Analysis of Quotes by Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj
Most Westerners first learn of non-duality through exposure to the “teachings” of Ramana Maharshi and/or Nisargadatta Maharaj — either directly through reading various books that contain collections of their conversations with seekers…
Or indirectly through hearing their statements expounded upon by others who have understood – or, as is often the case, misunderstood – the words of the two spiritual titans.
Not qualified teachers
While both of these men were undoubtedly brahma-nisthas, or liberated beings — they were not shrotriyas, or qualified teachers versed in the methodology of the sampradaya, or Vedantic teaching lineage.
In other words, though they knew who they were — they did not know how to effectively deliver the systematic, step-by-step, means of knowledge called Vedanta — that leads the qualified student to understanding one's true identity.
For example, first learn A, then B, then C, only then D. There is a sequential, logical and well-thought-out order how non-dual understanding is to be unfolded. Exactly as expounded in Upanishads, the source of all non-dual wisdom, from which even Ramana and Nisargadatta drew.
This is what 99.99% of Ramana's and Nisargadatta's learners don't take into account. Thus end up reading their materials for years — unable to concretely grasp, nor embody the vision as one's own, let alone sustain the understanding amidst day-to-day challenges.
Yes, I was in this 99.9% group for 5 years, with no real measurable and sustainable progress. It was mostly about worshipping these spiritual giants. Looking up to them. Feeling I'm so far away from them — as though, a small, insignificant little Western white-boy who will get there in couple of lifetimes if I'm lucky.
Nevertheless, both Ramana and Nisargadatta left in their wake a large compilation of recorded dialogues that have been thrown together by various devotees. They provide little more than a disjointed series of responses tailored to meet the level of spiritual readiness and aptitude of specific aspirants.
But neither unfolded a coherent and comprehensive, step-by-step system of self-inquiry and related practices that provided a practical map out of samsara, the repetitive cycle rebirth.
What we are left with is essentially an array of sometimes provocative and sometimes inspiring chunks concerning the nature of self that entice us with their promise of permanent fulfillment. Yet offer no practical means of achieving it, no sound teaching methodology by means of which one can clearly “see” the true nature of reality and, thereby, assimilate self-knowledge.
And neither clarified the fact that knowledge rather than experience constitutes the essential character of “enlightenment.”
Their Statements May Plunge Seekers into Experience-Seeking…
Having only the limited tool of language with which to express their understanding of non-dual reality — both were constrained to describe self-realization in experiential terms.
For example, Ramana says that one must “reach the self” and, having apparently done so, Nisargadatta tells us that he is “in that state where there is total absence of any concept of presence or absence.”
At one point, Ramana describes the self as being located at a specific internal spot on the right side of the chest.
While Ramana must have intended this portrayal to be understood and utilized as an upasana, or focal point, that would help tame a meditator’s wandering mind — because he never properly unfolded the underlying meaning of his statement — many aspirants have expended a great deal of time and energy attempting to locate and somehow enter, merge with, or otherwise experience the ecstasy of this spiritual G-spot.
Some Statements are Loaded with Logical Inconsistencies…
Moreover, the dialogues of Ramana and Nisargadatta run amok with logical inconsistencies.
Ramana’s depiction of the self residing on the right side of the chest, for instance, fails to account for how limitless, attributeless awareness (Brahman) could somehow be confined by or contained within such a discrete locus.
Two more examples…
Illogical statement 1:
Time and again, both Ramana and Nisargadatta urge us to give up thought or to destroy the mind in order to obtain liberation.
As with the previous statement, however, such advice does not withstand the test of reason.
First, thought is not under the control of the person, but is the spontaneous offspring of the vasanas, or impression-based likes and dislikes, desires and fears — born of the macrocosmic causal body (maya).
Second, given that the nature of reality is non-dual, there can be no experiential solution to existential angst.
Since all objects/experiences are inherently transitory, no object – including the experience of a thought-free state – can offer one complete fulfillment.
Moreover, since the fundamental cause of suffering is ignorance of one’s true nature, the only solution is knowledge.
But since the instrument of knowledge is the mind, no knowledge can be gained by the seeker if the mind is destroyed or thought eradicated.
Finally, because silence, which is the state implied by a thought-free mind, is not opposed to ignorance — no experience of silence will remove one’s ignorance and magically replace it with the self-knowledge that sets one free.
Illogical statement 2:
Hands down, the most notoriously puzzling of the statements concerning the nature of reality, is Nisargadatta’s assertion that the self is prior to consciousness.
Though he must have meant that pure awareness (Brahman) exists prior to the subtle body or mind — this utterance has confused countless spiritual aspirants because it wasn't elaborated as a proper Vedanta teacher would.
Firstly, self is consciousness. They are synonymous words. Who is conscious right now? I am. The conscious “I” in Sanskrit is literally called, self (atman).
Secondly, existence and consciousness are one and the same, for nothing can be determined existent unless it appears in consciousness.
Thirdly, the only way one could know that the self was prior to consciousness is if I was “there” or consciously present to “see” it. In other words, something cannot exist prior to its own existence.
Reason Why Some Seekers are Getting Nowhere…
In conclusion, we are not saying the utterances of these two great souls are invalid or worthless — but the fact of the matter is that they are in want of coherent and systematic elaboration.
They did not unfold the implied meaning of their statements. Thus many quotes were and continue to be taken literally and incorrectly.
Nor did they establish a logically consistent method of inquiry which emphasized that knowledge alone is the key to self-realization.
But because so many seekers are nevertheless greatly influenced by the words of Ramana and Nisargadatta — let us perform an analysis of their quotes that reflect the most essential “teachings” of non-duality…
Quotes and Commentaries
The first thing to understand about this statement is that the idea of there being an “outer self” as opposed to an “inner self” is somewhat misleading.
Nisargadatta, himself, suggests the erroneous nature of this reference by qualifying it with the words “so called.”
To explain first understand there is only self (in which this entire universe obtains).
Self is a seamless, partless whole, and therefore has no outer or inner.
When this is understood, we come to the realization that there is no “other.”
There are no other people; there are no separate objects.
Nothing exists that is not consciousness, awareness, the self.
According to Vedanta, just as the spider is both the intelligence behind and the substance of the web — so the self is both the intelligence behind and the substance of the universe.
The self is complete, full, perfect; it pervades all and nothing exists outside it.
Despite the fact that only the self exists, it does appear as though other entities and objects have an independent existence.
According to Vedanta, all this is nothing more than an apparent reality. Though it seems real, it is not real. That is, it has no independent existence apart from consciousness, awareness, the self.
The Vedantic teaching that is used to clarify this point is that of cause and effect.
From the most all-encompassing perspective, the self is the cause and the universe the effect.
Though, truly speaking, the self is not a doer (karta) and therefore does not cause in the sense of performing some action to cause some phenomenon — it is nevertheless the essential or fundamental “substance” of the creation upon which the existence of all else depends.
The analogy of a gold ring works well to illustrate this point…
Though the ring appears to be an independent object in its own right, upon analysis we discover that in reality the ring is nothing other than gold.
Melt down the ring, and the gold remains. Remove the gold, however, and the ring ceases to exist.
Moreover, the gold can be shaped into any form – ring, necklace, earring, bracelet, etc. – and not lose its essential nature. While removing the gold from any of these forms eradicates their existence altogether.
In short, the effect is dependent upon the cause, but the cause is not dependent upon the effect.
The universe is, thus, dependent upon the self or awareness, but the self or awareness does not depend upon the universe, and in fact depends on nothing other than itself.
In this way, we can see clearly the non-dual nature of reality, which is essentially one’s very own being since there is no separation between what is commonly perceived as the individual and the whole.
With this understanding in place, we can now address the last part of Nisargadatta’s curious statement in which he refers to the so-called outer self as being “only that part of one’s being of which one is not aware.”
Since, as we have seen, everything is essentially the same one being, the inevitable conclusion to which we are drawn is that the aspect of existence referred to here as the so-called outer self (universe, or your own body) – is nothing other than one’s true self.
This being the case, we realize through careful inquiry that our perception of “the so-called outer self” has been erroneous all along.
What we perceived as an object outside of us, is really nothing other than us; and even that which we perceived as purely material substance is essentially nothing other than consciousness (self).
This misperception is the basis of Nisargadatta’s saying. Because we have not recognized the true fundamental nature of “the so-called outer self” and acknowledged it as an aspect of our own being, it can be said that it is “that part of one’s being of which one is unaware.”
Our perception of “the so-called outer self” has been due all along only to our lack of understanding that self alone is.
At first glance, this saying sounds rather simplistic.
Since one is the self, which is everyone’s fundamental experience (hence the reason everyone refers to oneself as “I”, including those who are not spiritually inclined) — it would seem obvious that the only place for one to be is in the self.
That said, however, the first aspect of this saying that needs clarification is what exactly Ramana means by “self”.
Vedanta offers numerous ways of investigating the self, but for our purposes here, let’s use an investigation of what Vedanta calls the three-bodies as our avenue of inquiry.
First, let’s investigate the aspect of our being called the gross-body.
The identity assumed most readily by most people is the physical body. Most people consider themselves to be that entity defined by the skin boundaries.
Under scrutiny, however, this idea can be easily dismissed. The physical body is nothing more than a composite of the five gross elements – earth, water, fire, air, and ether.
These elements are inert, and, so being, they have neither instinct nor higher intelligence by which to guide their putting-together, their interaction (by way of which these objects are sustained), and their disintegration (by which old cells die to give birth to new ones).
This being the case, it is obvious that we as entities capable of thought, feeling, and action are something more than the physical body.
Moreover, it is obvious that despite all the changes that the physical body undergoes – birth, growth, maturation, decay, and death – the “I” within us that is watching all these changes, stays ever the same.
That is to say, no matter how or in what way the body changes — I am still the same I as ever.
Next, let’s investigate that aspect of our being referred to as the subtle body.
This body has several components: the perceptive and executive organs, the physiological systems, the mind, the intellect, and the ego.
We will examine each of these components in turn.
Though the five perceptive instruments (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin) and the five executive instruments (hands, feet, mouth/speech, genitals, and anus) are located in the physical body — the perceptive organs that receive the sensory data and the executive organs that impel the execution of action reside in the subtle body.
5 Organs of Perception:
With reference to the perceptive instruments and organs, this point is illustrated by the fact that though the eyes, for instance, are the instruments with which visual data is collected, the eyes themselves do not see.
If it were the case that the physical eyes actually were the organs that performed the function of seeing, then a dead person would be able to watch his own funeral from the plush casket in which he was reclining.
The eyes, as perceptive instruments do not see; rather the subtler organ of sight is what receives the imprint of the visual stimuli in much the same way as the configuration of light and shadow is imprinted on film by a camera.
In the case of the human perceptive apparatus, such an imprint is instantaneously registered as an image that is then said to be seen.
In similar fashion, all sense perceptions are functions of the perceptive organs (seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and feeling-by-way-of-touch) housed in the subtle body.
5 Organs of Action:
This same logic can be used to explain the execution of action. Though the instruments of action are part of the gross body, the organs that impel those actions (grasping, locomotion, speaking, procreating, and evacuating) are aspects of the subtle body.
For example, though the hands are the instruments with which we grasp physical objects, the idea or concept of grasping is a function of the organ of grasping located in the subtle body.
Prana (Physiological systems):
The physical functions most essential to the maintenance and survival of our physical body are those performed by the physiological systems (breathing, respiration, circulation, digestion/assimilation, and the ejection of the subtle body from the physical body at the moment of physical death).
Though these actions occur within the physical body, the fact that the gross elements that comprise the physical body are inert and so have no intelligence by which to execute action — attests to the fact that a force subtler than the physical body has impelled these functions.
Another vital component of the subtle-body is the mind. The mind has two main functions.
First, the mind is what we might call “the doubter.”
The responsibility of “the doubter” is to question all sense perceptions delivered unto it by the perceptive organs.
“The doubter” coheres all the sensory data it receives into recognizable forms.
With regard to our earlier photography analogy, “the doubter” develops the film on which all the configurations of light and shadow (sense perceptions) have been recorded. As a result of “the doubter’s” work, the object perceived can be identified.
Second, the mind is that part of one’s being that feels or emotes.
It is the aspect of the subtle body responsible for our emotions. Presence of mind is the reason why we feel what we feel in response to the sense perceptions.
Basically, our feelings are our responses to the various sensory experiences with which we are faced.
For example, we feel the cold winter breeze on our skin and we grow sad or glad or mad depending on how we feel about coldness; or we hear a stern voice scolding us and we feel remorseful, resentful, or humored depending on how we interpret what we have done and our feelings about the person doing the scolding.
Though numerous factors influence how we feel, what we feel, and why we feel what we feel, the instrument by which we feel is the mind.
The next aspect of the subtle-body for us to consider is the intellect. The function of the intellect is to evaluate, analyze, discriminate, and decide.
Once the mind has cohered the data collected by the senses into recognizable phenomena, it sends this data to the intellect for what we might call judgment.
That is, the intellect must assess this information and decide what to do with it.
For example, you step outside wearing no jacket on a cold, windy day. The skin feels the frigid air and the eyes see the movement of the objects blown by the wind and the clouds hovering in the sky that are obscuring the sun’s warmth-giving light.
Having received these sense perceptions from the sense organs, the mind assembles these various puzzle pieces to create a recognizable picture for the intellect to examine.
The intellect, then considers the information and the possible affects of the phenomena on the individual entity under its jurisdiction – in this case that the person will suffer physical discomfort from the low temperature and wind chill and could possibly catch a cold, which in turn could lead to missing days of work and, thus, falling behind, which in turn could lead to increased stress and further deleterious effects both physically and mentally.
Based on this assessment, the intellect determines that the weather poses a threat to the individual’s well-being and, therefore, decides that the best response in this circumstance is for the person to go back inside and put on a coat.
Ego or I-sense (aham kara):
The intellect then sends this directive to the ego, which is the third aspect of the subtle body for us to consider.
In general terms, the ego is that aspect of one’s being that takes credit for both being the gross-body and performing the functions one associates with one’s individual being.
For example, in reference to the gross body, one makes such statements as “I am fat,” “I am tall,” “I am sick,” “I have brown hair,” and so on.
