying with something that is not the Self.
Q: I hear the sound. Then I ask myself who is hearing the sound, and the answer is ‘I’. What happens next depends on where I am. If I am in Swami’s presence or in the meditation hall at Sri Ramanasramam, I feel the presence of the Self and the bliss of peace, but when I am away from Swami, it is not easy.
AS: You need not hold on to That because you are That all the time. That is enough. You are That. How can you hold on to That, or feel separate from it, or try to get it back, or lose it? If That is your real nature, how can you pretend that you are nearer to it in two places and separate from it when you are somewhere else?
How can you hold on to That, or feel separate from it, or try to get it back, or lose it?
Q: I have the experience of That with Swami, but I don’t have the same experience when I am away from him. This is definitely my experience, so I don’t really understand what you are telling me.
AS: Your understanding or your lack of it does not affect the truth of what I am saying. You are That. See who you are and there will be nothing obstructing the experience of this fact.
Q: I still say I see who I am when I am near Swami. When I am away from him, I can remember it as a fact, but it is not my direct experience.
AS: This is because you identify with your body and your mind. Your mind is making you believe that a certain experience can only happen when you are in a particular place. Give up this identification and you will find that the Self is everywhere. You will see it, know it and be it wherever you go. Everything is Swami including you yourself.
Question: How do I give up identification with the body, particularly when I am not in front of Swami? I keep practicing, but I don’t have that experience.
AS: Meditate ‘I am the Self’. If you do this, the idea that you are the body will go. ‘I am the Self’ is still an idea, and as such, it belongs in maya, along with all other ideas. But you can begin to conquer maya by giving up utterly wrong ideas that bind you and cause you trouble. How to do this? Replace them with ideas that are a better reflection of the truth, and which are helpful in leading you towards that truth. If you want to cut iron, you use another piece of iron.
But you can begin to conquer maya by giving up utterly wrong ideas that bind you and cause you trouble. How to do this? Replace them with ideas that are a better reflection of the truth…
In battle, if someone shoots an arrow at you, you shoot one back. In maya, if the arrow of a bad idea comes speeding towards you, dodge it. Don’t let it stick to you of you will end up in pain. Then, in retaliation, fire back the arrow of ‘I am the Self’ at the place where the wrong idea came from.
Sadhana is a battlefield. You have to be vigilant. Don’t take delivery of wrong beliefs and don’t identify with the incoming thoughts that will give you pain and suffering. But if these things start happening to you, fight back by affirming, ‘I am the Self; I am the Self; I am the Self’. These affirmations will lessen the power of the ‘I am the body’ arrows and eventually they will armour-plate you so successfully, the ‘I am the body’ thoughts that come your way will no longer have the power to touch you, affect you or make you suffer.
Don’t take delivery of wrong beliefs and don’t identify with the incoming thoughts that will give you pain and suffering…fight back by affirming, ‘I am the Self; I am the Self; I am the Self’.
This fight all takes place within maya because in reality you are peace and peace alone. But while you are suffering in maya you can use these thoughts as a means of ultimately conquering it.
(The following is an excerpt from the above book and comprises most of Chapter 3):
A devotee who came to Annamalai Swami had so much pain in one of his legs, he found it very difficult to sit comfortably on the floor. Observing his difficulties, Annamalai Swami (AS) made the following remarks:
AS: Though the body is needed for Sadhana, one should not identify with it. We should make good use of it and look after it well,but we should not pay too much attention to it.
There are so many thoughts in the mind. Thought after thought after thought. They never stop. But there is one thought that is continuous, though it is mostly subconscious. ‘I am the body’ – this is one string on which all other thoughts are threaded. Once we identify ourselves with the body by thinking this thought, Maya follows. It also follows that if we cease to identify ourselves with the body, Maya will not affect us anymore.
‘I am the body’ – this is one string on which all other thoughts are threaded. Once we identify ourselves with the body by thinking this thought, Maya follows.
Maya is fundamentally non existent. Bhagavan said that Maya literally means ‘that which is not.’ It is unreal because everything that Maya produces is an outgrowth of a wrong idea. It is a consequence of taking something to be true that is not really true. How can something that is not real produce something that is real? If a barren woman says that she has beaten by her son, or that she has been injured by the horns of a hare, we would rightly take her to be deluded. Something that does not exist cannot be the cause of suffering or of anything else.
Maya is fundamentally non existent.
How to get rid of this ‘I am the body’ feeling and of the Maya that is produced by it? It goes when there is ‘saman bhava’ the equanimity or equality of outlook that leaves one unaffected by the extreme opposites such has happiness and unhappiness, pleasure and pain. When ‘saman bhava’ is attained, the idea ‘I am the body’ is no longer present and Maya is transcended.
