Enlightenment – akhaNDAkAra

The word akhaNDAkAra means ‘form of the whole’. AkAra means ‘form, shape, appearance’; akhaNDa means ‘entire, whole’ (a means ‘not’, khaNDa means ‘broken, deficient, fragmented’). So, what happens on enlightenment is that the previous mental disposition of believing ourselves to be separate and limited is replaced by the realization that we are the unlimited whole – brahman.

This realization takes place in the mind of a person at a moment in time but the irony is that, once it has occurred, it is then known that who-we-really-are is timeless and mindless.

Swami Paramarthananda tells a story about a game he used to play as a child. He and his friends would take a child into a room that was entirely empty and they would place pillows about the room and stand the child up against one wall. He was told to memorize the positions of the pillows and then they blindfolded him. He was then told that he had to cross the room to the other wall without touching any of the pillows. The other children then watched as he very carefully edged his way forward. Whenever they laughed, he would retreat and move sideways before trying again. Eventually he reached the other wall and was allowed to remove the blindfold. He then discovered that all of the pillows had been removed before he began and that he had been moving across an empty floor trying to avoid non-existent objects.

And Swami Paramarthananda says that mokSha or liberation is like this. As seekers, we make our way through life trying to avoid all the pitfalls of self-ignorance and arrive at the other wall of self-knowledge and enlightenment. But when we attain enlightenment, we realize that there never were any obstacles to begin with. In a sense, the ignorance was non-existent – the truth is that tat tvam asi, ‘thou art That’ already.

Ramana Maharshi has a similar story:

“Our real nature is mukti (liberation). But we are imagining that we are bound and are making various strenuous attempts to become free, while we are all the time free. This will be understood only when we reach that stage. We will be surprised that we frantically were trying to attain something which we have always been and are. An illustration will make this clear. A man goes to sleep in this hall. He dreams he has gone on a world tour, is roaming over hill and dale, forest and country, desert and sea, across various continents and, after many years of weary and strenuous travel returns to this country and walks into this hall. Just at that moment he wakes up and finds he has not moved an inch, but was sleeping where he lay down. He has not returned after great effort to the hall but is and always has been in the hall. It is exactly like that. If it be asked why being free we imagine we are bound, I answer ‘Why being in this hall did you imagine you were on a world adventure, crossing hill, dale, desert and sea?’ It is all mind or mAyA (the world illusion).”
[Quoted in the book ‘Be As You Are. The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi’, edited by David Godman, Arkana 1985. ISBN 0-14-019062-7] Buy from Amazon US
Buy from Amazon UK

Enlightenment is not an experience at all. As I pointed out in ‘Enlightenment: the Path Through The Jungle’ (Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk) :

  1. Enlightenment is not about ‘experiencing the Self’ – otherwise everyone would be enlightened. It is not about experience at all, it is about self-knowledge – the direct knowledge that you are already that which you seek. (See 25 – 97.)
  2. Nor is enlightenment itself an experience – experiences come and go. Enlightenment is not temporary – once it happens, that is it. Consequently, if you had an experience and wonder whether you are now enlightened, you can be sure that you are not. Also, there is no need for a seeker to try to recapture a ‘good’ experience, thinking that it was somehow closer to enlightenment than the usual ‘bad’ experiences. (See 102 to 104)

Wayne Liquorman uses a good metaphor to explain this, which he records in his book ‘Acceptance of What IS – A Book About Nothing, Advaita Press, 2000. ISBN 0-929448-19-7’. Buy from Amazon US  Buy from Amazon UK
You may be familiar with those old ‘grandfather’ clocks which have a pendulum as the motive force and this pendulum often has a weight on the shaft that you can move up and down to alter the frequency of the swing. He imagines this pendulum swinging from one side to the other, with one extent of the swing representing happiness and the opposite representing misery. Or one being health and the other sickness, or any of the other opposites to which the body-mind is prone.

He says that when we are completely identified with this process, we are equivalent to the weight being as far down the shaft as possible, swinging through the maximum degree of movement, from ecstatic to the depths of despair. If we become more aware of what is happening and therefore less identified with the body and mind, the weight is as though shifted further up the shaft and thus the arc measured out by each swing is less and our emotional ‘swings’ are less intense. Sometimes, our detachment can be such that we observe all of the excesses of life around us but are quite unmoved – this is equivalent to pushing the weight right to the top of the shaft, where there is scarcely any movement. But this remains an experience. Wayne says:

“This experience may last five minutes, or ten minutes, or a day, or a week. Maybe it’ll last a month or six months. If you’re very, very lucky it could last quite a while. But what’s crucial to understand is that this experience at the very top of the pendulum is an experience in phenomenality, even though it’s impersonal. It is still an experience. It has substance. It has characteristics. You can say it’s great. Therefore, there’s something there. That means it exists in phenomenality. And anything that exists in phenomenality has one basic quality to it: it’s subject to change, it will change. It carries within itself the very seed of its opposite.”

‘What goes up must come down’, as they say, so that such a ‘high’ is inevitably succeeded by a low. Because enlightenment is not an experience, in terms of the metaphor, anywhere on the pendulum is still identification with being an experiencer in the world, even if this is that of an observer near the top, rather than a participant near the bottom. Enlightenment is rather the ‘positioning’ of oneself at the fulcrum of the pendulum. He goes on to say:

“Now the fulcrum is that upon which the pendulum moves. The fulcrum is crucial to all the movement. Without it there is no movement. But the thing about the fulcrum is that nothing happens there. There is no movement there. There is nothing going on. There is no subject-object relationship, which is what movement is. There is just the Oneness.”

