Author Topic: Michael James about Self Investigation and self-Surrender based on teachings of  (Read 1406 times)


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Attending to anything other than ourself is an action, a movement of our mind or attention away from ourself. Attending to ourself, on the other hand, is not an action or movement, but is just an actionless state of being self-conscious, as we always really are. Therefore atma-vichara or ‘self-investigation’ is only the practice of being self-conscious – that is, the practice of being conscious of nothing other than our own self, ‘I am’. Only by this simple practice of thought-free self-consciousness or self-attentiveness can we know who or what we really are.

In certain places where it has been recorded that Sri Ramana said “ask yourself ‘who am I?’” or “question yourself ‘who am I?’”, the Tamil verb that he used may have been vicharittal, which is the verbal form of the noun vichara, because in such places he appears to be referring more or less directly to the following passage from the sixth paragraph of Nan Yar?:

… If other thoughts rise, without trying to complete them [we] must investigate to whom they have occurred. However many thoughts rise, what [does it matter]? As soon as each thought appears, if [we] vigilantly investigate to whom it has occurred, ‘to me’ will be clear [that is, we will be clearly reminded of ourself, to whom each thought occurs]. If [we thus] investigate ‘who am I?’ [that is, if we turn our attention back towards ourself and keep it fixed firmly, keenly and vigilantly upon our own essential self-conscious being in order to discover what this ‘me’ really is], [our] mind will return to its birthplace [the innermost core of our being, which is the source from which it arose]; [and since we thereby refrain from attending to it] the thought which had risen will also subside. When [we] practise and practise in this manner, to [our] mind the power to stand firmly established in its birthplace will increase. …

This letting go of the verbalised question ‘who am I?’ is a secondary but nevertheless valid meaning of the second half of the first sentence of the sixth paragraph of Nan Yar?, in which Sri Ramana says:

Only by [means of] the investigation ‘who am I?’ will [our] mind subside [or cease to be]; the thought ‘who am I?’, having destroyed all other thoughts, will itself in the end be destroyed like a corpse-burning stick [that is, like a stick that is used to stir a funeral pyre to ensure that the corpse is burnt entirely]…

Since other thoughts can survive only when we attend to them,and since this effort to investigate ‘who am I?’ draws our attention away from all other thoughts, Sri Ramana says that this effort will destroy them all. Though our mind commences the practice of selfinvestigation by making this effort to attend to itself, as a result of this effort it will subside, because it can rise and remain active only by attending to thoughts. Therefore, since our mind will begin to subside as soon as it makes this effort to attend to itself, and since by persisting in this effort it will eventually subside entirely in the perfect clarity of thought-free self-consciousness, the effort that it makes to attend to itself will subside along with it. This is the real meaning that Sri Ramana intended to convey when he said, “… the thought ‘who am I?’, having destroyed all other thoughts, will itself in the end be destroyed like a corpse-burning stick”.

Just as a doorway is a means by which we can enter our house,but is not our house itself, so a thought such as ‘who am I?’ may be a means by which we can enter our own natural state of clear non-dual self-consciousness, but it is not our self-consciousness itself. If we wish to enter our house, we should not just stand at the doorway but should pass through it and leave it behind us. Similarly, if we wish to enter our real state of non-dual self-consciousness, we should not cling to any thought such as ‘who am I?’ but should pass through such thoughts and leave them behind us.

The state of surrender is the state in which we do not attach ourself to anything or identify ourself with anything. Of all our attachments, the most fundamental is our attachment to our body,because we mistake it to be ourself. Our mind or separate individual consciousness can rise only by identifying a particular body as ‘I’, so all our experience of duality or multiplicity is rooted in our identification of ourself with a body. Without first attaching ourself to a body, we cannot attach ourself to anything else. Therefore, in order to give up all attachment, we must give up our attachment to our body.

In order for us to surrender ourself completely, we must give up all our desires. But is it possible for us to remain completely free of desire? Is it not natural for us to be always driven by some form of desire? Can we not surrender ourself to God simply by giving up all our selfish desires, and replacing them with unselfish desires?