In reference to the sense organs, one makes such statements as “I saw this,” “I smelled that,” “I tasted such and such,” and so on.
In reference to the physiological systems, one makes such statements as “I am hungry,” “I am thirsty,” “My breathing was labored,” “My digestion is good,” and so on.
In reference to the mind, one makes statements such as “I feel happy,” “I feel sad,” “I am angry,” and so on.
In reference to the intellect, one makes such statements as “I think this,” “I believe that,” “I know such and such,” and so on.
In this regard, we can say that the definitive function of the ego is doing, or at least that the ego is that aspect of oneself that takes itself to be the doer.
The ego is, thus, that part of oneself that says “I did this,” “I went there,” “I accomplished such and such,” and so on.
Though it might seem as though one is making decisions and performing actions, the preferences or the likes and dislikes that lead one to perceive the particular phenomena as beneficial, threatening, or inconsequential to one’s welfare, and then impel one to respond accordingly — actually come from a subtler aspect of one’s being, which we will consider next.
Before moving on, however, let’s sum up our consideration of the subtle body.
Given that the intellect is not the ultimate factor influencing what one thinks, how one feels, and what one does, one can certainly accept no singular aspect of the subtle body – neither the intellect (the thinker) nor the mind (the feeler) nor the ego (the doer) – nor even the subtle-body as one’s true self.
Now, let’s investigate that aspect of our being referred to as the causal body.
The causal body is that aspect of our being that is often referred to and experienced as the void.
It is that blissful state of ignorance in which no thoughts occur. It is this state that one experiences in deep, dreamless sleep.
It is this state that is referred to in yoga as nirvikalpa samadhi.
Though it can seem as though one ceases to exist in such a state, it is obvious that one doesn’t.
Upon awakening from dreamless sleep or coming out of the emptiness one can sometimes experience in meditation, one knows that one has slept deeply or that one has had a profoundly deep and peaceful meditation.
So, though one’s conscious association with the gross and subtle bodies was temporarily suspended, one did not cease to be.
Despite the lack of phenomena, “someone” remained ever aware of itself.
The causal-body contains the potential of the entire creation is seed or unmanifested form.
Its basic ingredients are the vasanas.
Vasanas are those impressions based on past experience that have created preferences or likes and dislikes in the individual’s psyche.
An individual’s entire scope of experiences is qualitatively influences by these vasanas.
All of one’s perceptions, thoughts, feelings, decisions, and actions are determined by the values one has based on one’s vasanas.
This being the case, it is easy to see that while the intellect is the instrument that discriminates, decides, and directs — such functions are dictated by the vasanas residing in the causal body.
Hence, the reason the causal-body is called the causal-body is because it is the cause of all experience.
Even the causal body, however, is not the true self. This is readily evident by the simple fact that even when one rests peacefully in the state of ignorant bliss that characterizes the causal body —there ever remains that aspect of one’s being that witnesses and later reports the experience to one’s conscious mind.
Self is neither the Gross, Subtle, nor Causal Body:
From this investigation, we reach the inevitable conclusion that none of these three bodies individually nor even the composite of all three together is the self. The self is beyond the three bodies. It is that awareness in which all three bodies appear to exist.
These three bodies are what Vedanta calls the apparent self.
It exists in the sense that we experience it. It is not real, however, because it changes form and has only temporary duration.
This apparent self is the “you” to which Ramana refers in the saying.
And since the composite of the three bodies that constitute “you” are dependent for their existence upon the awareness that is the self, it becomes obvious that there is no “place” for “you” to be other than the self.
Though this analysis might seem to sum up Ramana’s saying, there remains one more important aspect to consider.
Time and Space:
A thorough understanding of this saying really demands inquiry into the two fundamental boundaries of dualistic experience: time and space.
Everything that one perceives, conceives, or experiences in any of the three bodies is dependent upon time and space for its apparent reality.
That is, in order for any object to appear, it has to have form, which can only be granted by space, and duration, which can only be granted by time.
Since space is perhaps most readily defined by form, let’s use form as the subject of an inquiry into the essential nature of space.
The appearance of objects is facilitated by factors such as shape, size, placement, location, color, and clarity or focus.
These, then, are integral factors in any assessment of space. That is, they are the criteria we use to determine distance, direction, size, height, width, and depth. They are the factors that make space appear real.
Further inquiry reveals that form is nothing other than vision or seeing, for form cannot be separated from the perceptual function of seeing.
Sight can only be said to exist in reference to form (one doesn’t see sound, flavor, aroma, or tactile sensations).
In other words, form and sight are essentially one and the same thing. And what is that thing? Well, since sight is nothing other than a mode of awareness, for seeing does not take place independent of awareness, that thing is . . . awareness. Seeing is awareness.
This mode of inquiry can be carried out in regard to the other four senses as well, and in this way, all phenomena and, thus, space itself can be reduced to its essential nature as awareness.
Space and all the phenomena within it, therefore, can be likened to reflections in a mirror or projections upon a movie screen.
Through such inquiry into one’s sensory experience of space (which is truly the only means by which one seems to perceive space), one comes to see that space has no independent reality other than as awareness.
And since time is essentially nothing more than the space between two objects (things, events, occurrences, experiences, etc.) — the same logic can be used to deconstruct its apparent reality and reduce it as well to its essential identity as awareness.
Time is measured by change. Though is seems to be moving independently, careful inquiry reveals that what seems like the passage of time is only determined by the changing forms of the objects of one’s sense perceptions.
For example, one walks down a street and times seems to pass because a tree that appeared to stand at the end of the block when one started, has gradually changed its shape and size from one’s perspective as one moved closer to it.
Even if one were to sit still, one could register the passage of time based on how the leaves appear to flutter in the wind, not to mention the fluctuation of myriad other sensations perceived by one as both outside the boundaries of one’s body and within it.
The question is, “Has time really passed or is one just seeing different visual images and perceiving other sensory experiences, much like viewing a rapid succession of still photos thrown upon a movie screen, making it appear as if things are moving along on the reel of time?”
There seems to be no way of solving this riddle, but there is a way to see the erroneous nature of the concept of time.
Having earlier investigated the three bodies, we reached the understanding that the self is beyond the confines of any objective reality and that it is attributeless, ever-present, and unchanging. The changeless constant in which are behold all the phenomena of the gross, subtle, and causal universe.
This being the case, we are led to the realization that time, which requires form as well as other sensory data to define it, is only an apparent phenomenon that is dependent upon awareness for its existence.
We thus see how time along with space is only an object existing within and consisting of awareness, and as such is nothing other than awareness.
Following the logic of this inquiry, we ultimately reach the inevitable and irrefutable conclusion that all objects and phenomena existing within time and space (including time and space themselves) — are nothing other than the self appearing in different disguises.
Everything perceivable, conceivable, or in any way experienceable, is therefore the self, and hence there is no time or place to be other than the self.
The first thing to understand regarding this saying is that, strictly speaking, there is no reaching the self. The self is all there is. Vedanta tells us that reality is non-dual. Meaning, there's no second to reach.
This being the case, there is no other place we have to go or get to in order to locate or secure or acquire the self.
The recognition of the self is just that – a recognition, an understanding. It is a matter of knowledge.
Enlightenment is not a matter of getting something we don’t already have. The self is here now. The self is all that is.
The self is not a place, for it is non-local and therefore beyond any limited label that might suggest, imply, or define its existence in a particular locale.
Neither is the self a particular state of being, something which it is often mistakenly believed to be by seekers and teachers treading any of the various experiential spiritual paths.
In short, the self is nothing more or less than your own limitless, actionless, ordinary, unborn, non-dual, self-luminous, unchanging, ever-present, all-pervasive awareness.
Perhaps the most important of the adjectives just listed in terms of understanding the saying with which we are dealing are “limitless” and “all-pervasive.”
As the Kaivalya Upanishad states, the self is “smaller than the smallest” and at the same time “greater than the greatest.”
The self, awareness, permeates the entire universe. It is both the intelligence that creates the universe and the substance of which the universe consists.
Moreover, the self, awareness, is subtler than any of the three-bodies (macrocosmic Causal, Subtle, Gross) that constitute the field of the universe.
This being the case, even if the various branches of modern science were able to measure and examine every object in existence including even those appearing in the invisible or psychological realms, it would never be able to identify the true nature of reality. Because awareness can never be objectified.
Awareness is that in which all objects appear and without which no object can exist.
Awareness is that on which all objects depend, but which, being whole and complete in and of itself, depends on nothing.
Therefore, in order to reach or fully understand the universe, it is necessary first to reach or fully understand the nature of the limitless, all-pervasive, non-dual awareness that is one’s true self.
In response to this statement, one might say, “I am aware that I am alive, but I certainly don’t always feel blissful.”
To fully appreciate this saying, we must first understand that bliss is not necessarily the emotional state we label as happiness, joy, euphoria, or ecstasy.
From the point of view of Vedanta, bliss might be more appropriately referred to as peace, contentment, the sense of fullness, or completeness.
If we inquire carefully, we discover that such a sense of being is the actual root of the emotional state we label “happiness.”
Like all objects, states of being arise and subside, come and go, appear and disappear, are born and die. This is the nature of objects.
Happiness, therefore, when equated with a kind of emotional euphoria, is reduced to nothing more than one of the myriad transitory states of being than can be only temporarily experienced.
Bliss, however, is something altogether different. Bliss is the essential nature of our being.
Vedanta refers to our essential nature as “sat-chit-ananda.”
“Sat” is simply being or existing.
“Chit” is awareness or consciousness.
“Ananda” is bliss.
Though these three terms are most often considered as adjectives describing different aspects of our essential nature, the correct understanding of them is as synonyms for the self.
As such, it is the “ananda” aspect of this trilogy that is most often misunderstood.
To properly understand what is meant by “ananda” we must realize that it is another form of the word “ananta,” which means “eternal” or, more appropriately put, “beyond time altogether,” as in being in no way confined by the boundary of time.
In this sense, we see that “ananda” implies complete freedom from limitation.
And anything that is completely free from limitation, desires and needs nothing, for it is in itself already complete, fulfilled, satiated, and whole.
Bearing this in mind, we reach the understanding that rather than suggesting that our true nature is an emotional state of happiness, the term “ananda” states directly that the self is whole and complete, limitless, actionless awareness.
The self, moreover, is the all-pervasive, non-dual awareness that is the essential fabric of the entire universe and as such is a complete and perfect partless whole that lacks nothing and transcends all limitation.
Abiding in the knowledge of its true nature, the self, awareness, rests eternally content in and as perfect peace.
Though one, as awareness, is truly speaking always abiding in one’s true nature as whole and complete, limitless, actionless awareness, one is not aware of this reality until one is awakened and comes to understand the truth.
Meaning, until one is steeped in the knowledge of the self, one remains ignorant of one’s true nature as awareness. In this way, reality remains out of focus for such a person.
What is needed in order to adjust the lens through which this person views reality is the understanding that comes from exposure to the valid means of knowledge constituted by the teachings of Vedanta.
In order to properly imbibe and assimilate these teachings, however, the person has to be qualified.
In the text, “Tattva Bodha,” Shankara lists discrimination, dispassion, control of the mind and senses, strict observance of one’s duty, forbearance, faith, single-pointedness of mind, and a burning desire for liberation — as the essential qualities that qualify one for enlightenment.
It is in reference to a qualified seeker’s burning desire for liberation that Nisargadatta’s saying is best understood.
Such a burning desire is what Nisargadatta means by the term “affectionate awareness.”
Though the word “affectionate” might suggest a sense of gentleness or perhaps even a display of love, the true meaning is more along the lines of a focused and perhaps even intense interest in the object of one’s attention.
It, furthermore, implies a prioritization of that object in the scheme of one’s value system.
In other words, if one has affection for something, it means that one values it, holds it in high-esteem, or gives it a high degree of importance in one’s life.
Because of the pervasiveness of ignorance in the world and the myriad mundane distractions constantly crying for attention in daily life — it is essential that a seeker of enlightenment have a burning desire to reach the goal of liberation.
If one wavers even slightly, the winds of worldly desire can blow him off course.
Rather than the intensity of this desire being flavored with rigid ferocity, however, the idea expressed by Nisargadatta is that it be steeped in love. This is where bhakti comes into play.
While often misunderstood to be a specific style of yoga in itself, bhakti is the feeling of kindness, compassion, and goodwill that is rooted in the understanding of the essential non-dual nature of reality.
When one understands that the self is all that is, one tends to look upon everything with greater affection.
Now, despite whatever sentiments one might express verbally, the truest measure of one’s affection or love for any given object is the degree of attention he pays to it.
In other words, one can be said to love that upon which one focuses most intensely and most often.
This is the quality of love that is necessary to prevent the seeker’s attention from wandering into the forest of worldly desire and keep him treading the path leading to the goal of liberation.
Affectionate awareness connotes the blend of emotional enthusiasm and mental concentration needed to bring one’s initially blurry vision of reality into vivid focus.
The key to decoding this conundrum is to understand what Ramana means by silence.
Ramana is often perceived as a virtually mute loin-cloth-clad seated upon the ridge of a rocky hill. And is able to allegedly convey the entire teaching and bestow enlightenment upon seekers without the need for words
Furthermore, the story of his awakening experience and subsequent years of self-imposed seclusion and meditation in the spider-infested basement of a temple, further strengthens this idyllic view of the “great sage”. And yet by the accounts of those closest to him – he was very must an ordinary human, no different then a common Indian sadhu.
Certainly Ramana did spend hours of silence reveling in the bliss of the inner self, a practice that not only helped him realize his true nature, but also enjoy the fruit of this realization.
And certainly the practice of not speaking is a time-honored method of sadhana recognized by spiritual traditions around the world.
The practice of not talking, however, is not what Ramana means here by silence.
More important than simply silencing one’s tongue is the much more challenging matter of silencing one’s mind.
This essential process and its endgame, however, must be understood in order to avoid the confounding and frustrating pitfalls many a seeker encounters upon undertaking and attempting to achieve it.
Establishing a silent mind is fundamentally a matter of withdrawing the mind from its incessant pursuit of sense pleasures and object-happiness.
This can only happen when one is able to turn one’s focus inward as a result of realizing at long last that no object or enjoyment brings lasting fulfillment. And that the nectar of true and lasting contentment comes only from a wellspring deep within one’s own being.