This, then, is the metaphor and many seekers seem to think that there actually is a radical change from seeing the world as separate and dualistic, literally to seeing the ‘oneness in everything’. But it is not quite like this. When we wake up from a dream, we no longer see the dream creation at all and know it for what it was – a creation of our mind. But the world is not a creation of our mind. It is, if you like, a creation of the cosmic mind – Ishvara. Just as the sun still appears to rise and set, even after we have acquired the knowledge that this appearance is caused by the rotation of the earth, so the world-appearance continues after enlightenment.

Enlightenment is the acquiring of the Self-knowledge that the non-dual brahman is the sole reality; that the world is mithyA; and that I, the jIva, am non-other than brahman. (This is the translation of the sentence that sums up the teaching of Shankara: brahma satyam, jaganmithyA, jIvo brahmaiva nAparaH.) Afterwards, the appearance of the world continues but I know, without the shadow of a doubt, that it is all simply name and form of brahman.

This was the always the case – before enlightenment as well as after. Nothing has actually changed. There were no pillows in the room that I was crossing in the journey of ‘seeking’. But, as far as my mind is concerned, the outlook has totally changed. It has taken on ‘the form of the whole’ and I now know that I was never a separate entity in an alien world. I now know that I am ‘everything’.

One might be tempted, then, to say (as some neo-advaitin teachers do) that there is not really any problem at all. After all, it is true that we are ‘already free’. But there is a very real problem, namely that we believe we are ‘bound’. We think we are the aging, ailing body or the mind losing its acuity and memory. We believe that happiness will only be gained through becoming rich, meeting the ideal partner and so on. As it is usually put, we are ‘identified’ with these or with the roles that we happen to be playing in life. Enlightenment entails the realization that I am not ‘a man’ or ‘a writer’; not a body or mind but simply ‘I am’.

(Read Part 2…)

27 thoughts on “Enlightenment – akhaNDAkAra

  1. Dear Dennis & Ramesam

    I would just like to add some reflections on this article and the subsequent one on flow.

    Dennis, Wayne L., James S. and Rupert S., all in their own fashion emphasise that enlightenment is the Knowledge that one is the non dual Brahman. It seems to be a positive knowledge that one is the substratum awareness, rather than the body-mind that we normally associate ourselves as. In so doing, Dennis goes on to say that this Knowledge is not an experience, and has previously talked about the fact that atma vichara is actually scriptural investigation, not self-investigation

    Firstly, here is Sri Chandrasekhar Bharati , a pontiff of Sringeri, responding to a question on explaining advaita vedanta:

    “I shall certainly be very glad to do so, if I can do it. But it is quite beyond my competence. . . It is the nature of the subject. The upanishad itself proclaims “He who claims to know, knows not”. The advaita is not something to be learnt, not can it therefore be a thing to be taught. It is essentially a matter to be realised by oneself. I cannot therefore undertake to teach you. If however in the course of your Vedantic studies, you want any passage to be explained either in text or commentary, I shall certainly try my best to explain it. I can thus help you only to understand the significance of words or of sentences which are composed of words, or of ideas which are conveyed by sentences. But it is impossible to convey to you a correct idea of what advaita is, for it is neither a matter for words nor is it a mental concept. It is on the other hand pure experience which transcends all these. Suppose I do not know what sweetness is. Can you describe sweetness in words sufficiently expressive to convey an idea of sweetness to me? If a thing so familiar to us as sweetness transcends all expression, how much more transcendental will be the truth of advaita, which is the supreme sweetness”

    The problem with Swartz, Spira et al is that they have equated knowledge with just this positive knowledge that can be gained from books or verbal descriptions about ‘consciousness is what you are’. But actually the jnana that advaita talks about is the ABSENCE of the ignorance that superimposes the body-mind on the Self, such absence being beyond just intellectual knowledge. Take Shankara’s commentary on BG18.50:

    “The cause of misconceived Selfhood is the semblance of the Consciousness that is the Self. HENCE KNOWLEDGE OF THE SELF IS NOT A SUBJECT FOR INJUNCTION. What then? Only the ERADICATION of the superimposition of name, form, etc, which are not the Self, is what has to be undertaken, but not the knowledge of the Self that is Consciousness.”

    This eradication of knowledge, is essentially a radical de-conditioning of how the mind has been programmed to think as “I”. As SSSS says in his Adhyatma Yoga:

    “Through the practice of this’ Adhyatma Yoga’ at last one cognises that my true nature of Being is beyond the ‘I’ sense or ego. When one cognises this Truth, then he remains unto himself as of the nature of the Witness of the ego. Hence ‘to know the Self is to be the Self and to be the Self is to cease the identification with the not-self’. This utterance of Sri Ramanamaharshi is to be remembered by the Sadhaka of Adhyatma Yoga. Here the Sadhaka has traversed inwards, as it were, with a concentrated mind, followed by discrimination, and has arrived at the brink of all duality and at the very core of life. And he himself has remained as the Witness of the ego or as the Pure Self . . .”

    So in order to arrive at this Knowledge, advaita requires intense viveka between what is truly “I” and what is not “I”, and in order to have such discrimination, one needs intense vairagya.

    Here is the next problem with the neo-vedanta teachers and their satsangs. They forget (or at best under-emphasise) that Advaita prescribes – most clearly in Bhagavad Gita – that in order for this viveka / vairagya to truly take hold, the mind must have a high degree of maturity / purity. And the pre-requisite for such a mind is karma yoga. Why? Because it teaches the mind first to perform right actions according to one’s duties, thence without desire for its fruits, and ultimately a spirit of utter detachment (nishkama karma) will pervade all one’s actions. Then, and only then, one is ready for giving up of all actions and thence logically jnana yoga (the viveka / vairagya above). Here is chapter 18 of the Bhagavad Gita:

    Shankara: “What was verily spoken of as the success arising from Karma Yoga, characterised as the fitness for steadfastness in Knowledge – the fruit of that fitness, characterised as ‘steadfastness in Knowledge’ consisting in the perfection in the form of the state of one (i.e. a monk) free from duties has to be stated in the following verse:

    v.49: “He whose intellect remains unattached to everything, who has conquered his internal organs and is desireless, attains through monasticism the supreme perfection consisting in the state of one free from duties.”

