For those with Little Dust: Pointers on the Teachings of Ramana Maharshi – Arthur Osborne

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The Direct Path
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The ways of undertaking this task are innumerable, but it will suffice here to divide them into three general categories: exoteric religion, indirect spiritual paths, and the Direct Path of Self-inquiry.

The way of exoteric religion progressively replaces egoism by submission to the will of God. Its four cardinal precepts are faith, love, humility, and good deeds. As far as they are complied with, these precepts effectively lead people toward Self realization, although this is not consciously envisaged. True, the goal is not likely to be attained in a single lifetime, but in God’s patience a lifetime is very little. Faith strengthens the intuitional conviction of the reality of God or the Self. Humility, its counterpart, weakens the belief in the ego and lessens the importance attached to it. Love strives to surrender the ego to God and its welfare to others. Good deeds deny egoism in practice and are both the fruit and proof of love and humility. Therefore, Bhagavan sometimes encouraged this way when speaking to those whose nature did not draw them to a more conscious sadhana.

When we practice indirect sadhana, we strengthen, purify, and harmonize the mind by various techniques, enabling it to hold to the quest of the Self, which is often conceived as Father, Mother, or Lover. Bhagavan never denied the efficacy of such methods. Once, when a woman said that Self-inquiry did not help her and asked whether she could follow some other way, he replied, ”All ways are good.” However, since he was opening a more direct and potent path-one more suited to the conditions of modern life, he did consistently question people following other, less direct paths. He referred to them as “the thief turned policeman, to catch the thief that is himself.” The thief is the ego or mind, which usurps the reality of the Self, and by these indirect methods of sadhana, the mind is trained as a policeman to catch and condemn itself.

On such a path there is the danger that the thief turned policeman may acquire police powers, and then its thievish nature may reassert itself and do far more harm than it ever could before. The ego may acquire powers and perceptions beyond the physical and then persuade itself and others that it is the Self and become that most terrible scourge, a false guru, consuming others to feed its unconfessed vanity. Or, it may simply entrench itself at some high post that it imagines to be final but which, beautiful though it may be, is no more final than the physical body is. In any case, the mind must at last be extinguished in the Self, which alone exists. Bhagavan taught that it is simpler and more direct to strive to do so from the beginning by awakening awareness of the Self and yielding [the ego] before it.

This is the Direct Path as taught by Bhagavan: to forget the ego and discover the Self, not as one self discovering another, but by awakening awareness of the Self, by beginning, occasionally and imperfectly at first, but ever more constantly and powerfully, to be the Self. In this sense “knowing is being.”
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After some practice, this meditation awakens a current of awareness, a consciousness of “I” in the Heart-not the ego sense, but a feeling of the essential “I” who is the Universal Self, unaffected by good or ill fortune or by sickness or health. We should develop this consciousness by constant effort until it becomes increasingly frequent and finally a constant undercurrent to all the actions of life. Then, if we can stop our egoism from interfering, this awareness may deepen into an ever vaster peace beyond all understanding, until the moment when it consumes the ego and remains as the abiding realization of Self.

If various thoughts come up during meditation, one should not get caught up by them and follow them, but look at them objectively and inquire, “Where did this thought come from, and why, and to whom?” As they pass away like clouds across a clear sky, each thought leads back to the basic “I” -thought: “Who am I?” The very essence of the meditation requires that there is no mental or verbal answer. There cannot be, since the Self transcends thought and words. The ego is seeking what is before its origin and beyond its source, and the answer will not be grasped by it but will grasp and devour it.

I came to devour Thee but Thou has devoured me; now there is peace, Arunachala.
-Arunchala Aksharamanamalai (v. 8), by Sri Ramana Maharshi.

The beginning of the answer involves awakening a current of awareness, a sense of Being, in the heart. This awareness is neither physical nor mental, though body and mind are both aware of it. We can no more describe it than we can describe hearing to a deaf person.

If impure thoughts arise during meditation, we should look at them and dispel them in the same way, this way base tendencies are accordingly recognized and dissipated. As Bhagavan has said:

All kinds of thoughts arise in meditation. That is only right, for what lies hidden in you is brought out. Unless it rises up, how can it be destroyed?

Just as Self-inquiry is not a mental exercise, so also it is not a mantra. When questioned, Bhagavan replied quite definitely that it should not be repeated as a mantra, but used in the manner described.

Every spiritual path requires both purity of living and intensity of spiritual effort, and the vichara given by Bhagavan serves as a technique of pure and dispassionate living no less than as a technique of meditation. If anything happens to offend or flatter you, ask, “Who is injured, who is pleased or angry, who am I?” Therefore, by use of vichara, the “I-am-the doer illusion” can be destroyed and one can take part in everyday life aloofly, without vanity or attachment. Bhagavan represented it as the bank cashier who handles enormous sums of money unemotionally and yet quite efficiently, knowing that it is not his money.

In the same impersonal way, we can attend to all the affairs of life, knowing that the real Self is unaffected by them; and every attack of greed, anger, or desire can be dispelled by vichara. It must be dispelled, because it is no use repeating that one is the Self and acting as though one were the ego. Real, even partial, awareness of the Self weakens egoism. Egoism, whether expressed as vanity, greed, or desire, proves that recognition of the Self is merely mental.