Question: Is the body to be regarded as unreal, as ‘not me’? What attitude should I have towards this body and all the sensory information it provides me with?
AS: By itself, this body is jada, inert and lifeless. Without the mind, the body cannot function. And how does the mind function? Through the five senses that the body provides.
Mind and body are like the tongue and teeth in the mouth. They have to work in harmony with each other. The teeth do not fight with tongue and bite it. Mind and body should combine in the same harmonious way.
However, if we want to go beyond the body, beyond the mind, we have to understand and fully accept that all the information the senses provide is not real. Like the mirage that produces an illusory oasis in the desert, the senses create information that there is a real world in front of us that is being perceived by the mind. The apparent reality of the world is an illusion. It is merely a misperception. When the mind perceives a snake where in reality there is only a rope, this is clearly a case of the senses projecting an imaginary image onto a real substratum. This, on a large scale, is how the unreal appearance of the world is projected by the mind and the senses onto the underlying reality of the Self….
…Self Inquiry is the process by which attention is put on the substratum instead of on names and forms that are habitually imposed on it. Self is the substratum out of which all things appear to manifest, and the Jnani is the one who is continually aware of the real substratum. He is never deluded into believing that the names and forms that are perceived by the senses have any real existence.
Self Inquiry is the process by which attention is put on the substratum instead of on names and forms that are habitually imposed on it.
Whatever we see in this room, for example, that picture of Bhagavan over there, is unreal. It has no more reality than objects we perceive in our dreams. We think we live in a real, materially substantial world, and that our minds and bodies are real entities that move around in it. When the Self is seen and known, all these ideas fade away and one is left with the knowledge: Self alone exists.
Question: If I regard all the people that I see and meet as unreal projections, what do I base my moral sense on? I can go around killing then or robbing them without feeling guilty because i would know that they are just characters in my dream.
AS: Everything that we perceive is maya, an unreal dream, but one should not then think, “Since everything is unreal, I can do what I like”. There are dream consequences for the bad acts committed in the dream, and while you still take the dream to be the reality, you will suffer the consequences of your bad behaviour. Do no evil and have no hate. Have equanimity towards everything.
The following excerpt is from the wonderful book Annamalai Swami FINAL TALKS, Chapter 1:
Annamalai Swami: Mind is just a shadow. Attempts to catch it and control it are futile. They are just shadows chasing shadows. You can’t control or eliminate a shadow by chasing it or by putting a shadow hand on it. These are just children’s games.
Ram Tirtha once told a story about a small boy who ran down the street, trying to catch up with the head of his shadow. He never managed because no matter how fast he ran, the shadow of his head was always a few feet ahead of him.
His mother, who was watching him and laughing, called out, ‘Put your hand on your head!’
When the boy followed this instruction, the shadow hand caught up with the shadow head. This was enough to satisfy the boy.
This kind of advice may be enough to keep children happy, but it won’t produce satisfactory results in the realm of sadhana and meditation. Don’t chase your shadow thoughts and your shadow mind with mind-control techniques because these techniques are also shadows. Instead, go back to the source of the shadow-mind and stay there. When you abide in that place, you will be happy, and the desire to go chasing after shadow thoughts will no longer be there.
Bhagavan often told the story of a man who tried to get rid of his shadow by burying it in a pit. This man dug a hole and then stood on the edge of it in such a way that his shadow was cast on the bottom of the hole he had just made. After lining it up in this way, he started throwing soil on the shadow in an attempt to bury it. Of course, no matter how much soil he put in the hole, the shadow still remained on top of it.
Your mind is an insubstantial shadow that will follow you around wherever you go. Attempts to eliminate or control it cannot succeed while there is still a belief that the mind is real, and that it is something that can be controlled by physical or mental activity.
Question: But this shadow mind must still be eliminated by some means.
Annamalai Swami: When self-realisation happens, mind is no longer there. However, you do not get self-realisation by getting rid of the mind. It happens when you understand and know that the mind never existed. It is the recognition of what is real and true, and the abandonment of mistaken ideas about the reality and substantiality of this ephemeral shadow you call the mind.
This is why Bhagavan and many other teachers kept bringing up the analogy of the snake and the rope. If you mistake a rope on the ground for a snake, the snake only exists as an idea in your mind. That idea might cause you a lot of worry and anxiety, and you may waste a lot of mental energy wondering how to avoid the snake or kill it, but this fact remains: there is no snake outside your imagination. When you see the rope, the substratum upon which your false idea of a snake is superimposed, the idea that there is a snake, and that it is real, instantly vanishes. It is not a real snake that has disappeared. The only thing that has disappeared is an erroneous idea.
The substratum upon which the false idea of the mind has been superimposed is the Self. When you see the mind, the Self, the underlying substratum, is not seen. It is hidden by a false but persistent idea. And conversely, when the Self is seen, there is no mind.