    In the verses subsequent to this, Krishna talks about the PROCESS by which one (who has successfully completed his Karma Yoga) attains Brahman, including: rejecting objects, eliminating attachment and hatred, resorting to solitude, possessed of dispassion, discarding egotism, pride, desire, anger, etc

    Krishna / Shankara also talk (at the end of chapter 2) of the enlightened Sage as being entirely free of desires, unperturbed by sorrow, beyond attachment, with no need to perform actions. And any actions that they do perform are only for the sake of guiding others.

    So whilst Vasishtha may have said of jivanmuktas that:
    “They can be householders or businessmen. There are no restraining conditions stipulating their behavior.”
    It would seem clear from reading Shankara and BG, that a jivanmukta is more likely to be a mendicant, and to the extent that s/he participates in the world, it is in Ashtavakra’s words, like a dry leaf blown in the wind, not at all driven by personal desire, with any conscious actions only for the good of others.

    The thread therefore that runs through all of this is that before realisation, one much understand and act with detachment / desirelessness to ‘purify the mind’, and after realisation one is naturally detached and desireless, because there is no longer any identification with the body-mind.

    Best wishes,

    • Dear Venkat:

      Wayne L., James S. and Rupert S, etc, etc, etc,

      Makes me LOL! LOLL! LOLLL!!! LOLOLOLOLLLL!!!!


  2. Hi Venkat,

    I do not find anything to be disputed or disagree with what you say.

    The only thing I may like to point out is the fact, as was also said by Shankara in his commentary on BG 2 – 16, that “brahman” is not entirely unknown to us and It is not something to be newly acquired. Had It been totally unknown, one would not have even pursued It. I think that’s about all one may talk about It in a ‘positive’ sense that you refer to. The logical question that arises then is when I am already That, why don’t I ‘know’ that fact. Various “teaching methodologies” come up to answer that question. There can be a difference in the way the answer gets expressed depending on the teacher who answers, the questioner, the level or maturity of the mind, as you also said, of the seeker and so on. From a practical day to day outlook, one single thing that may be called the least denominating factor in any teaching is “naishkarmya siddhi,” a point made out in the very first verse in the 6th chapter of BG. You have also rightly highlighted the need of naishkarmya siddhi. However, one may not be able to stipulate that a seeker has to necessarily pass through a phase of “karma yoga” in order to attain naishkarmya siddhi. We may also have to remember that when Gita talks of ‘karma,’ most of the time it refers to the sacrificial and other rituals or the prescribed vaidic karmas.

    With all this said and done, the sine qua non for any seeker is relinquishment (vairAgya). Development of vairAgya, naishkarmya siddhi, shravaNa etc. can all proceed at the same time – it is not compulsory, IMO, that these aspects have to go in a gradational and progressive manner one after other.


  3. Dear Ramesam

    I was just reading Letters from Ramanashram, and came across this passage that captures the gist of my original comment and your response to it.

    A lady was asking Bhagavan how to attain the Self, how to attain peace.

    Bhagavan: You know that you should attain it. How do you know? To know that you must have experienced it at some time or other. It is only when one knows that sugarcane is sweet, that one wishes to have some. . . Every human being is longing similarly for peace.

    Lady: Yes – but how to attain it?

    Bhagavan: What you have got is shanti itself. What can I say if some one asks for something which he has already got? If it is anything to be brought from somewhere, effort is required. The mind with all its activities has come between you and your Self. What you have to do now is to get rid of that.

    best wishes,

    • Venkat:

      Superb…this is where the real treasures are….in ordinary conversations with ordinary folk.

      If concepts are the enemy, this is where the real treasures are….in ordinary conversations with ordinary folk.


  4. Venkat,

    “If it is anything to be brought from somewhere, effort is required.
    The mind with all its activities has come between you and your Self. What you have to do now is to get rid of that.”

    “What you have to do now is to get rid of [the] mind with all its activities [which] has come between you and your Self. ”

    The re-arranged formulation as above of the line that follows the first sentence in the Ramana quote makes it obvious that there is work to do. Any “work to do” will necessarily involve some “effort.”


  5. Dear Ramesam

    This question of effort is an interesting one, isn’t it? At first, effort is (apparently) necessary. In the end, no effort is possible. Because, as Ramana would say, who is going to make the effort?


    In this snippet, Ramana says get rid of the mind’s activities. But reading him elsewhere, it is clear that by this he does not mean to forcibly do so. He means to stand detached from those activities, and see what is the mind, who is the I?

    JK says much the same thing – ‘when you see the danger of a precipice you don’t have to think or to control, you just walk away from it; similarly when you see that all the thoughts that one has, arise out of one’s conditioning, are the cause of suffering, and are forever limited, thought itself will come to an end’.

    Ramana’s most cogent teaching was “summa iru” – just be. What effort is required in just being? If the beauty, the truth of that is understood, what more effort is necessary?

    with warm wishes,


    PS Shishya – thank you for your kind comments.

  6. Dear Ramesam

    Another point struck me on understanding vs effort.

    In effort is implied time: to go from here to there, to improve, to learn, to practise.

    But if we are that already, then what is required is a discarding of the superimposed false notion of ego-mind-body. Now you may argue that that requires effort, which in turn requires thought: the thought that we are not the ego-mind-body, and that we have to discard it. But who is the ‘we’ that has to discard it? Surely just another thought! And what is time through which this effort will take place – again just another thought!