In adapting an ancient path to modern conditions, Bhagavan in effect created a new path. The ancient path of Self Inquiry was pure Jnana Marga, to be followed by the recluse in silence and solitude, withdrawn from the outer world. Bhagavan made it a path to be followed invisibly in the world, in the conditions of modern life.

He never encouraged anyone to give up life in the world. He explained that such a giving up would only exchange the thought “I am a householder” for the thought “I am a sanyasin,” whereas what is necessary is to reject the thought “I am the doer” completely and remember only “I-am.” This approach can be done by means of vichara, equally while in the city or in the forest. Only inwardly can a person leave the world by leaving the ego-sense; only inwardly can one withdraw into solitude by abiding in the universal solitude of the Heart. This represents true solitude because there are no others, however many forms the Self may assume. Life in the world is not merely permissible, but a useful part of the Karma Marga inherent in the way of Bhagavan.

The outer discipline of Self-inquiry requires a constant check on actions and on the motive from which they spring. Sincerely and constantly applied, it removes the need for any formal code of conduct, for it strikes directly at egoism in every action and reaction. The impulses of the ego will not change immediately. An insult will still cause anger and a flattering remark, pleasure. Attachment to property and comfort will still continue and the senses will still clamor, but all such impulses will be exposed for what they are, so that one is able to recognize egoism and feel shame and reluctance over each of its manifestations. From that point the eradication of egoism will begin, a task demanding constant effort and remembering.
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A phenomenon such as Bhagavan’s own immediate realization of the Self is extremely rare, and he never led others to expect that it would happen to them. Actually, to desire success or even to think about it is itself an impediment, since it means desiring achievement for the ego instead of trying to eliminate the ego through the inquiry, “Who am I?”

The vibrant awareness of the Self becomes more frequent and uninterrupted until it awakens the moment one sits in meditation. In time it becomes constant, not only in hours of meditation,. but underlying all the actions of life. In proportion, as awareness of the Self becomes stronger and more continuous, the ego grows weaker and subsequently purified in preparation for its final immolation. Bhagavan said:

The moment the ego-self tries to know itself, it changes in character; it begins to partake less and less of the body, in which it is absorbed, and more and more of pure consciousness, the Self or Atman.

The Forty Verses on Reality, composed by Bhagavan, is the doctrine of the Direct Path. In verses 29 and 30, he thus succinctly describes it:

The path of Knowledge is only to dive inward with the mind, not uttering the word “I,” and to question whence, as “I,” it rises. To meditate “This is not I” or “That I am” may be an aid, but how can it form the inquiry?

When the mind, inwardly inquiring “Who am I?” attains the Heart, something of itself manifests as “I-I,” so that the individual “I” must bow in shame. Though manifesting, it is not “I” by nature but Perfection, and this is the Self.

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Self-Inquiry
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Although the term “meditation” is conventionally used for Self-inquiry, it does not fall into the dictionary definition of the term. Meditation requires and object, something to meditate on, whereas inquiry focuses only on the subject. You are not looking for anything new, anything outside yourself, but simply concentrating on Being, on your self, on the pure “I am” of you. It is not about thinking, but about suspending thoughts while retaining consciousness.

Normally, when thought subsides, you go to sleep; and when one first begins inquiry the mind often does try to do so. An attack of overwhelming sleepiness may come over you. However, as soon as you stop the inquiry and turn to another occupation sleepiness passes, thereby proving that it was not real tiredness, but an instinctive resistance to thought-free consciousness. One simply has to be vigilant against it.

Thoughts themselves are a far more persistent obstruction. They rush into the mind in an unending stream. If you drive them out, others slip in from behind. You believe you are free from thought and before you notice it, you are indulging others. The only way out is through persistence and constant alertness. One should not get carried away by thoughts, but see them aloofly like clouds passing over a clear sky, while asking, “What is this thought? Who did it come to? To me, but who am I?” This way, you bring your mind back to the inquiry. The mind is like a monkey rushing from tree to tree, ever restless, never content to be still. It has to be checked from its restlessness and held firmly to inquiry.

However, the wandering nature of the mind and the unending succession of thoughts are not the obstruction; it is also the ego-drive behind many of the thoughts. This gives them power and makes them far harder to dispel. You may convince yourself intellectually that there is no ego and may have occasional brief glimpses of Being-Consciousness, which is unruffled happiness at the time the ego is absent. But still you are drawn to a particular person, or want to impress a special friend, or wish to dominate a specific group; you may resent criticism, feel insecure in your job, cling to your possessions, or hanker after money or power. All of these are affirmations of the ego, which you believe does not exist. So long as they exist, it does, too. If there is no ego, who feels anger, desire, resentment, or frustration?

This means that inquiry is not merely a cold investigation but a battle; every path is in every religion. The ego, or apparent ego, has to be eradicated. This is the one essential aspect common to all religions. The only difference is how to do it. Some paths will have you attack various vices individually and cultivate opposing virtues, but Self-inquiry is more direct. These progressive methods are like lopping the branches off a tree: So long as the roots and trunk remain, fresh ones will grow. Self-inquiry aims at uprooting the tree itself. If the ego is deprived of one outlet, others will develop. However, if the ego itself is dissolved, the vices in which it found expression will collapse like deflated balloons. What is required is constant vigilance until the ego is finally dissolved.

