Ramana Maharshi: The path to Self Realisation (includes teachings on the Self, the mind, rajas and tamas, vasanas and Samadhi)

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I have selected this talk (talk 141 from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi) as there are so many gems for the seeker of liberation in such a short space. I will try to unpack some of these gems for you and have provided a summary of the teachings at the end. All comments in red are my own and any bold text has been added by myself for emphasis. Ramana’s words are in black.

First Ramana states that objects are nothing but the ‘modes’ or projection of the mind, and that there is a light that illumines these objects. The light he refers to is the light of awareness or consciousness:

Ramana Maharshi: The modes of mind take shape as external objects and the light reflected on the modes illumines the objects. Now neglecting the modes of mind, look for the light illumining them. The mind becomes still and the light remains self-shining. The undulating mind (i.e., the mind associated with rajas = activity and tamas = darkness) is commonly known as the mind. Devoid of rajas and tamas, it is pure and self-shining. This is Self-Realisation. Therefore the mind is said to be the means for it.

Note how densely packed the spiritual discourse is here! First Ramana advises we ignore the objects, or ‘neglect the modes of mind’ as it is put above. Then follows a beautiful line: ‘the mind becomes still and the light remains self-shining’. Here we can see that Ramana is describing the thought-free awareness in which the mind is still but remains awake and aware. Ramana sometimes refers to this state as being called Jagrat Sushupti (click on the link to learn more about what Ramana says about this). 

Ramana then restates the above in a different way and further defines the word ‘mind’. He states the the mind associated with rajas (ie. the active, passionate and grasping mind) or with tamas (ie. the mind afflicted with fear, negativity, depression and lethargy) is what is meant by the word mind. Put more simply, the word ‘mind’ refers to the mind in movement that is either grasping (rajas) or pushing away (tamas). When rajas and tamas are no longer present, or when the mind is still and no longer grasping or pushing away, the mind becomes pure (this is usually known as sattva – for a more in-depth discussion of rajas, tamas and sattva see here). This totally pure mind is no longer the mind as previously defined, as it is now still, and this stillness in which movement of ego (rajas and tamas) no longer occurs is known as Self-Realisation.

The questioner proceeds:

D.: What is moksha (liberation)?

M.: Moksha is to know that you were not born. “Be still and know that I am God.” To be still is not to think. Know, and not think, is the word.

Ramana now indicates that our true nature is never born, unlike the numerous objects we appear to experience including the body-mind that we erroneously take ourselves to be. Ramana then reiterates the basic instruction to still the mind and explains again what this means – not to think. Ramana says ‘know, and not think’. I interpret this word ‘know’ to mean ‘be aware’, which again chimes with the beautiful line in the previous paragraph:’ the mind becomes still and the light remains self-shining’. 

Now Ramana further explains the main points of the teaching and how to attain Realisation:

Jnana, once revealed, takes time to steady itself. The Self is certainly within the direct experience of everyone, but not as one imagines it to be. It is only as it is. This Experience is samadhi. Just as fire remains without scorching against incantations or other devices but scorches otherwise, so also the Self remains veiled by vasanas [habitual egoic tendencies] and reveals itself when there are no vasanas. Owing to the fluctuation of the vasanas, jnana takes time to steady itself. Unsteady jnana is not enough to check rebirths. Jnana cannot remain unshaken side by side with vasanas. True, that in the proximity of a great master, the vasanas will cease to be active, the mind becomes still and samadhi results, similar to fire not scorching because of other devices. Thus the disciple gains true knowledge and right experience in the presence of the master. To remain unshaken in it further efforts are necessary.

Jnana, which literally means knowledge, is a synonym for Self-Realisation in which there is no suffering. Ramana states that even once we have had a glimpse of That Reality, it takes time for Jnana to stabilise or ‘steady itself’.

