Author Topic: Michael James about what is true knowledge based on teachings of Ramana Maharshi  (Read 1182 times)


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Let us first decide what knowledge can be considered as true. To qualify as being true knowledge in the strictest sense of the term, the knowledge in question must be absolutely true – perfectly,permanently, unconditionally and independently true. That is, it must be a knowledge that is true in its own right, a knowledge that is true at all times, in all states and under all conditions, a knowledge whose truth is not in any way dependent upon, limited by or relative to any other thing, a knowledge whose truth is ever unchanging and immutable, being unaffected by anything else that may appear or disappear, or by any changes that may occur around it. It must also be self-evident, perfectly clear and absolutely reliable – devoid of even the least ambiguity or uncertainty – and must be known directly – not through any intervening media upon whose truth and reliability its own truth and reliability would then depend. Only such knowledge can be considered to be true knowledge in an absolute sense.

We all recognise the fact that much of the knowledge that our mind takes to be true at certain times is not actually true. For example, our mind may mistake an illusion to be true while it is experiencing it, but it later recognises that it was at that time mistaken in its judgement of what is true or real. Likewise, our mind mistakes its experiences in a dream to be true while it is actually experiencing that dream, but it later recognises that all those experiences were imaginary and therefore not true. Since we know that our mind is easily deceived into believing that whatever it is currently experiencing is true, how can we rely upon our mind as a dependable instrument through which we can acquire true knowledge?

Our mind is not just deluded temporarily into mistaking its own imaginations to be true, but is also deluded repeatedly into making this same mistake. Having once understood that in dream it was deluded into mistaking the unreal to be real, it does not thereby become immune from being again deluded in the same manner. The same delusion repeats itself again and again whenever our mind experiences a dream.

Since it is unable to learn from its repeated mistakes, our mind is a very unreliable judge of what knowledge is true and what knowledge is false. When it is so frequently incapable of recognising its own imaginations as false, how can we be sure that anything that it experiences is not merely an illusion, an unreal product of its own imagination?

Whatever else we may know, and even when we know nothing else, we always know ‘I am’. Therefore our basic knowledge ‘I am’ is not only completely independent of all other knowledge, it is also permanent and unchanging. Other forms of knowledge may come and go, and they may even appear to be superimposed temporarily upon our basic knowledge ‘I am’, thereby seemingly obscuring it (though never actually hiding it), but this knowledge ‘I am’ itself remains permanently, without ever coming or going, appearing or disappearing, or beginning or ending, and without ever undergoing any change. Therefore this basic knowledge of our own being, ‘I am’, is the only absolute knowledge we experience.

So long as the focus of our consciousness or attention rests naturally upon ourself, we remain as the infinite real consciousness or true knowledge that we always are, but when the focus of our consciousness seems to be diverted towards imaginary objects or thoughts, we seem to become the finite consciousness that we call our ‘mind’. Therefore, if our mind wishes to experience the true knowledge that is its own real self, all it need do is withdraw its attention from all other things and to focus it keenly upon its own essential consciousness, ‘I am’. This state in which our mind thus rests its attention in itself, knowing only its own being or consciousness, is described by Sri Ramana in verse 16 of Upadesa Undiyar as the state of true knowledge:

[Our] mind knowing its own form of light, having given up [knowing] external objects, alone is true knowledge.

When our mind knows ‘external objects’ or things other than itself, it does so by mistaking itself to be a physical body, which is one among those other things that it knows. But when it withdraws its attention back towards itself, it will cease to know any other thing, and thereby it will cease to mistake itself to be a physical body or any other product of its imagination.

By thus attending only to its own essential consciousness or ‘form of light’, and thereby giving up attending to any form of imagination, our mind will experience itself as its own natural consciousness of being, ‘I am’. In other words, by attending to and knowing only its own true consciousness of being, our mind will merge and become one with that consciousness. This non-dual experience of true self-consciousness is the state of true and absolute knowledge.