    I’m not sure any effort, in the way it is usually meant, will get you far in this topic. You might accumulate scholastic knowledge, or proficiency in meditation, but that’s about it. The only effort one can talk about is a deepening of understanding – and to paraphrase JK, that is pathless land.

  7. Venkat:

    You say above:

    “I’m not sure any effort, in the way it is usually meant, will get you far in this topic. You might accumulate scholastic knowledge, or proficiency in meditation, but that’s about it.”

    IMHO that is the heart of the matter…Chapter 4 of the BG…action in inaction

    J. Krishnamurti The First and Last Freedom Questions and Answers
    Question 25 ‘ON ACTION WITHOUT IDEA’

    Action which transforms us as human beings, which brings regeneration, redemption, transformation – call it what you will – such action is not based on idea. It is action irrespective of the sequence of reward or punishment. Such action is timeless, because mind, which is the time process, the calculating process, the dividing, isolating process, does not enter into it.
    MAHARSHI’S GOSPEL Maurice Frydman


    D: Is it possible to enjoy samadhi while busy in worldly

    M: The feeling ‘I work’ is the hindrance. Ask yourself
    ‘who works?’ Remember who you are. Then the work
    will not bind you; it will go on automatically. Make
    no effort either to work or to renounce; your effort is
    the bondage. What is destined to happen will happen.
    If you are destined not to work, work cannot be had
    even if you hunt for it; if you are destined to work,
    you will not be able to avoid it; you will be forced to
    engage yourself in it. So, leave it to the higher power;
    you cannot renounce or retain as you choose.

  8. Sishya

    Totally agree.

    But it is a very subtle point – being the observer to whenever the ‘I’ arises. Without doing anything about it. Just observing and understanding what are the mechanics that drive this needless, relentless ‘I’. JK’s “choiceness awareness” describes it adroitly, but can be difficult to understand.

    A Nisargadatta quote that complements your JK:

    “The clearer that you understand that on the level of the mind you can be described in negative terms only, the quicker you will come to the end of your search and realise your limitless being”

    I’ve read blogs where people argue endlessly about destiny and free will, in relation to Ramana’s words you quoted above. And then one group decides they are not responsible for any of their actions (whatever they may be), and that they will simply ‘do’ self-enquiry; and another believes that they need to act, and also ‘do’ self-enquiry. That misses the point of Ramana’s no effort and renunciation.

    As do most of our neo-vedantins.

    Best wishes


  9. Venkat and Shishya,

    ” “I’m not sure any effort, in the way it is usually meant, will get you far in this topic. You might accumulate scholastic knowledge, or proficiency in meditation, but that’s about it.”

    First a “Thank you” to Shishya for the kind Link to the pdf of “Maharshi’s Gospel.”
    I could glance through a few sections. I found it to be a compilation of well-edited, much clearly expressed and very readable Q&A dialogs, perhaps, reflecting the typical skills of Maurice.

    About Effort or No Effort:

    Advaita does admit “differences” in the seekers. For example, Kena Upanishad clearly says that the first two parts in it which can be considered as “Direct Path” are for more eligible seekers and the later two are for medium type. The highly regarded monograph “aparokShAnubhUti” also says in its verse 11, that “vicAra” (inquiry) is the only means to know the Self (Direct Path); but cautions that it is suitable only after a minimum of eligibility is obtained by the seeker.

    From this, one may infer that whether Self-realization is “effortful” or “effortless” has to be viewed from the context of the background of the seeker.

    Hence, IMHO, one may not simply declare a general statement that seeking the Self is “effortless,” lest one be in the turf zone of Tony!

    Further, Sage Vasishta spends a considerable amount of time on the issues of “Effort, Destiny, Action etc.” during his discourses in the second and third Chapters of Yogavasista. He gives a beautiful analogy as follows in Chapter 3.

    Rama: Teacher! The process of creation-dissolution anyway goes on. What’s the need for me to strive for liberation?

    Vasishta: It is not as simple as that. Our effort is also necessary. When you speak of the entire world, its collective Consciousness, i.e. the Consciousness of Hiranyagarbha, is like a mighty river. The consciousness of a separate individual within it is like a small stream out of it. Let us say that the tiny stream began to flow on its own along another course. Its path is called the pravRitti mArga (the path that leads to mundane life). On this path the individuated separate streamlet acquires a body and sensory organs. It gets habituated to be excited through experiencing happiness and sorrow. If the separate streamlet called the individual I-consciousness has to rejoin the main big river course, it has to drastically change its path. It has to almost retrace its course. The separated streamlet cannot reach back to the source river if it sits like a block of glacier doing nothing. Therefore, it is inevitable that everyone has to make an effort to get back to the original nature.”

    In the second Chapter, the Sage says categorically about the need of “human effort” (puruSha yatna):

    “If anyone in this world desires to get a thing, he has to make adequate effort to obtain it. The effort made should be proper to the occasion. If a useless effort is made like going to the garden in the night (in order to relish the beauty of the charming colors of the flowers), it is called an improper effort. Investing in a systematic effort will yield salutary results. On the other hand, if an unsystematic or improper approach is made, it will be a wasted labor without any fruitful results. If no effort is made, there will obviously be no result at all. The principle holds equally well with respect to the spiritual matters also. There is no exception to this rule. This is how things work in this world.”

    In the text that Shishya has been kind to refer, Ramana emphatically tells a Questioner that Self-inquiry is an “intense activity”:

    Q: … Does not the enquiry, ‘Who am I?’ turn out in the end an empty formula?

    Ramana: Self-enquiry is certainly not an empty formula; it is more than the repetition of any mantra. If the enquiry, ‘Who am I?’ were a mere mental questioning, it would not be of much value. The very purpose of Self-enquiry is to focus the entire mind at its source. It is not, therefore, a case of one ‘I’ searching for another ‘I’.
    Much less is Self-enquiry an empty formula, for it involves an intense activity of the entire mind to keep it steadily poised in pure Self-awareness.”