How can this be? Is not Reality non-dual and ever-present already? Is our True Nature not already one with the Reality and beyond the limitations of body, time and space? If so, how can it take time for Realisation to steady itself and if Reality is already whole and one without a second, and therefore ‘stable in itself’, how can we even dare speak of stabilisation of Reality or Jnana?

Ramana gives us a practical answer: it is due to the habitual egoic tendencies, or vasanas to use the Sanskrit word. Whist these are present, ‘the Self remains veiled’, and the Self only ‘reveals itself when there are no vasanas’. It is because of these habitual vasanas that take time to die down that ‘Jnana takes time to steady itself’. Ramana goes on to emphasise the point: ‘Jnana cannot remain unshaken side by side with vasanas’ he says. Shankara says the same – see here.

If we compare this section with what was said earlier about mind and rajas and tamas, we can see that stilling the mind means the mind being totally devoid of rajas and tamas. When the mind is still in this way, this is the Self. ie. from a practical point of view, when the mind is active, it is called mind, and when still, it is called Self.

This mind, or rajas and tamas, therefore can be seen to be the same as the vasanas described in this section above. In both cases, when the mind is still or with no vasanas, meaning when there is no habitual birth of the ‘I-concept’ (ego) together with  egoic desire and egoic fear, then the Self is automatically realised.

What about the role of the Guru? Ramana here states the mere proximity to the Guru can still the mind and remove the vasanas, thus revealing the Self in Samadhi, giving a true authentic experience of Self to the seeker. However for this Samadhi, which is unsteady, to become steady, Ramana states ‘further efforts are necessary’.

Ramana now tells us more about Samadhi:

He will know it to be his real Being and thus be liberated even while alive. Samadhi with closed eyes is certainly good, but one must go further until it is realised that actionlessness and action are not hostile to each other. Fear of loss of samadhi while one is active is the sign of ignorance. Samadhi must be the natural life of everyone.

Ramana states that the Samadhi in which there is awareness but no objects whatsoever is pleasing and wholesome, but if we fear the intrusion of objects, that is not really the Samadhi he speaks of. The Samadhi Ramana speaks of doesn’t mind the absence or presence of objects, and so activity in daily living is no impediment to this natural Samadhi (Sahaja Samadhi).

There is a state beyond our efforts or effortlessness. Until it is realised effort is necessary. After tasting such Bliss, even once one will repeatedly try to regain it. Having once experienced the Bliss of Peace no one would like to be out of it or engaged himself otherwise. It is as difficult for a Jnani to engage in thoughts as it is for an ajnani to be free from thought.

When fully realised, who can talk of effort or lack of effort? The Self is beyond both effort and non-effort, and is also one with effort and non-effort. However, as long as vasanas or mind is present, effort needs to be made. Once one has the taste of the bliss and peace of Samadhi, one desires it. When this desire outweighs the desire for external objects, one naturally makes effort towards Samadhi. One must repeatedly enter into this Samadhi – see here for what Ramana says about this or see here for what Shankara says about Samadhi and the mind. Eventually it becomes an effort not to be in Samadhi, Ramana stating ‘It is as difficult for a Jnani to engage in thoughts as it is for an ajnani to be free from thought.’

The common man says that he does not know himself; he thinks many thoughts and cannot remain without thinking.

Any kind of activity does not affect a Jnani; his mind remains ever in eternal Peace.

Talks 141

The True State is beyond any kind of activity and thought. It cannot be lost or gained, it can never be defiled and was and is always whole and complete. It is ever-lasting Peace, beyond birth and death. It is all there is.


