How to actually do self-enquiry:
Here is a video detailing the theory and practice:
Here is a guided self-inquiry – short version:
There are many versions of this text titled ‘Who am I?’ (Nan Yar in the original Tamil), all with subtle variations, but this one I have selected below is the only version I know of that was written by Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi himself.
The framework for this essay originated from a series of answers that a philosophy graduate Sivaprakasam Pillai wrote down in 1902 after asking Bhagavan a corresponding series of questions whilst at Virupaksha cave on Arunachala, and was first published by Sri Pillai 21 years later in 1923.
Sometime in the mid-1920s, Bhagavan removed the questions and fashioned the answers into an essay form and he also added an introductory paragraph on the nature of happiness. It is the English translation of this essay which is found below.
The resultant essay was on sale in pamphlet form at the ashram and served to provide an introduction and practical summary of instructions for self-enquiry or Bhagavan’s ‘direct path’ to liberation. Many times when people asked Bhagavan questions, he asked them to read this essay first, and only ask further questions if they still had any afterwards.
Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya Om
Who Am I?
Every living being longs always to be happy, untainted by sorrow; and everyone has the greatest love for himself, which is solely due to the fact that happiness is his real nature. Hence, in order to realize that inherent and untainted happiness, which indeed he daily experiences when the mind is subdued in deep sleep, it is essential that he should know himself. For obtaining such knowledge the inquiry ‘Who am I?’ in quest of the Self is the best means.
‘Who am I?’ I am not this physical body, nor am I the five organs of sense perception; I am not the five organs of external activity, nor am I the five vital forces, nor am I even the thinking mind. Neither am I that unconscious state of nescience which retains merely the subtle vasanas (latencies of the mind), while being free from the functional activity of the sense-organs and of the mind, and being unaware of the existence of the objects of sense-perception.
Therefore, summarily rejecting all the above-mentioned physical adjuncts and their functions, saying ‘I am not this; no, nor am I this, nor this’ — that which then remains separate and alone by itself, that pure Awareness is what I am. This Awareness is by its very nature Sat-Chit-Ananda (Existence-Consciousness-Bliss).
If the mind, which is the instrument of knowledge and is the basis of all activity, subsides, the perception of the world as an objective reality ceases. Unless the illusory perception of the serpent in the rope ceases, the rope on which the illusion is formed is not perceived as such. Similarly, unless the illusory nature of the perception of the world as a objective reality ceases, the Vision of the true nature of the Self, on which the illusion is formed, is not obtained.
The mind is a unique power (sakti) in the Atman, whereby thoughts occur to one. On scrutiny as to what remains after eliminating all thoughts, it will be found that there is no such thing as mind apart from thought. So then, thoughts themselves constitute the mind. Nor is there any such thing as the physical world apart from and independent of thought. In deep sleep there are no thoughts: nor is there the world. In the wakeful and dream state thoughts are present, and there is also the world. Just as the spider draws out the thread of the cobweb from within itself and withdraws it again into itself, in the same way the mind projects the world out of itself and absorbs it back into itself.
The world is perceived as an apparent objective reality when the mind is externalized, thereby forsaking its identity with the Self. When the world is thus perceived, the true nature of the Self is not revealed: conversely, when the Self is realized the world ceases to appear as an objective reality.
By a steady and continuous investigation into the nature of the mind, the mind is transformed into That to which ‘I’ refers; and that is in fact the Self. Mind has necessarily to depend for its existence on something gross; it never subsists by itself. It is this mind that is otherwise called the subtle body, ego, jiva, or soul.
That which arises in the physical body as ‘I’ is the mind. If one inquires whence the ‘I’-thought in the body arises in the first instance, it will be found that it is from hrdayam (literally ‘I am the Heart), or the Heart. That is the source and stay of the mind. Or again, even if one merely continuously repeats to oneself inwardly ‘I-I’ with the entire mind fixed thereon, that also leads one to the same source.
The first and foremost of all thoughts that arise in the mind is the primal ‘I’-thought. It is only after the rise or origin of the ‘I’-thought that innumerable other thoughts arise. In other words, only after the first personal pronoun, ‘I’, has arisen, do the second and third personal pronouns (‘you, he’ etc.) occur to the mind; and they cannot subsist without the former.
