Author Topic: Michael James about nature of mind based on teachings of Ramana Maharshi  (Read 1326 times)


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All that we know of the external world is actually only the images or thoughts that our mind is constantly forming within itself. Do we not have to accept, therefore, that the world that we think we perceive outside ourself may in fact be nothing other than thoughts that our mind has formed within itself, just as the worlds that we see in our dreams are? Even if we are not ready to accept the fact that the world may actually be nothing but our own thoughts, must we not at least accept the fact that the world as we know it, and as we ever can know it, is indeed nothing but thoughts?

Of all the thoughts that are formed in our mind, the first is the thought ‘I’. Our mind first forms itself as the thought ‘I’, and only then does it form other thoughts. Without an ‘I’ to think or know them, no other thoughts could be formed.

Hence, though we use the term ‘mind’ as a collective term for both the thinker and its thoughts, our mind is in essence just the thinker, the basic thought ‘I’ that thinks all other thoughts. This simple but important truth is expressed succinctly by Sri Ramana in verse 18 of Upadesa Undiyar:

[Our] mind is only [a multitude of] thoughts. Of all [the countless thoughts that are formed in our mind], the thought ‘I’ alone is the root [base, foundation or origin]. [Therefore] what is called ‘mind’ is [in essence just this root thought] ‘I’.

Every day in sleep both our body and our soul (our mind or individual consciousness) disappear, yet we continue to exist, and to know that we exist. Therefore, since we remain in sleep without either our body or our soul, neither of these two elements can be our real self. In truth, therefore, these three elements constitute only our false individual self, which is a mere illusion, and not our real self.Our real self, our whole and complete self, does not consist of three elements, but of only one element, the fundamental and essential element that we call our ‘spirit’, which is our single non-dual consciousness of our own being – our true self-consciousness ‘I am’.

As Sri Ramana says in verses 17 and 20 of Upadesa Undiyar:

When [we] scrutinise the form of [our] mind without forgetfulness [interruption caused either by sleep or by thinking other thoughts], [we will discover that] there is no such thing as ‘mind’ [separate from or other than our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’]. For everyone, this is the direct path [the direct means to experience true self-knowledge].

In the place [the state of clear self-knowledge] where ‘I’ [our mind or spurious individual consciousness] merges [by thus scrutinising its own form], the one [real being-consciousness] appears spontaneously as ‘I [am] I’. That itself is the whole [the unlimited and undivided reality].

The cause and foundation of all our thoughts is our basic imagination that a body is ourself, we can destroy all our thoughts only by destroying this basic imagination, and since this basic imagination is an illusion – a mistaken knowledge about what we are – we can destroy it only by keenly scrutinising it in order to discover the reality that underlies it. We cannot kill an imaginary snake by beating it with a stick, but only by scrutinising it carefully in order to discover the reality that underlies it. Likewise, we cannot destroy our imaginary feeling that we are a body by any means other than keen self-scrutiny or self-attention.

When we look carefully at a snake that we imagine we see lying on the ground in the dim light of night, we will discover that it is not really a snake but is only a rope. Similarly, when we carefully scrutinise our basic consciousness ‘I am’, which we now experience as our mind, our limited consciousness that imagines itself to be a body, we will discover that we are not really this finite mind or body, but are only the infinite non-dual consciousness of our own being.

Because thinking is tiring, our mind needs to rest and recuperate its energy every day, which it does by subsiding and remaining for a while in sleep. In sleep our mind remains subsided temporarily in our own real self – our true state of self-conscious being – and because our real self is the source of all power, our mind is able to recharge its energy by remaining for a while in sleep.

The energy or power that impels our mind to think is our desire to do so. Desire is the driving force behind all thought and all activity. Unless impelled by some desire, we do not think or do anything.When we make effort to attend to our consciousness of being, we do so because of our desire or love for true self-knowledge.

The more we experience the joy of just being, the less we will feel desire to think or do anything, and thus by the practice of selfattention our tendency to think will be gradually weakened and will finally be destroyed. When we have no desire to think anything, we will remain effortlessly established in our own essential being, and thus even our effort to attend to our being will subside. This is what Sri Ramana means by saying that the thought or effort to know ‘who am I?’ will destroy all other thoughts and will itself finally be destroyed.

Our mind is in fact nothing but our power of attention. When we direct our power of attention towards thoughts and objects, which we imagine to be other than ourself, we rise as our mind, leaving our natural state of mere being. But when instead we direct our power of attention back towards ourself, we return to our natural state of mere being, and so long as we keep our attention fixed on ourself, without allowing it to stray out towards anything else, we remain as our mere being – that is, as our own essential self. In other words, our outward facing attention is our mind, whereas our inward or ‘I’-ward facing attention is our real self – our own simple and essential selfconscious being.

This focusing of our consciousness upon anything other than ourself is what we call ‘imagination’, because everything other than our own essential self-conscious being, ‘I am’, is merely a thought or image that we have formed in our mind by our power of imagination. Since this ‘imagination’, which is another name for our mind, causes us to delude ourself into experiencing things that do not truly exist, it is also called maya, a word that means ‘delusion’ or ‘self-deception’. Thus our mind or object-knowing attention is merely a product of our own self-deceiving power of imagination, which is the distorted use that we make of our power of consciousness when we use it to imagine that we are experiencing anything other than ourself.

