Integrating the understanding of no-doer

This post follows on from my previous post: Why seeing/understanding alone may not be enough

This understanding of no doer may initially take time to become embedded, and you may have to ‘practice’ it to start with. It’s just like many other forms of knowledge:

Take the example of a child learning his (or her) name. At first he doesn’t know his name. Upon his parents repeating his name to him multiple times, he finally starts to realise that his name is ‘Tom’. Maybe at first he forgets his name a few times and doesn’t respond when someone calls him. After sometime it becomes ingrained and embedded into his mind and he no longer has to think about it.

Eventually he can’t help but know his name. When someone calls out ‘Tom’, he automatically knows someone is calling him, whether he  like it or not.

It’s the same with the understanding ‘there is no doer’. Initially the understanding may be a bit shaky, but after sometime, after repeated practice, after going through the logic behind it a few times and seeing the truth of it, it becomes more ingrained. Eventually it becomes effortless as knowing your name.

To be continued in my next post: Problems with utilising conceptual tools

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Q: Who sees there is no doer? (Self-Enquiry, Ramana, Who am I?)

Q: You say there is no doer, and that this is a key point in your teaching, but who or what sees there is no doer? 

Tom: Why do you ask? What do you hope to gain from that question? Do you think that knowing the answer to this question will set you free? Do you think the answer to this question can be found in words? Contemplate on these questions.

It’s easy to say that ‘I see’, or that ‘awareness sees’, but does this really get us anywhere? What is the concept of awareness but another way of verbalising that something is being perceived. When we say ‘awareness sees’ or ‘I am aware’, all we are really saying is that ‘something is seen’. It’s tautology, just a different way of saying the same thing.

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Q: So why do so many non-dual teachers prescribe self-inquiry as a method?

Tom: The real point of asking ‘who or what sees’ (ie. self enquiry) is to notice that what we commonly take ourselves to be is actually something that is seen, and is not the seer/doer at all.  What we, in ignorance or misapprehension, commonly take to be the subject is actually experienced as an object(s). This is also the point of the awareness teachings, to see through the doer – not to get caught up and identified with a concept of awareness.

We commonly take ourself to be the body-mind apparatus, but it can be seen that the body and mind are both objects that are perceived. The body and mind, as far as our direct experience goes, are parts of our experience, they are parts of ‘the perceived’. There is no evidence that they are perceivers of the experience. (That is not to say that they are not representations of the subject/perceiver within our consciousness, but just that there is no evidence either way).

Q: OK… (pause)

Tom: So, back to your question: what is it that sees?

Here’s the shorter answer: that which sees is that which sees. Why name it? Does naming it mean we know it any better? Are we any the wiser for naming it or calling it ‘awareness’ or ‘consciousness’ or ‘me’ or ‘I’?

Why settle for verbal explanations or spiritual-sounding slogans? Instead question these statements. Don’t get rid of one dogma and replace it with another. Be true to yourself, be true to what you know and your own experience:

Things are seen – that much I know. What sees? – I do not know…

wp-1474790287732.pngQ: But don’t we need to know exactly what it is that sees?

Tom: No. Not only do we not need to know what sees, we cannot know what sees (as an object). We only know that we see, and not what sees. That is enough. And that’s our actual experience, right? We don’t need to take on a new belief such as the belief that we are awareness. Sure, we are aware. or you could say awareness is here, but we don’t have to go further and say ‘I am awareness’. Let’s just stick to our experience and not pretend to know something that we don’t. As Ramana Maharshi says:

‘The state we call realization is simply being one’s self, not knowing anything or becoming anything.’

There are a few other aspects to the teachings too, which I’ll quickly summarise for you. I go into more detail on the group meetings, but briefly:

1. We need to stop mistaking certain objects (ie. the appearance of the body-mind organism) for being the subject. That is a key purpose of what I call the ‘awareness teachings’ that are found in Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta and in many schools of Mahayana Buddhism.