Self-inquiry, which aims at ego dissolution, does not teach one theory or doctrine. It is quite possible to know all the doctrine that is necessary before starting: “Being simply is and you are That.” A certain amount of practice brings an increase in the frequency and length of the experience of timeless Being, which is also pure awareness and unruffled happiness. Although not based in the mind, the mind is aware of it. Although not physical, the body feels it as a vibration or a waveless calm. Once awakened, it begins to appear spontaneously, even when you are not “meditating.” It exists as an undercurrent to whatever you are doing in your daily routine, whether talking or even thinking.

Concerning approach, this is an important point. It explains why Bhagavan preferred his devotees to follow the quest in their everyday lives. Sitting daily in “meditation” is useful and, in most cases, indispensable, but it is not enough. So far as possible, fixed times should be set aside for it, since the mind accustoms itself to them, just as it does to physical functions like eating and sleeping, and therefore responds more readily. For people who are bound by professional and domestic obligations, just after waking in the morning and before going to sleep at night are excellent times. But apart from that, Bhagavan would tell people to always practice inquiry, to ask themselves, “Who is doing this?” -to engage in activity without the “I-am-the-doer illusion.” Keeping up this attitude of mind throughout the day’s activities is equivalent to remaining alert, welcoming the sense of Being whenever it comes. Constant alertness and remembering is necessary when not formally “meditating.” Initially, there will be frequent forgetting. The “current of awareness” needs to be cultivated and fostered. It is very seldom that there is accomplishment without effort.
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The problem that philosophers and theologians set for themselves is unreal, being based on the false assumption of an ego to be predestined. Additionally, the problem is insoluble, because the two alternatives are quite irreconcilable. If anything currently exists in the divine foreknowledge of an omniscient God, then it cannot be changed by free will. If this foreknowledge does not exist, then God does not know what is going to happen and is not omniscient. If life is predestined, it is like sitting in a movie theater and watching a film. We may not know what is coming next, but the ending has already been filmed according to the screenplay. However, if there is free will, it is like watching an impromptu television show in which the actors and camera operators have no idea of what will take place next.

The compromise that some theorists are fond of suggesting-that God has only predetermined important matters and left the unimportant for people to fill in-is too unintelligent and anthropomorphic to even merit refutation. In any case, who decides what is important? And on what scale of values? A young man is invited to the capital city of his country to be interviewed for a job in the Foreign Service and he decides to go. Obviously, this is an important decision since it will change his cultural and social environment, the person he marries, the children he fathers, and the whole course of his life. On his way to the airline office to book a seat on a plane, he meets a friend who invites him to travel to the capital in his car. When the young man accepts the offer, it seems like a relatively unimportant decision, which our hypothetical Grandfather God might well leave to the young man to decide for himself. However, he does not get the job, so the important decision turns out to have been unimportant. In the meanwhile, the plane he was scheduled to take to the interview crashes and all the passengers are killed.

Thus, the “unimportant decision” he made gives him thirty or forty more years of life and is vitally important not only to him but to the woman he is going to marry, the children he will father, their future wives, children, and business partners-in fact, to an unending succession of people, generation after generation. The whole theory is too absurd for discussion.

People cling to such absurdities because there is nothing a person finds more difficult than facing up to the truth of anatta (no-ego). Even people who accept it theoretically often find some way of avoiding its implications, perhaps because they imagine that the alternative to ego-identification would be mere nothingness.

Yet life itself proves that this is not so, since everyone experiences no-ego in the state of deep dreamless sleep and still retains a sense of existence. The only question is “who” or “what” experiences that egoless state? Actually, the alternative to the illusion of an ego is the Reality of inexhaustible, radiant Being.

So long as the appearance of an ego remains, so does the appearance of free will; in fact, they are mutually dependent. Therefore, Maharshi said:

Free will exists together with the individuality. As long as the individuality lasts, so long is there free will. All the scriptures are based on this fact and advise directing the free will in the right channel.
-The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi in His Own Words

In the actual affairs of life, those who have not realized anatta go by appearances, and it makes practically no difference whether they believe in predestination or not. In either case, they do not know what is predestined and make decisions using their initiative, and act according to their nature in doing so. Any attempt to limit their conduct on the pretext of predestination would involve the presumptuous and patently untrue corollary that they know what is predestined. For instance, suppose you are sitting on the bank of a river when a girl falls into the water. To say, “It is her destiny to drown,” and to let her drown would be a presumptuous supposition that this is her destiny. All that you know up to that moment is that it is the child’s destiny to fall into the water within reach of an adult (yourself who is capable of rescuing her. Since what is to happen is bound up with your own decisions, it makes no practical difference whether these do not yet exist or are simply not yet known to you. In either case, the decisions are made in ignorance of the outcome.

All the activities that the body is to go through are determined when it first comes into existence. It does not rest with you to accept or reject them. The only freedom you have is to turn your mind inward and renounce activities there.
-The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi in His Own Words

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To Those With Little Dust

It is related (and the story is no less significant whether historically true or not) that after attaining Enlightenment the Buddha’s first impulse was to abide in the effulgence of Bliss without turning back to convey the incommunicable to humankind. Then he reflected, “There are some who are clear-sighted and do not need my teachings, and some whose eyes are clouded with dust who will not heed it though given, but between these two there are also some with but little dust in their eyes, who can be helped to see; and for the sake of these I will go back among mankind and teach.”