Sri Ramana also describes this ‘place’ or state of egolessness as being mauna or ‘silence’, because it is the state of perfectly silent or motionless being. Since our real self is thus the state of perfect silence, we can know it only by remaining silent, that is, by just being, without rising to think anything. That is, since the restless activity or chattering of our mind is the noise that prevents us from knowing the silence of pure being, we can experience that silence only by silencing all our mental activity. Therefore silence in this context does not mean mere silence of speech, but complete silence of mind.

Since our mind is our false self, a spurious form of consciousness that we mistake to be ourself, we can effect its dissolution only by fixing our attention firmly in our real self, the innermost core of our being, which we always experience as our fundamental and essential consciousness ‘I am’. When we dissolve our mind thus in our real own self, the true nature of our real self will reveal itself as mere being – being which is silent, peaceful and devoid of any movement or activity. This state in which we thus dissolve our mind in our real self is therefore described as summa iruppadu, the state of ‘just being’ – that is, the state in which we merely are as we truly ever are, devoid of even the least activity or ‘doing’.

No knowledge of anything other than ourself can be true knowledge, because all such knowledge is acquired by us through the delusive and self-deceiving consciousness that we call our ‘mind’. The only knowledge that is true or real is the correct and uncontaminated knowledge of our own real self – our essential nondual consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’.

So long as our mind is active we cannot know our real self, which is perfectly peaceful and inactive being, because our mind becomes active only when we imagine ourself to be the limited form of a particular body. When we do not imagine ourself to be any body, as in sleep, all the restless activity of our mind subsides, and we remain peacefully and happily in the state of mere being.

Since the appearance of this world in the waking state, or of any other world in a dream, is caused only by the rising of our mind, we cannot experience the peaceful non-dual state of true self-knowledge so long as we perceive this world. Therefore in the third paragraph of Nan Yar? Sri Ramana says:

If [our] mind, which is the cause of all [dualistic, relative or objective] knowledge and of all activity, subsides [becomes still, disappears or ceases to exist], [our] perception of the world will cease. Just as knowledge of the rope, which is the base [that underlies and supports the appearance of the snake], will not arise unless knowledge of the imaginary snake ceases, svarupa-darsana [true experiential knowledge of our own essential nature or real self], which is the base [that underlies and supports the appearance of the world], will not arise unless [our] perception of the world, which is an imagination [or fabrication], ceases.

Any world that we may perceive is nothing but a series of mental images or thoughts that we form in our mind by our power of imagination. Since the world is therefore nothing but our own thoughts, and since the root of all our thoughts is our primary thought ‘I am this body’, the appearance of the world, which includes the appearance of the body that we mistake to be ourself, obscures our true knowledge of ourself – our non-dual consciousness of our own essential being, ‘I am’. This process of obscuration is explained clearly by Sri Ramana in the fourth paragraph of Nan Yar?:

That which is called ‘mind’ is an atisaya sakti [an extraordinary or wonderful power] that exists in atma-svarupa [our essential self]. It projects all thoughts [or causes all thoughts to appear].When [we] see [what remains] having removed [relinquished, discarded, dispelled, erased or destroyed] all [our] thoughts, [we will discover that] solitarily [separate from or independent of thoughts] there is no such thing as ‘mind’; therefore thought alone is the svarupa [the ‘own form’ or basic nature] of [our] mind. Having removed [all our] thoughts, [we will discover that] there is no such thing as ‘world’ [existing separately or independently] as other [than our thoughts]. In sleep there are no thoughts, [and consequently] there is also no world; in waking and dream there are thoughts, [and consequently] there is also a world. Just as a spider spins out [a] thread from within itself and again draws [it back] into itself, so [our] mind projects [this or some other] world from within itself and again dissolves [it back] into itself.

Since our thoughts are the veil that obscures our true nature, which is perfect peace and happiness, our experience of thoughts and the world created by our thoughts is the real cause of all our unhappiness. As Sri Ramana says at the end of the fourteenth paragraph of Nan Yar? (a complete translation of which is given in the final pages of the first chapter):

… What is called the world is only thought. When the world disappears, that is, when thought ceases, [our] mind experiences happiness; when the world appears, it experiences unhappiness.

The existence of any world is dependent upon the body through which we perceive it. The existence of any such body is dependent upon our mind, which experiences it as ‘I’. The existence of our mind is dependent upon our essential consciousness, without which it could not know either its own existence or the existence of any other thing.

No machine can gain energy merely by ceasing to be active. We cannot recharge a battery simply by ceasing to use it for a while. In order to recharge it, we have to connect it to some source of power,such as the mains electricity or a generator. Likewise, our mind does not renew its energy in sleep merely because it is inactive. It does so because in sleep it is connected to a source of power, which is our own essential being. The power that our mind derives by remaining for a while in sleep does not come from anywhere outside ourself. It comes only from a source within ourself, and that source is our own real self or spirit, the essential nature of which is our mere consciousness of being – our self-consciousness ‘I am’.

Source: Happiness and The Art of Being Book
which is a layman’s introduction to the philosophy and practice of the spiritual teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana By Michael James