We can answer this last question only by understanding what we mean by an unselfish desire. Some people believe that if they are concerned only for the welfare of others, and that if they sacrifice all their own personal comforts and conveniences and dedicate all their time and money to helping other people, they are thereby acting unselfishly and without any personal desire. However, even if we are
able to act in such an ‘unselfish’ manner, which few if any of us are actually able to do, what actually impels us to do so?

If we are perfectly honest with ourself, we will have to admit that we act ‘unselfishly’ for our own satisfaction. We feel good in ourself when we act ‘unselfishly’, and therefore acting in this way makes us feel happy. Hence our desire to be happy is what ultimately and truly motivates us to act ‘unselfishly’. There is therefore truly no such thing as an absolutely ‘unselfish’ desire, because underlying even the most unselfish desire is our fundamental desire to be happy.

We all desire to be happy. However, because we each have our own personal understanding of what makes us happy, we each seek happiness in our own individual way. All our actions, whether good or bad, moral or immoral, virtuous or sinful, saintly or evil, are motivated only by our desire for happiness. Whatever we may do, and whatever effort we may make, we cannot avoid having the desire to be happy, because that desire is inherent in our very being. Is it then impossible for us to be completely free of all desire?

Yes, it is, or at least in a certain sense it is. If by the word ‘desire’ we mean our basic liking to be happy, then yes, it is impossible for us ever to be free from it. However, our liking to be happy exists in two forms, one of which is correctly called ‘love’ and the other of which is correctly called ‘desire’. What then is the difference between our love to be happy and our desire to be happy?

We all love ourself, but we cannot say that we desire ourself.Desire is always for something other than ourself. We desire things that are other than ourself because we wrongly imagine that we can derive happiness from them. We can therefore use the word ‘love’ to describe our liking to be happy when we do not seek happiness in anything outside ourself, but when we seek happiness outside ourself, our natural love to be happy takes the form of desire.

Therefore we can be completely free of desire only when our natural love of happiness is directed towards nothing other than our own essential being. We will never be able to free ourself from the bondage of desire until we replace all our desire to acquire happiness from other things with an all-consuming love to experience happiness only in ourself. In other words, we can transform all our finite desires into pure and infinite love only by diverting our liking for happiness away from all other things towards our own essential being.

The obstacle that prevents us from surrendering ourself entirely is our desire to obtain happiness from anything other than ourself. But how does such desire arise in the first place? If our love just to be is our real nature, how have we forgotten such love and fallen a prey to the vultures of our desires?

So long as we remain as our infinite consciousness of being,which is what we truly always are, we can experience nothing other than ourself. In such a state nothing exists for us to desire, and therefore we are perfectly peaceful and happy in ourself. But as soon as we rise as the finite body-bound consciousness that we call our ‘mind’ or ‘individual self’, we separate ourself seemingly from the happiness that we truly are, and we experience things that seem to be other than ourself. Having separated ourself from our own real self, which is infinite happiness and for which we therefore naturally have infinite love, we are overwhelmed by desire to regain that happiness.

However, because we have forgotten what we really are, and because we see our own self as the many objects of this world, we are confused and imagine that we can obtain the happiness we desire from those objects. Due to the illusory appearance of duality or otherness, we experience both our natural happiness and our natural love for that happiness as two pairs of opposites, pleasure and pain, and desire and aversion. That is, we imagine that certain things give us pleasure or happiness, and that other things cause us pain or suffering, and therefore we feel desire for those things that seem to give us happiness, and aversion for those things that seem to make us unhappy.

Thus the root cause of all our desire is our forgetfulness or ignorance of our own real self. When we ignore our true and infinite being, we imagine ourself to be a false and finite individual, and therefore we experience things that seem to be other than ourself,and feel desire for them, thinking that they can give us the happiness that we seem to have lost. Since our imaginary self-ignorance is the sole cause of all our desires, we can free ourself from them only by regaining our natural state of true self-knowledge.