The question that arises at this point is, of course, “How do I drink of this wellspring?”
The answer to this question in most cases involves the work to which Ramana refers, namely spiritual practice (sadhana) in the form of karma-yoga.
Such work is necessary in order to neutralize one’s binding vasanas, and thus purify one’s mind so that one can listen to the teachings and assimilate them free from the pressure the vasanas put upon one’s psyche that compel one to seek object-happiness.
Vasanas are the by-products of one’s experiences.
They are the consequence of the positive and negative impressions that mark one’s psyche and serve as the basis for one’s likes and dislikes, desires and fears, attachments and aversions.
Vasanas are unavoidable; they are the inevitable result of our actions and experiences.
In fact, without vasanas there would be no reason or impetus for one to be here, seemingly encapsulated in a human body and playing out one’s karma in the world.
Not only is one’s moment-to-moment actions dictated to a great degree by one’s vasanas, but one’s very existence as a person is dependent upon them.
More often than not, vasanas get a bad rap. There is even a prevalent notion in the spiritual world that in order to get enlightened one has to burn away all of one’s vasanas.
In other words, one has to basically kill all desire. A daunting task to say the least.
The good news is that it is unnecessary.
Vasanas one of the essential ingredients that make possible one’s appearance as a person, and, moreover, vasanas, in and of themselves, are not really the problem.
However the degree to which one is attached to one’s vasanas — determines the degree to which one suffers.
In light of this understanding, it is one’s binding vasanas that must be neutralized. This is the work to which one must attend. And this is the intended aim of karma-yoga.
Because of the multi-path confusion that abounds in the spiritual world today, karma-yoga is often misunderstood.
This multi-path confusion is based on an erroneous interpretation of Vedanta that was ironically introduced to America by the highly regarded sage Swami Vivekananda when he introduced Vedanta to the West at the World Parliament of Religions that was held in Chicago in 1893.
The teaching presented by Swami Vivekananda was that there are basically three paths to liberation or enlightenment: jnana yoga, bhakti yoga, and karma yoga.
Jnana yoga or knowledge yoga was presented as a path for those seekers of an intellectual bent, those seekers who liked to meditate, study the scriptures, and ruminate over the teachings.
Bhakti yoga was presented as a path for those seekers with a strong emotional/devotional nature, those seekers who felt most inclined to chant and perform pujas to their chosen deities.
Karma yoga was presented as a path of virtuous action and selfless service that offers a means for those seekers who are physically vigorous and motivated to perform actions that are often based on a belief that they need to better themselves and/or the world in order to usher in a new age of harmony.
According to traditional Vedanta, there are really only two paths to liberation: jnana yoga and karma yoga.
Though many practices exist that lead to expanded states of awareness and often result in revelatory epiphanies, the true realization comes only by way of knowledge.
The truth is only truly known when one abides in the hard and fast, unshakeable understanding that one is whole and complete, limitless, actionless, ordinary awareness. This is jnana yoga.
As previously mentioned, however, one must be qualified for this understanding.
If one is not yet qualified, then one must practice karma yoga in order to become so.
Broadly speaking, any of the devotional or service-oriented practices that are commonly referred to as bhakti or karma yoga practices fall under the heading of karma yoga.
Because the word “karma” means action (which implies a doer doing something) and all such practices involve actions that are performed, doings that are done.
Then what about bhakti-yoga?
Firstly, there is no separate path as bhakti yoga, for all bhakti practices are essentially karmas.
Second, karma yoga is not a valid means of attaining enlightenment, because no limited action done by a limited individual can produce an unlimited result, which by definition is what liberation is.
According to Vedanta, the true and essential meaning of karma yoga – and that which is vital for our understanding of Ramana’s saying – is that it is an approach to both acting and experiencing the fruits of action that is characterized by an attitude of reverence and surrender.
Karma yoga is based on the maxim that one is entitled to act, as there is no way to avoid action. But one is not entitled to the fruits of any actions performed. Because fruits are truly not up to you, but are a product of many unseen causes beyond your perception.
This idea, as mentioned, is often misinterpreted to mean that one has to give up all desire, and should accept whatever results come back to them, without complaining, nor following-up.
In fact, many spiritual aspirants have neurotically sought to renounce not only material possessions, but all sensual, emotional, and intellectual enjoyments as well.
The stereotypical cave-dwelling, loin-cloth-clad sadhu becomes the icon of enlightenment for such seekers.
Not to disparage cave-dwelling, loin-cloth-clad sadhus – for there are, I’m sure, many enlightened beings among them – but the lifestyle, behaviors, and appearance that characterize them are not what constitute the necessary components for self-realization.
Karma yoga, again, is not a specific set of actions — but rather the attitude of gratitude, reverence, and surrender with which any and all actions are performed.
The basis of karma yoga is one’s belief in a higher power.
While a jnani understands the self to be the highest power of all, a karma yogi is still tinged with a subtle sense of duality.
His mind has not yet been completely purified, and thus he must rely upon God to direct and protect him on the path.
It is with a sense of gratitude for all the support he has been given by God and the beauty of this magnificent world with which he has been surrounded by God, that the karma yogi offers his service for God to employ in any way He deems fit.
Since God is perceived as a benevolent force that is looking out for the best interests of the whole, the karma yogi trusts that whatever life’s circumstances demand of him, and whatever well-intended thoughts, words, and deeds he offers in response — will be utilized by God in whatever way is most beneficial to all concerned.
In this way, the karma yogi trusts that even what might be perceived as misfortunes from the limited point of view, is ultimately for the best.
There are basically two aspects of karma yoga.
Initially, one must perform all actions with an attitude of devotion as offerings to God (Ishwara), the Creator.
Then, one must accept whatever results, be they seemingly positive rewards or negative consequences, as gifts (Prasad) from God and with an attitude of surrender — knowing that whatever happens is due to God’s will and is an instrument of God’s grace.
Silence, it can thus be seen, is the essence of karma yoga.
Though the body acts and the tongue speaks and the mind thinks, the karma yogi’s subtle body (the body in which all sadhana or spiritual work takes place) remains ever silent in the sense that it ceases to project and judge and react in ways dictated by the vasanas.
Over time, as the karma yogi continually practices such surrender, the pressure that his desires impose on him to fulfill them weakens, and he eventually overcomes their dictatorial authority.
In this way, the karma yogi wrests control from his ragas (likes) and dvesas (dislikes) and no longer snaps to the demands of his desires, but rather acts in alignment with his dharma (duty), or in terms of what thoughts, words, and deeds will most effectively help him reach his goal of liberation.
In short, the “silence” that characterizes the karma yoga attitude is what makes karma yoga the most potent form of work (sadhana) for purifying one’s mind and, thereby, preparing one for the knowledge that removes the ignorance that has clouded one’s vision of the self.
Words and deeds – at least for seekers – are most often steeped in ignorance and dictated by one’s vasanas.
So repeating the these same habitual words and deeds over and over again serves only to reinforce and strengthen the vasanas and keep one mired in ignorance.
This being the case, it would be better to remain silent than to ignorantly reinforce a state of ignorance.
Though we might not necessarily attain enlightenment in this way, the virtue of silence in this circumstance is simply as a means of neutralizing vasanas.
When we remain silent in response to the demands of the vasanas, when we refuse to indulge them, they begin to weaken and eventually, if the “silence” is maintained long enough, they die off, if not altogether, at least to the degree that they are rendered non-binding.
The catch here, however, is that simply not talking and refraining from action, will not effectively help one attain enlightenment or achieve liberation.
There is a prevalent belief in the spiritual world that simply sitting in silence and “listening” for an answer from either some higher power or the self will suffice to ignite one’s spiritual jet burners and rocket one into full self-realization.
And though epiphanies can no doubt play a vital role in facilitating one’s journey toward enlightenment, only knowledge will enable one to stabilize in awareness and reach the goal of liberation.
This being the case, its not like we should just sit silently and wait for a lightening bolt of shakti to strike and shatter the shell of ignorance that surrounds us and is somehow blocking our enjoyment of our true nature.
The silence that Ramana is talking about here is more along the lines of focused attention, the quality of attention necessary for listening to take place.
Listening is one of the means by which Vedanta works its magic. Since Vedanta is shabda pramana or a means of knowledge based on sound or words, the seeker needs to first hear the teachings.
Only after one has heard the teachings can one contemplate them and begin to implement them in one’s life.
In order for effective listening to take place, however, one needs a quiet mind. That is, one needs to be able to “turn off” all the previously set notions and concepts and suppositions and arguments that might interfere with simply hearing the teachings in an undistorted way.
This initial silence will allow one to imbibe the teachings, and from that point on it is really Vedanta that does the work.
Though this may sound rather magical, we must bear in mind that the teachings of Vedanta are not philosophical in nature. That is, they weren’t dreamt up by some intelligent thinker, but rather are the knowledge revealed to the ancient rishis as a result of countless hours spent in meditation and contemplation.
These teachings have been verified and re-verified down through the ages by innumerable other “spiritual scientists,” or qualified aspirants who through self-inquiry discovered the truth of the self as whole and complete, limitless, actionless, ordinary, all-pervasive awareness.
Once the teachings have been heard, then one of two things happens.
Either one abides in one’s essential nature as awareness, that attributeless awareness.
Or, if one is not yet qualified for full-enlightenment, then one undertakes the practice of karma yoga in order to purify the mind and ready it to fully understand the truth and, thereby, attain liberation.
As explored in the commentary on the previous saying, the essential characteristic of karma yoga is silence.
Through the practice of karma yoga, the continuous barking of the vasanas is quelled and the pressure they exert upon the individual’s intellect dissipates.
Over time, then, one is gradually freed from the bondage of ignorance and fully embodies the knowledge that constitutes self-realization.
In this way, your silence has more effect than your words and deeds in helping one remove the ignorance that stands in the way of liberation.
In this verse, silence is equated with reflected consciousness or awareness in its most subtle manifestation. (Reflected consciousness is another way of saying “Unchanging consciousness obtaining in the ever changing mind.)
Unchanging consciousness or awareness is completely attributeless, and, thus, cannot even be said to flow.
What Ramana refers to here is really the pure shakti, the vibrating energy that constitutes the primordial vibration OM from which the entire universe springs forth.
This is the cosmic soup in which the potential of all creation resides. Its closest cousin is space, but even space is a denser modification of this force.
This silence is the all-pervasive awareness upon which the three bodies and all their components depend for their existence and functioning, but which, itself, is independent of them.
Silence can, thus, be likened to an electric current that flows through various appliances such as heaters, refrigerators, radios, lamps, televisions, etc., providing them all with the energy source they need to perform their unique function, but which itself is neither the “decider” behind nor the “doer” of any particular function.
We must understand that neither the gross, subtle, nor causal bodies are sentient in and of themselves.
These bodies and their components are no different than mechanical appliances and the inner network of wiring that conducts the flow of electricity and facilitates their functioning.
In other words, the three bodies are inert. They become animated only when consciousness flows “through” them.
In this way, the three bodies are dependent upon consciousness; while consciousness is forever independent of them.
Therefore, just as electricity cannot be said to heat or cool or play music, so consciousness cannot be said to perform any particular action. All of creation, however, is nevertheless dependent upon consciousness for its existence.
We might say that this silence or consciousness is the one substance that is shaped into the myriad names and forms, both gross and subtle, that comprise the universe.
The means by which this “shaping” occurs, is denoted by Ramana’s use of the word “speech.”
The basis of speech is sound, and sound is essentially vibrating energy.
What transforms unmodified sound into speech are the obstructions to its free flow by movements of the tongue, mouth, and throat.
Though this is seemingly a purely physical function, these obstructive movements are rooted in thoughts occurring in the subtle body.
In this way, we can see that speech, both in the form of thought and word, is the tool that shapes the unmodified vibrating consciousness into the innumerable subtle and gross forms as which it appears.
Though at first glance this saying might seem to be dismissing the value of the teacher’s role in conveying the teachings to the student, this is really not the point Nisargadatta is making.
Actually, the teacher is invaluable and necessary in order to reveal the teachings.
Because the seeker’s current understanding is by definition rooted in ignorance, the seeker needs someone who knows the truth to reveal it to him.
If the seeker merely reads the scriptures, he will almost invariably misunderstand them because ignorance rather than insight will be the means responsible for their interpretation.
Moreover, words are limited by nature and, therefore, will never directly reveal limitless truth.
The scriptures, we might say, are those words that have proven throughout the millennia to most effectively imply the truth.
The scriptures can, thus, be viewed as pointers. Consequently, the teachings need to be unpacked for the seeker by someone who knows the truth to which they are pointing.
This being said, it is nevertheless vitally important that the seekers keep their wits about them and trust no teaching that defies sound reasoning or betrays some kind of “holier than thou” attitude or power trip on the part of the teacher.
All teachers and, more to the point Nisargadatta is making, all teachings must be verified by means of one’s own inquiry and reason.
Vedanta does propound faith as a necessary qualification for a seeker, but not blind faith.
Since a seeker is initially steeped in ignorance, one may have to set aside one’s doubts for the time being in order to effectively hear the teachings.
One should, however, then seek to verify everything heard by means of one’s own personal experience and reason. This is the inner guidance of which Nisargadatta speaks here.
The added cautionary note, however, in effectively embracing this guidance is to make sure that it is not tempered – or, perhaps more appropriately put, hasn’t been tampered with – by memory.
Regarding this warning, it is important to understand that Nisargadatta is not saying that a seeker needs to forget everything he or she has ever learned and thereby basically seek some kind of intuitive feeling that has spontaneously arisen out of nowhere.
What Nisargadatta is talking about here is one’s conditioning, the way we were initially taught to look at and digest experience.
Having solidified in our psyche over time, such conditioning constitutes our memory.
It tells us what we see and how we should see it (how we should feel about it, whether or not we should value it, etc.)
It colors our expectations, projections judgments, and, consequently, our entire experience of life.
Since the seeker’s conditioning is steeped in ignorance, that conditioning will not offer guidance or interpretations of experience that effectively reveal the truth.
For example, we are taught to believe that we are the body-mind mechanism and that we are imperfect, limited, and independent beings competing with other such entities for survival in a hostile world.