Since every other thought can occur only after the rise of the ‘I’-thought and since the mind is nothing but a bundle of thoughts, it is only through the inquiry ‘Who am I?’ that the mind subsides. Moreover, the integral ‘I’-thought, implicit in such enquiry, having destroyed all other thoughts, gets itself destroyed or consumed, just as the stick used for stirring the burning funeral pyre gets consumed.
Even when extraneous thoughts sprout up during such enquiry, do not seek to complete the rising thought, but instead, deeply enquire within, ‘To who has this thought occurred?’ No matter how many thoughts thus occur to you, if you would with acute vigilance enquire immediately as and when each individual thought arises to whom it has occurred, you would find it is to ‘me’. If then you enquire ‘Who am I?’ the mind gets introverted and the rising thought also subsides. In this manner as you persevere more and more in the practice of Self-enquiry, the mind acquires increasing strength and power to abide in its Source.
It is only when the subtle mind is externalized through the activity of the intellect and the sense-organs that gross name and form constituting the world appear. When, on the other hand, the mind stays firmly in the Heart, they recede and disappear. Restraint of the outgoing mind, and its absorption in the Heart, is known as introversion (antarmukha-drishti). The release of the mind, and its emergence from the Heart is known as bahirmukha-drishti (objectiveness).
If in this manner the mind becomes absorbed in the Heart, the ego or ‘I’, which is the center of the multitude of thoughts, finally vanishes and pure Consciousness or Self, which subsists during all the states of the mind, alone remains resplendent. It is this state, where there is not the slightest trace of the ‘I’-thought, that is the true Being of oneself. And that is called Quiescence or Mouna (silence).
This state of mere inherence in pure Being is known as the Vision of Wisdom. Such inherence means and implies the entire subsidence of the mind in the Self. Nothing other than this, and no psychic powers of the mind such as thought-reading, telepathy, and clairvoyance, can be Wisdom.
Atman alone exists and is real. The threefold reality of world, individual soul, and God is, like the illusory appearance of silver in the mother of pearl, an imaginary creation in the Atman. They appear and disappear simultaneously. The Self alone is the world, the ‘I’ and God. All that exists is but the manifestation of the Supreme.
For the subsidence of mind there is no other means more effective and adequate than Self-enquiry. Even though by other means the mind subsides, that is only apparently so; it will rise again.
For instance, the mind subsides by the practice of pranayama (restraint and control of breath and vital forces); yet such subsidence lasts only as long as the control of breath and vital forces continues; and when they are released, the mind also gets released and immediately, becoming externalized, it continues to wander through the force of its subtle tendencies.
The source of the mind is the same as that of breath and vital forces. It is really the multitude of thoughts that constitutes the mind; and the ‘I’-thought is the primal thought of the mind, and is itself the ego. But breath too has its origin at the same place whence the ego rises. Therefore, when the mind subsides, breath and vital forces also subside; and conversely, when the latter subside, the former also subsides.
Breath and vital forces are also described as the gross manifestation of the mind. Till the hour of death the mind sustains and supports these forces in the physical body; and when life becomes extinct the mind envelops them and carries them away. During sleep, however, the vital forces continue to function, although the mind is not manifest. This is according to the divine law and is intended to protect the body and to remove any possible doubt as to whether it is dead or alive while one is asleep. Without such arrangement by nature, sleeping bodies would often be cremated alive. The vitality apparent in breathing is left behind by the mind as a ‘watchman’. But in the wakeful state and in samadhi, when the mind subsides, breath also subsides. For this reason (because the mind has the sustaining and controlling power over breath and vital forces and is therefore ulterior to both of them), the practice of breath control is merely helpful in subduing the mind, but cannot bring about its final extinction.
Like breath control, meditation on form, incantations, invocations, and regulation of diet are only aids to control of the mind. Through the practice of meditation or invocation the mind becomes one-pointed. Just as the elephant’s truck, which is otherwise restless, will become steady if it is made to hold an iron chain, so that the elephant goes its way without reaching out for any other object, so the ever-restless mind, which is trained and accustomed to a name or form through meditation or invocation, will steadily hold on to that alone.
When the mind is split up and dissipated into countless varying thoughts, each individual thought becomes extremely weak and inefficient. When, on the contrary, such thoughts subside more and more till they finally get destroyed, the mind becomes one-pointed and, thereby acquiring strength and power of endurance, easily reaches perfection in the method of enquiry in quest of the Self.
Regulation of diet, restricting it to satvic food taken in moderate quantity, is of all the rules of conduct the best; and it is most conducive to the development of the satvic qualities of the mind. These, in their turn, assist one in the practice of Atma vichara or enquiry in quest of the Self.