    Does not “an intense activity” mean work done (by the mind) and hence imply the requirement of effort? After all, activity is work. Any “work to do” will necessarily involve some “effort.”

    At another place too Ramana exhorts the questioner that he cannot wait doing nothing.


    • Ramesam:

      Great observations you make especially… “Advaita does admit “differences” in the seekers.”…

      IMHO, this is the greatness of this whole “system”, in a sense matching karma to karma, student to teacher, whether the teacher is human, animal, animate, inanimate, etc. That might offend some people, especially the (fantastic?) notion of karma, but Einstein would have understood, I think.

      “I’m not sure any effort, in the way it is usually meant, will get you far in this topic. You might accumulate scholastic knowledge, or proficiency in meditation, but that’s about it.”

      As I understood it, in the above comment Venkat was trying to explore the nature of the “effort” needed not denying the need for it. If the Gunas are anyway going to make “you” act, can you still lose the sense of agency while acting by “witnessing” or “choiceless awareness” or whatever you want to call it?

      Forgive the touch of morbidity but I am sure deep and acute “suffering” must figure somewhere in the mix; the “effort” to deal with suffering must be essentially passive, it seems to me, so what then is effort?

      Written in a hurry and posted hastily so apologize in advance.


  10. Hi Shishya,

    Thanks for your time and the thoughtful comments.

    I shall try to spell out below my ‘reaction’ to the two questions posed by you. I will not arrogate myself to be able to “answer” them because what I say is necessarily limited by my understanding.

    Q 1: “If the Gunas are anyway going to make “you” act, can you still lose the sense of agency while acting by “witnessing” or “choiceless awareness” or whatever you want to call it?”

    R.V.: Per Advaita, all “That-IS” is brahman only and there is none ’other.’ Hence “guNa-s” etc. are merely artifacts invoked in building an explanatory ‘model’ for someone who believes in his/her own equally fictitious I-consciousness (me-ness or ahamkAra). Therefore, leaving aside the guNa-s for a while, what is prevailing is the sense of a “me” as the “doer” for all decisions and actions (i.e. kartAhamiti), which situation engenders duality. Now will the situation change even if that “me” as the doer is replaced by a “witness” who does the “witnessing”? Will it make a difference even if we invent the concept of “choiceless awareness” as long as that concept and one who is aware of that concept continue to exist?

    So the real and only thing that has to happen is to utterly and totally “drop the me-ness” and the associated sense of a doership and “even the sense of anything happening” in the equation.

    Q 2: “… deep and acute “suffering” must figure somewhere in the mix; the “effort” to deal with suffering must be essentially passive, it seems to me, so what then is effort?”

    R.V.: Irrespective of the intensity of the suffering (superficial or ‘deep and aciute’), all “suffering” is nothing but the symptom of either an inability or unwillingness to facelessly be amalgamated or meld into whatever the arising situation is at the moment. It is a resistance to “Whatever-IS” and desiring that to be something different. “Suffering” is a name we give for that combo of resistance (to What-IS) and desire (for something else).

    A subsequent ‘thought’ claims “ownership” for that “suffering” — claims it as “mine.” With that claim, the imagined “me” pops its head. If one were to examine with a fine comb, one will find that the raw ‘feel’ of the “suffering” and the “me” (the owner) for it do not co-exist or occur in the same moment!

    Any “effort” (like in Physics) implies an energy input and results in an activity. If one wants to “deal” with suffering through effort (i.e. energy input), it amounts to inputting energy into it or IOW only strengthening it in one form or other. By definition, IMHO, “passive effort” does not make sense, if I take passivity to mean inaction and not inertness.

    In the time-space causal world of phenomena, all things/happenings are transient. The arisings change from moment to moment. In fact, there is an effort required to hold them in continuity.

    What we can infer from the above findings is, no ‘effort’ should ever be put in “dealing with suffering,” if one were not to perpetuate it.

    Let it, therefore, get orphaned (and attenuated) through sheer inattention and negligence.
    [Please bear in mind that the above is not said in relation to the occurrence of physical bodily pain which is a red flag emitted by the body as a part of its own homeostatic signaling mechanism).


  11. Ramesam:

    Thanks for your reply…


    “If the Gunas are anyway going to make “you” act, can you still lose the sense of agency while acting by “witnessing” or “choiceless awareness” or whatever you want to call it?”


    So the real and only thing that has to happen is to utterly and totally “drop the me-ness” and the associated sense of a doership and “even the sense of anything happening” in the equation.

    —- Effortlessly ?????????


    “… deep and acute “suffering” must figure somewhere in the mix; the “effort” to deal with suffering must be essentially passive, it seems to me, so what then is effort?”


    What we can infer from the above findings is, no ‘effort’ should ever be put in “dealing with suffering,” if one were not to perpetuate it.

    Let it, therefore, get orphaned (and attenuated) through sheer inattention and negligence…

    ——-Sheer inattention and negligence seems suspiciously like effort ?????????

    If you are in a hole what does it mean to “stop digging”?

    On the other hand, the more one delves into this subject the more it seems that the revered Patanjali was right in mentioning liberation through drugs. And the drug approach is precisely to blunt the feelings, attenuate the thought, damp down.


    Did you suffer when you were asleep? as Maharshi Ramana asked.

    Disappointingly, that “answer” never satisfied me.

  12. Thank you Sishya and Ramesam for a superb exploration of the topic.

    Totally concur with Ramesam’s comment:
    So the real and only thing that has to happen is to utterly and totally “drop the me-ness” and the associated sense of a doership and “even the sense of anything happening” in the equation.