This, however, is not the truth revealed by Vedanta. It is, therefore, important that the seeker question every assumption, presumption, explanation, and judgment he or she has accepted as true to see if it holds up under the scrutiny of logical self-inquiry.
What Nisargadatta means here by the phrase “non-existing person” is that the person is not real.
Though the Neo-Advaitans seem enthralled by the concept that nothing exists, such a notion presents us with a bit of a paradox. Who is it that is denying the existence of everything?
Vedanta does not assert that nothing exists, but merely that nothing is real.
Vedanta defines “real” as that which never changes.
And nothing, no thing, no object, be it gross, subtle, or for that matter causal, remains static.
Everything, the entire universe, the inner worlds, even the infamous “void,” is in a constant state of flux.
Nothing stays the same forever.
This is not to say, however, that because these things (the objective universe, the three states, the five bodies, all that is comprised of the three gunas, etc) — are not real that they do not exist.
It is obvious they exist. We experience them.
We do not experience phenomena that do not exist. Only that which exists can be experienced.
Nisargadatta’s point is that the person one takes oneself to be is not real.
The body-mind mechanism which one tends to assume as one’s identity is neither everlasting nor eternal nor independent.
Since everything in the relative, dualistic universe is subject to decay, the body is going to eventually “die” and return to the state of its constituent elements; the subtle body, though it will not “die” in the same way as the gross body, is essentially a malleable and ever-changing phenomenon and will inevitably dissolve in the next great cosmic dissolution.
For these same reasons, it is obvious that the body-mind mechanism does not transcend the boundaries of time and space, and therefore is not eternal.
Moreover, the body-mind mechanism is dependent upon consciousness for it existence and, therefore, has no autonomy and is not an independent entity.
Though potentially confusing, this last point is essential to a valid understanding of reality.
Vedanta refers to this as the cause-and-effect teaching. The assimilation of this teaching requires an understanding of the non-dual nature of reality.
The fundamental point of the cause-and-effect teaching is that consciousness is all that is and nothing exists that is not consciousness.
In other words, everything that exists is made of the same one consciousness and, thus, is dependent upon consciousness for its existence.
Consciousness, however, depends on no “other” entity or cause for its existence. Consciousness is the causeless cause. Consciousness simply is.
The great irony of existence, however, is that while everything is essentially eternal and unchanging consciousness, any particular form as which that consciousness appears is undergoing continuous transformation in one way or another.
The same one consciousness appears as the innumerable forms that appear to be born, grow, mature, decay, and die.
Due to Maya (power in consciousness that, as though, molds consciousness into infinite forms called the universe) — the non-dual consciousness identifies itself with a particular body-mind mechanism, referring to their phenomena as “mine.”
Though the essential unchanging and all-pervasive nature of consciousness remains ever the same, the ignorant aspect of consciousness experiences itself as a unique and limited individual entity. It is this entity that Nisargadatta calls a “non-existing person.”
Understanding takes place in the mind or antakharana.
It is based on pointers such as words and images that can never fully define or express the unlimited and attributeless nature of truth, the self, consciousness, awareness.
All words and images are modifications of the one all-pervasive consciousness.
As such, no word or image can represent that which is unmodified, undifferentiated, unqualified, unlimited being.
Consciousness is that reality in which all appearances appear and of which all modifications are made.
Consciousness is not of the same level of reality as the phenomena existing within it.
In other words, the mental apparatus that is responsible for understanding is but a modification of consciousness that is dependent upon consciousness for its capacity to function, its ability to know and understand.
This being the case, the mind is incapable of fully comprehending that which is beyond its scope of scrutiny.
Moreover, the mind functions only within the realms of the dualistic universe.
Within this context, the mind is a subject that is only capable of knowing objects.
Truth, however, is not an object. Truth is rather that consciousness in which all objects appear and of which all objects are comprised, the essential nature of all exists and does not exist.
This being the case, all concepts, definitions, images, and experiential states of being must be understood as nothing more than modifications of the mind or limited expressions of truth that need be recognized as obstructions standing in the way of liberation.
By so discarding ignorance, the truth stands revealed.
In terms of understanding this statement, it is important to realize that when Ramana says that the self is more intimate than thoughts, what he is driving at is that the self is subtler than thought.
Thoughts are the crystallizations, we might say, of the vasanas, the impressions that give rise to our likes and dislikes, desires and fears, attachments and aversions.
These vasanas reside in the causal-body, which is also referred to as the seed-body because its contents are the seeds from which all our thoughts, words, and deeds sprout.
When we encounter objects, situations, or circumstances, our mind assimilates our sense perceptions and sends the information to our intellect for consideration.
In order to decide what to do with this information, our intellect then checks the vasanas filed in our causal-body to see how we’ve responded previously to similar stimuli. Our consequent mental, emotional, and physical actions find their expression in the arenas of the subtle and gross bodies.
The fundamental vehicle the intellect uses to dictate these actions is words.
The thoughts that trigger our emotions and dictate our behaviors are comprised of words.
Words, in turn, are made of sound or vibrating energy, and sound or vibrating energy is essentially the shakti, the creative power of Ishwara or God.
Though Ishwara or God has created the three bodies, however, it is not the creator of the self.
The self (atman) is beyond all of the three bodies – gross, subtle, and causal. The self is the unlimited, unmodified, undifferentiated awareness or consciousness of which all three bodies consist and within which all three bodies exist.
Though the three bodies depend upon the consciousness, the consciousness does not depend upon the three bodies.
Even the concept of Ishwara or God the Creator is dependent upon consciousness for its existence.
This being the case, no aspect of the three bodies can adequately define or fully express consciousness, for all aspects are but limited modifications of it.
That the self or consciousness is beyond all limitations, modifications, and concepts carries with it another important implication: the self is beyond all opposites.
Good and bad, right and wrong, male and female, spiritual and worldly, gross and subtle – all such polarities cease to exist in the undifferentiated ocean of awareness.
Questioning and doubting is a function of the mind, which resides in the subtle body. Even the apparent answers to these questions and doubts are products of the intellect, another aspect of the subtle body.
The vasanas that exert the greatest influence on the intellect and its so-called answers reside in the causal body.
It can, thus, be seen that neither the questions nor the answers nor the “instruction manual” that is sought for guidance in matters of confusion are the self, for the self is that attributeless awareness that is beyond any and all bodies.
At the same time, however, the self (i.e. awareness or consciousness) is the substratum of all existence.
Such being the case, the true understanding is that everything is consciousness, and that while everything depends upon consciousness for its existence consciousness is self-evident and self-luminous and depends on nothing other than itself for its being.
When you realize or know or understand your true nature as consciousness, all doubts and questions are resolved.
You realize that which has always been true and which will always be true, that which is beyond time and space; you rest in your natural state in which all apparent objects appear and of which all apparent objects are made.
Enlightenment, thus, is not a matter of gaining something you don’t already have, but rather recognizing, remembering, and thereafter remaining in your natural state.
To understand this saying, you must first have an understanding of karma and vasanas.
There are three types or categories of karma.
The first is called prarabdha karma and is that karma which is playing out currently as your life.
The second is called sanchita-karma and is that karma that is stored up in the causal body waiting its turn to take the stage, which most likely will not happen until a subsequent lifetime.
The third is called agami-karma and is that karma that you are creating at this moment by way of your unassimilated, binding vasanas, which are then added on to the second type of karma.
Though one is inescapably bound to one’s prarabdha karma, the latter two types of karma can be affected by one’s actions in this lifetime.
If one neutralizes all of one’s binding vasanas through the practice of karma yoga and the attainment of liberation, then all stored karma is burned up and requires no association with subsequent incarnations to be played out.
The particular vasanas (i.e. likes and dislikes, desires and fears, attachments and aversions) that are stored in your causal body and whose turn it is, you might say, to take their place on the stage of your being basically determine the circumstances that comprise your life.
It is these desires that have caused you to associate with the apparent mind-body mechanism through which you are currently experiencing them.
As previously noted, this is your prarabdha karma. There is really nothing you can do about this karma. It will play out as it has been designed to play out.
The only thing you can change, or the only impact you can have on this karma is in terms of the quality of experience you have in regards to the circumstances that manifest due to it.
That is, you cannot choose what happens to you, but you can choose how you react to it and whether you take it to be real or not. This is the only real freedom we have as egoic entities.
This being the case, the most important action one can take in cultivating a peaceful mind and one that is susceptible to the teachings of Vedanta is to reverse its tendency to focus “outward” on the world and seek happiness in objects.
One must turn the mind’s attention “inward” and through contemplation of the teachings pierce the layers of being until one ultimately reaches the heart, the fundamental awareness in which all appearances appear, and realizes the true nature of the self.
Perhaps the most challenging of these layers to penetrate is the mind (i.e. the antekharana or mind-intellect-ego complex that comprises the subtle body).
The mind is essentially where all activities occur. Though the perceptive and executive organs and instruments receive information and execute actions by way of the physical body, the directives are given by the mind-intellect-ego complex.
The mind can, thus, be seen as the executor of the cache of vasanas stored in the causal body and in this capacity is recognized as the apparent “doer.”
The mind, therefore, is the force that must be controlled or tamed or renounced.
It is important to understand, however, what Ramana means when he urges us to renounce the activities of the mind.
He does not mean that we nee to completely erase the contents of the mind, but rather that we need to recognize all such content as unreal.
We need to develop and exercise the quality of viveka. We need to be able to discriminate between the unreal (i.e. that which is only apparent and, thus, temporary) and the real (i.e. that which is undifferentiated consciousness and, thus, eternal or beyond time).
When such discrimination is exercised continuously in one’s daily life, one eventually becomes stable in the hard and fast knowledge of the self as non-dual awareness.
Truly speaking, the self or non-dual consciousness has no point of view, for it is not a localized entity that sees things from a particular vantage point.
Moreover, consciousness is technically speaking not the knower or perceiver or seer, but rather the “infinite field” in which all that is perceived and experienced appears and of which all is “made.”
Knowing, perceiving, seeing, discriminating, directing, experiencing, and acting are all functions of the mind-body mechanism with which the self associates when under the influence of maya.
Though it is the consciousness that enlivens the fundamentally inert mind-body mechanism, the self is attributeless, and therefore has no function of any sort.
Bearing this in mind, one reaches the understanding that the self or consciousness is beyond the mind/intellect entirely, and so being understands nothing.
Another way of interpreting Nisargadatta’s remark is based upon the non-dual nature of reality.
Since reality is non-dual, the self or consciousness is both the knower and the known, the seer and the seen, the experiencer and the experienced, the doer and the deed done; that is, it appears as both sides of the subject-object coin within the context of the dualistic universe – both gross and subtle.
Because there is no split between subject and object, it becomes obvious that there is no separate, independent thing for any separate, independent entity to understand.
Additionally, since everything is essentially the same one thing, that one thing can never be said to change despite all appearances to the contrary.
No matter what appears to happen, the consciousness of which and in which it all seems to happen is not affected in the least.
The non-dual consciousness is by nature complete and whole, full and perfect. Nothing can add to it or diminish it or change it in any way.
In this way, it can be seen that nothing ever really happens since all happenings can only be measured in terms of the changes that have seemingly occurred by way of the process of the happening.
Radical as it may sound, this path of inquiry leads to the inevitable conclusion that nothing – at least in the sense of no thing or separate, independent entity– even exists other than as an apparent entity within the dualistic realm of appearances projected by maya or ignorance.
All three of these interpretations point one to the understanding that from the ultimate point of view there is nothing to understand.
What Ramana means by “mind” in this saying is really the entire manas–buddhi–ahamkara complex or mind-intellect-ego complex that resides in the subtle body.
This complex is basically a machine that performs certain functions for the mind-body mechanism.
The mind coheres perceptions and emotes, the intellect discriminates and decides, and the ego takes responsibility and acts.
In other words, the mind is the feeler, the intellect is the knower, and the ego is the doer.
In and of itself, this mind-intellect-ego complex is inert.
In the same way that appliances such as heaters, air-conditioners, toasters, microwave ovens, refrigerators, radios, televisions, and computers function only when fed with electricity, the mind-intellect-ego complex functions only when enlivened by consciousness.
Overall, the mind-intellect-ego complex’s duty is to facilitate the experience of and interaction with the dualistic universe – both gross and subtle – projected by maya.
In order to do this, the mind-intellect-ego complex must be focused “outward” and involved in the apparent world – including the subtle inner worlds – with which it is seemingly surrounded.
When the mind-intellect-ego complex is sought, it is turned in upon itself and its “outward” focus, the means by which it cultivates and solicits the experience of the apparent dualistic universe, is neutralized.
We can, therefore, say that when the mind-intellect-ego complex ceases to perform its function of bringing the experience of the world into focus, its activities essentially cease.
Furthermore, when the mind-intellect-ego complex seeks itself, it soon finds that it is basically chasing a ghost.
This complex is purely conceptual and is, thus, formless.
It can be likened to the movie screen upon which are projected all the images designed by maya.
So when the mind-intellect-ego complex turns upon itself, it perceives its nature as such a blank screen and sometimes even “sees” this void appear “before” it or experiences itself as “floating within” an ocean of emptiness.
In this way, the mind-intellect-ego complex’s power to delude one into believing that the experiences and interactions it cultivates and solicits are real is destroyed.
And though one might occasionally and temporarily experience the emptiness of nirvikalpa Samadhi as a consequence, the true meaning of the mind-intellect-ego complex’s activities coming to an end is that all its functions and consequent experiences are known to be unreal.
As ever, knowledge is the light by which the darkness of ignorance is removed.
The basic idea here is that enlightenment or self-knowledge is basically a matter of association.
Any association you might feel with any aspect of the three bodies is erroneous.
Your true nature has nothing to do with any of the experiences enjoyed within the realms of the three bodies or even the sense of being the witness, perceiver, or knower of this experience.
As explored in regard to the previous saying, even pure knowing is nothing more or less than a function performed by the intellect that resides in the subtle body.
The self, the pure consciousness, is beyond all three bodies. It is the consciousness or awareness that enlivens the three bodies; it is that upon which all three bodies depend for their existence.
But the self, the pure consciousness, is eternally beyond the three bodies and is in no way dependent upon them for its being.
