Q.408 Ramana’s ‘Who am I?’

Q: I would like to ask a question about the practice of Sri Ramana’s teachings and in particular the way of carrying out the self-enquiry ‘who am I?’

According to what I’ve seen so far regarding instructions, when a thought arises one enquires ‘to whom this thought has arisen’. If the answer to that is ‘to me’, the enquiry continues with ‘who am I?’

At this stage, the mind becomes silent. Are we supposed to remain in this silence until another thought arises or should we continue enquiring ‘who am I?’ every few seconds or so?

Would you be kind enough to clarify this for me.

A (Dennis): If you are committed to following those ideas that are frequently claimed as representing the essential teaching/method of Ramana, then I am not the best person of whom to ask these questions.

Ramana was not a traditional teacher; he was not trained in the methodology of any sampradAya. There is no doubt of his status as a j~nAnI and transcriptions of his talks show brilliant insights into many aspects. But I have to say that the ‘enquiry’ as you describe it is most unlikely to lead to Self-knowledge. I prefer to think that such practice can only lead eventually to the realization that one needs a teacher to provide the guidance via the proven succession of shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana. It is primarily an intellectual process – the mind is both the problem and the solution. You have to hear the truth, expounded in a convincing manner; ask questions to clear doubts; then repeat in whatever manner is available. Silence will not tell you anything.

I also suggest you read my article on manonAsha.

Q.407 Why not commit suicide?

Q: Since the world as perceived by our senses is mithyA, and we are Brahman, any suffering or pleasures that we derive during the ‘vishva’ or ‘taijasa’ state are mere illusions. As this realization dawns, I am forced to conclude  that living or dying (both concepts being associated with the vishva state) are meaningless.

Rather than meditating etc, and deciding to live life as it is with the knowledge that it is mithya, why shouldn’t someone just end his existence in this state? He is Brahman anyway and it doesn’t matter if he lives or dies in an illusory world borne out of his senses.
Rest assured, this is more of a rhetorical question, to understand if any of the proponents of vedanta have addressed this.

The very act of my writing to you is in itself irrelevant in the broader context.

A: This is the sort of question that Ramana or Nisargadatta would answer with the question ‘Who is asking?’

The point is that the world and its vicissitudes are real for the jIva. Hence the teachings about karma and rebirth. If the jIva ends his/her life before gaining Self-knowledge, there will be rebirth according to the accumulated karma. Also the pleasures and sufferings during waking and dreaming are not illusions; they are mithyA – a world of difference! It is only from the vantage point of absolute reality that you can say that living and dying are meaningless. The unenlightened do not commit suicide as a result of believing that their lives and the world are real. The enlightened do not kill themselves even though they know that their life as a jIva is not real. Indeed, they KNOW that their true self cannot be killed!

Q.406 Multiverse

Q: Although understanding that there is only one  true Self, can we not imagine multiple parallel consciousness-es of multiple Self’s? Are there any categorical arguments against such a thing existing? If Brahman came ‘of itself’ (anAdi, beginningless) ,  could there not equally be many anAdi Brahmans? I know that this doesn’t help in calming our brains at all, but it does challenge the non dual core concept, doesn’t it?

A (Dennis): There is only Consciousness, which is non-dual. There are not subject(s) and object(s). You can imagine whatever you like but imagination is not reality. Multiverse(s) is/are the realm of cosmologists trying to make sense of perceived things. But perceived things are mithyA. Even the perceiver is mithyA. It would not matter if there were multiple universes, they would all still be mithyA.

In kArikA-s 2.20 – 28, Gaudapada derides some 36 different, then current, theories of the nature of reality and concludes: “All these ideas are nothing but imaginations in Atman. In Consciousness, there is neither creation, nor sustenance, nor destruction – all are mAyA.”

Q.405 Persistent Vegetative State

Q: Recently, a relation suffered cardiac failure and was declared as  ‘dead’ by one of the doctors in the local hospital. 30 minutes later, a doctor at a bigger hospital used a defibrillator to restart his heart. Unfortunately, for this span of 30 minutes, his brain was not receiving oxygen and conseqently 50 % of it was damaged leaving him in a ‘Persistent Vegetative State’. He has been in this condition for the past 2 years.

Currently I am studying various Upanishads along with Advaita Vedanta philosophy and I would seek your help on the following questions:

1) According to Advaita Vedanta and Upanishads, the soul departs on the death of a person. So in my relative’s case, does that mean that the ‘Soul’ had departed and came back again or did it never depart from his body ?