This story shows that there is a more satisfactory state than that of ignorant, confused, unguided, frustrated modern humanity, and a higher, more satisfying, and more durable alternative than any provided by wealth or luxury, art or music, or the love between man and woman. Such a state can be attained in his lifetime, and the purpose of all religions has been to lead people towards it, although in many different ways. I say “towards” rather than “to” because although the supreme state may not be attained in this lifetime, merely approaching it can bring peace of mind and a sense of well being not otherwise attainable.

Mystics often have had unsought glimpses of a higher or the highest state; those who are psychic have out-of-the-body and other experiences closed to the ordinary person; but all this means little in the quest for Realization. Such experiences may help at certain stages of certain types of paths, but they may also hinder and distract, like the sirens that Odysseus heard but against whom he made his crew plug their ears. If the pleasures of the physical world are seductive, those of the subtle world are certainly no less so. Christ said that if one attains the kingdom of heaven, all else shall be added, but that is after attaining. If one seeks all else beforehand, one is not likely to attain.

Those who have such powers and experiences do not find the quest to be shorter and less arduous than those who do not have them. Realization is not something like music, for which some are by nature more gifted than others. It is fundamentally different, since music requires the development of a faculty that is stronger in some and weaker in others. Realization, however, involves the discovery of and identification with one’s true Self, which contains all faculties.

We cannot easily predict who can and will understand spiritual truth. It has certainly nothing in common with intellectual ability, as commonly understood. Indeed, the scriptures of the different religions agree by warning us that neither intellect nor learning is any qualification. In fact, they can generally be a hindrance:

It is rather the unlearned who are saved than those whose ego has not yet subsided in spite of their learning. -The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi

The humble knowledge of oneself is a surer way to God than deep researches after science.
-The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis

A scientist may fail to understand spiritual science, a philosopher may be unreceptive to the Perennial Philosophy, while a psychologist may remain ignorant of what underlines the mind. On the other hand, a spiritual master mayor may not be an intellectual: Ramana Maharshi was, but Sri Ramakrishna was an ecstatic with the mind rather of a peasant than a philosopher. St. Ignatius Loyola was temperamentally so averse to study that it required immense effort for him to gain the degree without which the Church would not allow him to teach, and he was middle-aged before he did so.

While theoretical understanding is not enough, neither is belief in the sense of a conviction that this or that will happen after death. What is needed is to set one’s hand to the plough, as Christ put it, to undertake the true alchemy, transmuting the dross in one’s nature to gold.

This is the quest of the Sangrail(Holy Grail), the search for the elixir of life, the eternal youth of the Spirit. It requires a willingness to open one’s heart to the truth, to surrender oneself and give up the ego, and to conceive of the possibility of its nonexistence. It is the pathway of heroes, the way from trivialities to grandeur. Its consummation is like waking up from a dream into the ever-existent Reality.

Where Charity Begins

I have written that the quest for Realization is the great I enterprise, the true goal of life. Yet one often hears the objection, “But isn’t it more important to help others?” ! Although some who make this objection doubtless do so in good I faith, it is essentially a hypocritical attack on spirituality. It I goes back to the nineteenth-century socialists who said, “First things first. Let us first remove people’s poverty, then there will be time to consider their spiritual needs.” Well, they partially succeeded. There is very little poverty left in northeastern Europe. However, did Europeans then turn to spiritual support? Not at all. The anti-spiritual trend only
accelerated and became more unabashed. Workers who acquired leisure, security, and competence had less time, not more, to devote to spirituality.

In fact, it is not true that welfare facilitates religion, that poverty impedes it, or that material needs are the “first things” to be attended to. Christ taught the exact opposite when the rich, young man approached him. He counseled the young man to give his property away and become a mendicant. If poverty can be an impediment, so also can prosperity. Indeed, it might well be said that in a welfare state prosperity is the opiate of the people, lulling them into a false sense of security.

One sign of the animus behind the do-good objection is that it is only used against those who turn to a spiritual path. If a person declares that his absorbing interest in life is music, business, or politics, no one will raise an objection. However, objections are raised when someone turns to religion. Why do people suppose that one who is striving to subjugate or destroy the ego is doing less to help others than one who allows it free-play? Rather, such a person is likely to do more, helping others in an unobtrusive way rather than engaging in organized charities. In general, there is likely to be less vanity and more genuine goodwill in this person’s behavior.
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As long as there is the concept of an “I,” there is a concept of others. As long as there are others to help, there is an “I” to help them and therefore no Self-realization. The two go together; they cannot be separated.

OTHERS
What will they think of this?
What will they say to that?
So others arise.
When there are others there’s I.
In truth there just IS.
Isness alone is;
No others, no I, only a dance, a rhythm, Only a being.

Of course, one has to play the game of “I and others,” acting as though they existed. It is as if (as can sometimes happen) one had a dream and took part in its events while at the same time being awake enough to know that it was a dream.

What, then, is this vow to help others before seeking one’s own Realization? Nothing but a resolve to remain in a state of ignorance (avidya). And how will that help others? It means clinging to the ego one has sworn to dissolve, regarding it as supremely wise and beneficent! In the language of theism, it reveals an overwhelming arrogance, the decision to show God how to run His world or to run it for Him.