In this way, the self is known to be full and complete, lacking nothing, and self-luminous. In a word, the self is perfect.
When one is able to release this association with the knower, then, ironically, the inherent perfection of the self is known.
It is a commonly held belief in spiritual circles that the ultimate realization or the nature of “full” enlightenment is the thought-free state referred to in yoga as nirvikalpa Samadhi.
Though such a state is undeniably peaceful and is essentially the reflection of consciousness or awareness in a pure mind, the idea that such a state constitutes liberation is erroneous.
The thought-free state is, after all, just that – a state.
As such, it is temporary or subject to change and, thus, can be recognized as nothing more that a very subtle and enticing aspect of the dualistic universe that is brought into being by maya.
When Ramana urges one to give up thoughts, as he does in the saying under current consideration, he does not mean that one should cease to think.
Actually, forever doing away with thought is impossible. Thinking is the function of the mind-intellect-ego complex.
It is the nature of the machine, you might say, in the same way that producing heat is the function of a heater or broadcasting sound in the function of a radio. As long as the subtle body is enlivened by consciousness, such functioning will take place.
Moreover, the idea of living life while immersed in a thought-free state is absurd.
How would one function?
Upon any degree of sensible reflection, it is clear that even enlightened beings such as Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Ramakrishna, Ramana, and Nisargadatta walked and talked and interacted with others.
In short, enlightenment slays the ego, it doesn’t turn one into a zombie.
What Ramana means by giving up thoughts is ceasing to identify with them as if they somehow belong to you or, for that matter, that you are somehow responsible for manufacturing them.
Though it seems as if thoughts are occurring within an individual mind, namely your’s, they are actually phenomena floating freely within the sky of the collective consciousness.
Thoughts only become “mine” when I identify with particular thoughts and erroneously claim ownership of them.
Thoughts themselves are not a problem. It is my association with the thoughts spontaneously arising and subsiding in consciousness that causes my suffering.
The problem of suffering arises when one identifies with the thoughts that arise in consciousness and, taking them to be one’s own, assumes responsibility for their appearance and quality and, judging their quality as good or bad, suffers the consequential emotional responses they effect in one’s psyche as determined by one’s vasanas.
Contemplating this inevitable chain of cause-and-effect, one realizes that what Ramana is advising is that one disassociate with the thoughts that spontaneously arise and subside in consciousness.
Upon the realization that the mind and the phenomena arising and subsiding within it are not one’s true self, one is liberated from their effects and can abide in true nature – happiness.
Disassociating from thoughts and abiding in one’s true nature as happiness is, moreover, what Ramana refers to here as meditation.
Meditation or dhayana is the merger of subject and object by means of the purified, undistracted, and focused mind.
When one has ceased all association with thought, thoughts no longer have the power to pull one’s attention away from the self.
And though the self or consciousness is not an object, one can know the self and experience its reflection as a natural and spontaneous joy or peace in such a pure mind.
All concepts are only modifications effected by the mind-intellect-ego complex in the subtle body.
These mental modifications or concepts are the means by which maya brings the dualistic universe into being and deludes us into believing it is real.
All concepts are co-dependent by nature.
That is, no concept or object can exist other than as it is defined in contrast to another concept or object.
For example, there is no “tall” without “short,” no “male” without “female,” no “happy” without “sad, “ no “good” without “bad,” and so on.
No matter how grand, all-encompassing, transcendental, or rapturous, no concept can, therefore, express the limitless and eternal nature of the self or consciousness.
In the process of being socialized and educated, we are conditioned to believe a vast array of concepts that constitute both the gross and subtle universes and convince us that they are real.
We are taught to believe in the existence of objective reality. Knowledge of such objective reality is necessary in order for us to navigate through the world and participate in the play of life.
Our suffering arises, however, when we remain bound by our belief in the reality of this objective, dualistic realm.
This suffering is caused in two ways.
First, we fail in our vain attempts to win everlasting security, pleasure, and virtue within a field of existence that is ephemeral.
The nature of the objective universe is temporality and change. Nothing stays the same.
When we think objects are real, we tend to think that possessing certain objects will bring us happiness.
Since joy is not in the object, however, we are continually thwarted in our attempts to secure happiness if we hold on to this object-centered or conceptual belief system.
Second, we fall prey to the conceptual projections of the mind and are deluded into believing such apparitions to be real rather than recognizing them as nothing more that various forms made of the same fundamental substance (i.e. consciousness).
This circumstance is like becoming so enamored by the designs of earrings, necklaces, bangles, bracelets, rings, and watches that one forgets that all are essentially nothing other than gold.
Concepts are basically projections of the mind.
Since the essential reality is nothing other than consciousness, it is the power of maya or ignorance functioning through the mind that forms the appearance of everything in the dualistic universe.
Vedanta calls these erroneous projections of the mind “superimpositions,” and categorizes them into two types.
The first type is referred to as “conditional superimposition.”
An example of this type of superimposition is when a crystal is placed in front of a red flower blossom.
Though the crystal is clear, it appears red because of the influence of the flower.
Such a superimposition is termed “conditional” because its effect is caused by the interaction of two apparently independent conditions in the dualistic universe.
The second type is referred to as “unconditional superimposition.”
An example of this type of superimposition is when a rope is mistakenly perceived as a snake.
Such a superimposition is termed “unconditional” because its effect, rather than being caused by the interaction of two conditions in the dualistic universe, is simply a mental error on the part of the perceiver.
These projections or formations serve to veil the substrate of consciousness and delude us into thinking that the objects we perceive – including even our most abstract concepts – are separate entities with an independent existence.
This misperception causes us to make all kinds of judgments and distinctions about what is right and wrong, good and bad, advantageous and disadvantageous, etc.. And it is these judgments that create our desires and fears, and, thus, enmesh us in a state of uncertainty and encode us with a perpetual feeling of inadequacy, both of which are only temporarily alleviated when for brief moments or relatively short periods of time our desires are satisfied.
It is for the purpose of avoiding suffering that Nisargadatta intends to establish us in a no concept state.
Regarding this intention, however, it is important to understand that Nisargadatta is really pointing to the knowledge or understanding that liberates one from delusion rather than some unique thought-free state of Samadhi.
All states are in themselves concepts and are, therefore, objects that are temporary and subject to change. They are, thus, invalid sources of permanent or eternal joy.
The only valid source of eternal joy (ananda) is the self or consciousness.
And since the self or consciousness is not an object outside ourselves that we can attain or acquire, the only way for us to recognize it is by blasting all limiting concepts and then abiding in the whole and complete, limitless, actionless, ordinary awareness that is our true nature.
The saying undermines the concept of “doership.” Despite appearances to the contrary, one must ultimately understand that one is not the doer.
The mind-intellect-ego complex, as explained earlier, is essentially nothing more than a machine whose components carry out their functions in order to facilitate the experience of an apparent individual person navigating within an apparent dualistic universe.
Since the self or consciousness is attributeless and beyond all dualistic endeavor, it performs no actions.
And since there is fundamentally no separate, individual entity capable of performing any action independent of the enlivening power of consciousness, no “you” performs any actions either.
You, therefore, cannot utilize any of the teachings you are given by the teacher.
Moreover, the vasanas with which you associate are the basis of the decisions the limited “you” seems to make of its own free will.
And since you had no choice concerning what those vasanas would be, you cannot really be the one empowering the decisions you make and the actions you take.
The vasanas themselves determine your decisions, reactions, responses, behaviors, motivations, values, goals, intentions, and actions – even, ironically, the intention to neutralize the vasanas.
The bottom line here is that what appear to be “your” vasanas are really Ishwara’s vasanas.
The “you” you take yourself to be is, thus, not really the one in control of your life.
Your life, you might say, is one aspect of Ishwara’s life lived through the mind-body mechanism that is erroneously believed to be a separate, independent entity referred to as “you.”
Following the logic of this underlying truth, we come to understand that the whole path to self-realization is fundamentally a means through which the self comes to know or recognize itself.
Attaining the goal of enlightenment is, therefore, a forgone conclusion. The self will inevitably get to where it’s going because it is already there…and has been all along.
This being the case, there is really nothing “you” – even if you recognize yourself as the self – can do to acquire something (though it is not a thing) you already have.
All that you can do, so to speak, is listen to the teachings and allow them to be processed by the machinery of the mind-intellect-ego complex.
Since the ultimate purpose for which Ishwara designed this complex was to process and facilitate the assimilation of such revelatory teachings, the complex will inevitably churn the teachings into the hard and fast knowledge that will remove one’s ignorance and, thereby, allow one to revel in the inherent joy of the self.
Nisargadatta is here speaking from the standpoint of the self, a standpoint that is beyond time and space, beyond both the gross and subtle aspects of the dualistic universe, beyond all conceptual modification whatsoever.
This “state” to which he refers is truly speaking not a state, but rather that limitless, non-local awareness in which all appearances arise and subside, and which is the essential reality of all that is and is not.
It is only due to the limitation of language that Nisargadatta expresses it using such a term.
Because this stateless state is beyond all concept of duality (and, for that matter, non-duality as well), there exists no sense of presence or absence within it.
Presence and absence are co-dependent concepts in and of themselves, and neither has any independent reality in the absence of the other. That is, we can only define something as present in contrast to the concept of absence and vice versa.
Any sense of or identification with the limited, conceptual states of presence or absence, therefore, cannot be the self.
The self is the limitless awareness in which all such concepts appear and disappear. And under careful scrutiny, one can clearly see that there is never a moment when awareness is not.
Even in the case of deep sleep, awareness remains.
Even though we cease identification with the mind-body mechanism in deep sleep, it is by virtue of our inherent nature as eternal awareness that upon awakening we know that we slept soundly.
Our true nature as limitless awareness is the “state” to which Nisargadatta’s words point.
And it is only due to ignorance that we don’t recognize our own perpetual abidance in and as limitless awareness, the universal self.
The mind is the mechanism through which maya or ignorance casts her net of delusion over us.
The mind-intellect-ego complex is the machine that manufactures all the concepts through which the experience of the apparent universe in both its gross and subtle aspects is created.
Though the mind appears to be something other than the self or awareness, when closely scrutinized its fundamental nature as awareness is undeniably recognized, for the mind has no existence outside of awareness and, thus, is dependent upon awareness for its being in the same way that a cotton shirt is dependent upon cotton for its existence.
Just as by unraveling all the threads that comprise the shirt we discover the shirt is nothing other than cotton, so by “unraveling” the mind through carefully observing how its “contents” are fundamentally dependent upon awareness for their appearance we discover that the mind is nothing other than awareness.
One of the three main components of the mind-intellect-ego complex, however, is the ego.
The ego, by definition, is that aspect of the subtle body that assumes an independent identity for the apparent individual with whom it is associated.
Since it is the ego’s job, so to speak, to claim this identity, it is not going to readily disassociate with it nor cease to carry out its deceptive function within the machinery of the mind. It is the very nature of the ego to maintain an individual identity.
What Nisargadatta is fundamentally advocating here is that one associate with the limitless awareness within which the mind and its machinations appear.
Rather than buying into the erroneous sales pitch of the ego, one must understand that even the ego itself is nothing other than an apparition arising within the universal awareness that is one’s true self.
The mind, the mechanism through which we understand, is only a limited aspect of the limitless awareness that is the self. As such, it is incapable of fully comprehending that upon which it is dependent for its existence.
Furthermore, the pristine nature of the self is attritubeless and, therefore, has no features or aspects that can possibly be understood by the intellect.
Given these conditions, when we find ourselves trying to explain or define or objectify the self in any way, we are essentially chasing a ghost.
The best we can hope to do is point to the self through the mediums of language and imagery.
Vedanta acknowledges these pointers as helpful and even essential means by which ignorance of our true nature can be removed. And Nisargadatta himself referred to such pointers as “thorns to remove thorns.”
For example, the yogic practice of non-stealing might be first considered as an ethical practice that helps maintain a sound society, cultivates a virtuous character, and helps establish a peaceful mind that is undistracted by fear or guilt and, thereby, qualified for self-inquiry and meditation.
Once this understanding is assimilated, one can see how the practice of non-stealing also applies to a subtler level of one’s being and, thus, one becomes more alert to ways in which the ego with all its desires and fears steals one’s peace of mind.
In this way, the thorn of one’s deeper understanding removes the thorn of that which preceded it.
Ultimately, one reaches the understanding that stealing is nothing more than a concept, that no such action can really take place, for everything is the same one self and the self can’t steal from itself.
At this point, even the thorn that has been used to remove the previous thorn is discarded, and one simply abides in the knowledge of one’s true self.
What we must realize, however, is that the mind is never going to fully grasp the self.
The self is not an object, and therefore we cannot know it in the same way that we do an object.
All of our explanations, analogies, visualizations, and even experiences of the self are what Nisargadatta refers to here as the “acrobatics of the mind.”
And helpful as they are, they must ultimately lead us to the point at which all doubts are exhausted and we rest peacefully in the stillness of non-dual awareness.
All concepts are only modifications or appearances arising within the universal non-dual awareness that is the true self.
As such, any given concept is only a minute aspect of the greater wholeness and, thus, cannot adequately define it.
In the same way that the particular accessory called “earring,” though it might be made of gold, cannot be said to define gold, so no particular concept can adequately define the self.
All concepts are only designs existing within and comprised of the self.
Moreover, all concepts are dependent for their existence on the awareness in which they appear, and thus cannot be the ultimate truth in and of themselves.
There is always something (though it is not a thing) beyond the concept or experience itself that is witnessing or experiencing it.
The bottom line is that all concepts are only apparently real. They can be experienced, but are only temporary manifestations within awareness.
Even the “you” that seems to exist as a separate, individual entity is only an ephemeral apparition appearing within the attributeless universal consciousness that is your true identity.
Hence, any concept you have about yourself cannot be true.
The kind of knowledge Nisargadatta is referring to here is conceptual knowledge or knowledge of objects. It is this very knowledge that comprises the dream of the dualistic universe.
The dualistic universe is considered a dream because it is ephemeral, temporary, and subject to change.
Through the projecting power of maya, the appearance of the universe is cast upon the screen of consciousness, so to speak.
Though it exists in the sense that it is experienced, this dream is unreal because nothing within it is permanent. And no matter how much is known about impermanent things, such knowledge will never reveal the eternal.