2) Does Vedanta recognize a person in a ‘persistent vegetative state’ as ‘alive’ ? How would Vedanata describe this state in terms of the usual 4 states (awake, dream, dreamless sleep and turIya)?

3) Does the soul leaves the body because the heart stops functioning or does the heart cease functioning because the soul has departed from the body ?

A (Dennis): Sorry to hear about your relative’s situation. It is understandably distressing.

Advaita is a progressive teaching. I.e. the scriptures or a teacher will provide one explanation for a new seeker and a different one for an advanced student. Ultimately, as you must realize, there are ‘not two things’. Therefore, the final understanding must be that there are no persons, no world, no mind etc; there is only brahman and ‘you’ are That.

The most useful way of answering your question depends upon an understanding of the concept of chidAbhAsa, the ‘reflection’ of Consciousness in the mind. I wrote an article about this which you can read at http://www.advaita-vision.org/chidabhasa/. There is also a follow-up blog, which does not seem to be available any longer. I will post both of these at AV in March (when the copyright expires). There is also an extended discussion on the subject between myself and Peter Bonnici at http://www.advaita-vision.org/discussion-on-chidabhasa/. Continue reading

Q.404 Practising Advaita

Q: I need some practical guidance on practising advaita in daily life. Please advise me of the best course of action.

A (Dennis): You cannot ‘practise’ Advaita. Advaita is a teaching/philosophy. Its aim is to bring you to the total understanding that reality is non-dual; that all-there-is is brahman or Consciousness, and that who-you-really-are is that brahman. Only the body-mind can ‘practise’ or ‘live a life’ and you are not that. The body-mind and the world are mithyA, which means that they are not real in themselves; their real substratum is brahman.

Q: Many thanks for the response. I have a question though. I understand that Advaita is a philosophy.  But what does one do with a philosophy? Try to understand? Try to live it? What is my next course of action? I know that action should be ruled out. But what is the next step for me? What do I do or where do I go from here. I hope I am able to explain my point. I look forward to hear from you.

A: Advaita is a teaching methodology. It provides a step by step ‘education’ for the seeker to bring him or her Self-knowledge. Ideally, this teaching is given by a qualified teacher. This is someone who already has Self-knowledge and also has the skills to teach it to someone else. Since the original teaching derives from the scriptures, a deep understanding of these and a knowledge of Sanskrit is also deemed by many to be a necessary qualification for a teacher.

Accordingly, the next step would ideally be to find such a teacher and study with them for as long as necessary – usually at least a few years. Failing that, you have to read widely (but only those books that do not confuse!) and ask lots of questions (of someone who can answer them!).

Q.403 – The enlightenment perspective

Q. If you have the time (and inclination) I would really love to get some clarification on exactly what you mean when you write “There is still a personal self after enlightenment; it is just that it is now known not to be who I really am; it is simply a ‘reflection’ in the mind.”

As stated I would tend to label what you seem to be calling “enlightenment” as a transpersonal perspective, not a transcendent one. But as I said earlier, words are terribly slippery and do not necessarily covey the same meaning to the recipient as they do to the sender.

For example I absolutely know (and it is far more than simply an intellectual “knowing”) that I am not “Cate” – my personal identity, name, desires, dreams, experiences, thoughts and opinions. And yet I would hardly call myself enlightened.

My experience (and what a joke it is to phrase it like that since it is not “my” experience at all. But that’s the most convenient grammatical way to put it) is that the bliss of union arrives with the absence of “me” altogether. Oneness arrives with “my” departure. There have been hours and days and even weeks when the perspective of any sense of the personal self has disappeared altogether. The personal memories of Cate were there and available for use, as was the personality, but there was no shred of what I would call a “personal self” remaining.

A (Dennis): I wouldn’t have thought to put it like that but yes, enlightenment IS a ‘transpersonal perspective’ as opposed to transcendent. There is already only Consciousness, and you are that ALREADY. How could you be anything else? (There is nothing else.) So the problem of the unenlightened person is that they do not know this. To ‘become enlightened’ is to realize the truth of this. This is to realize that who-you-really-are is not the person or the mind. But this does not negate the appearance of body and mind.

So, if you ‘absolutely know this’, then you are enlightened. Denying that is simply giving in to mental habits of humility or whatever. (Of course, I don’t suggest that you go around claiming to be enlightened; this is not the sort of statement that is appreciated by most people!)

Experiences of bliss etc have nothing to do with enlightenment.