Countless vishaya-vasanas (subtle tendencies of the mind in relation to objects of sense gratification), coming one after the other in quick succession like the waves of the ocean, agitate the mind. Nevertheless, they too subside and finally get destroyed with progressive practice of Atma dhyana or meditation on the Self. Without giving room even to the thought which occurs in the form of doubt, whether it is possible to stay merely as the very Self, whether all the vasanas can be destroyed, one should firmly and unceasingly carry on meditation on the Self.
However sinful a person may be, if he would stop wailing inconsolably: ‘Alas! I am a sinner, how shall I attain Liberation?’ and, casting away even the thought that he is a sinner, if he would zealously carry on meditation on the Self, he would most assuredly get reformed.
So long as subtle tendencies continue to inhere in the mind, it is necessary to carry on the enquiry: ‘Who am I?’. As and when thoughts occur, they should one and all be annihilated then and there, at the very place of their origin, by the method of enquiry in quest of the Self.
Not to desire anything extraneous to oneself constitutes vairagya (dispassion) or nirasa (desirelessness). Not to give up one’s hold on the Self constitutes jnana(knowledge). But really vairagya and jnana are one and the same. Just as the pearl diver, tying stones to his waist, dives down into the depths and gets the pearl from the sea bed, so every aspirant pledged to vairagya can dive deep into himself and realize the precious Atman. If the earnest seeker would only cultivate the constant and deep contemplative ‘remembrance’ (smrti) of the true nature of the Self till he has realized it, that alone would suffice. Distracting thoughts are like the enemy in the fortress. As long as they are in possession of it, they will certainly sally forth. But if, as and when they come out, you put them to the sword the fortress will finally be captured.
God and the Guru are not really different: they are identical. He that has earned the Grace of the Guru shall undoubtedly be saved and never forsaken, just as the prey that has fallen into the tiger’s jaws will never be allowed to escape. But the disciple, for his part, should unswervingly follow the path shown by the Master.
Firm and disciplined inherence in the Atman, without giving the least scope for the rise of any thought other than the deep contemplative thought of the Self, constitutes self-surrender to the Supreme Lord. Let any amount of burden be laid on Him, He will bear it all. It is, in fact, the indefinable power of the Lord that ordains, sustains, and controls everything that happens. Why then should we worry, tormented by vexatious thoughts, saying: ‘Shall we act this way? No, that way,’ instead of meekly but happily submitting to that Power? Knowing that the train carries all the weight, why indeed should we, the passengers travelling in it, carry our small individual articles of luggage on our laps to our great discomfort, instead of putting them aside and sitting at perfect ease?
That which is Bliss is also the Self. Bliss and the Self are not distinct and separate but are one and the same. And That alone is real. In no single one of the countless objects of the mundane world is there anything that can be called happiness. It is through sheer ignorance and unwisdom that we fancy that happiness is obtained from them. On the contrary, when the mind is externalized, it suffers pain and anguish. The truth is that every time our desires get fulfilled, the mind, turning to its source, experiences only that happiness which is natural to the Self. Similarly in deep sleep, in spiritual trance (samadhi), when fainting, when a desired object is obtained, or when evil befalls an object considered undesirable, the mind turns inwards and enjoys that Bliss of Atman. Thus wandering astray, forsaking the Self, and returning to it again and again is the interminable and wearisome lot of the mind.
It is pleasant under the shade of a tree, and scorching in the heat of the sun outside. A person toiling in the sun seeks the cool shade of the tree and is happy under it. After staying there for a while, he moves out again but, unable to bear the merciless heat of the sun, he again seeks the shade. In this way he keeps on moving from shade to sun and sun to shade.
It is an unwise person who acts thus, whereas the wise man never leaves the shade: in the same way the mind of the Enlightened Sage (Jnani) never exists apart from Brahman, the Absolute. The mind of the ignorant, on the other hand, entering into the phenomenal world, suffers pain and anguish; and then, turning for a short while towards Brahman, it experiences happiness. Such is the mind of the ignorant.
This phenomenal world, however, is nothing but thought. When the world recedes from one’s view — that is when one is free from thought — the mind enjoys the Bliss of the Self. Conversely, when the world appears — that is when thought occurs — the mind experiences pain and anguish.