2. We need to notice and understand deeply that all objects are transient – they all come and go, and that no object brings lasting satisfaction. As this realisation deepens and takes root, this leads us to naturally turn away from depending on objects as a source of happiness. This leads to our addictive and suffering-causing desires (vasanas) to naturally fall away. Suffering dissolves away and joy naturally rises in its place, rearing its head from time to time as it pleases.

3. We need to see that all objects comes and go spontaneously, including thoughts and actions, and so realise that there is no doer-entity controlling it all. What we call the mind is just a spontaneous succession of thoughts, with no evidence of any entity controlling it. This is the real point of self-enquiry.

As Ramana Maharshi said when a questioner asked him about self-enquiry:

‘Reality is simply the loss of ego. Destroy the ego by seeking its identity.  Because the ego is no entity it will automatically vanish and reality will shine forth by itself.
This is the direct method. All other methods retain the ego. In those paths so many doubts arise, and the eternal question remains to be tackled. But in this method the final question is the only one and is raised from the very beginning.’

When we see the false to be false, meaning when we see the doer (ego) is an illusion, whatever remains is reality. It just is whatever is. It doesn’t have to be named, known or understood – it’s just what is.

Responsibility: if there is no doer and no-self, and if there no nobody here doing anything, then what about responsibility?

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Question: If there is no doer, then how does the notion of responsibility fit into this? If there is nobody here, then surely there can’t be anyone responsible?

Tom: This teaching is not an excuse to act irresponsibly or unethically. Responsibility is an important part of being human, and it is a phenomena that arises by itself from time to time, like any other phenomena we experience.

By responsibility I mean a natural sense of caring, affection, consideration, thoughtfulness and desire to take care of the people, animals and world around us.

As far as I can see, when we free ourselves from illusions of a separate doer/self, the energies in the human organism naturally tend to balance out. This is because the distorting centripetal factor of egotism (I define ego as the belief in being a separate doer-entity who creates thoughts and actions) is no longer at play. And when the energies in the body are harmonious and in balance, the body-mind naturally tends to become responsible, kind and loving.

It’s just what tends to happen, and it takes time, depending on your conditioning which in turn depends on the culture, environment, genetics, etc.

And it’s not just responsibility, it’s true for a whole load of so-called positive qualities such as love, sensitivity, kindness, thoughtfulness, empathy, openness, being non-judgmental. These just tend to arise, by themselves, when the doer/ego is seen to be non-existent.

Q: So there is no doer, but these things happen by themselves?

Tom: Yes, exactly. Of course it doesn’t have to be like that. Perhaps the energies in the body don’t balance out and the heart doesn’t open and these loving qualities do not express themselves. In Freedom it doesn’t really matter. There is no attempt to be more loving or to be more responsible – that would just be the ego striving for an ideal. Freedom doesn’t care for these artificial ideals and does not try to conform to imaginary notions. But precisely because there is no self-motive, these qualities naturally tend to arise.

And if these qualities don’t arise that’s ok too. This is Freedom: whatever happens is whatever happens, no judgement, no motive, total forgiveness, and nobody doing any of it.


Q: OK, you mentioned total forgiveness? That’s confused me. Why do you say that? 

Q: You mentioned earlier that the heart opens? That sounds rather fluffy and vague to me – what does it mean?

Q. But I think there’s another type of responsibility, not just the sense of responsibility for others and caring for those around you, not just being responsible for the people and word, but a sense ‘I am responsible for my thoughts and actions’. And if you do something wrong, then you are ‘responsible’ and accountable for that. What about that? Does that exist if there is no doer? (To be continued in a future post)

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.

Don’t believe the false sense of limitation

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In spiritual matters, if the first step is in the wrong direction, the whole path follows in being wrong. The very suffering it aims to quench is perpetuated by this initial mistake. Once this tiny mistake is corrected, the path becomes straight and clear and Spirit pours through. What mistake is it that I am talking of? The mistake is to think of yourself as being a limited entity.

The mistake is to think of yourself as being a limited entity.