Until we regain our true self-knowledge, we cannot remain free of desire. We may be able to replace our ‘bad’ desires by ‘good’ desires, but by doing so we will only be replacing our iron chains with golden ones. Whether the chains that bind us are made of iron or of gold, we will still be bound by them. Therefore, in order to experience true and perfect freedom, we must give up all our desires, both our base desires and our noble desires, which we can do only by knowing ourself as we really are.

In the thirteenth paragraph of Nan Yar?, for example, when defining true self-surrender as the state of thought-free self-abidance,he describes it as “giving ourself to God”, and he goes on to explain the practice of self-surrender in terms of dualistic devotion to God:

Being completely absorbed in self-abidance, giving not even the slightest room to the rising of any thought other than selfcontemplation,is giving ourself to God. Even though we place whatever amount of burden upon God, that entire amount he will bear. Since one paramesvara sakti [supreme power of God] is driving all activities [that is, since it is causing and controlling everything that happens in this world], why should we always think, ‘it is necessary [for me] to act in this way; it is necessary [for me] to act in that way’, instead of being [calm,peaceful and happy] having yielded [ourself together with our entire burden] to that [supreme controlling power]? Though we know that the train is carrying all the burdens, why should we who travel in it suffer by carrying our small luggage on our head instead of leaving it placed on that [train]?

However, knowing our powerlessness and worthlessness, we should not feel dejected. As a finite, confused and self-deluded mind, we truly cannot do anything to attain true self-knowledge, but why should we even imagine that we need to do anything? Our responsibility is not to do anything, but just to be. In order to be, we must reject our mind along with its sense of doership, and simply surrender ourself to the supreme power of love that we call ‘God’. If we have even the slightest wish to surrender ourself thus, he will give us all the aid that is necessary to make our surrender complete.

If we really surrender ourself entirely to God, he will take full control of our mind, speech and body, and will make them act in whatever way is appropriate in all situations. Only when we thus cease to think anything will our surrender to God be complete.

Whether we cultivate the true love or willingness to surrender ourself entirely to the absolute reality, which is the infinite fullness of being that we call ‘God’, by dualistic devotion or by non-dualistic devotion, once we have cultivated it sufficiently any internal crisis such as an intense fear of death will impel our mind to turn inwards and to sink into the innermost depth of our own being in order to
surrender itself entirely to him. Only when our mind thus merges in the source from which it had risen, which is our own true and essential self-conscious being, will its surrender to God become complete.

Therefore the death that we will experience when we surrender our false individual self in the absolute clarity of true selfknowledge,which always shines in the innermost core of our being, is the death of our own mind. The death of our body is not a true death, because when our body dies our mind will create for itself another body by its power of imagination. As long as our mind survives, it will continue thus creating for itself one body after another. Hence the only true death is the death of our own mind.

However, though the experience of true self-knowledge is figuratively described as the death or destruction of our mind, we should not imagine that this implies that our mind has ever really existed. The death of our mind is like the ‘death’ of a snake that we imagine we see in the dim light of night. In the morning when the sun rises, that imaginary snake will disappear, because we will clearly see that it is in fact only a rope. Similarly, in the clear light of true self-knowledge our mind will disappear, because we will clearly recognise that it is in fact only our infinite and non-dual consciousness of our own essential being.

Just as the snake does not really die, because it never actually existed, so our mind will not really die, because it has never actually existed. Its death is real only relative to its present seeming existence. Therefore though in figurative terms the experience of true self-knowledge may be described as the death of our unreal self and as the birth of our real self, in reality it is the state in which we know that our real self alone exists, that it has always existed, and that our mind or unreal self has never truly existed.

Since death is a thought, and even the thinker of death is a thought, the true state of deathlessness or immortality is only the thought-free state of absolutely clear self-conscious being – the state in which our thinking mind has died. When by our complete selfsurrender we abide permanently in this egoless and mind-free state of true immortality, we will never again be able to imagine the thought of death or any other thought.

Thus in this verse Sri Ramana describes both the goal and the means to attain that goal. The goal is the state of immortality, in which our thinking, fearing and desiring mind has died, and the means by which we can attain that goal is complete self-surrender, which we can achieve only by subsiding within ourself and taking refuge there in the birthless and deathless absolute reality, which is our own essential self-conscious being, ‘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