Not from any desire, resolve, or effort on the part of the rising sun, but merely due to the presence of his rays, the lens emits heat, the lotus blossoms, water evaporates, and people attend to their various duties in life. In the proximity of the magnet the needle moves. Similarly the soul or jiva, subjected to the threefold activity of creation, preservation, and destruction which take place merely due to the unique Presence of the Lord, performs acts in accordance with its karma (fruits of past actions, in the present life), and subsides to rest after such activity. But the Lord Himself has no resolve; no act or event touches even the fringe of His Being. This state of immaculate aloofness can be likened to that of the sun, which is untouched by the activities of life, or to that of the all-pervasive ether, which is not affected by the interaction of the complex qualities of the other four elements.
All scriptures without any exception proclaim that for attaining Salvation the mind should be subdued; and once one knows that control of the mind is their final aim it is futile to make an interminable study of them. What is required for such control is actual enquiry into oneself by self-interrogation: ‘Who am I?’ How can this enquiry in quest of the Self be made merely by means of a study of the scriptures?
One should realize the Self by the Eye of Wisdom. Does Rama need a mirror to recognize himself as Rama? That to which the ‘I’ refers is within the five sheaths (physical, vital, mental, knowledge-experience, and bliss), whereas the scriptures are outside them. Therefore, it is futile to seek by means of the study of scriptures the Self that has to be realized by summarily rejecting even the five sheaths.
To enquire ‘Who am I that is in bondage?’ and to know one’s real nature is alone Liberation. To keep the mind constantly turned within, and to abide thus in the Self is alone Atma-vichara (Self enquiry), whereas dhyana (meditation) consists in fervent contemplation of the Self as Sat-Chit-Ananda (Being-Consciousness-Bliss). Indeed, at some time, one will have to forget everything that has been learnt.
Just as it is futile to examine the rubbish that has to be swept up only to be thrown away, so it is futile for him who seeks to know the Self to set to work enumerating the tattvas (classifications of the elements of existence) that envelop the Self and examining them, instead of casting them away. He should consider the phenomenal world with reference to himself as merely a dream.
Except that the wakeful state is long and the dream state is short there is no difference between the two. All the activities of the dream state appear, for the time being, just as real as the activities of the wakeful state seem to be while awake. Only, during the dream state, the mind assumes another form or a different bodily sheath. For thoughts on the one hand, and name and form on the other, occur simultaneously during both the wakeful and dream states.
There are not two minds, one good and the other evil. It is only the vasanas or tendencies of the mind that are of two kinds, good and favorable, evil and unfavorable. When the mind is associated with the former it is called good, and when associated with the latter it is called evil. However evil-minded other people may appear to you, it is not proper to hate or despise them. Likes and dislikes, love and hatred, are equally to be eschewed. It is also not proper to let the mind often rest on objects or affairs of mundane life. As far as possible one should not interfere in the affairs of others. Everything offered to others is really an offering to oneself; and if only this truth were realized, who is there that would refuse anything to others?
If the ego rises, all else will also rise; if it subsides all else will also subside. The deeper the humility with which we conduct ourselves, the better it is for us. If only the mind is kept under control, what matters it where one may happen to be?
Many people find it difficult to engage in spiritual practices during the ups and downs of daily life. In the following dialogue recounted by Devaraja Mudaliar, a questioner asks Ramana Maharshi 5 questions related to this:
Mr. Joshi put five questions. I give below the questions and Sri Bhagavan’s answers:
Question 1: Should I go on asking ‘who am I?’ without answering? Who asks whom? Which bhavana (attitude) should be in the mind at the time of inquiry? What is ‘I’, the Self or the ego?
Answer: In the inquiry Who am I? ‘I’ is the ego. The question really means, ‘what is the source or origin of this ego?’ You need not have any bhavana in the mind. All that is required is, you must give up any bhavana that you are the body, of such and such description, with such and such a name, etc., There is no need to have a bhavana about your real nature. It exists as it always does. It is real and no bhavana.
Question 2: I cannot be always engaged in this inquiry, for I have got other work to do, and when I do such work, I forget this quest.
Answer: When you do other work, do you cease to exist? You always exist. Do you not?
Question 3: Without the sense of doership, – the sense ‘I am of doing’ – work cannot be done.
Answer: It can be done. Work without attachment. Work will go on even better than when you worked with the sense that you were the doer.
Question 4: I don’t understand what work I should do and what not.
Answer: Don’t bother. What is destined as work to be done by you in this life, will be done by you, whether you like it or not.