Knowledge is a by-product of the functioning of the mind-intellect-ego complex and is made of concepts.
And since concepts are limited modifications of the substrate of consciousness, all knowledge is, therefore, limited.
The dream of the dualistic universe is a closed system. Since all its apparent components are limited in nature, none are able to adequately express or represent the partless whole that is consciousness.
Knowledge of the dualistic universe is necessary to help us navigate within the parameters of time and space, but this kind of knowledge cannot fully encompass the consciousness that is the substratum of all that is and is not.
It is, therefore, not a valid means of realizing the self.
If one investigates one’s experience closely enough, one comes to the realization that nothing experienced actually exists.
Actually, it might be more appropriate to say that all objects exist in the sense that they are experienced, but they cannot be said to have any separate or independent identity from consciousness.
Consciousness is the substratum of all existence. Everything that exists is essentially consciousness.
Though objects appear to be individual things, all are nothing other than consciousness, and, therefore, their identity as particular things is only apparent.
This is one way of understanding Ramana’s words.
On another note, we can follow an inquiry into whether or not there exists an object that can be identified as the mind.
To begin this line of inquiry, we must first negate the equation of the mind and the brain.
The mind is not the physical organ resting inside the skull.
We know this because if we were to remove the brain from the skull and examine it, we would not find all the thoughts, memories, ideas, beliefs, knowledge, etc., that we believe the mind contains.
If we prioritize our direct experience in this inquiry, we see that though many arisings (thoughts, memories, emotions, images, sounds, etc.) appear in our mind, there is no identifiable container containing them.
They seem to arise out of emptiness and subside back into emptiness.
Vedanta refers to this emptiness as the causal-body (karana-sharira).
Though the causal body is the storehouse of the vasanas that one has cultivated through one’s past personal experiences, there really is nothing personal about it.
One can associate with particular vasanas stored in the causal body and, thus, experience them as specific tendencies unique to their person that arise from one’s own personal subconscious.
And this, indeed, is one of the conditions of our personhood, one of the aspects of the ignorance that makes us believe we are an individual entity rather than everything.
Really, however, the causal body is the collective unconscious and is the storehouse of all the past impressions ever cultivated by all the apparent individuals throughout history.
Though we speak of this resevoir of impressions as a storehouse, what must be understood in the context of Ramana’s saying is that it really has no boundaries or locality. And neither does its counterpart the mind.
We might say that the mind is the screen of consciousness upon which the impressions of the causal body are projected, but this only an analogy and no screen as such can be found to exist.
Through this inquiry, we come to understand that all the designs appearing in the mind, which are essentially what we call “the mind,” are simply the products of the vasanas filtered through mind-intellect-ego machine.
These thoughts, emotions, fancies, beliefs, opinions, etc., are not “mine,” nor do they define “me.”
And this is true, oddly enough, from both a “personal” and a universal perspective.
The machinations of the mind are not mine personally because, truly speaking, I am not responsible for drumming them up, and they are not mine from a universal point of view because the universal “I”, the self or consciousness, is beyond all such dualistic conceptual phenomena.
By way of this understanding, our association with the machinations of the mind can be severed. We allow the mind to do its thing, but we are no longer bound by its demands nor enslaved by its dictates. This is the control of the mind to which Ramana refers.
Concepts are limited by nature. They are mental modifications of consciousness. As such, no limited concepts will ever add up to an adequate expression of limitlessness. This being the case, Nisargadatta here recommends that rather than trying to free oneself from concepts, one should simply give up concepts altogether and let the mind rest in peace.
What he is essentially advocating here is the cultivation of a sattvic mind. He is basically saying that it is impossible to think your way to realization because the disturbance of thoughts is the very thing getting in the way of your realization of that which is beyond all thought.
The stillness Nisargadatta is recommending here is not a tamasic stillness.
He does not mean that one should wallow in a state akin to deep sleep wherein one is mired in “ignorant bliss.”
He does not mean that one should stop thinking altogether.
Rather, the idea propounded here is that one should stop buying into one’s concepts as if they were true.
No concept is true, for all concepts are limited and subject to change. So even countering the concepts you currently hold with other concepts is not the route to take.
It is the association with concepts, the belief that some are more real or better than others that is the problem. All such mental activity only creates disturbance that prevents peace of mind and true understanding.
This is not to say that thinking and cultivating values are not important aspects of the spiritual path.
If one is to make progress towards one’s goal of enlightenment, one has to do inquiry and prioritize behaviors that will support one’s goal.
In the final analysis, however, one must necessarily give up all association with concepts in order to attain enlightenment and abide in the joy that is one’s inherent nature as limitless, non-dual awareness.
All ideas are concepts, and from the perspective of the self all concepts are false. All concepts are only limited modifications of the one true consciousness that is the substratum of all that is and is not, all that appears and doesn’t appear.
Concepts are apparitions erroneously believed to be something other than consciousness.
Vedanta refers to concepts as superimpositions.
There are two types of superimpositions: conditional and unconditional.
An example of a conditional superimposition is seeing a mirage of water in the desert. This is conditional because the superimposition relies upon certain conditions in the world for its appearance.
An example of an unconditional superimposition is seeing a rope at twilight and mistaking it for a snake. This is unconditional because the superimposition is due only to an erroneous notion of the mind.
From the point of view of truth, all ideas are superimpositions and, as such, are not true. The only truth is that everything is the same one consciousness.
In order to understand this, in order to know the truth, we don’t have to gain anything or acquire any more information.
Rather, we need only see “through” the veil of ignorance that has been cast over us by maya.
We need only recognize the falsity of the particular and the truth of the universal, and ultimately to see the equation of both as the same one consciousness.
What Nisargadatta is referring to here is the necessity of verifying the teachings through one’s own experience.
Although Shankara said that one of the necessary qualifications for enlightenment is faith, what he meant was not that we should adhere to the teachings with blind faith.
Rather, the point is that one should listen with enough faith in the teacher to facilitate a clear understanding of the teachings that is untainted by one’s previously held ideas, beliefs, and opinions, but that one should then proceed through the process of self-inquiry and accept the veracity of the teachings only in light of one’s own experience.
If one does not do this, then one’s understanding remains only a belief rather than a conviction.
Only through the kind of irrefutable verification that results from independent self-inquiry can one remove all doubt, fully imbibe and assimilate the teachings, and thus abide permanently in the hard and fast knowledge that one is whole and complete, limitless, actionless, ordinary awareness.
The known is the apparent reality that is comprised of concepts. This is the world we are conditioned to believe is real.
Through the process of enculturation, we are taught to accept certain parameters of existence.
These are the rules, you might say, for living life as a person in the world. These rules or concepts are necessary in order for the world to have some semblance of order, but they are not true in the ultimate sense.
The conceptual reality is like a game or a theatrical production wherein certain rules or conditions must be met in order for the game or drama to happen.
The truth or reality, however, is beyond the confines of the field or stage. Reality is the consciousness or awareness in which the game or drama and all its components appear, and as such is forever beyond any conceptual limitation.
This saying also suggests the idea of living beyond the limiting influence of one’s vasanas.
Vasanas or likes and dislikes are developed by way of the impressions one has stored from one’s past experiences – both in this life and previous lives.
These vasanas are stored in the causal body and exert their influence whenever they are called upon by the intellect to aid its decision-making process.
The vasanas basically instruct the intellect to make the same decision or react in the same way it has in similar situations it has previously encountered.
Were these instructions merely suggestions they would present little problem; however, due to repetition over time, these suggestions become mandates enforced through the heavy hand of attachment and even addiction.
In this way, we become slaves of our binding vasanas and end up living a life of instant replay wherein we continually project or attract the variations of the same scenarios over and over again and react to them in the same way as we always have time and time again.
This is the life of bondage to which Nisargadatta refers, and it is only by neutralizing one’s binding vasanas through karma yoga and knowledge that one attains liberation.
The misinterpretation of the perspective from which a saying such as this is spoken is responsible for the recent epidemic of the flimsy spiritual guidance offered under the auscpices of the neo-Advaitans.
It is true that from the perspective of the self, there is no remedy needed, for the self is not tainted or diminished by an “individual’s” ignorance in any way.
From the self’s point of view, everything is already perfect, whole, and complete. No one needs to change or be healed or get enlightened because everyone already is enlightened in the sense that everyone is already the self.
This is all well and good. From the self’s perspective. The only problem is that until one knows one is the self, one doesn’t know one is the self. And as a result, one continues to experience the suffering inherent in one’s association with being a limited and separate individual trying find love and fight for survival in a hostile or at least competitive world.
This experience of suffering and the limited belief system from which it sprang and which it continues to reinforce, is difficult to abandon. Due to the strength of the vasanas that have developed over the course of lifetimes, one finds it difficult to simply toss all one’s beliefs, opinions, and convictions about the apparent reality aside and adopt a whole new way of life.
The neutralization of the vasanas that is necessary to prepare one for a radically new understanding of reality require a method of practice that takes time to accomplish its work.
This is where the neo-Advaitans got it wrong. You can’t just tell someone they are the self, the limitless consciousness that is the substratum of all that is and is not, and expect them to get it and suddenly transform their whole understanding of life into that of a sage.
Though it is true that one is the self, the one consciousness that is everything, one needs a practice that can help one assimilate this understanding.
This is where Vedanta comes in. Not only does Vedanta offer teachings that systematically lead one to an understanding of the nature of reality and the self, but it also offers a proven method of practice, called karma yoga, that prepares one to be able to assimilate the teachings.
For this reason, you might say that the one remedy to which Nisargadatta is pointing is Vedanta.
Once one encounters Vedanta, the search is really over. There is no higher truth to be found.
At this point, it becomes only a matter of clarifying and refining one’s understanding of the teachings and strengthening one’s conviction in their veracity until one ultimately one’s ignorance has been completely removed and one stands firmly in the hard and fast knowledge of one’s true nature as whole and complete, limitless, actionless, ordinary, unborn, ever-present, all-pervasive awareness.
The one who feels competent and confident will never know reality. Such feelings can only be experienced by someone associated with an egoic identity, someone who takes himself or herself to be a person.
Reality, however, is beyond personhood. Reality is beyond all such limited concepts. Reality is the awareness in which all such concepts arise and subside, the eternal and self-luminous awareness upon which all such concepts depend for their existence yet which is dependent on nothing other than itself for its own existence.
As ever, it is important to recognize that Nisargadatta is speaking from the perspective of the self or truth.
One should not take this saying to mean that one should stumble around wallowing in a state of low self-esteem.
In fact, one needs a degree of confidence to forbear all the challenges one encounters on the path to self-realization.
Nisargadatta’s point is that one should never take oneself to be the entity associated with the three bodies or the five sheaths or whatever other defining characteristics by which we use to describe the apparent individual one takes oneself to be when under maya’s spell of delusion.
This saying addresses the central spiritual paradox that lies at the heart of the one non-dual reality. It expresses the two essential perspectives from which reality can be viewed.
The vedantic teaching of “neti, neti” or “not this, not that” delivers one first into the hands of wisdom.
When applied properly, its consequence is the understanding that no limited concept or object can adequately express or define the all-pervasive consciousness or awareness.
The all-pervasive consciousness is the attributeless ocean of awareness in which all appearances and phenomena arise and subside.
Furthermore, though all appearances and phenomena depend upon awareness for their existence, awareness in and of itself depends on nothing.
Awareness, we might say, is an “objectless is-ness.” Hence, a true understanding of the self reveals that “I” am nothing.
Love, on the other hand, reveals the opposite. It is important to understand, however, that in Vedanta love is understood as something other than the emotionally charged experience of attachment that it is often believed to be by those under the spell of ignorance.
Love is not a feeling, though it can have a profound impact on the feelings one does experience from the egoic perspective.
Love is actually another term for the self, the whole and complete, limitless, ever-present, all-pervasive awareness.
Once one understands that one is not any of the limited objects, concepts, or experiences that comprise the apparent dualistic universe, but is actually the “field” of awareness in which all such phenomena appear and out of which they are made, then one realizes one’s very nature as unconditional love.
Hence, this “expansion” of awareness reveals that “I” am everything.
It is from these two perspectives that every encounter and experience is viewed and with which they are colored.
Though at first glance, this saying might seem to suggest that surrender is a matter of blind faith. This, however, is not what Ramana means.
Complete surrender is actually the inevitable consequence of thorough self-inquiry. Vedanta is not a religious path that demands blind faith and unquestioning devotion to a master or some other vehicle of the divine.
Vedanta is a path of knowledge based on and verified through personal experience. Once one has fully assimilated the truth, no doubts and, therefore, no questions remain.
Assimilation of the truth is characterized as surrender because that is exactly what it is.
One surrenders one’s stance as an independent, individual, egoic entity and realizes that one is nothing other than pure consciousness donning the disguise of an apparent person.
Moreover, upon assimilating the truth of non-duality, one surrenders all trace of the notion of separate existence and abides in the knowledge that one is the non-dual awareness that is the all and everything.
Karma is the unavoidable consequence of desire. Desire can be characterized as intention backed by effort.
Desire is the inevitable consequence of ignorance, the notion that one is a separate, individual entity rather than limitless awareness.
Because one feels incomplete and inadequate, one seeks to do, acquire, attain, and accomplish various things in the hope that through these actions one will find fulfillment.
Hence, as long as one takes oneself to be an individual, one will harbor desires. The two go hand in hand. And it works the other way as well.
If one harbors desires, it can only be because one is taking oneself to be an individual. Either way, the effect is the same. Through one’s actions, one accrues karma.
Karma, however, only sticks to the one who believes himself or herself to be an individual person who performs actions, a “doer.”
In other words, karma only accrues for the individual who has caused an effect.
Once one realizes one’s true nature as non-dual, limitless, actionless awareness there remains no identification with an individual doer who performs action.
All action is then seen as nothing more than an apparent emanation sparked by consciousness, and ultimately one reaches the inevitable realization that, truly speaking, nothing is happening at all.
An action or “happening” is measured and defined by the change that results from it.
Since, at this point, both the cause and the effect are understood to be the same one consciousness, nothing has fundamentally changed.
Hence, no action has really taken place, and, thus, no karma accrues.