  13. Hi Shishya,

    Once again, I do not pretend to answer, but offer a few clues for your Questions.

    Q: “Sheer inattention and negligence seems suspiciously like effort ?????????”

    R: Actually “paying attention” is effortful; not inattention.
    Let’s do a small experiment.

    Look away from the computer (say look outside through your window). Close your eyes for a second and open them. Let whatever scene is there in front appear to your eyes.

    Tell me now, how much “effort” was there on your part just to see the total scene appearing before your eyes?

    Next pay attention to a specific object (the tree or road or picture frame or something – anything) within that scene in front.

    Tell me now if focusing (which is another name for paying attention) on an object has been effort-free on your part?

    You can repeat the expt with some sound coming from a distance (a dog’s bark or a car’s screech or the hum of A/C). Do not worry to label the sound. Just “feel” the raw sound. Tell me if your ear has to make an effort to sense the sound.

    Next pay attention to ID the sound. Tell me if paying attention did or did not require “effort” on your part.

    Realize that the scene in front of the eyes or the distant sound have been there whether you paid any attention to notice them or not. For the scene to “fall” in your eyes or for the sound to “fall” in your ears, you had to expend NO effort. When and if you did not pay attention, it was “as though” there was no-thing there.

    Q: “If you are in a hole what does it mean to “stop digging”?”

    R: You must have heard of the Zen koan — “the big chick in the bottle. How do you get it out without breaking the bottle?”

    Though the Zen koans are not to be answered, there is a clue for this – the chick never got into the bottle. Likewise, A “you” are never in a hole!

    Unless and until you ID where you are by giving a name and description to that space-time, you are neither in a hole nor a house. You just “are.” That’s all. Your
    ID-ing and owning it only makes you “to be in the hole.”

    Q: “Did you suffer when you were asleep? as Maharshi Ramana asked.
    Disappointingly, that “answer” never satisfied me.”

    R: I fully agree.

    Just numbing the brain to become insensitive using drugs, alcohol, tranquilizers or sleep medicines (melatonin) is not the idea.
    J. Krishnamurti said to me a long time ago that trying to be in a state of ‘blank mind’ (so called ‘meditation’) would lead one to “stupidity.”
    So the sleep example is only to show that after Self-realization how one feels “as though” no suffering ever has been there.

    As long as you paid no attention, the distant dog-bark was never there. Only after you began to notice it, ID it, the sound began to disturb your sleep, annoy you, irritate you and made you restless in the night.


  14. Dear Ramesam and Shishya

    Apologies if I am missing the point . . .

    You are right when you note that Ramana said that self-enquiry required consistent activity, or as you put it attention. But that attention is actually on the ‘I’-thought whenever it arises. And, as you say Ramesam, to pay no attention, to be negligent, to whatever arises ‘outside’.

    By implication therefore you let whatever is to happen, happen, without making any effort to change / improve it. As you say, it just ‘is’.

    So the “effort” required is just to be aware whenever “I” exerts itself – which may be in response to something beautiful for which desire arises, or anger at an enemy. Essentially desire and fear are the signs that an “I” is alive and kicking, however spiritually advanced we think we are. So rather than exerting effort to control desire / fear, instead bring the background “I”, which is at the root of desire / fear, into focus and just watch / observe / understand it. And in the watching of it, and the stripping away / negating of all the habitual identifications the “I” has, it is seen to be insubstantial.

    • Hi Venkat,

      Thank you for your post wrapping up coherently the two apparently opposite positions I seem to have taken in my comments — firstly to argue that effort is required and later to demonstrate in my reply to Shishya that no effort is required. The seeming contradiction arises because of the fact that two different levels or stages of “inquiry” are being spoken about in the two situations.

      I am aware that you know all this. Still, I am trying below to elaborate a little bit so that there may not be a confusion for a reader.

      We notice that there is a constant change in all that is observed and we know that what changes cannot be really “Real.” If what is “Real” is different from what we perceive, a question will arise as to why we do not see the “Reality.” Advaita holds that our inability to perceive Reality lies in the fact that we mix up what is Real with what is unreal owing to our ignorance. As a consequence we face suffering. In order to be able to free ourselves from misery, we must know who or what is “Real” and what is unreal. Explaining our normal day to life experience in the world, Shankara said in his Intro to Brahma sUtra-s,

      अन्योन्यस्मिन्नन्योन्यात्मकतामन्योन्यधर्मांश्चाध्यस्येतरेतराविवेकेन अत्यन्तविविक्तयोर्धर्मधर्मिणोः मिथ्याज्ञाननिमित्तः सत्यानृते मिथुनीकृत्य ‘अहमिदम्’ ‘ममेदम्’ इति नैसर्गिकोऽयं लोकव्यवहारः ॥

      Meaning: It is on the part of man a natural process – which has its cause in wrong knowledge – not to distinguish the two entities (the subject and the object) and their respective attributes, although they are absolutely distinct, but to superimpose upon each the the characteristic nature and attributes of the other, and thus mixing the Real and the unreal, making use of expressions like ‘That am I’; ‘That is mine.’

      Shankara adds towards the end as follows:

      अनादिरनन्तो नैसर्गिकोऽध्यासो मिथ्याप्रत्ययरूपः कर्तृत्वभोक्तृत्वप्रवर्तकः सर्वलोकप्रत्यक्षः।

      Meaning: It is observed by all that this natural beginningless and endless superimposition, which appears in the form of wrong conception, is the cause of individuals apearing as “doers” and “experiencers” (of the results of their actions).

      [English translation – based on G. Thibaut – accent by me.]