Question 5: Why should I try to realize? I will emerge from this state, as I wake up from a dream. We do not make an attempt to get out of a dream during sleep.
Answer: In a dream, you have no inkling that it is a dream and so you don’t have the duty of trying to get out of it by your own effort. But in this life, you have some intuition, by your sleep experience, by reading and hearing, that this life is something like a dream, and hence the duty is cast on you to make an effort and get out of it. However, who wants you realize the Self if you don’t want it? If you prefer to be in the dream, stay as you are.
With reference to question 4, Mrs. P.C. Desai quoting the Bhagavad Gita asked Bhagavan: If (as Arjuna was told) there is a certain work destined to be done by each and we shall eventually do it however much we do not wish to do it or refuse to do it, is there any freewill?
Bhagavan said: ‘It is true that the work meant to be done by us will be done by us. But it is open to us to be free from the joys and pains, pleasant and unpleasant consequences of the work, not identifying ourselves with the body or that which does the work. If you realize your true nature, and know that it is not you, that does any work, you will be unaffected by the consequences of whatever work the body may be engaged in according to destiny or past karma or divine plan, however you may call it. You are always free and there is no limitation of that freedom.’
(The above excerpt is from Day by Day with Bhagavan, pages 88-90)
Here we can distill several key points:
1. You always exist, regardless of whether you are thinking about it or not, regardless of what you are doing.
2. The issue is that you take yourself to be the body-mind and therefore you take yourself to be a doer who has to choose what actions to do and suffer the consequences thereof. Instead relinquish the idea that you are the body-mind, and don’t take yourself to be the doer of any actions or receiver of pleasure/pain.
3. When you don’t take yourself to be the body-mind-doer-receiver, life still continues and the body-mind appearance still is able to fulfil its responsibilities – in fact it becomes more efficient in doing so.
4. Whatever is destined to happen will happen regardless of your desires about this.
5. Effort must be made to cast off the ignorance ‘I am the body-mind-doer-receiver’.
6. You are, in truth, always ever free. You are the Self. Know this and remain naturally unaffected by the life-appearance. In this way sadhana is in no way opposed to daily life.
Om Guru Ramana!
Visitor: Is renunciation necessary for Self-realisation?
Bhagavan: Renunciation and realisation are the same. They are different aspects of the same state. Giving up the non-self is renunciation. Inhering in the Self is jnana or Self-realisation. One is the negative and the other the positive aspect of the same, single truth.
Bhakti, jnana, yoga — are different names for Self-realisation or mukti which is our real nature. These appear as the means first. They eventually are the goal.
So long as there is conscious effort required on our part to keep up bhakti, yoga, dhyana, etc., they are the means. When they go on without any effort on our part, we have attained the goal.
There is no realisation to be achieved. The real is ever as it is. What we have done is, we have realised the unreal, i.e., taken for real the unreal. We have to give up that. That is all that is wanted.
Visitor: How has the unreal come? Can the unreal spring from the real?
Bhagavan: See if it has sprung. There is no such thing as the unreal, from another standpoint.
The Self alone exists. When you try to trace the ego, based on which alone the world and all exist, you find the ego does not exist at all and so also all this creation.
(The above excerpt is from Day by Day with Bhagavan, page 87)
Here in the above passage we find three central facets of Bhagavan Ramana’s teachings.
1. Firstly the non-self must be given up or let go of. By non-self, it is meant everything that is perceived. This includes the entire mental realm of thoughts, feelings and imaginings as well as the so-called physical world of the body and objects – i.e all experiences. This is the way the term is used in classical advaita vedanta. By given up it is meant do not be attached, or let go of all appearances. Allow all to come and go in your being.
Initially this renunciation or letting go is something you do, a practice, or as he states above, ‘the means’. Eventually this becomes natural as the habitual tendency (vasana) to identify with the non-self is dissolved through the practice (sadhana). At this point, when the vasanas have been removed, this is realisation.
2. Secondly Bhagavan then reminds us that realisation is not something to be attained. Realisation is who we are, it is our very nature, it is always and already here, so why do we need to attain that which we already are? (We don’t!). We just have to give up the wrong ideation we have, namely the fixation on the non-self and taking ourself to be the body-mind. When we give up everything, the only thing we lose is our illusions, that which is false. That which is real, the Self, can never be lost, and it is ever-realised.
