Integrating knowledge, spontaneous action

Do you go around repeatedly saying your name so that you remember it? Do you have to walk around saying “I am Tom, I am Tom, I am Tom?” (obviously substitute in your name).

Or do you spend most of your life not even thinking about your name, but when someone calls out your name, the understanding ‘My name is Tom’ automatically acts: you turn your head and respond?

It’s the same with understanding there is no doer: initially you may need to think about it, go through the reasoning, and realise there is no evidence for a doer. It is a conscious process. Because we have been conditioned to think of ourselves as being a doer, there is often a process of deconditioning.

It may also take time for all the suffering based on the ‘I am the doer’ notion to fall away. Other notions such as ‘I am to blame’ or ‘I could/should have done it differently’ or ‘I am not worthy’ may still all be at play. All these depend on the root belief ‘I am a separate doer-entity’. Again, there may be a conscious process of applying this understanding in order to deal with suffering as it arises and uprooting the associated beliefs upon which suffering depends.

But once this has been done, then we don’t need to think about it. The knowledge of ‘there is no doer’ has been ingrained into us. We do not need to think about it, we no longer need to repeat the process of understanding.

But just as when someone asks your name, you can spontaneously respond ‘My name is ____’, when someone asks you ‘Are you a doer?’, you can instantly reply ‘there is no doer’.

The sense of being a doer vs. no doer

When the doer* is seen to be an illusion, an imagined fiction, the sense/feeling of being a doer may still continue. The sense/feeling of being a doer can arise like any other phenomena arises.

And notice – it arises spontaneously, meaning there is no doer there doing it. You see! It can be seen that even the sense of being a doer is something that has no doer behind it – it just happens, by itself.

So, in my daily life I often feel like I’m doing things, but there is an understanding there that there is no doer-entity doing it. It is all just happening.

This is the difference between experience and knowledge/understanding: I may feel like a doer, but I know/understand I am not a doer.

*By doer I mean the notion of being a separate entity which creates or authors thoughts and actions

Ramana Maharshi: remaining quiet and aware is the state of mind to aim at

Ramana Maharshi sitting

Questioner:  There are times when persons and things take a vague, almost transparent form, as in a dream. One ceases to observe them as outside, but passively conscious of their existence, while not actively conscious of any kind of selfhood.  There is a deep quietness in the mind.

Is it at such times that one is ready to dive into the Self? Or is this condition unhealthy, the result of self hypnotism? Should it be encouraged as yielding temporary peace?

Ramana Maharshi:  There is Consciousness along with quietness in the mind.  This is exactly to be aimed at.  The fact that the question has formed on this point, without realizing that it is the Self, shows that the state is not steady but casual.

The word ‘diving’ is appropriate when there are outgoing tendencies, and when, therefore, the mind has to be directed and turned within, there is a dip below the surface of externalities.  But when quietness prevails without obstructing the Consciousness, where is the need to dive?

Taken from Talks with Ramana Maharshi, Talk 348

Tom’s comments:

The sadhana (spiritual practice) that Bhagawan recommends above is to simply remain quiet (in mind and thought) and also to remain aware.

This is self-knowledge. This is the Self.

When thoughts can come and go without disturbing this essential quality of mind, there is no need to ‘dive’ using the tools of Self Inquiry (ie. the question ‘Who am I?’). With time it may be seen that nothing ever disturbs this ‘peace that passeth all understanding’, and that nothing ever did.

It was always here, fully manifest, right under our noses.

Here is the gateway to Self-knowledge or liberation.

Ramana Maharshi: Once you realise the Self, it becomes your direct and immediate experience. It is never lost.

Ramana Maharshi sitting
‘Once you realise the Self, it becomes your direct and immediate experience. It is never lost.’
Ramana Maharshi

Time and time again I hear from spiritual seekers that they glimpsed the Self, they experienced that ecstasy, but it slipped through their fingers and fell away. Their question to me is how to get it back again. This is the wrong question, this is the wrong way, as it is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the path.

Everything that comes can also go. Everything that comes, all experiences that have been attained, are not the Self.

The Self is no particular experience. It is always here, fully manifest, fully evident. Everything that is perceived is It. It is not different from whatever is being perceived to be happening.

Realising that ‘this is It’ is Self-realisation. It is simply seeing what already is the case. When it is seen, there is no desire to reach a new experience, and a seeing that everything happens spontaneously without the presence of a separate doer-entity. Here suffering falls away as the simple truth of no-doer is seen.

Actions, thoughts and desires continue to manifest themselves, spontaneously, but there is nobody doing it, just like the wind blowing or digestion happening. Things happen, no doer.

As long are you are alive, you always are, you always exist. No matter what happens, you are. This knowledge of (your) being is Self-knowledge. It is not something to attain, just something to be ‘acknowledged’. It is not separate from whatever is perceived to be happening. How can this ‘knowledge’ be lost?

Poetry: the all knowing ego

Punch and judy.JPG

The ego thinks it has all the ‘answers’,
Thinks it knows exactly how the enlightenment game works,
Thinks it knows which practice is best,
All its concepts lined up.

Of course it has no clue.

Pride means it pretends to know what it doesn’t,
Clinging to what it hopes will work,
According to its limited understanding.

Who can blame it?

My advice: realise first, talk later.