Whatever may have been the traditional Mahayana discipline, this urge to help others by being a guru before one’s time is one of
the greatest pitfalls for the aspirant today. According to Milarepa, one of the great Mahayana saints,

One should not be over hasty in setting out to help others before one has realized the Truth; if one does, it is a case of the blind leading the blind.
-The Life of Milarepa, Tibet’s Great Yogi,
by Lobzang Jivaka and John Murray

We may find some compassion in vowing to help others, but more likely we will find more vanity and egoism. Few things so flatter the ego as the dream of being a guru surrounded by the adulation of disciples. Few things so impede an aspirant as turning one’s energy outwards to guide others when it should still be turned inwards to oneself. In spiritual things it is true, as the nineteenth-century economists falsely asserted about material things, that you help others most by helping yourself. Maharshi never indulged such people. He told them, “Help yourself first before you think of helping others.”
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Karma Marga
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The position of a Hindu sadhu or sannyasin is quite different. On renouncing property, family, and caste, he becomes a homeless wanderer. Nobody is responsible for his maintenance. He is expected to wander, begging for food and accepting whatever is given. If his presence makes a strong impression, followers may gather around him and attend to his needs. If he has some skill that is valued, he may accept food and shelter from an ashram in exchange for his services. He may even accept an allowance from his former family or from some benevolent householder but, generally, he has no material security, no routine of life, and no regular occupation.

During Maharshi’s lifetime, one often heard people ask his permission to renounce the world and go forth as sadhus, but I never once
heard him consent:

Why do you think you are a householder? The similar thought that you are a sannyasi will haunt you even if you go forth as one. Whether you continue in the household or renounce it and go to live in the forest, your mind haunts you. The ego is the source of thought. It creates the body and world and makes you think of being a householder. If you renounce it [your home life], it will only substitute the thought of renunciation for that of the family, and the environment of the forest for that of the household. But the mental obstacles are always there for you. They even increase greatly in the new surroundings. Change of environment is no help. The one obstacle is the mind, and this must be overcome whether in the home or in the forest. If you can achieve this in the forest, why not in the home? So why change the environment? Your efforts can be made even now, whatever be the environment.
-The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi in His Own Words

Notice that Bhagavan did not say, “The mental obstacles remain the same for you in the new surroundings,” but “They even increase greatly in the new surroundings.” In fact, I have seen a number of sad cases of this. A person’s professional work keeps the mind occupied on the surface while at the same time permitting an undercurrent of remembering or meditation. Bhagavan urged people to foster this undercurrent, to do one’s work impersonally, asking oneself, “Who does this work? Who am I?” As an illustration, he spoke about the actor who plays his part on the stage quite well, although knowing at heart that he is not the person he acts. Therefore, the actor does not get elated if the playwright has allotted that person final success, or dejected if he has allotted failure or a tragic death.

A person’s professional work may be irksome; it often is. One may feel disappointed at how much more progress could be made if the whole day was free for spiritual practice. But before taking the drastic step of renouncing life in the world, one should try to occupy the mind exclusively with meditation or whatever spiritual practice one performs from the time of waking in the morning until sleep can no longer be held off at night. One will find that one cannot hold the mind persistently to the quest even for one whole day. Only at a high level of development does the mind cease to demand outer activity. Deprived of the irksome but relatively harmless activity of professional work, it will turn instead to more injurious activities such as daydreaming, planning, scheming, or social trivialities and, as Maharshi said, the mental obstacles will “increase greatly.”

Nor can we fill the gap by reading. We may find a certain amount of reading helpful and, in many cases, necessary, especially at the beginning, but excessive reading can become a drug, dulling the mind and distracting from real spiritual effort. Once the mind is convinced of the basic truth of Identity, why reconvince it over and over again? Why study techniques that one is not going to use; theories that one does not need? Sometimes something one reads may come as a useful reminder and spur one on to greater or wiser effort, but much of it acts just like a drug to keep the mind occupied. Reading may even lead to gluttony for useless facts, pride in possession of them, or arrogance at the thought of understanding more than the writer.

Family ties may also seem irksome. It may appear that one would have a freer mind for sadhana without them. Yet, in most cases, we can make family life a discipline for subduing egoism, which is the purpose of sadhana. Removing family ties all too often invites an upsurge of egoism, leaving a person free to think exclusively of oneself-the impression one is making on others, one’s progress on the path, even one’s physical health and material needs.

Of course, if a sannyasin really renounces everything and has to beg and cook his food, that may prove occupation enough, though not necessarily a nobler or more spiritually profitable activity than that which he has renounced. If, however, one retains sufficient means of subsistence to escape this and the mind remains without any occupation other than sadhana, there is grave danger of deterioration. Desire, which one may rashly thought to have conquered, may rise again. One may also fill the gap by setting oneself up as a guide to others when one should still be concentrating on one’s own progress. One may fall victim to undesirable activity or come under the domination of a false guide. Finally, one may simply sink into boredom and trivialities from which one will eventually seek escape by renouncing the quest entirely. One who has seen so many cases of renunciation leading to deterioration can only advise people earnestly to refrain and put up with the irksome but protective outer shell of professional and family life.