3. Thirdly, when Bhagavan is asked about how the unreal can come from the real, bhagavan states in reality the unreal never was. The self alone is. Here he briefly describes his teaching of self-enquiry, namely that when you try to find the ego, you cannot find it. He then, in very concise form, states that the appearance of the world is dependent upon the false belief in ego. When the ego cannot be found and has been seen to be non-existent, you also realise that the world too is non-existent, that the entire thing is an illusion. This too is realisation! This too is renunciation of non-self! This too is jnana, bhakti and yoga!
Of note, the first point I mentioned above dealing with removal of vasanas is the purification part of the teaching, in which we let go of non-self or ‘the world’ (including the mind and body) through spiritual sadhana (practice), at least initially. Points two and three refer to what I call the insight aspect of the teachings in which the unreal is seen to be false or non-existent. These two aspects of the teachings go together beautifully, with insight naturally leading to renunciation (letting go of non-self/abiding as self) and sadhana enhancing insight and abiding as self and removing the vasanas (habitual tendencies) towards ignorance (of self) and taking hold of non-self.
Q: How do I ‘turn within’ or ‘turn towards the Self’?
Tom: There is no turning within. Turning within is just a turn of phrase! Everywhere you turn is outside. You may think you are turning within, but wherever you focus is outside. Everything you focus on is actually a subtle object, and all objects are ‘outside’, meaning non-self. All objects are seen.
How can you turn towards the seer? The seer can never be seen. By that I mean the seer can never be seen as an object. The seer is the Subject. The Subject is you.
Self knowledge simple means knowing that you exist, knowing that you are.
Ignorance is identifying as this or as that, meaning identifying as one of the myriad objects that are seen.
So, how to turn within? Just don’t chase objects, and don’t identify as objects.
You could say ignorance has 2 steps:
Step 1: identifying as this or that. This creates a false notion of self, also known as ego or the jiva
Step 2: that ego/jiva then seeks pleasure and security in the world of objects.
In Step 1 we create the structure or form of the ego. Step 2 represents the movement or function of the ego. So we have described the ego’s form and function, its structure and movement. Step 1 is rectified by insight teachings, step 2 is resolved by purification teachings.
Most teachings attack either the ego-function or the ego-form, and ‘Turning within’ can attack either function, form or both.
So, be free and easy, be as you are
See this video for more on this:
Q: What would you say to someone (me) who persistently or often craves and desires so that remembrance of the Self seems to get neglected for spells, like it is sometimes a second priority? Presumably it is good to analyse the desire and see that the pleasure from it cannot be lasting and suffering from not always getting the desire is inevitable and see that there is a greater happiness in the absence of craving?
Tom: What does your heart say?
Q: That I neglect my heart feeling because I look to the Self as being outside the body embedded as oneness in the appearance of the world outside. I have actually just been watching your video with Roger Castillo where you talk about the yogic practise of abiding in the I AM . I used to be a lot more devotional early on in my seeking, now I feel I neglect that aspect, thanks Tom.
Tom: Be with your heart ❤ Don’t neglect the powerful devotional instinct if it moves you. Fall flat on your front and prostrate yourself if need be. Pour out your heart and soul in prayer, if moved to. Weep and worship, if called. And let me know how you’re doing ❤🙏❤ Many thanks for your questions 🙏
Q. Hi Tom, when Ramana says in the book ‘Who am I’ ‘cultivate the constant and deep contemplative ‘remembrance’ (smrti) of the true nature of the Self’ – would this be like repeatedly bringing the attention back to what is here now with the understanding that the Self is all that is?
Tom: Not quite, although that can be part of it. It means to know:
(1) the essence of who you are, experientially, is unchanging and is also unaffected by gross and subtle objects
(2) there is no lasting fulfillment in objects, which are all transient
(3) the essence of you does nothing (the self is not a doer)
(4) it means to lose interest in objects as sources of pleasure, happiness or fulfillment as we bathe in the bliss of simply being (ourselves).
All this is captured by the words sat-chit-ananda (being-consciousness-bliss), which indicate the nature of the Self.
Turn away from the gross and subtle world-objects.
Not allowing the concept/thought ‘I’ to rise up, wielding the weapon ‘who am I’ to strike down any such thoughts, remain as the Self.
If this all sounds too complex, don’t worry: it is intuitively ‘grasped’, so to speak, through simply allowing the mind to rest and be still and allowing ‘the truth’, so to speak, to arise within naturally.
This post is continued from Discarding Knowledge as Ignorance
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’.
This post is continued here: Am I the body? Am I not the body?
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.
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…
Q: 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.