Question: But how to give up this false idea that the mind is real?
Annamalai Swami: The same way that you give up any wrong idea. You simply stop believing in it. If this does not happen spontaneously when you hear the truth from a teacher, keep telling yourself, “I am not the mind; I am not the mind. There is no mind; there is no mind. Consciousness alone exists.” If you have a firm conviction that this is the truth, one day this firm conviction will mature to the point where it becomes your direct experience.
Consciousness alone exists. If you generate a firm conviction that this is the truth, eventually this firm conviction will become your own direct experience. Consciousness alone exists. That is to say, whatever exists is consciousness alone. Keep this in mind and don’t allow yourself to regard anything else as being real. If you fail and give even a little reality to the mind, it will become your own false reality. Once this initial wrong identification – ‘I am the mind, the mind is real’ – has happened, problems and suffering will follow.
Don’t be afraid of the mind. It’s a false tiger, not a real one. Something that is not real cannot harm you. Fear and anxiety may come to you if you believe that there is a real tiger in your vicinity. Someone may be making tiger noises as a joke to make you afraid, but when he reveals himself, all your fears go because you suddenly understand that there never was a tiger outside your imagination.
Question: One can have a temporary experience of the Self, the underlying reality, but then it goes away. Can you offer any guidance on how to stabilise in that state?
Annamalai Swami: A lamp that is lit may blow out if the wind is strong. If you want to see it again, you have to relight it. But Self is not like this. It is not a flame that can be blown out by the passing winds of thoughts and desires. It is always bright, always shining, always there. If you are not aware of it, it means that you have put a curtain or a veil in front of it that blocks your view. Self does not hide itself behind a curtain. You are the one who puts the curtain there by believing in ideas that are not true. If the curtain parts and then closes again, it means that you are still believing in wrong ideas. If you have eradicated them completely, they will not reappear. While these ideas are covering up the Self, you still need to do constant sadhana.
So, going back to your question, the Self does not need to stabilise itself. It is full and complete in itself. The mind can be stabilised or destabilised, but not the Self.
Question: By constant sadhana, do you mean self-enquiry?
Annamalai Swami: Yes. By strength of practice, by doing this sadhana, this veil will be removed completely. There will be no further hindrances. You can go to the top of Arunachala, but if you are not alert, if you are not paying attention, you may slip and end up at Easanya Math (a Hindu institution at the base of the hill).
You have to make an enormous effort to realise the Self. It is very easy to stop on the way and fall back into ignorance. At any moment you can fall back. You have to make a strong determined effort to remain on the peak when you first reach it, but eventually a time will come when you are fully established in the Self. When that happens, you cannot fall. You have reached your destination and no further efforts are required. Until that moment comes, constant sadhana is required.
Question: Is it important to have a Guru at this stage, this period when constant effort is required?
Annamalai Swami: Yes. The Guru guides you and tells you that what you have done is not enough. If you are filling a bucket with water, you can always add more if there is still space. But when it is completely full, full to overflowing, it is pointless to add even a single drop. You may think that you have done enough, and you may believe that your bucket is full, but the Guru is in a better position to see that there is still a space, and that more water needs to be added. Don’t rely on your own judgement in this matter. The state you have reached may seem to be complete and final, but if the Guru says, “You need more sadhana,” trust him and carry on with your efforts.
Bhagavan often used to say, ‘The physical Guru is outside, telling you what to do and pushing you into the Self. The inner Guru, the Self within, simultaneously pulls you towards itself.’
Once you have become established in the inner Guru, the Self, the distinction between Guru and disciple disappears. In that state you no longer need the help of any Guru. You are That, the Self.
Until the river reaches the ocean it is obliged to keep on flowing, but when it arrives at the ocean, it becomes ocean and the flow stops. The water of the river originally came from the ocean. As it flows, it is merely making its way back to its source. When you meditate or dosadhana, you are flowing back to the source from which you came. After you have reached that source, you discover that everything that exists – world, Guru, mind – is one. No differences or distinctions arise there.
Non-duality is jnana; duality is samsara. If you can give up duality, Brahman alone remains, and you know yourself to be that Brahman, but to make this discovery continuous meditation is required. Don’t allocate periods of time for this. Don’t regard it as something that you do when you sit with your eyes closed. This meditation has to be continuous. Do it while you are eating, walking, and even talking. It has to be continued all the time.
The following is an excerpt from the book ‘Annamalai Swami Final Talks’ (bold added by me):
Annamalai Swami: ….Your mind is an insubstantial shadow that will follow you around wherever you go. Attempts to eliminate or control it cannot succeed while there is still a belief that the mind is real, and that it is something that can be controlled by physical or mental activity.