Moreover, spiritual growth, like the growth of a seed, takes place in the dark. Grace sinks down into it like gentle rain. Progress may be the greatest when least visible, even when one is dejected and thinks one is falling back. To strip away the outer cover of routine life and try to subject ourselves to the full, day-long glare of the conscious mind may do us incalculable harm. From this point of view, also, it is better not to renounce.

This caution, however, does not apply to Christians or Buddhists thinking of becoming monks since, as I said above, the monastic routine of life is, in most cases, quite an active Karma Marga, whether in the original or the modern meaning of the word.
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The Problem of Suffering

Some theorists are perplexed by what they call “the problem of suffering.” The philosopher Hume even thought he had discovered in it a weapon to destroy religion. God, he argued, in order to be God, must be both good and omnipotent, but the existence of suffering proves that God either does not want to prevent it or is unable to, which is to say that God is either not good or not omnipotent, and in either case is not God. Therefore, there is no God.

Certainly one can agree that there is no anthropomorphic God of the sort that Hume envisaged, no kind, old man sitting in a back room, working out people’s destinies and allotting rewards and punishments. There is no God with a human scale of values; no God made in the likeness of humankind. To postulate such a God would mean that the object of human life is mundane happiness, and God’s job is to ensure it. There are people who get through life with no great suffering-no actual hunger, no lack of clothing or shelter, reasonable security, fairly friendly relations with those around them, few long or painful illnesses, and finally, death while sleeping. Is that the perfect life? If God could arrange for everyone to get by as easily as that, would He have done his job? Would He be accepted by such critics? Then why did Christ tell some of his followers to give up their possessions and become mendicants? Why did he draw people to a life in which, he warned them, they would be persecuted and even killed? Obviously, he had a totally different conception of values.

The question of suffering is bound up with the question of values, and this is dependent on the meaning or purpose of life. Do those who complain of suffering recognize any meaning or purpose at all? If their aim is not merely to get by without too much hardship, what is it? To serve others? That would mean to help others get by without too much hardship, so that ultimately it comes to the same thing. Is there anything for which it is ultimately worthwhile to face suffering? If not, life would indeed be dismal.
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Quest and Egoism

Sometimes our first perception of truth has a transforming effect, bringing out all that is beautiful within us, so that our friends find us to be a new and delightful person. But that is only temporary. In the aftermath of awakening, our vast tendencies may surface. Those who marveled at our improvement may begin to find us worse than before and question whether it would not have been better had we never put our hand to the plough. At this point, the armies of our noble and regressive tendencies must enter into battle, which in fact may last a lifetime.

Even with this understanding, how do we explain the many cases of aspirants who were outright egoists before they took to the path and seem to remain so afterwards? Moreover, what of the good, kind-hearted people who do not take any path? When Christ was asked why he associated with riff-raff, he answered the sick need a doctor, not the healthy. There may have been some sarcasm in this statement, since one can hardly imagine that those who challenged Christ were spiritually healthy. Nevertheless, those who recognize that they are spiritually sick often seek treatment. That is why it is so often eccentrics and outsiders that become aspirants.

An American woman once asked Bhagavan why we should seek Realization, and he answered, “Who asks you to if you are satisfied with life as it is?” But he went on to explain that people often become dissatisfied with life and they turn to God for guidance. This insight explains why the good, comfortable, kind-hearted people seldom become seekers. They lack the spur of initial discontent to start them off. Christ said that those who seek shall find, but before one even knows that there is anything to seek, one may have to reject the sham satisfaction provided by everyday life. Tragic events may turn a nonseeker into a seeker, yet the call beckons the prosperous no less than the indigent, the successful as well as the failures. The call may stem from boredom, as well as tragedy.

There is also another, more psychological explanation why many egoists take the path (and it is only a matter of degree, because we are all egoists, more or less, until the ego is extinguished). Although committed to self-destruction, the ego has grand expectations of achievement. Some mystery religions have treated initiates like a king or a god for a year, only to be sacrificed at the year’s end. This process symbolizes ego-death, except that on the spiritual path, we do not have a fixed term for our self-sacrifice, and we can postpone it indefinitely. Even if the ego chooses not to make the hazardous choice of self denial, everyday life will confront it with the ultimate extinction of death.

The quest goes in alternate waves of expansion and contraction, symbolized by Jupiter and Saturn. Our task in this process remains quite simple-what we have to do is to keep the mind still, take cognizance of outer happenings, concentrate on the mere fact of Being, and remain poised and alert for promptings from within. It is as simple as that. Although it is simple, few people find it easy. While shaving or stirring the porridge, we are tempted to let the mind ramble on incessantly over “What I will say to George in the office?” and so on. These ramblings have two features in common. First, they center around a character called “I” who measures all events in terms of good and evil, advantage and disadvantage; sages declare this “I” to be fictitious. Second, these mental rumblings add nothing to the success of that presumptive character, but merely mull over what has already been decided or will have to be decided in due course. They have the disastrous effect of deafening the mind to the still, small voice of the Self and preventing spiritual intuition or awareness of Self from flowing. In this way the presumptive “I,” like an evil ghost, seems to usurp clear awareness of the Self.

