Q: Nisargadatta Maharaj (especially in his later books) emphasises that the “I am” or Consciousness is not the final Reality which he calls Parabrahman or Awareness. He goes on to state that Awareness is “unaware of itself”. However, others such as Francis Lucille and Rupert Spira seem to disagree. Francis Lucille, for example, specifically states that Awareness (in the sense Nisargadatta means) is aware of itself as itself.
I am not exactly clear what Nisargadatta was meaning. It could be interpreted as the Final Reality being essentially almost a nihilistic eternal stupor rather than the more appealing (at least to this body/mind) satchitananda. I rather suspect not, and that he was merely indicating the essential non duality of reality perhaps along the lines of Ramana Maharshi’s comment : “Although (the Self) is consciousness, since there is nothing for it to know or to make itself known to, it is said to be different from the sentient and the insentient.”
Nevertheless, it perplexes me that if Awareness is not aware of itself as itself as Francis Lucille suggests then do we not have the situation whereby an enlightened sage such as Ramana Maharshi is before his “death” not only aware as the Self but conscious thereof and in a better position, so to speak, than Final Reality which is not so aware?
A (Ramesam): You ask: “…do we not have the situation whereby an enlightened sage such as Ramana ……. in a better position, so to speak, than Final Reality which is not so aware?”
Well, the short quick answer is “No.”
A more elaborate in depth answer is as follows:
The apparent confusion arises for you because you are combining the teachings of the teachers coming from three different streams. Though all of them may be grouped under what sometimes referred to as “Direct Path (As the Crow Flies) Teaching” of Non-duality, they differ in the terminology, semantics and expression. But what they taught finally points to the same inexpressible, ineffable, eternal, attributeless, changeless, and nameless “That” which is the True “I” which does not speak or do anything.
Francis Lucille and Rupert Spira (Francis’s friend and student) essentially follow the terminology of Jean Klein who was a student of Atmananda Krishna Menon. Nisargadatta Maharaj was a disciple of Siddharameshwar Maharaj of Nav Nath tradition and knew no English. Whatever he spoke in his native tongue was translated and published first in the book “I Am That” by Maurice Frydman and subsequent translators also adopted the terminology of Freydman. Ramana Maharshi was not a follower of any specific teacher, though the terminology he adopted comes from that of Upanishads and Yogavaasishta. I may not have exact statistics to back me up, but I have a feeling that what Ramana by himself wrote was much less than what many of his followers wrote to be his teaching.
Nisargadatta asks in his initial teaching to be aware of the subject or “I am”, thus shifting your misidentification of yourself to be the object of your perception. For example, you may see your body. But you are not your body. You may call yourself an engineer, a medico, a driver. But you are none of those. He points out that you are that unchanging “Beingness” Itself. The later teachings call attention to the subtle ‘duality’ involved in being “Witness Consciousness” because it conveys the flavor of being an unchanging Witnessor of a changing something which is being witnessed. So you are asked to drop even being the Witnessor, dissolve into what Is completely, seamlessly, homogenously without being an entity in any form. You are not then conscious of even witnessing. You — as an unaffected witnessing you — is not there anymore! There is no knower to know anything. It is ‘unknowingness.’ What is, Is. (Sort of awkward to put into English, but this is the best I could). What then remains is sat-chit-ananda.
In the terminology of Frydman and other translators: “consciousness” = mind; Awareness = Brahman.
Francis and Rupert lead you first from being I am “something” to I am “no – thing” (= I am not any objectifiable entity with finite dimensions and descriptors) to I am “everything” (= there is nothing that is not Consciousness). When Consciousness is everything, there is nothing else for It to know. But just like Beingness, Knowingness is also Its quality. So It knows Itself. Awareness being not different from Knowingness, we may rephrase the sentence to say that Consciousness knows Itself or is aware of Itself. The knowledge that knowing is not different from being is happiness. Therefore, Consciousness is Knowingness-Beingness-Happiness or sat-chit-ananda.
In the terminology of Francis and Rupert: Consciousness = Awareness = Brahman; I = Consciousness-Beingness-Happiness = sat-chit-ananda. World = mind.
Ramana’s teaching prods us to begin our Self-inquiry with the age old question, “Who am I?” His advice is to pursue the inquiry negating all objective answers till we are left with only the questioner and then question the questioner. What remains then will be the irreducible Consciousness, the substratum for everything.
The quote of Ramana mentioned by you refers to Consciousness (= Brahman) alone being present without a second and therefore having neither anyone to communicate to nor anything to be communicated. It is exactly the same as what the Maharaj said.
Further, the quality of being judgmental or divisive about things – for example classifying things as sentient or insentient – belongs to the mind. What remains transcending the mind is the undivided Oneness, the indescribable attributeless Consciousness.
In Ramana’s terminology: Consciousness = Self = Brahman = sat-chit-ananda. All other things = mind.