Q.402 – Witness vs jIva

Q: Please correct my logic below:

  • The ‘negating’ (neti, neti) is actually done by the not-Self (intellect, jIva).
  • The things negated are not-Self (body, senses, mind/intellect, jIva itself?)
  • The witness cannot be negated because it precedes the objects of negation and the act of negation.
  • The witness itself cannot negate but it is because of it that misidentification and negation are possible.
  • The knowledge that ‘I am That which cannot be negated’ is in the intellect, which is not-Self, and therefore unreal.
  • Once that knowledge takes place, then there is no further thoughts such as ‘I am an individual, so and so, this/that’. And I know that I never was.
  • Although the knowledge is in the intellect, it is as if the Self regains knowledge of itself. This individual ‘being’ just became sentient due to my reflection in it?
  • It is ‘me’ that is reflected in all apparent individuals?

A (Dennis): That is mostly correct. Just a couple of points. The ‘witness’ also has to be negated intellectually, since the act of witnessing has to take place through the body-mind-intellect, which is not who you really are. And the Self-knowledge also takes place in the intellect – it is the jIva who gains Self-knowledge. ‘Self-knowledge’ doesn’t apply to the Self, which is never anything other than the Self. And it does not ‘know’ this in the sense that this word implies – to ‘know’ something requires seeming duality and an intellect.

Q.401 – Who is the doer/enjoyer?

Q: Who is the doer and enjoyer of action if not brahman and ego?

A (Dennis): In reality (pAramArthika viewpoint), there is no doer, enjoyer, ego or action. From the point of view of the person in the world (vyAvahArika viewpoint), you can use whatever ‘explanation’ you feel happy with! The usually accepted way of explaining it is that brahman enables the action to take place through the jIva (Consciousness is ‘reflected’ in the mind).

Q.400 – Consciousness and the person

A few questions or clarifications please…

  1. As you’ve said to me before, to focus on this world and everything within it, is really the wrong focus, because it’s mithyA. And what we really are, is that in which all of it occurs?
  2. Am I correct in saying that Vedanta is truly a specific system or process to know who you really are as well as understanding the functioning of everything?
  3. So the elements or energy is not who we are since they are dependent on Consciousness. As Nisargadatta said, “without Consciousness nothing is”.
  4. To gain self-knowledge however, there must be a body with a nervous system. So the body does matter in relation to self-knowledge? But, consciousness doesn’t care whether it’s manifested or not?
  5. Words cause confusion, so what is the difference between Consciousness and Awareness from your understanding?
  6. The mind is discussed a lot, and many say that to have ‘no mind’ is the key to peace and freedom. Is the mind a part of the brain or something entirely different?
  7. Upon gaining self-knowledge, does the mind continue or fade away if you will, leaving the brain to function in its normal and natural way without the mind blocking it?

A (Dennis):

  1. You are not the body-mind; you are Consciousness. There is only Consciousness in reality; the ‘rest’ is just appearance and mistaken interpretation.
  2. Advaita is a teaching methodology to bring you to this realization.
  3. Elements, energy etc are only name and form of Consciousness.
  4. In reality, there is only Consciousness. From the perspective of the person, there is a body-mind. The realization that there is only Consciousness has to take place in the mind of the person in order for the person to realize that ‘All there is is Consciousness’.
  5. You can define words how you like. As long as you do this, there need not be any confusion. The way I use these terms is that Consciousness (capital ‘C’) is the reality (better called ‘Brahman’ to avoid confusion); and ‘awareness’ (capital or not) and ‘consciousness’ (small ‘c’) refer to the person’s perceiving/conceiving ability.
  6. The ‘person’ requires a mind in order to function in the world. This applies whether the person has Self-knowledge or not.
  7. It is likely (though not necessary) that the mind of someone with Self-knowledge will be less prone to disturbance by desire/fear etc.

Q.399 – Self-evident Atma

Q: I want to ask about the following quotation from your series on upadesha sAhasrI – part 19 (upadesha sAhasrI compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures of Swami Paramarthananda):

Atma, though a knower of everything, is not a known object, because, if Atma were to be a known object it will need another Atma to know, leading to what is known as infinite regress (anavasta dosham)Atma cannot be known by itself, because, to be known by itself, it has to become both the subject and the object, which is not possible as one and the same entity cannot function as subject and object simultaneously.

We cannot also say that one part of Atma can be known by another part, as Atma is by definition partless.  Thus, Atma is ever the knower but not known by others or by itself. 

As Atma is self-evident, its existence needs no proof.  That I am conscious is evident to me.  The very search for proof is possible because of my being conscious.  Thus, Atma is revealed as self-evident Witness Consciousness which illumines everything and which cannot be objectified by anything.  This Atma is my real nature.  All the known attributes belong to the known objects and cannot belong to the knower, Atma (consciousness).” Continue reading