It is like travelling on a wagon with a stone lodged on one of the wheels: the ride is bumpy and uncomfortable. And the faster you drive, the more effort you put into it, the bumpier the ride – there are no points for effort here.

Effort alone is not enough. Effort has to be skilfully directed for it to be effective. We must attack the problem directly at its root. If you take the time to stop and examine the wagon, then remove the stone from the wheel, the journey becomes smooth. Furthermore, much less effort is required to drive once the root problem is solved. Similarly we must also stop and look at our very basic assumptions about life, challenge them, see how they are erroneous and cause needless suffering and ensure they do not operate in daily life.

Effort alone is not enough. Effort has to be skilfully directed for it to be effective.

And what are these assumptions? They are primarily about our identity, our idea of ‘self’ or ‘me’ or ‘I’, also known as the ego. As long as you assume you are a limited separate entity you will consider yourself to be vulnerable to injury and death, so suffering will continue. You will seek security and pleasure, and fear uncertainty and pain.

As long as you assume you are a limited separate entity you will consider yourself to be vulnerable to injury and death, so suffering will continue.

This in turn gives rise to the notion of doership – the notion that the individual is master and controller of their thoughts and actions. There are many other concepts that we hold, often unconsciously, but all are tied to this notion of a separate ‘I’ (the illusion of separation). If that is rooted out, then all the other branches that grow from it wither and die. If the ‘I’ is left intact, then new falsehoods grow back and suffering continues.

So instead of simply ploughing forwards on a spiritual path, first try to stop and look. Find out who you really are. In terms of spiritual understanding realise that this does not mean that you accumulate more knowledge of ‘who you are’. It means that you dispel falsehoods. Find out your concepts of what you are and critique them. When all false assumptions are seen to be mistaken, then they are naturally discarded and what remains is what you are: Ultimate Truth.

So instead of simply ploughing forwards on a spiritual path, first try to stop and look. Find out who you really are…When all false assumptions are seen to be mistaken, then they are naturally discarded and what remains is what you are

This cannot be described, and need not be described. Every description is misleading, including calling it ‘Ultimate Truth’. It can only be ‘lived’ or ‘experienced’. Self-knowledge is non-conceptual; for how can the Self, what you are, be encapsulated in words? It cannot!

All descriptions of Truth have value as they may be useful pointers on the way but they should be known to be ultimately false. Hold onto helpful teachings while they are useful, then throw them away! (They fall away naturally if you let them)

Tao Te Ching: Before you learnt to smile

mountain river

…Other people are joyous,
as though they were at a spring festival.
I alone am unconcerned and expressionless,
like an infant before it has learned to smile.

Other people have more than they need;
I alone seem to possess nothing.
I am lost and drift about with no place to go.
I am like a fool, my mind is in chaos.

Ordinary people are bright;
I alone am dark.
Ordinary people are clever;
I alone am dull.
Ordinary people seem discriminating;
I alone am muddled and confused.

I drift on the waves on the ocean,
blown at the mercy of the wind.
Other people have their goals,
I alone am dull and uncouth.

I am different from ordinary people.
I nurse from the Great Mother’s breasts.

Tao Te Ching, verse 20

Tom’s comments:

This is one of my favourite verses of this wonderful text. I remember when I first read it as a university student in the 90s, I was particularly struck by the phrase ‘like an infant before it has learned to smile’. We can be free of needing to be happy, to smile, to conform, and we can simply be true to ourselves.

This world can seem so confusing. It can feel like everyone else seems to know what they want and where they are going. Of course, it’s such an illusion! How can anyone know what this is all about? If you think you know, you have surely missed the mark!

The Sage sees through all illusions, she sees through the faux-intelligence, goals and make-believe of people around her. The Sage knows he is but Nature expressing herself: he is dependent on her, as a child is on his mother’s breast milk, and he is also Her.

He sees the inherent unfathomable mystery at the heart of life and lovingly pities those who think ‘they understand’.