A Practical Summary:

  1. Allow the mind to become still
  2. When this stillness is firm and one remains fully aware (ie. one does not fall asleep) in daily life it is called Self-Realisation.
  3. One way this can be done is by ignoring objects and when the mind becomes still all we are left with is the luminescent consciousness which is ever pure and undefined. This is our essence or true nature (Swarupa in Sanskrit).
  4. This state is known as Samadhi and is initially temporary due to latent habitual tendencies (vasanas or rajas and tamas) which habitually sprout the ‘I-concept’ along with notions of ‘the world’ and this gives rise to samsara or suffering.
  5. Proximity to a guru can bring about Samadhi and guide us home.
  6. Once Samadhi has been attained and the desire for worldly objects is outweighed, the Self will draw you in by its own blissful power and repeated Samadhi eventually results in the natural state when the vasanas/egoic mind has been obliterated. This is Sahaja Samadhi which is the same as self-realisation or Jnana or what Ramana calls here ‘eternal Peace’.

 

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Abuse, Crazy Wisdom and Asshole teachers

Teachings/teachers which do not stress purification prior to or after awakening tend to be the ones in which you get the abuse scandals and the crazy-wisdom teachings in the worst cases. In better cases the teacher may just be a bit of an asshole at times, which is not the worst thing in the world, and to be honest, who isn’t an asshole at times? We are all human, after all (apparently), but it is a matter of degrees. With sattva, the chances of being rude, ignorant, abrasive and uncompassionate vastly decreases, but of course can occur from time to time, usually without the teacher intending to be offensive. When tamas and rajas predominate in a teacher, the distortion will be apparent in the teaching and its energy, and the teacher will likely act out their egoic vasanas from time to time and cause suffering to themselves and others accordingly.

You can often sense the energy of a particular teaching from energy the group of long-term seekers who are keyed into that particular teaching. Some teachers attract tamasic seekers, others attract rajasic ones, and others sattvic ones. Of course it doesn’t always work exactly like this – these are just general rules.

Take in these teachings, and see if they are true for you.

The above text was taken from a longer article which explains this in more detail.

 

Shankara – Vasanas and the nature of liberation

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Tom: Liberation is total destruction of habitual egoic desires or vasanas. Only then does suffering end and ethical behaviour naturally arise. Only then do the vedic teachings come to fruition.

Vasanas naturally start to fall away once the illusion of a separate limited ‘me’ is seen through, and life becomes correspondingly easier as the freedom of no-self is seen, but just that seeing alone is not the full liberation until the vasanas have completely dropped off. Until then suffering and egoic behaviour will continue despite the realisation of freedom.

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Even after the ‘Truth has been realised’, remain as the Self to root out ignorance and vasanas.

Annamalai Swami: ‘Don’t sit and meditate’

Annamalai Swami: Bhagavan watched me very closely in the years that I served him in the ashram. One time I went to the Mother’s temple where many people were talking about worldly matters.

Bhagavan called me back, saying, ‘Why should you go to that crowd? Don’t go to crowded places. If you move with the crowd, their vasanas will infect you.’

annamalai swami final talks

Bhagavan always encouraged me to live a solitary life and not mix with other people. That was the path he picked for me. Other people got different advice that was equally good for them.

But while he actively discouraged me from socialising, he also discouraged me from sitting quietly and meditating during the years that I was working in the ashram. In this period of my life, if Bhagavan saw me sitting with my eyes closed he would call out to me and give me some work to do.

On one of these occasions he told me,

‘Don’t sit and meditate. It will be enough if you don’t forget that you are the Self. Keep this in your mind all the time while you are working. This sadhana will be enough for you. The real sadhana is not to forget the Self. It is not sitting quietly with one’s eyes closed. You are always the Self. Just don’t forget it.’

Bhagavan’s way does not create a war between the mind and the body. He does not make people sit down and fight the mind with closed eyes. Usually, when you sit in meditation, you are struggling to achieve something, fighting to gain control over the mind. Bhagavan did not advise us to engage in this kind of fight. He told us that there is no need to engage in a war against the mind, because mind does not have any real, fundamental existence. This mind, he said, is nothing but a shadow. He advised me to be continuously aware of the Self while I did the ordinary things of everyday life, and in my case, this was enough.

The above is an excerpt taken from Final Talks by Annamalai Swami, p. 67