      Thus, there is an in-built natural tendency on our part to mistake the “Real” by superimposing the unreal on It. The immutable and eternal “I” that I am (the subject) appears ‘as though’It moves towards the ever changing objective world. This ‘as though’ movement is called the pravRitti – the unfolding. Because it is natural, an “effort” is required not only to recognize but also to arrest the apparent motion.
      With that ends all effortful action.

      Once the pravRitti ends, there is strictly speaking no reverse travel on the path of implosion (nivRitti). The nivRitti is just abidance as the true “I”.


  15. Dear Ramesam:

    I appreciate your explanation but context is everything.

    You had said –
    What we can infer from the above findings is, no ‘effort’ should ever be put in “dealing with suffering,” if one were not to perpetuate it.

    Let it, therefore, get orphaned (and attenuated) through sheer inattention and negligence…

    Your little experiment of looking out the window, etc,..is all very good only if you are sitting at ease with nothing bothering you.

    But to somehow remain inattentive and negligent in the face of intense turmoil, and effortlessly at that, does not seem feasible to me.

    As is the case in nearly every human predicament, Shakespeare said it best..

         Cure her of that.
    Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,
    Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
    Raze out the written troubles of the brain
    And with some sweet oblivious antidote
    Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff
    Which weighs upon the heart?

         Therein the patient
    Must minister to himself.
    But how? is the question….

    Thanks again for taking the time….


  16. Funny thing synchronicity. I just read the following extract from Letters from Sri Ramanasramam:

    “Those feelings called desires are also of the mind, and if desires were banished, there would be no wavering of the mind; and if there is no wavering, that which remains is peace. To attain that which is always there requires no effort. Effort is required only for the banishing of all desires. As and when the mind wavers it must be diverted from those matters. If that is done, peace remains as it is. That is Atma, the Self, that is Liberation.”

    Ramesam, as you say sense perceptions happen on their own all the time without effort. The ‘effort’ (though my conditioning is such that it seems effortless) arises when I have more interest in one aspect of the perceptions over and above others, because of self-interested desire or fear.

    I find that trying to control the mind to not have desires is fruitless. But watching the desires, and more importantly, understanding why they arise and the “source” from which they arise, means that they tend to wither on their own. Essentially, I think that one loses interest in following the desires / fears triggered by the outside, and becomes far more interested in learning about oneself; indeed the external trigger becomes the catalyst for understanding the “I” and how it works.

    So that ‘interest’, if it is sincere / earnest, means that attention becomes effortlessly focused on abiding in one self.

    As I write, I recollect that Sri Atmananda writing something similar in Atma Darshan:

    “Everything that emphasises personality must be understood to have its origin in body-connection”

    And in a chapter called Atman’s disappointment in Atma Nivritti he writes:

    “I created thoughts, feelings, perceptions and the rest as a means whereby I could make Myself known.
    Yet people don’t look at Me but cling to the objects of their thoughts and feelings. How then is their bondage to end?”

    Best wishes.

  17. Shishya,

    “But to somehow remain inattentive and negligent in the face of intense turmoil, and effortlessly at that, does not seem feasible to me…………….. …………….
    But how? is the question….”

    [I wish you chose another word rather than Shishya for your “handle.” It is very embarrassing to address you every time as “Shishya”!!! (; (; ]

    Yes, Sir. There is no doubt that an agitated or perturbed mind is least congenial for the pursuit of Self-inquiry. Even Krishna admitted that it is extremely difficult to restrain the mind (मनो दुर्निग्रहं चलम् BG Ch 6, verse 35).

    When we talked about “just ignoring or paying no attention is effortless,” we are alluding to the Direct Path approach wherein the seeker has adopted vastu tantra (vicAra) having had a healthy body and a calm mind. If there is a disturbed mind, IMHO, that needs to be attended first. As Venkat also said, wrestling with it to control or neutralize it will be a fruitless and tiresome struggle.

    It is necessary to find out why the mind is disturbed. If the mind is restless because of some physical ailment in the body, that irritant must be addressed at the physical level. After all the mind has a function to ‘take care of the body’ and any of the disturbances are red flags demanding the seeker’s attention.

    The agitated mind may also be there in case of factors like responsibilities to be fulfilled – sickness of a family member, college fees to be paid for the offspring or other such unavoidable and duty bound obligations. Sage VAsishta advises that such obligatory responsibilities cannot be dumped.

    If the agitation is because of emotional or purely psychological reasons or if a seeker by nature has a mercurial type of mind, a mind which is unable to focus, which has an inability to stay on course and critically examine itself, then the seeker is a candidate for the more progressive approaches (kartru tantra – upAsana) than taking up vicAra on the Direct Path.


  18. Dear Ramesam:

    One last comment with the handle Shishya…

    I don’t worry too much about the obligations and responsibilities you mentioned because I am firmly convinced of the Maharishi’s dictum:

    “Whatever this body is to do, and whatever experiences it is to pass through was already decided when it came into existence.” so I will enjoy/suffer my lot without, I hope, too much fuss.

    But if it is certain that what is destined to happen will happen, and what is destined not to happen will not happen, regardless of all countermeasures, how is one to reconcile oneself to the appalling suffering in the world?

    The Maharishi said that it is God’s job to look after the world, so one should not worry about the question. If that is the case, then I must declare myself a vigorous atheist because it would be too horrible to believe in a force so utterly evil.

    Does what is called self-realization really reconcile one to the condition of the world? If it does, then one is inclined to declare oneself a vigorous “atheist” in that regard too…one cannot give ANY importance to a state, knowledge, wisdom or conviction that does not touch this problem of suffering in the world.

    A man in good health and spirits can write about the monotony of a world without the opposites of joy and suffering but I think it would be perfectly alright to have only the joy and drop the suffering for everyone not just the jnani enveloped in the bliss of the Self, whatever that is.