While the mind of the student is filled with rambling thought, the mind of the realized person is dead [to identification with thought]. Though this statement appears paradoxical, the mind of the Sage is quite alive for receiving impressions. Inwardly, it receives awareness and intuitions of the Self, while outwardly it cognizes things and events. In both cases, the mind does not usurp the role of creator, projecting an imaginary world for an illusory being. Still, receptive, able to reflect the light of the Self, the mind also functions more efficiently when set free from its habitual agitated state.

Most people find it rather difficult to end the mind’s rumbling and to experience pure awareness of Being. Thus, the paths laid down by different religions offer them support. Asking oneself “Who am I?,” being mindful of one’s actions, watching the breath, repeating a mantra, concentrating on a scriptural text, or puzzling over an insoluble problem-all these are methods to control and still the mind.
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This and That

Why should a quest be necessary? Why should a person not grow naturally into their true state, like a horse or an oak tree? Why should human beings alone, of all creatures, be tempted to misuse their faculties and have to curb their desires to grow to their true breadth and stature? To answer this question, we must understand what differentiates human beings from other creatures. Some researchers have attributed the difference simply to the greater intelligence and ability that comes from our more developed brain. This is patently untrue. Many creatures have greater ability than we do in one ability or another. A hawk has keener sight, a migratory bird has a better memory for places and directions, a dog has a stronger sense of smell, and a bat has a wider range of hearing. What really distinguishes human beings from other creatures is self-consciousness. Not only are we human beings, but we know consciously that we are. We may see this faculty with greater intelligence, but not in the commonly understood sense of outwardly turned intelligence. Being self-conscious implies the deliberate use of our faculties and the power of deciding how and whether to use them. And this power is also a necessity. Having the power to direct our faculties imposes on us the necessity of doing so, since even refusal to do so would be our choice or direction, and not spontaneous as with other creatures.

Theologians express the dilemma of human consciousness in the belief that God gave human beings free will. With it comes the choice of whether to obey or disobey God, and thus to work out our own weal or woe. Intellectuals often scoff at such doctrines, which are only picturesque expressions of fundamental truths. We simply cannot use our faculties as naturally as a bird or fox can, because we lack a natural human action, while there is a natural bird-action or fox-action. Humans, of course, have certain natural instincts, just as a bird or fox has (i.e., the instincts to eat, procreate and preserve life), but humans mayor may not choose to obey them in any specific situation related to the complexities of life. Our selfconsciousexistence forces us to choose how to use our faculties. Even when we attempt to use them in what is considered the natural way we are making a choice, and we could surely find someone to contest it. We call this choice free will, which is, therefore, not only a prerogative but an obligation for us.
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Before we are drawn to the quest, we are directly conscious of only one being, which could therefore be called “this” -this which wants coffee for breakfast, this which has a toothache, this which decides to call on so-and-so or read such-and-such a book. We know other people, things, and events only indirectly, through our senses (including our reason, which Vedanta calls the “inner sense”). However, a time may come when we apprehend Beingof another kind: potent, unconfined, awe-inspiring, which we may think of as “That.” Hereafter, the dominant theme of life is the relationship between “this” and “That,” between the individual who experiences, classifies, and decides and the dimly perceived Reality. Our mental training decides whether we regard “That” as other than “this” or as the hidden Self of it. In any case, theoretical conclusions help us very little. What opens before one is a dynamic venture, the attempt to subordinate “this” to “That.” Ramana Maharshi said:

Under whatever name and form one may worship the Absolute Reality, it is only a means for realizing it without name and form. That alone is true Realization, wherein one knows oneself in relation to that Reality, attains peace and realizes one’s identity with It.
-Forty Verses on Reality (v. 5)

The attempt to do this is the quest. Becoming convinced of the identity of “this” with “That” means realizing it. In fact, intellectual understanding arrives only as the preliminary position from which to set out on the quest of Realization. “This” feels not only the power, but also the grace and pervading beauty of “That,” and is strongly attracted to it. Whether we call “That” God or Self, this is shaken by powerful waves of love and devotion toward it. The attraction is so powerful that “this” feels itself being drawn in to be devoured and merged in “That.” It also senses that absorption will produce what is called “the peace that passeth all understanding.” At the same time, “this” struggles against being absorbed, clinging tenaciously to the surface life which Christ exhorted it to give up. It still wants its own separate individual existence, along with its own decisions and enjoyments. Therefore, it may feel waves of resentment or actual hostility to “That.”

I sought to devour thee; come now and devour me; then there will be peace, Arunachala!
-The Marital Garland of Letters (v. 28), by Sri Ramana Maharshi

That is why (except in the rarest of cases) the quest is not a single, simple event. Normally, “this” clings to its separate, individual life with one hand, while reaching out for the vast, universal life with the other. Moreover, the two cannot co-exist. “This” must surrender utterly to “That” and consent to be devoured before it can merge in the peace of supreme Identity. And it fights against it persistently and cunningly, constantly changing its ground, weapons, and tactics. When “this” is dislodged from one fortress, it slips around the rear of the attacker and sets up another.

Therefore, the uneven course that the quest takes is never a gradual, smooth ascent. It always goes in alternate waves of grace and deprivation, expansion and contraction. A phase when life is a lilt of beauty is followed by one of harsh aridity, when all that was achieved seems lost, and all grace withdrawn. This alternation happens because when “this” turns in love and humility to “That,” it draws upon itself the grace, which is uninterruptedly radiating from “That,” like light from the sun; “this” then steals the grace for its own use or aggrandizement. Whether in thought or deed, it grows proud, considers the grace its own, and thus interposes its own dark shadow before the luminosity of “That,” causing an eclipse and shutting off the flow of grace. Again and again it repeats this pattern, learning only gradually and by repeated bitter experience. Only when, in final desperation, it brings itself to complete surrender, does lasting peace appear. Then “That” becomes “This.” There is no other.