Spiritual Relationships & Gurus

swan heart

In my life I’ve encountered lots of different spiritual practices and philosophies, from New Age and Self-Help to Theravada Buddhism and Kashmir Shaivism. I’ve gained from almost every teaching I’ve read, some more so than others of course. But spiritual teachings have not been the things that I have found most healing in my life – it was my relationships that really helped me grow and feel whole. Specifically it was a long-term, loving and supportive relationship that helped me grow the most.

Sure, the spiritual teachings gave me insights, transcendental experiences and made me feel happier in many ways, but it was through a caring and trusting relationship that I allowed myself to open up, love and forgive myself. I was accepted in the eyes of another, and that allowed me to accept myself, to love and be kind to myself.

I was accepted in the eyes of another, and that allowed me to accept myself, to love and be kind to myself.

Much of our self-image is created through our relationships. Children learn about what is good and bad behaviour from what other people say to them and how other people react to them. They learn if they are beautiful or ugly, too fat or too skinny, clever or stupid, naughty or polite, ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – all these are learnt through what other people have fed back to them. Relationships create self-esteem – both high and low.

It seems fitting therefore, that if relationships and interactions with people can destroy a sense of self-worth, that relationship can also be beneficial in repairing a negative self-image which in turn can repair all sorts of resultant negative self-isolating coping strategies.

…if relationships and interactions with people can destroy a sense of self-worth…relationship can also be beneficial in repairing a negative self-image

In a spiritual context, I think this is where the Guru-disciple relationship traditionally has been so powerful. For those who don’t know, a Guru is simply the Sanskrit word for a spiritual teacher. Literally the word means ‘heavy’ (heavy with spiritual teaching), but a more creative etymology states that guru means ‘dispeller of darkness’ or ‘bringer of light’.

Whilst I have never had a guru (I consider life to be my guru – how new-age!), I can see how the dissemination of a spiritual teaching tradition in the context of a caring supportive relationship with a Guru could work wonders. I was always reading books in order to understand the spiritual stuff and never had that opportunity to learn at the feet of a guru – and when I did I never really trusted them anyway. In fact being near a guru, especially their feet, was the last thing on my mind in my journey. And the ones who demanded unconditional faith – that set my alarm bells ringing straight away. There have been so many gurus, both East and West, that have used, abused, manipulated and extorted their followers that it’s difficult to keep count of them.

There have been so many gurus, both East and West, that have used, abused, manipulated and extorted their followers that it’s difficult to keep count of them.

But there have been countless examples through the ages of how spiritual seekers, through simply trusting their guru, went on to attain liberation. The example of Nisargadatta Maharaj springs to mind – he trusted his guru’s advice to remain in the ‘I AM’ and after 2 years or so he was apparently self-realised or enlightened.

Traditionally in the Indian subcontinent, a guru may be someone who the family knows quite well. They would usually be male, but not always. In more ancient times the spiritual seeker would often live with the guru, perhaps even for several years before the actual spiritual teaching was taught. Up until that point they would be simply living in the forest with each other: talking, cooking, eating, working the land. They would know each other as brothers would, and in that context there was time for respect, trust and mutual affection to develop. The spiritual aspirant would be able to scrutinise the Guru and see if he truly lived his teaching, or if he only spoke of the Holy but did not embody it.

I feel nostalgic for that kind of ancient exotic guru, someone versed in the highest spiritual and meditative teachings, someone who deeply cared for me and I also cared for, someone I could give myself to and in whose love and spiritual presence I could heal myself.

But that was not, and is not my life. Instead I am thankful for my soulmate and wife, and the healing she has brought me through both the ups and downs of our relationship. Yes, I said earlier that life is my guru, but so is my wife.

Do you have a ‘guru’? Or have you had many ‘gurus’ in your life? Remember, a guru doesn’t have to be a person.

Ramana Maharshi: just ‘lose’ the ego

Ramana smiling

Be what you are…All that is needful is to lose the ego, That what is, is always there. Even now you are That…
…The thought ‘I have not seen’, the expectation to see and the desire of getting something, are all the working of the ego.
You have fallen into the snares of the ego. The ego says all these and not you. Be yourself and nothing more!

Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi
Talk 183

See also:
Ramana Maharshi on non-doership and self-realisation
Ramana Maharshi: Self-inquiry (atma vichara) and doership

Spiritual Materialism


So many spiritual seekers start off on the wrong footing, so many spiritual teachings pander to the ego. If your main aim on the spiritual path is to gain super-powers, be permanently in a state of heightened bliss or to be the next great spiritual teacher, then you are primarily interested in accumulation and possession and perhaps not as deeply interested in truth as you may think. You should know this is the ego’s desire and the spiritual path you walk is not a genuine one.

So, first ask yourself honestly – do you want truth or pleasure? You may want both, but which one do you want more? If your perception is distorted by ego and desire, then the spiritual path you are attracted to will be similarly distorted. We get the spiritual teachings we deserve.

We get the spiritual teachings we deserve.

There is nothing wrong with seeking happiness of course. It is through suffering and seeking an end to suffering that most of us become spiritually inclined in the first place. But if we are clouded by our desires and insecurities then we become susceptible to false beliefs, magical thinking, exploitation and corrupt spiritual teachings. This ‘spirituality’ is in fact another form of materialism or hedonism in a different guise: the ego is still at play.

If you can see all of this, then you already know that you are apart from it. What is it that sees? Who are you at your innermost core? All that you have accumulated will pass away: pleasure, pain, psychic powers, fame, charisma and transcendental experiences. All are finite and transient. None of them are the Eternal.

The Eternal already is. Nothing is not It.