    I am forced to conclude that the realized being must suffer very deeply indeed and sometimes wonder whether the Maharishi’s somewhat abrupt dismissal of suffering concealed a self protective (yes, self!!!) impulse for fear of being over-whelmed.

    Take the 100 years from 1850 to 1950 – Ramakrishna, Maharishi Ramana, Atmananda, J Krishnamurti, Nisargadatta, etc, etc, many others I have left out – and look at the terrible things that happened in the world during that period.
    What was the point of all that “self realization”?

    I find consolation only in Einstein’s words – Human beings, in their thinking, feeling, and acting, are not free agents but as causally bound as the stars in their motions.

    If you are doomed to become a jnani, you cannot avoid it….

    Thank you very much for your kind indulgence.

  19. Dear Shishya

    I also have a problem with the suffering in the world and the advaitic dismissal that it is simply an illusion. I recollect many years back, having email conversations with Ramesam on this topic.

    Ignore the title, but I’d recommend reading the following article, that goes to another level of conditioning that we are now undergoing:


    The extremity of suffering of the world is an outcome of the evolution of large scale societies, which inevitably breeds hierarchy, and thence desire / greed to be at the top of that hierarchy. And our families, our schools and universities teach us that to compete, to attain, to achieve is the highest order. And so individually we all act with self-interest, and those individual actions collectively sum to an amoral / immoral society that can inflict and perpetuate such suffering (e.g. Vietnam, Chile, El Salvador, Iraq, Rohingya, Yemen, etc, etc). However, the degree of conditioning / belief of individuals in progress, in achievement, and the scale of our societies, means that it is impossible to reverse.

    Revolutions come, and for a brief period of time, may bring significant changes to the welfare of their societies. But societies are made up of self-interested people, whose self-interest inevitably expresses itself in new forms of exploitative hierarchy.

    I think capitalism has gone to such an extreme, that it will collapse. What will replace it may be better for a period (if that is humans survive climate change). But everything goes in cycles.

    Which brings us back to your point on advaita and Krishnamurti, Maharshi, Nisargadatta, etc. My response to you is that they provide the only feasible solution. Set aside the self attainment of the ‘bliss’ of realisation (which in itself can be egotistical). Their core teaching was to lose the ego, to discard self-interest. To be desireless and fearless. To live simply. To see that you are the world, the world is you.

    And they lived a life which was exemplary of these teachings. Maharshi even when new pencils were given to him, insisted that they were put away, and continued to use his old, worn pencil; he made paper notebooks through carefully cutting out the blank sections of newspapers; he insisted that the food he ate was the same in quality and quantity that was given to all the ashramites. He did not waste a thing. And by his example and teaching, his influence continues, perhaps even just to show a few that there is a different way of living, of being.

    And if we all lived such a life, without the conditioning of achievement and self-interest, what suffering would there be for us or for others? We cannot control how others live. But we are entirely free to choose how we live; we just need the courage to live it.

  20. Shakespeare:

    Why, man, he [referrring to Caesar; but could be a Ramana, Nisargadatta?] doth bestride the narrow world
    Like a Colossus, and we petty men
    Walk under his huge legs and peep about
    To find ourselves dishonorable graves.
    Men at some time are masters of their fates.
    The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
    But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

  21. Ha, Shishya,

    That, I mean your last “comment,” is straight cheating!

    Why I say so?

    We were in the midst of a serious give and take discussing the praxis part of Advaita trying to decipher what or who “I” is. And lo behold, you shift the topic to ‘suffering and conflicts in the world’ out there.

    Searching on the Internet or by “googling,” I am certain to produce quotes from the very people you cite to say that the world you see is the projection of your own mind (with modern scientific evidence to back up) and also the firm advice the Advaita stalwarts give saying that “you should know yourself first before you think of helping the world.” Ramana, Nisragadatta, J.K., Jean Klein, and almost all gurus said so.

    If you like we should discuss first the issue of “conflicts and suffering in the world,” threadbare from all angles, may I suggest that we should take it up as a separate topic and in order to initiate such a debate, I request you to make a Post on the subject at AV.


  22. Ramesam:

    You say I attempted to…”shift the topic to ‘suffering and conflicts in the world’ out there”..

    Sorry, didn’t mean to shift the topic at all…I only said:

    “As I understood it, in the above comment Venkat was trying to explore the nature of the “effort” needed not denying the need for it. If the Gunas are anyway going to make “you” act, can you still lose the sense of agency while acting by “witnessing” or “choiceless awareness” or whatever you want to call it?

    Forgive the touch of morbidity but I am sure deep and acute “suffering” must figure somewhere in the mix; the “effort” to deal with suffering must be essentially passive, it seems to me, so what then is effort?

    Written in a hurry and posted hastily so apologize in advance.”

    I have no more desire to save/help the world than the next fellow but where I may differ is that I have become convinced it is all a forgone conclusion (I mean block time, etc…) and that is a very unpleasant feeling.

    The antidote, as Venkat says, may be to become further convinced that the quest for realization is the only path to a “feasible” solution. I can dimly see that “suffering” may be transmuted into “compassion” upon enlightenment but what does that solve?

    Trying to understand these matters intellectually and adopting strong points of view is not helpful, IMHO, so I’ll just lurk for a while, if you don’t mind.

    And seek yet more solace in the mature Einstein’s soothing and insightful observation:

    “I do not at all believe in human freedom in the philosophical sense… Schopenhauer’s saying, ‘A man can do what he wants, but not will what he wants,’ has been a very real inspiration to me since my youth; it has been a continual consolation in the face of life’s hardships, my own and others’, and an unfailing wellspring of tolerance. This realization mercifully mitigates the easily paralyzing sense of responsibility and prevents us from taking ourselves and other people too seriously; it is conducive to a view of life which, in part, gives humor its due.”

    Shishya (officially decommissioned as of now)

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