Who is Who

We ask, “Who am I?” but is there an “I”? Initially, we presume that there is. Then, we ask who or what it is. There just IS-not I, he, it, or anything, just IS.

We try to divide up this simple IS by pronouns-I, he, you and by “this” and “that,” but is it really divisible? I feel Being and use the word “I” for it, but that does not mean that there is any separateness about it. You also feel Being and use the same word “I” for it of course, because it is the same being.

Outwardly, Being takes form as a world of things and events. It cognizes this world by means of “my” faculties. In fact, everyone has this sense of “me” and “my.” Being has three aspects. First, there just Is. Second, there is the manifest world. Third (or perhaps this should be put second), there is the focal point, the cluster of faculties called “me,” through which the manifest world is cognized. In all cases, pure Being or Is-ness remains the same, whether the manifest world and the “me” are there or not.

People often remark, “I am an infinitesimal, evanescent fragment in this vast universe.” True, but it is no less true that this vast universe is an infinitesimal, evanescent appearance within me. What-is remains the same, whether manifested in the universe or not. The pure sense of Being that I feel just is; it is the same as what-is. Saying that there is no “I” is the same as saying that there is nothing else.

To say that there is a subjective “me” and an objective “me” would open the door to misunderstanding, because all technical terms do that. However, at the same time it might point the way to understanding. Technical terms do that, too; that is why we find it so hard to abandon them. We could see the subjective “me” as the focal point between Being and the manifest world, and the objective “me” as that part of the manifest world which expresses itself on a par with you, Susan, James, and John. When, true to its nature, the subjective me sees every objective me equally; that is to say, it loves its neighbor as itself. It is attracted exclusively and completely back toward Being. That is to say, it loves God with all its heart and mind and strength.

In fact, fallen humanity is not true to its nature. People need authentic meditation experience before they even begin to feel impersonal “I” -ness, the unity of Being. Even when they do, they often continue feeling the restricted individual “I” sense. Every time I feel a thrill of pleasure at being praised or annoyance at being criticized; if I take the corner seat in a train and leave my companion a less comfortable place; when I take a second cup of tea and there is not enough to go round; or imagine myself in some role or dread some eventuality, I am proclaiming the individual “me” in action. And actions speak louder than words. What good is it to say that there is no ego, yet behave as though there were? Obversely, living on the assumption that there is an ego prevents one from realizing that there is not, and from realizing our true nature.

Many great Teachers, including Ramana Maharshi, have said that we are not bound, so there can be no Liberation. Yet, paradoxically, they have also urged us to seek Liberation. We must have a clear understanding of the words we use to avoid being tangled up in them. What are we liberated from? From the ego, our belief in an ego, or the illusion of an ego? If there is no ego then, of course, there can be no bondage to it and no need for Liberation from it. But so long as I live as though there were an ego, and take offense at an insult, there is an ego for me, and I am bound by it or by the service I render to it.

While my true Self is not bound, bondage to the (real or illusory) ego obscures the true Self. Realization of the Self is the same as Liberation from the ego.

What does it matter if I believe in a separate, individual self, an ego? Why do spiritual teachers speak of it as a sort of crime? Because it is. It is “original sin.” All technical terms, such as Self, ego, sin, God, or mind mislead us. These terms, which become personified like characters on a stage, need to be reexamined from time to time. Being (what-is) uses the mental faculty to report and circulate perceptions from the manifest world as submitted by my other faculties. However, very early in life this mental faculty begins to find some of the reports made to it pleasant and others disturbing. In this way, the mental faculty builds itself up into a fictitious person who demands the pleasant experiences and rejects (or tries to reject) the unpleasant ones. For this purpose, it uses and disposes of the other faculties. We call this fictitious person “mind” or “ego.” They are the same.
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Concentration and Detachment

What we need is simply to take things as they come, reacting in the way we feel to be right, interfering as little as possible. Then things will happen correctly of their own accord, and grace will flow unimpeded. We do not have to induce divine grace to flow, only to refrain from obstructing it.

Two kinds of obstruction prevent grace from flowing and make the path long and arduous: distraction and attachment. Therefore, we have to cultivate their opposites: concentration and detachment.

Let us first consider concentration. The untrained mind seldom can concentrate steadily on a particular thought at all for any length of time. It flits about restlessly from thought to thought. The same phenomenon occurs in conversation. For instance, at a social gathering people seldom talk things through to a conclusion or discuss any subject seriously, but instead butterfly talk, flitting from one topic to another. Let the person with an untrained mind see how long the mind can be held to anyone theme. Getting past thirty seconds would be a great achievement for such a person. How much training, then, do we need to hold the mind to pure awareness?

Some teachers prescribe exercises for concentration, but this approach is seldom more than a parlor game. When it does have any effect, it may do more harm than good unless the mind is simultaneously being purified. Egoism is more dangerous in a concentrated mind than in a distracted one.
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