Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi states in his text ‘Who am I?’:
Question 26. What is the relation between desirelessness (nirasa) and wisdom (jnana)?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Desirelessness is wisdom. The two are not different; they are the same. Desirelessness is refraining from turning the mind towards any object. Wisdom means the appearance of no object. In other words, not seeking what is other than the Self is detachment or desirelessness; not leaving the Self is wisdom.
The above was taken from the question and answer version of ‘Who am I?’. Note that the Sanskrit word Jnana, literally meaning knowledge or wisdom, is a synonym for Self-Realisation when used in spiritual texts. In the alternate essay version of ‘Who am I?’, which is the version Ramana wrote himself, the same essential teachings are given but phrased slightly differently. Here is this particular teaching from the essay version:
Not attending to what-is-other (anya, that is, to any second or third person object) is non-attachment (vairagya) or desirelessness (nirasa); not leaving Self is knowledge (jnana). In truth, these two (desirelessness and knowledge) are one and the same.
In Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk number 502, Ramana states the following:
There is room for kama (desire) so long as there is an object apart from the subject (i.e., duality). There can be no desire if there is no object. The state of no-desire is moksha.
In Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 149, Ramana States:
149. The non-dual experience will only be attained by those who have completely given up desires. For those with desires, it is far, far away. Hence it is proper for those with desires to direct their desires towards God, who is desireless, so that through desire for God the desires that arise through the delusion that objects exist and are different from oneself will become extinct.
In verses 378-9 Ramana states:
378. Except for the one who has completely cut the tie of desires, the false appearance [that he is a suffering jiva] will not cease. Therefore, without any hesitation, one should cut even the desire for the great Divine Happiness.
379. O foolish mind who is suffering due to the desire for the petty pleasures of this world and of the next, if you remain quiet [i.e. without desire] you will certainly attain that State of Bliss which surely transcends the pleasures of these two.
As always, Ramana’s teachings are in line with the traditional Vedanta texts such as the writing of Shankara and the Upanishads. I have written some other posts that demonstrate this point, see below:
Questioner: Usually this understanding stays for a while and then again gets muddled or covered by personality and it’s needs. How do we keep going back to the clear state…Although there is nothing called going back.
Tom: This is not a trick question: what covers up the ‘clear state’?
Q. The personality and it’s story.
Tom: Does it really get in the way? If so, how? If not, how?
Q. It’s like a forgetting of the clear state and thinking of ourself as a personality and the story it carries. This is taken as real and suddenly we are captured by it’s momentum unless some teaching or saying re-points to the clear state again. There is forgetting of the clear state.
Tom: Exactly. There is your answer. The force of habitually taking yourself to be a ‘me’ or a body-mind is ignorance. Letting that subside or seeing through that is enough. Eventually the habit will reverse and ignorance won’t reappear. It never really appears anyway. Namaste.
Many claim that to advise any kind of practice is to reinforce the ego and duality, and is therefore a dualistic expression. Now there is much truth in this. However to use the same logic against itself, isn’t this in itself a duality, distinguishing between dualistic and nondualistic expressions?
Ask yourself, what is more important to you: concepts of duality/nonduality or the cessation of suffering?
Ultimately the ‘truth’, so to speak, is not to be found in concepts of any kind, and is not really truth at all but simply the end of suffering.
Many expressions can help towards this end, both so-called dualistic and nondualistic expressions. To think otherwise is to artificially restrict yourself and close yourself to the endless variety of ways life teaches and guides us home – the home we never really left – you could even say the home we always already ARE.
While there is nothing wrong with discussing teachings (it can appear to be very helpful depending on where the seeker is – although a duality is also implied in the very discussion) – to argue endlessly about conceptual teachings often implies an egotism that is attached to certain expressions (ie. teachings), and this too can be an unhealthy source of egotism and suffering.
So if you find yourself tangled up in teachings and seeking, a suggestion is to simply relax and be as you are, free from worry, free to worry.
The mere understanding that ‘there is no person’ is not by itself enough. The mere understanding/seeing or knowledge ‘there is no separation’, ‘there is no doer’, ‘there is no separate self’ is by itself not enough.
For suffering to end, the self-referential habitual tendencies (vasanas) which originally arose from the belief in separation, these vasanas must also end. These vasanas are those addictive tendencies which aim to seek fulfillment in experiences and things (ie. in objects).
Seeing ‘there’s nobody here’ is seeing through the illusion of separation. However the functioning of self-referential addictive vasanas may continue due to the deeply established force of habit, and so the suffering resulting from these on the phenomenal level continues.
Once the illusion of (separate) self is seen as an illusion*, one must still remove the vasanas**. How? We are advised simply to ‘be still’.
…one must still remove the vasanas. How? We are advised simple to ‘be still’.
There is an apparent contradiction here, for if the separate self is seen through and seen to be false, then who or what is being still? Well, when the vasanas arise, it is really the sense of/belief in separate self that arises, out of habit, which means that although the individual person has intellectually been seen to be non-existent, it is actually the person who knows this. The person is the ignorance, which means that the ignorance has not been fully rooted out. ie. ignorance is still present.
So, insight (into no-self) having been attained (in the mind), now we are advised to be still in order to purify our minds of the vasanas. Shankara famously wrote: vasana kshaya moksham, which means ‘destruction of the vasanas is Moksha (liberation).’
-Can the ego make the ego still?
-Can thought still thought?
-Can we become effortless through effort?
The answer is no. Knowing this, be still.
Allow what comes to come, allow what goes to go. See there is nobody here. As the vasanas/ego/sense of ‘me’ arise, allow them to fall again.
Note that being still is not doing something. It is not trying hard to be still – that is just more effort. Rather ‘be still’ means not adding to this, or rather to stop seeking and grasping, letting things be as they are, no longer looking for fulfillment in objects.
Being still is not doing something
The above reasoning and this last sadhana (spiritual practice) of stillness is beautifully expressed in the classic Advaita text Advaita Bodha Deepika, which was recommended by Ramana Maharshi as a manual for Advaita. The text takes the seeker through all aspects of the path. see here for a short excerpt:
Similarly in Buddhism and Zen we see the same teachings. See here for an example:
*traditionally the Vedanta path is threefold. Firstly the teachings are heard (sravana), then they are comtemplated upon (manana) and their truth is realised/ignorance is removed. Then lastly the vasanas or habitual tendencies which originally arose due to ignorance are purified (nididhyasana).
**Many people stop after manana, once the truth has been understood and realised (in the intellect). The scriptures warn us that whilst this realisation can bring great peace and relief, and can be mistaken for full realisation/enlightenment, this is not the end of the journey, for the belief in a jiva/limited entity is still intact. Even without trusting the scriptures, by simply being aware of and open to what is happening, it can be seen that unless the addictive self-referential vasanas are allowed to arise in stillness, then without being taken up and acted on, allowed to then dissolve and die, the self-created suffering and self-centred (potentially destructive) behaviours on the phenomenal experiential level continue. Being still is simply a natural way of allowing the ignorance-based conditioning to naturally arise and fall away of its own accord.