Thus you can see all the three teachings point to the same Brahman.
Brahman being Alone, there is no other to communicate to. In fact even “communication” cannot exist because ‘communication’ (the act of communicating) will be the “other”, a second thing. So any communication / teaching can happen in duality only. At the time of teaching, there are necessarily more than one.
The question would then arise how does a realized individual teach?
When Nisargadatta was asked how he answered a question, he said that the question just happened, an answer came out and he also listened to it along with the questioner. Everything happening effortlessly like the ‘breathing’ and all other things at that moment.
JK said that there was no ‘thinking’ done on his part when an answer would follow the questioner’s query. (Thinking or thought implies time and as Brahman there is no spacetime).
When asked about how he handled the questions, UG compared himself to a tape recorder just playing by itself on pushing a button – the question is the pushing of the button and the reply is the programmed sound.
Rama asked Sage Vasishta how could he teach as the Sage was a Jivanmukta. The Sage replied that it was Rama (the student) who imagined the Sage with a form sitting out there and teaching (because Rama still had ignorance and hence a mind that would imagine things); for the Sage himself nothing happened.
So when a full-blown Jivanmukta speaks, speech just happens without any effort on the part of the body-mind through which the sounds are coming. There will be no ownership claims to what is spoken (no copy rights!!) nor any claim of doership for the agency of action.
I may, at this point, also mention that having blemishless and doubtless knowledge of Brahman by itself does not mean a fully liberated individual. Following Sage Vasishta, say, you have a scale of 1 to 7. (See for more info here (http://beyond-advaita.blogspot.in/2010/12/yoga-based-and-knowledge-based.html).
Having a thorough Knowledge of Brahman without any doubt is the stage of “Brahmavit” and will happen by stage 4. The fully mature Jivanmukta will be at the stage 6 onwards. At this stage, the seeker is described as “Excellent Knower of Brahman” and he will be totally unknowing of any ‘thing’ as an object separately existing out there (padaartha abhavana). The difference in the stages from 4 – 6 lies essentially in the unbrokenness (akhanda) of abiding as (not ‘in’ – please note) Brahman. This scale of 1 – 7 is not meant for judging others but useful for one’s own self-appraisal and guidance (if a man is still left with a ‘self’ needing an appraisal of his stage, the answer is already apparent !!!).
A (Dennis): Nisargadatta, for some reason I have never understood, uses the words ‘awareness’ and ‘consciousness’ in the opposite sense to most other teachers – and causes much confusion as a result! But the question of Brahman not ‘being aware of itself’ is often raised and discussed. The point is that any awareness ‘of’, or knowledge ‘of’ in the usual sense of these words would be dualistic and therefore contradict the teaching of non-duality.
Consciousness, when it manifests in the human mind, is said to do so in the nature of a reflection, using the metaphor of Consciousness as the sun, and the mind as a mirror. So now we have come down from the absolute reality to the relative, where duality is fine.
The question itself is inevitably posed from a dualistic standpoint and, of course, any answer has to be given in duality and can only point towards the absolute. It is not really meaningful to speak of Consciousness being aware of itself (or not) in reality, because in reality there is only Consciousness. Knowledge, existence – without limit – are the nature of non-dual Consciousness. But it is Consciousness that enables you to know that you exist, and you would still know this in a sensory deprivation tank. That you exist is what you would say is ‘self-evident’. So, yes, you have to say that the Self is evident to the Self or ‘knows itself’. But you also have to keep in mind that you are trying to understand the ineffable. And it is beyond the mind! As Sri Poonja said: “The Self will always be a mystery because there can never be anything apart from it to comprehend it, analyse it or understand it.”
Sureshvara’s naiShkarmya siddhi has this to say (3.47 – 49): “Because the Self is of the form of constant awareness, it requires no second means of knowledge to reveal it; because it is without sound or other attributes it is beyond the sphere of doubt. The Self cannot be known through the empirical means of knowledge such as perception, etc, which are but phlegm coughed up by the thirst for life. Indeed, it is not a possible object of empirical cognition, since it is the innermost Self and since it exists for its own sake. One cannot see with sight that which is self-revealed. The visible is limited, external and has form, but the self-revealed is infinite, internal and formless.” (Realization of the Absolute, translation by A. J. Alston, Shanti Sadan, 1959. ISBN 0-85424-021-7.)
There is also a discussion of this topic in upadesha sAhasrI – the one prakaraNa grantha agreed by all authorities as having been written by Shankara. This is in the prose section of the book around 2.90 up to the end of section 2. He says that knowing the knower would lead to infinite regress and also the knower cannot be separate from himself; the knower’s knowledge relates to knowable objects only.
And of course the jIva cannot ever know the Self in any objective manner, nor be ‘all-knowing’ etc, as is Ishvara. The jIva IS the Self, functioning through a body-mind but remains effectively limited by that body-mind in life, even if its name is Ramana Maharshi.