How do I deal with craving sense pleasures and neglect of spiritual practice?



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 🙏


Clarifications on Self-Enquiry

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.

Integrating knowledge, spontaneous action

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: 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.


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.

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.

Spiritual knowledge cannot be learnt

green sloping hills.jpg
“There will come a time when one will have to forget all that one has learned.” 
from ‘Who am I’ by Ramana Maharshi

Ultimate truth is simply that which never changes. It is here, now, everywhere and always already in its full glory. It is not separate from whatever is happening or from what is currently being experienced. Ultimate truth does not require you to believe in it or even do anything for it. Just drop all wrong thoughts and whatever remains is It. It cannot be caught in concepts.

The main role of the spiritual path is not to learn about ultimate truth, as it cannot be accumulated, but to discard falsehood. Seeing through false assumptions is what is called ‘spiritual knowledge’. It is not knowledge in the conventional sense at all really.

Conventionally speaking, learning is about accumulation of knowledge, but spiritual learning is more like pruning a hedge or chipping away at a block of stone to reveal a beautiful sculpture beneath. Put simply, spiritual learning is unlearning. Spiritual knowledge is seeing through false ideas.

“The state of Self-realisation, as we call it, is not attaining something new or reaching some goal which is far away, but simply being that which you always are and which you always have been. All that is needed is that you give up your realisation of the not-true as true.”
Ramana Maharshi

Anything that is learnt as being true is in the realm of relative knowledge. Anything that is learnt can also be forgotten whereas the Ultimate neither comes nor goes. Any statement posited as being true can be questioned and doubted leaving with it the bitter taste of uncertainty.

The Ultimate cannot be conceptualised. Conceptualisation itself relies on the Ultimate for its existence. All statements of truth rely on supporting structures and logic, eg. underpinning scientific or philosophical reasoning. The Ultimate truth stands by itself without needing outside support. It is none other than what you truly are. Look and you shall see.

Humility and realisation

humility flower.jpg

An important part of the teaching is to realise the limits of our ability to know or understand things. Often we think we know or understand things only to later find that we were deluding ourselves. The very ideas we think we know to be true are the same ones that keep us trapped and prevent realisation occurring.

The very ideas we think we know to be true are the same ones that keep us trapped and prevent realisation occurring.

Remember that realisation does not mean arriving at a new understanding: it is actually the realisation that the beliefs we held about ourself, specifically the ‘I am the doer’ belief, do not have the evidence required to support them. If we just follow the evidence, we will not make claims that are unjustified, and we preserve our humility and integrity. Any understanding we subsequently develop will have strong foundations.

Being humble just means not pretending to know something that you don’t. Similarly if you think you know something but are not completely sure, it means admitting that uncertainty. In that space of doubt, there is room for something true to emerge and be seen. In acknowledging the limitations and assumptions of our thought processes we are entering into what is actual and true.

In that space of doubt, there is room for something true to emerge and be seen.

To put it differently, humility is a form of honesty, and it is this being completely honest with ourselves that forms a firm foundation from which this teaching can take root, grow and thrive.


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.


Annamalai Swami: maya, the body and self-enquiry

annamalai swami final talks

(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.