All the knowledge that we have of objects is only thoughts that our mind has formed within itself by its power of imagination. We cannot know any objects – anything other than our own being, ‘I am’ – except through the medium of our mind. Hence we cannot know whether any object really exists independent of the thought of it that we have formed in our mind. Therefore all our knowledge about everything other than ‘I am’ is nothing but thoughts, which are only as real as our mind that has formed them.

Just as the snake disappears because it is imaginary and therefore never really existed, so our mind will disappear because it is imaginary and has therefore never really existed. And just as the sole reality underlying the imaginary appearance of the snake is the rope, so the sole reality underlying the imaginary appearance of our mind is our fundamental non-dual self-consciousness, ‘I am’.

True knowledge is therefore only the absolute knowledge that underlies yet transcends all relative knowledge and ignorance. It transcends them because, though it is their ultimate substratum or support, it nevertheless remains distinct from, independent of and unaffected by them, just as a cinema screen is the support that underlies the appearance of the pictures that flit across it, yet nevertheless remains distinct from, independent of and unaffected by them. Just as the screen is not burnt when a picture of a raging fire is projected upon it, nor does it become wet when a picture of a flood is projected upon it, so true knowledge – our real non-dual selfconsciousness ‘I am’ – is not affected in the least by any relative knowledge or ignorance that may seem to arise within it.

In the second half of verse 23 of Ulladu Narpadu Sri Ramana points out the obvious truth that everything – that is, all duality or otherness – rises only after our mind or individual sense of ‘I’ has risen, and he advises us that we should therefore scrutinise with a ‘subtle intellect’ the source from which this ‘I’ arises. He also adds that when we scrutinise thus, this ‘I’ will slip away, vanish or become entirely non-existent. The inference that we should understand from his statement, “After an ‘I’ has risen, everything rises”, from his subsequent advice, “By a subtle intellect scrutinise where this ‘I’ rises”, and from his final statement that this ‘I’ will then vanish, is stated by him clearly in verse 26 of Ulladu Narpadu:

If [our] ego comes into existence [as in the waking and dream states], everything comes into existence. If [our] ego does not exist [as in sleep], everything does not exist. [Hence our] ego indeed is everything [this entire appearance of duality or relativity]. Therefore, know that examining ‘what is this [ego]?’ is indeed relinquishing everything.

Therefore, in order to know God as he really is, all we need do is to eradicate our own illusory sense of adjuncts. When we thus cease to identify ourself with any adjuncts, we will no longer imagine God as having any adjuncts, but will discover him to be nothing other than our own true and essential self-conscious being. Therefore in verse 25 of Upadesa Undiyar Sri Ramana says:

Knowing [our real] self, having relinquished [all our own] adjuncts, itself is knowing God, because [he] shines as [our real] self.

The only means by which we can thus experience God as our own real self or essential being is then clearly explained by Sri Ramana in verse 22 of Ulladu Narpadu:

Except [by] turning [folding or drawing our] mind back within [and thereby] keeping [it] immersed [sunk, settled, subsided, fixed or absorbed] in the Lord, who shines within that mind,giving light to [our] mind, how [can we succeed in] knowing the Lord by [our] mind? Know [the Lord by thus turning back within and immersing in him].

In most of the major religions of the world the name ‘I am’ is revered as the first, foremost and ultimate name of God. The supreme sanctity of this divine name ‘I am’ is expressed and enshrined in the Old Testament (upon which are based the three great religions of west Asian origin, Judaism, Christianity and Islam) in the words spoken by God to Moses, “I AM THAT I AM” (Exodus 3.14), and also in the Vedas (upon which are based the broad family of south Asian religions known as Hinduism) in the mahavakya or great saying “I am brahman” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10).

Because this Biblical saying, ‘I AM THAT I AM’, is such a perfect expression of the absolute, eternal, non-dual, non-objective, selfconscious,first person nature of being, Sri Ramana used to say that it is the greatest mahavakya, even greater than the four mahavakyas or ‘great sayings’ of the Vedas. Though the import of each of the Vedic mahavakyas, ‘pure consciousness is brahman’, ‘I am brahman’, ‘it you are’ and ‘this self is brahman’, is essentially the same as that of this Biblical saying, they are actually less perfect and accurate expressions of the reality because they each contain one or more words that are not first person in form.

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