The bottom line is that binding karma is only created by the effort and intention put forth by an apparent individual who takes himself or herself to be real.
You might say that through its association with a limited, individual entity, the self subjects itself to the experience of being the author and owner of specific actions and the feeling of being personally responsible for their consequences and, thus, suffers such consequences as if they were personal experiences rather than merely flashes of light flickering across the movie screen of universal consciousness.
The solution to this problem of accruing karma through effort and intention might at first glance seem readily apparent: simply stop putting forth any kind of effort toward accomplishing anything.
Upon reflection, however, we quickly come to the realization that this is not possible. We are acting every moment of our lives.
Even if we do nothing, we are still acting, for “doing nothing” is an action. There is, therefore, no escape from action.
And where there is action there is naturally effort not to mention intention. No one performs any action without putting forth some kind of effort.
Even involuntary actions such as breathing and circulating blood require that one move one’s muscles, at least to a miniscule degree.
And all actions are intentional if for no other reason than they at least have a reason for which they are performed or a dharmic law (aspect of the natural order of the universe) which they contribute to upholding.
The solution, then, is not to cease performing actions or even to drop all intentions for such actions.
Rather, one should perform actions with the attitude of a karma yogi.
That is, one should do one’s duty, do what needs to be done, respond appropriately to the demands the universe is making on one, with an honest effort and an intention to accomplish the task efficiently and, through its accomplishment, to make a positive contribution to the maintenance and well-being of the universal web of existence, but one should relinquish all feelings of responsibility for or preferences concerning the specific and immediate results of one’s actions.
Knowing that the maintained by universal dharma, one should trust that whatever happens as a result of one’s best intentions, whether those results appear immediately as positive or negative, is what is ultimately best for all concerned.
In this way, though one continues to perform karma characterized by effort and backed by intention, one is not bound by this karma.
Karma performed with the karma yoga attitude becomes, instead, a spiritual practice or sadhana; it becomes a means of purifying the mind that will prepare one to ultimately assimilate the non-dual truth of reality and attain liberation or moksha.
Whether we like it or not, we are stuck with duality. Duality is the necessary condition that facilitates the unfoldment of the universe.
Without duality, the universe could not exist. The existence of everything that seems to exist can only be recognized within the context of is relationship with an opposing force or phenomenon.
For example, you can’t have light except as defined by its relationship to dark. And so it is with all the pairs of opposites that encompass every aspect of everything in existence.
Duality, itself, is not the problem. Believing the dualistic universe to be real and harboring dualistic notions about the nature of reality is what causes all the conflict that leads our suffering.
The moment we start judging things, circumstances, actions, others, ourselves, etc., as right or wrong, good or bad, worthy or unworthy, etc., we create a context in which likes and dislikes naturally arise.
These preferences are what Vedanta calls vasanas. These vasanas are the basis of our actions and reactions, for we naturally seek to satisfy them.
Each time we do so, however, we strengthen them, and if we are not conscious of what we are doing they soon intensify into desires and fears that further intensify into attachments and aversions.
Ultimately, the vasanas render us slaves to our subconscious impulses and motivations.
If we are able to neutralize the vasanas through the practice of karma yoga and assimilation of the teachings of Vedanta, then we can become free of their hold over us.
Moreover, once we realize the false nature of duality and understand that the universe in which we live is only an apparent reality, we are then able to live within the context of the dualistic world without being deluded by it.
We can witness the interplay and of the forces of the universe, but no longer see them as engaged in conflict, for we understand the fundamental non-dual consciousness that is the substratum of all that is and is not.
Moreover, we no longer experience conflict either with the world or within ourselves because we know the true identity underneath all appearances, and therefore have no need to gain or get rid of anything.
There being nothing more to acquire or avoid, all of our desires and fears dissolve, and we live in harmony with the way things are.
Consciousness or the self is beyond the limitations of the experiential realm. All experiences are only modifications happening “within” and made of the one non-dual consciousness.
Because of this, no experience has any real effect on the consciousness.
Just as no matter what the shape of any ornament is, it has no effect on the gold out of which it is fashioned, so no matter what the quality, condition, circumstance, or consequence of any experience is in the apparent reality, it has no fundamental effect on the “substance” or consciousness, that which is the underlying truth of all.
This saying speaks to the issue of how the vasanas are created. One’s vasanas are basically the likes and dislikes one has based on the past impressions one has accumulated through previous experience.
These vasanas are stored in the causal body and exert their influence on every reaction one has and decision one makes in response to the stimuli one is faced with in life.
The impressions we accumulate come through experiences that we find pleasurable and painful.
Those experiences that appear to alleviate our sense of limitation and cultivate a sense of well-being are registered in our causal body as pleasurable.
Those experiences that appear to threaten our security and impinge on our sense of self-worth are registered as painful.
When we encounter similar stimuli in the future or even consider the prospect of doing so, our intellect consults our vasanas for guidance concerning how to react to or what decisions to make in the face of such stimuli.
In this way, what might appear to be spontaneous responses to original stimuli are really nothing more than conditioned behaviors based on past impressions lodged in our memory.
There is no doubt that working within the context of the dualistic world or apparent reality is difficult.
We face innumerable challenges everyday, and our path toward getting what we need to ensure our survival and all the things that we desire in hopes of enhancing our enjoyment of life is fraught with myriad obstacles.
If one is fortunate enough to see through the enticing veil of ignorance, however, and realize the vain hope of fulfillment offered by all the objects or ends we seek through our work efforts, one will take to the spiritual path, understanding it to be the only option remaining by which one might find fulfillment, freedom, joy, and peace.
It is at this point that one must begin the process of refraining from all unnecessary work.
Often, spiritual aspirants mistake such references to non-doing as directives to drop out of the society and simply sit around all day doing nothing or at least as little as possible as if such inactivity was the means by which they will gain enlightenment.
This notion of non-doership, however, is erroneous.
One can neither do nor not-do anything to gain the self, for one already is the self. One simply needs to remove the ignorance of one’s true nature in order to realize the self, the limitless, actionless awareness that one has been all along.
Nisargadatta’s admonition to refrain from all unnecessary work can be taken in a couple of ways.
The first might seem obvious. If one is serious about knowing the self, then one must make the work that is required to do so a priority in his or her life.
Rather than engaging in frivolous activities such as excessive socializing, watching television, surfing the internet, going out clubbing, etc., one must spend one’s time meditating, reading the scriptures, and doing self-inquiry.
The second way of interpreting Nisargatta’s words is a bit more esoteric.
Assuming these words were meant for ears that had not yet fully assimilated the knowledge of the self, this saying suggests that one engage in the practice of karma-yoga in order to prepare one’s mind to imbibe the truth of the self.
The practice of karma-yoga essentially hinges upon the attitude with which work or actions are performed and the relinquishment of the expectation one might harbor for enjoying the fruits of that work or those actions.
The fruit of karma-yoga itself is liberation from the sense of doership or, conversely, the cultivation of the understanding of true non-doership.
Rather than erroneously perceiving non-doership to be a state in which one ceases to execute any action (which is impossible), one realizes that no matter how active or inactive one might appear to be the reality is that only consciousness is the doer.
Since consciousness is all that is and is not, there is, truly speaking, no individual doer who does anything.
Consciousness works through and as the apparent individual to perform all actions – both gross and subtle – that occur in the grand drama of the dualistic universe.
Knowing that Ishwara, God, the self, consciousness, or whatever term you might use to denote this creative force, is the fundamental activating energy behind all that happens, one ceases to engage in unnecessary work.
No longer motivated to act at the behest of one’s likes and dislikes, desires and fears, attachments and aversions, one surrenders one’s individual will to the will of the creator and unconditionally accepts whatever outcomes result from one’s actions with the understanding that whatever happens is for the best of the whole of creation.
Either way you interpret Nisargadatta’s words, the bottom line is that the fundamental means by which one refrains from all unnecessary work is through knowledge.
When one abides in the hard and fast knowledge that one is not the doer, one no longer acts with a sense of individual authorship. One knows that all actions are simply happenings within the all-pervasive ocean of consciousness.
The first thing to understand regarding this saying is that bliss is not an emotional state.
“Bliss” is a translation of the Sanskrit word “ananda,” which, though most often interpreted to mean “joy,” is really a misinterpretation of the term “ananta,” which means “eternal.”
It must be further understood that “eternal” does not mean “long-lasting,” but rather denotes that which is beyond time altogether, that which is unlimited in nature, unborn, beyond both existence and non-existence.
This eternality is our true nature; it is the bliss that is the essence of our being, the essence of reality.
Since “bliss” is not a temporary emotional state, but rather the essential nature of reality or the self, it excludes nothing, for no thing can have any existence outside of limitless consciousness.
In this way, even suffering, ironically, is an aspect of reality.
Desire per se is not the problem it is often perceived to be. In fact, without desire we would not be participating in the drama of the universe, for it is only desire that links us to a human body through which we can experience the fruits of these desires.
The problem with desires arises when we get attached to them and, more to the point, feel driven to try to fulfill them and experience the fruits of security and pleasure they seem to promise.
When our desires acquire such strength, they become binding.
Rather than the individual having desires, the desires have the individual. In this way, desire becomes an obstacle to liberation, and as such is seen as the central challenge that confronts the individual on the path to self-realization.
Though desires are best kept in check if one seeks liberation, contrary to a notion that carries significant weight in many spiritual circles, all desires need not be completely eradicated in order for one to break the bonds of ignorance.
Desire, in fact, is a necessary component of the mumukshu’s personality, and according to Shankara is one of the necessary qualifications one must have in order to properly imbibe and assimilate the teachings of Vedanta and attain enlightenment.
Shankara writes in “Tattva Bodha” that a mumukshu or true seeker must have “a burning desire for liberation.”
Only such intense passion for reaching the goal of knowing the self will fortify one with enough courage, willpower, and strength to face and overcome the myriad physical, emotional, and psychological obstacles and challenges that litter the path to self-knowledge.
For this reason, one must focus all one’s energy on the goal. One must prioritize the goal of enlightenment and the practices that lead to its attainment above all else in life.
This does not mean that one needs to drop out of society, shed all one’s material belongings, abandon one’s family, and run off to the Himalayas in order to lead a life of silent contemplation and meditation.
It does mean that one must make time each day to cultivate a disciplined lifestyle that includes meditation, contemplation, scriptural study with a qualified teacher, and a minute-by-minute practice of karma yoga in response to the experiences of daily life.
Such is the proper way to channel desire.
This is a non-dual reality. Nothing exists that is not the self. We are, therefore, never separate from the self; we are never not experiencing the self.
The self, in fact, is the only thing we ever have experienced, are now experiencing, and ever will experience – bearing in mind, however, that the self cannot be defined as any particular or unique experience.
The self is all experience. Just as the spider is both the efficient and material cause of its web, so the self is both the efficient and material cause of the universe.
The self, moreover, is beyond all experience. The self is an attributeless, partless whole that transcends all limitation. This is the true meaning of eternity.
Eternity does not denote something with a super long shelf life, but rather that which is beyond both parameters of time and space.
Eternity is the very nature of the self, and as the self is the essential reality of all that is and is not, it is accessible in every moment to those who understand the true nature of the apparent universe.
This saying has a couple of interesting aspects.
In the first part of this saying Nisargadatta is pointing out that one’s search for pleasure is an indication that our true nature is essentially joy.
We seek joy in objects, people, and experiences because we have lost touch with the self, which is the true source of joy, happiness, and peace. Just as water is irresistibly drawn to the ocean, so we are irresistibly drawn to seek joy because intuitively we know joy to be our fundamental essence.
In this sense, we are driven by the love we have for the self to seek the pleasure or joy that is true nature.
Of course, permanent joy cannot be found in objects, and so we are constantly thwarted in our attempts to secure it in this way.
Lest we grow disheartened, however, Nisargadatta reveals in the second part of this saying the key to attaining the eternal joy that is our true nature: love.
Not the gushy emotional attachment, which love is often taken to be by those enraptured by dualistic ignorance, but love in the sense of the recognition of the fundamental unity of all that is.
Though we commonly feel that we love others for whom we have a strong affection or with whom we enjoy spending time, and we are said to “fall in love” with someone in whom we, moreover, have a romantic interest, the truth is that we are always in love.
Love is simply another word for the ever-present, all-pervasive consciousness that is the sum and substance of our being.
Though love is neither a place nor a state, there is no other place or state, so to speak, in which to exist.
The recognition of this truth, even if it is but intuitive and temporary, does have a profound impact on our emotional experience, and thus we tend to associate love with certain feelings.
But love cannot be defined by such a limited experiential state.
In order to truly experience love one must fully assimilate and abide in the knowledge that love or consciousness is all there is, and that nothing exists separately from this love or consciousness, and, moreover, that one is that love, and that, therefore, one is the partless whole whose being is at once both the immanent and transcendent consciousness, the limitless awareness upon which all is dependent for its existence, but which itself depends on nothing.
It is this understanding that purifies one’s vision and allows one to see the flawless perfection of the universal self. It is this understanding that makes one’s love of oneself perfect.
This saying speaks to one of the fundamental aspects of the spiritual path: renunciation.
Truly speaking, self-realization is not a matter of giving up anything. Since everything is the self, there is nothing to give up. Awareness cannot rid itself of itself. As a partless whole, it has no parts with which to part.
Rather than an admonishment to discard objective phenomena, we should understand Nisargadatta’s advice to concern the transcendence of limited concepts or the removal of ignorance.
The truth is that one is already the self, the partless whole that is the substance of the entire universe – both gross and subtle.
The only problem is that one has forgotten one’s true nature and associates oneself with the limited body-mind mechanism and takes oneself to be an individual entity that is separate from all other individual entities and objects in the universe.
Because of this erroneous notion, one feels incomplete, inadequate, and constantly seeks fulfillment and freedom from the feeling of limitation through objects and experiences.
This state of ignorance – ignoring one’s true nature as the all-pervasive self – is the root cause of all one’s suffering.
It is ignorance, therefore, that must be given up, it is ignorance in all its forms that must be renounced.
There is a common misperception among spiritual aspirants that renunciation is chiefly a matter of giving up material comforts, and, sometimes, even necessities such as eating are reduced to a bare minimum.