Ramana Maharshi: Self-inquiry (atma vichara) and doership

Ramana Maharshi sitting

“The differences are the result of the sense of doership.

The fruits will be destroyed if the root is destroyed.

So relinquish the sense of doership.

The differences will vanish and the essential reality will reveal itself.

In order to give up the sense of doership one must seek to find out who the doer is.

Inquire within. The sense of doership will vanish.

Vichara (inquiry) is the method.”

Taken from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 429

Tom’s comments:

The root of suffering is the sense of doership, the sense that there is a doer-entity, the sense that you are a doer. The root is the notion ‘I am a doer’, the fruit is suffering and duality.

Let go of this sense of doership, either by simply relaxing and letting go, or, as suggested above, look and find out what the doer is. Look at your own direct experience: can you see the doer? Can you feel the doer? What does the doer look and feel like exactly? Where does the doer begin and end? How big is the doer? Where is the doer located?

When you look, as you keep on noticing, you may start to realise/see that there is no actual experience of a doer at all. All there are are sensations, feelings and thoughts. Specifically there may be the thought ‘I am the doer’ or ‘this is the doer’, but no actual doer is seen/experienced apart from the thought. The doer is seen to be an imagined entity. The doer (ie. ego) is revealed to be a fiction.

Ramana uses the word ‘reality’ above. What is reality? It’s just what’s left over when the sense of doership is seen through. It’s just what’s left over when false illusions are seen for what they are: false.

Ramana Maharshi on non-doership and self-realisation

Ramana smiling

The following are verses from Guru Vachaka Kovai, one of the most authoritative texts of Ramana Maharshi’s teachings. The text was written by his disciple Muruganar and thereafter thoroughly checked and amended by Ramana. Here are some verses on the root cause of suffering, our notion of being a doer, with some commentary from Sri Sadhu Om, another devotee of Ramana:

466 The pure Bliss of peace will shine within only for those who have lost the sense of doership. For, this foolish sense of doership alone is the poisonous seed that brings forth all evil fruits.

467 Instead of going on, driven by the restless thoughts, performing actions such as ‘I should do this, I should give up that’ as if they were worthy to be done, acting according to how the Grace of God, the Lord of our soul, leads us, is the right form of truly worshipping Him

476 Whether or not one is performing actions, if the delusion of individuality – the ego, ‘I am the doer of actions’ – is completely annihilated, that is the attainment of actionlessness.

Sri Sadhu Om’s Comments: People generally think that the attainment of actionlessness is a state in which one should remain still, giving up all activities. But this is wrong. Sri Bhagavan Ramana proclaims that the loss of doership alone is the right kind of actionlessness, and this alone is nishkamya karma – action done without any desire for result. 

470 The Lord who has fed you today will ever do so well. Therefore, live carefree, placing all your burden at His feet and having no thought of tomorrow or the future.

471 Know well that even performing tapas (spiritual practice) and yoga with the intention ‘I should become an instrument in the hands of the Lord Siva’ is a blemish to complete self-surrender, which is the highest form of being in His service.

Sri Sadhu Om’s Comments: Since even the thought ‘I am an instrument in the Lord’s hand’ is a means by which the ego retains its individuality, it is directly opposed to the spirit of complete self-surrender, the ‘I’-lessness. Are there not many good-natured people who engage themselves in prayers, worship, yoga and such virtuous acts with the aim of achieving power form God and doing good to the world as one divinely commissioned? It is exposed here that even such endeavours are egotistical and hence contrary to self-surrender. 

 

Bhagavad Gita: Krishna teaches that nature does everything

Arjuna Krishna

Under the influence of false ego one thinks himself to be the doer of activities, while in reality all the activities are carried out by nature as natural process

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3 verse 27

Here, in the Bhagavad Gita (The Lord’s Song), Krishna tells his friend Arjuna a great truth: that the notion of there being any separate entity that takes itself to be the doer is false. There is no doer, the ego is a false entity; there is only nature acting according to its own inherent principles.