Those who move beyond this basic level of understanding, often focus their efforts on controlling the mind, usually harboring the notion that ultimately it is best to rid the mind altogether of thoughts, feeling, and most importantly any and all consequent desire.
Among such “advanced” aspirants, it seems the ultimate goal is to become permanently established in the thought-free state of nirvikalpa Samadhi and to basically abide in the void of the causal body.
The problem with this concept is that such a state is just that – a state. And, like all states, it is only temporary.
For one thing, the very function of the mind is to think, and, therefore, it cannot go long without doing so.
In other words, despite what the “Yoga Sutras” say, one is never going to completely eradicate the arising and subsiding of the thought-waves of the mind.
Moreover, the problem with thoughts is not so much the thoughts themselves, but one’s interpretation of what they mean, whether they are important or not, and most of all how accurately one believes they represent reality.
What invariably happens regarding thoughts – until one is a fully realized knower of the truth – is that one believes the concepts that constitute one’s thoughts are accurate representations of reality when actually they are nothing more than limited concepts which at worst misrepresent the gross, subtle, and causal aspects of the universe as real, and at best serve only as pointers implying the limitless, attributeless reality that lies forever beyond the reach of the mind.
The bottom line is that one needs to give up all concepts, all ideas about what reality, truth, the self is, all limited notions that vainly attempt to reduce the limitless, all-pervasive self or consciousness to a particular appearance or specific experience.
Only when one sees through the veil of ignorance woven of the myriad and innumerable threads of conceptual ideation will one know the limitless, attributeless consciousness that transcends all.
This saying strikes to the heart of non-duality.
Since, truly speaking, there is only one consciousness or awareness or self, it is that consciousness enacting this whole cosmic charade and assuming all aspects of the knower-knowing-known trinity that constitutes all experience within the dualistic universe.
Thus, though it appears as though you as an individual are thinking of God, it is really only God thinking of God.
Grace is to be understood as the revelatory power of God that God employs in order to reawaken from the dream of the apparent reality it experiences through its association with the gross and subtle bodies.
This revelation is the ultimate end of each apparent individual’s spiritual journey, and thus it is by God’s own grace that God recognizes itself for what it is, always has been, and always will be, and thereby attains realization.
Another important aspect of this saying is its implied emphasis on non-doership.
As one gains knowledge, one begins to understand that one is not the doer.
Since consciousness is all that is, there really is no individual who does anything by means of an independent volition.
Technically speaking, we should realize that it is God or Maya, which ironically are one and the same creative force of the universe, who is responsible for all apparent action.
Such being the case, there is really nothing the individual can do to inspire thoughts of God or the motivation to know God within himself or herself.
Though there are practices that the apparent individual appears to perform in order to undertake self-inquiry and fully assimilate its consequent understanding, the initial desire to know God and ultimately realize the self is a gift of divine grace.
Maya is the creative power of the universe.
Due to its delusive power, the apparently dualistic universe appears to have its own independent reality.
Upon fully assimilating the teachings of Vedanta, however, one realizes that one always has been, is now, and always will be nothing other than limitless, all-pervasive consciousness.
The self or consciousness is beyond all dualities, all concepts, and from that viewpoint one realizes that nothing other than consciousness has ever existed and that what had appeared to be separate and unique objects and experiences were nothing other than the one consciousness that is the substratum of all that arises and subsides in the three bodies.
Though Maya cast a spell by which all objects and experiences appeared to be real, the truth is that nothing other than consciousness has ever been and, moreover, that even the ignorance itself was nothing other than consciousness.
Such being the case, ignorance is ultimately recognized as never having had any independent nature of its own and its appearance as nothing more than a costume designed by Maya that disguised its true identity as the non-dual consciousness that is ever without a second.
The attempt to satisfy our desires is the foundation of everything we do.
Every thought, word, and deed is either consciously or unconsciously designed to attract, encounter, acquire, or experience that which we want or to avoid, escape, or get rid of that which we don’t.
On the surface, this seems to be the best way of securing happiness and cultivating peace of mind.
There are, however, several problems with this issue.
First, Vedanta teaches and our experience proves that permanent joy is not to be found in the objects that we desire.
If objects were the source of joy, then 1) the same object would bring joy to everyone, which is not the case; 2) once one acquired or attained the object there would be no need to ever acquire, attain, maintain, or keep the object or acquire, attain, maintain, or keep any other object ever again, which is also not the case.
Second, the happiness that seems to result from satisfying desires is temporary.
Because the definitive characteristic of the dualistic universe is change, even if one does acquire, attain, or otherwise secure the experience of whatever object one desires, that object is certain to change.
This creates anxiety for the desirer who now has to worry about, conceive, and execute plans for keeping or maintaining the object.
Moreover, what often happens is that even before the object has had a chance to change, the one who so ardently desired it inevitably changes and wants either more of it, less of it, or something completely different from it altogether.
Third, the satisfaction of desires serves only to reinforce and even strengthen the vasanas upon which those desires are based.
Rather than alleviating them, satisfying our desires only exacerbates our attachment to them.
Vasanas are basically our likes and dislikes, the preferences that have formed as a result of the impressions of our past experiences.
To the degree that they remain at the level of likes and dislikes, they are simply our preferences and, as such, are not much of a problem.
We might prefer things be a certain way, but if they are not then we can accept how they are without getting emotionally bent out of shape.
The problem, however, arises when we seek to satisfy these seemingly harmless desires over and over again, for each instance of satisfaction only serves to strengthen the desire.
Soon, our likes and dislikes intensify to the level of desires and fears, then to attachments and aversions, and ultimately to compulsions that determine and control our behaviors and addictions to which we become enslaved.
Not only is such a state the very antithesis of liberation, but it is fundamentally rooted in the misperception of oneself as limited and inadequate, which is the essential cause of all misery.
This is another saying that strikes to the heart of non-doership.
And though Nisargadatta did not follow the traditional Vedanta teaching methodology, he does imply here the fundamental characteristics of that methodology: listening to or hearing the teachings, quiet reflection on the teachings, and earnest contemplation of and meditation upon the teachings (i.e. making practical use of the teachings in daily life, allowing them to inform all experiences and actions).
Because they reflect the essential truth of one’s being and the nature of reality, the teachings of Vedanta are not something foreign to the one seeking knowledge.
In other words, the truth about the self is not a subject one has to learn about in the same way one would learn information about objects that are different or separate from one.
Recognizing the self is not a matter of learning facts or memorizing information.
The teachings of Vedanta are often referred to as a word mirror that reflects one’s true identity as the limitless, attributeless, all-pervasive self.
As such, these teachings remove one’s ignorance and facilitate one’s realization of the self.
Since the self is not an object that is other than oneself, there is really nothing one can do to acquire it.
You can’t do anything to get something you already have.
For this reason, we can say that knowledge of the truth or self-realization requires no effort on the part of the apparent individual seeking it.
Effort is required to successfully traverse the path leading to self-realization, but it cannot be said to effect the realization itself.
One must make the effort to listen to, reflect upon, and ceaselessly contemplate of the teachings.
For most, it is also necessary to practice karma yoga, which calls for one to surrender the fruits of one’s actions to Ishwara, trusting that whatever the results may be they are Ishwara’s will are what is in the best interests of the whole of creation.
The purpose of karma yoga is to purify the mind and make it ready to receive and fully assimilate the teachings.
Such practice is what Nisargadatta means by “the light of calm and steady self-awareness.”
When sustained over time, such practice inevitably leads to the purification of the mind, and when the mind is pure the knowledge occurs of its own accord.
As a final note, upon realizing the self, one understands that no effort was required because nothing really happened.
It was the self all along seeking the self, and upon realizing its true identity the self was in no fundamental way changed.
The self simply recognizes itself to be what it already is – the whole and complete, limitless, attributeless, all-pervasive, eternal awareness.
The mind (antakarana) is the mechanism that digests and assimilates and responds to experiences. Its fuel, so to speak, is concepts.
Its understanding and knowledge is of objects.
The mind, therefore, is incapable of knowing the self, which is the only “thing” of any real value to be acquired or known.
As long as the mind is clouded by what it knows – all its concepts and the vasanas (likes and dislikes, desires and fears, attachments and aversions) that color its vision – it will not be pure enough to reflect the pure awareness that transcends all concepts, attributes, definitions, and limitations.
It is interesting to note that Nisargadatta speaks of the mind as a passive receiver of that which is of true value.
It is the active mind, the thinking mind that is motivated to actively pursue what it values.
Ironically, as mentioned, it is this very activity that disturbs the mind and prevents it from resting in its inherent nature as limitless, actionless awareness.
Grace or the revelatory power of the self is ever ready to “descend,” but it is only the quiet mind, the spacious mind that has room enough, you might say, to receive it.
Reality is non-dual. As such, nothing exists that is not the self.
The entire universe is nothing other than the self.
The self is all that is and is not. Just as a spider is both the intelligence behind and the substance of its web, so the self is both the creator and the creation itself.
Viewed from the perspective of the self, we understand that the universe is real, for it is nothing apart from the consciousness upon which it depends for its existence.
Conversely, the apparent reality that provides the context for our daily experience is dualistic.
It seems to be composed of subjects and object, the primary subject being me as defined by my association with the body-mind mechanism that serves as the costume and content of the character I am playing within the grand universal drama of life.
Viewed from the ego’s perspective, the universe appears to consist of myriad and innumerable things and entities that are separate from one another not to mention separate from the creator.
It is in this sense that Vedanta says that the universe is unreal.
It exists, but due to ignorance it is perceived as something separate from the all-pervasive self that is its true substance, nature, and identity.
The dualistic universe is only an apparent reality.
Though it does exist and is certainly experienced, it is not real in the sense that nothing within its parameters – the parameters of time and space – is permanent.
Every aspect of both the gross and subtle universe (the “outer” and “inner” worlds) is subject to change.
At the same time, the essential nature of the dualistic universe, the very fabric of its being, you might say, is the one fundamental reality – consciousness or awareness – underlying all the superimposed perceptions and conceptions that arise and subside, appear and disappear within it.
This reality is eternal (ananta), meaning that it is beyond time and space altogether, and as such is not subject to change.
One of the primary analogies Vedanta uses to convey this seemingly paradoxical circumstance is that of a dream.
Just as nothing in a dream is anything different or separate from the dreamer, so the universe is nothing other than consciousness.
Though the elements of the dream, the myriad objects that appear within it, seem to be real, upon awakening the dreamer discovers them to have been nothing other than the consciousness of the dreamer himself.
Through a process of logical inquiry, which Vedanta refers to as “superimposition and negation,” every apparent object can be reduced to its essential identity as consciousness.
Various methodologies of inquiry (i.e. Cause and Effect, The Real and the Unreal, Change and Changelessness, The Three States, The Five Sheaths, The Location of Experience, etc.) are employed in Vedanta to conduct this investigation of being, but all lead to the same inevitable conclusion: consciousness is the one fundamental substrate of all that is and is not.
In short, consciousness is the sole reality, the partless whole that is without a second.
A common sticking point among seekers who have not fully assimilated the essential truth that is ultimately unveiled through such inquiry, is to equate the perspective of universal consciousness with one’s apparently individual viewpoint.
Though one may have negated the superimposition of all apparent objects appearing within both the gross and subtle aspects of the time-space continuum from the perspective of the individual, one continues, ironically, to believe in what is perhaps the most basic superimposition of all – that of the separate, egoic personality.
One may have even gone so far as to negate one’s identification with the gross body, but until one has completely given up all identification with the subtle and even causal aspects of one’s apparent being, one remains bound by ignorance.
One must ultimately realize that there is only one consciousness peering out from “behind” all pairs of eyes, and moreover that the one consciousness is not only the witness of all, but is in fact the very substance of which the gross and subtle universes are comprised.
In light of this understanding, one realizes the attributeless nature of the self, for if all is the same one consciousness there really is fundamentally nothing that distinguishes one apparent thing from another.
There is, therefore, no individual and, thus, no individual perspective that one can claim as one’s own.
The universal dream of existence is the product of no one unique apparent self, but rather is spontaneously happening “within” the all-pervasive self that cradles all concepts within its limitless nature.
Though Ramana did not teach Vedanta according to the traditional methodology, he was nevertheless a realized being whose words were in complete alignment with the truth espoused by Vedanta.
Such being the case, the proper interpretation of this saying relies upon an understanding of the way in which Vedanta wields language in order to reveal the knowledge of the self.
Due to the limited nature of language, no words can adequately express the infinite consciousness that is by nature limitless, formless, and attributeless.
The language employed to convey the teachings of Vedanta, therefore, is not to be taken literally.
Vedanta is concerned with the implied meanings of words.
The terms and analogies employed by Vedanta are meant as pointers or word mirrors that facilitate an understanding of the true nature of one’s own experience.
Since the self or consciousness is already the essence of one’s being, one does not need to learn about it in the same way that one would learn about an object or information that is different and apart from oneself.
One simply needs a pointer that reveals that fundamental reality of being, consciousness or awareness, with which one is already intimately familiar but doesn’t realize as one’s essential nature.
That said, one must understand that Ramana is here using the language of duality as a means of eradicating the concept of duality.
A common analogy for this method of wielding language is that of using a thorn to remove a thorn.
Ramana’s suggestion that one must become something other than what one already is in order to realize the true nature of reality or the self is erroneous from the viewpoint of the self, but can be a very effective pointer for an aspirant who has yet to fully overcome all hint of dualistic existence.
The necessity of having to become something different from what one already is in order to attain or know the self is an erroneous notion that would only make sense within a context of duality.
Despite all appearances, however, duality is not the true nature of the universe.
Though it seems that innumerable independent s objects populate the “inner” and “outer” landscapes of our experience and that each object, from its own unique viewpoint, is a subject in the context of its relationship to all other objects, the truth is that everything is essentially the same one limitless consciousness.
No subject-object duality, therefore, actually exists. All is one, and one is all.
Upon assimilating the understanding of the non-dual nature of reality, one transcends one’s association with the limited mind-body mechanism and realizes one’s true “identity” as the supreme subject that is the detached witness of all that arises and subsides in the three bodies; that self-luminous and eternal awareness upon which all objective phenomena – both gross and subtle – depend for their existence, but which in itself is independent of all objects; that all-pervasive consciousness from whose perspective there are no objects.