Although widely revered, some commentators doubt that Ramana Maharshi was fully realized. The reason they generally give is that Ramana never had a teacher, and a teacher is necessary for full Self-realization. The traditional advaitic doctrine is that… at some time during the association with a teacher the self has to be surrendered totally to the teacher, who gives it back with love. Having no teacher, Ramana never surrendered. Being self-taught, he could not genuinely or effectively surrender to himself?
‘Liberation is never of the person, it is always from the person’. Surrendering, or as it is often called, renunciation, is not easy for most people. It is the surrendering of the false self which has taken up residence in one. There has to be a willingness to surrender the false self, but the false self will do everything in its power to make you believe it is your real self, and so you will not want to give it up. At the moment of potential renunciation a very characteristic turbulence is created, a strong mental and emotional turbulence, into which, unnoticed, a suggestion is slipped. We lap suggestion as cats lap milk. The suggestion is usually in two parts: a desire and an image of oneself. Although the Self has no form, and therefore no image or reflection of it is possible, nevertheless because of the fear created in the turbulence, we identify with the suggested false self and, once identified, we are fearful of its loss, believing we are being asked to give up our real self. By identifying with the false self, we become it and thus preserve it. Calming down, you may even glimpse the false self appearing quite satisfied with its survival. All desire manifests through the desire-body, the jiva; the genuine Self desires nothing. By identifying with what one is not, we identify with its desires. It is the combination of fear and desire which keeps one identified with what one is not. All that can be done when the turbulence is induced, is to remember that all movement is due to the interaction of the three gunas and the five subtle elements, and movement is a characteristic which betrays their presence, but the genuine Self is always still. Any self which is presented in conditions of turbulence and its movements cannot be the genuine Self. You cannot become yourself by movement towards it. You cannot be yourself by identification with it.
Renunciation happens through Self-knowledge. First you must glimpse and know something of own self, only then can you detach from both the five subtle elements and consciousness, which are the media through which impressions of all the false selves are created and transmitted. Helpful practices towards renunciation include the daily sacrifice of desire and fear. ‘It would be a mistake to exteriorize the guru, because surrender is surrender to your own Self. Devotion to the teacher is not dualistic, since he is not separate from you, because he is actually a manifestation of your own Self. You neither fear the teacher, nor beg from him. The true teacher will not imprison his disciple in a prescribed set of ideas, feelings, and actions, on the contrary, he will show him the need to be free from all ideas and set patterns of behaviour’. Satsang, good company, does not mould, it liberates. Nisargadatta has a warning… “Beware of all that makes you dependent. Most of the so-called ‘surrenders to the Guru’ end in disappointment, if not in tragedy. Fortunately an earnest seeker will disentangle himself in time, the wiser for the experience.” If you do not trust the teacher, that is fine and even right. In time, the inner Self will present itself to you in the form of a teacher whom you can trust.
Genuine surrender is not mere verbal surrender; it is the surrender of all self-concern. This includes complete relinquishment of all concern for one’s past, present and future; no concern for one’s physical, mental and spiritual development or status. Surrender breaks the shell of self-defence. Once broken, the guru is no longer needed, and the guru knows you do not need him. Full surrender is to forget one’s name and form, it is to let go the ‘I am the body’ concept, including ‘I am in the body’ or ‘I have a body’. One who has surrendered has no body-consciousness. Surrendering means going beyond the gunas, having no quality, offering everything to Brahman. Complete surrender by itself is liberation. It is said to be followed by the dawning of a new life of love and beauty; the previous identity will go and you will speak with a new identity, but without taking yourself as a particular someone or something. You will know nothing about the new identity as it will talk spontaneously.
If Ramana’s behaviour is observed, it is noticeable he never answered any one’s questions, and always devised some sly strategy of throwing the question back upon the questioner himself. This may betray evidence for the lack of full realization, since his answers appeared never to meet the need in the moment, but were a repetitive, almost mechanical, variations of a doctrine that the question always contains its own answer and thus should be turned back onto the questioner. There would appear to be little place for compassion in such a pre-worked-out strategy. Many teachers in Western Schools of Advaita imitate this attitude, which they have turned into a semi-rigid doctrine and which, if traced back, has probably been derived from the Ouspenky-Gurdjieff style of teaching. It was the fragmentary, synthetic, quasi-metaphysical teaching of Gurdjieff, especially as interpreted by his chief disciple, P.D.Ouspensky, which helpfully predated the introduction of Advaita in some European and North American countries, but has largely been discarded for being limited, flawed and unnecessarily severe in its treatment of students. Although superseded, many teachers in Western Advaita schools continue to imitate Ouspensky’s abrupt, abrasive, dismissive, or evasive, response to questions. But… should one imitate one’s teacher? Are such schools simply imitation schools?
The question “What is Self-realization?” appears to be different from the question “Who am I?” These two distinct interrogatives direct attention to contrasted objectives. ‘What’ enquires into the name, identity, the nature or character, or the function, of something, or is predicative of consequence, value, or force. ‘What’ asks for an explanation, the reason why something occurs or exists, perhaps even its purpose, its quality, and its possible causal connections. ‘What’ is emphatically, impersonal. In contrast, ‘Who’ is essentially personal; it can be used as a pronoun about a person in the singular, or of persons in the plural. ‘Who’ is frequently used as a directed enquiry, in an emphatic or cogent sense, into someone’s origin, character, status etc, in an attempt to elucidate an identity, or some degree of end-responsibility of personal being or, occasionally and more widely, towards some abstract personification. Since the aims of the two types of question are fundamentally different, it would appear unlikely that their answers will be the same?
Some say there is no answer to the question “What is Self-realization” since it is ‘para’, ever transcendental to the fully extended range of faculties in man, ie beyond both consciousness and intelligence. It is frequently claimed that nothing can be said of Self-realization since it is, paramarthika, beyond the mind, and consequently beyond all thought, concept, and language which is produced by, limited by, and confined to the mind. The nearest anyone appears to have got to an answer to “What is Self realization?” is Nisargadatta who says it is awareness which is unaware that it is aware. You may notice there is no duality in this definition, since at this ultimate level there is only the Self, which is pure 100% awareness, but which is an incomprehensible and paradoxical form of awareness that is unaware of itself. It could be argued that as there is only the Self there can be nothing else to be aware of? If the Self were aware of itself, it would be defined as awareness of awareness, ie two awarenesses, one aware of the other… which is duality. Therefore, it would appear metaphysically impossible for the genuine Self to be aware of itself?
There are three serious difficulties with the attainment of Self-realization, so fundamental that there is considerable doubt that Self-realization is something that can be attained, or that attainment is even an appropriate word in relation to Self-realization. First, it is frequently said that you cannot know yourself, because the Self is not an object of knowledge. Various reasons are offered to explain this fact: One reason is… the Self, being knowledge itself, is the subject and never an object to be known. Another reason is… all knowledge is in the mind and the Self is beyond the mind, therefore there can be no knowledge of the Self. Many advaitins casually talk about Self-realization as Self-knowledge, but this would appear to be intrinsically contradictory. They may link the concept of Self-knowledge with Shankara’s thesis that only knowledge can destroy ignorance, and consequently associate knowledge with Self-realization. But the relationship between knowledge, ignorance and realization would appear to be more subtle than that?
Secondly and additionally, it is frequently said that you cannot see yourself, because similarly, if the ultimate Self is pure consciousness, then consciousness as the subject cannot simultaneously observe itself as an object. The paradox with this explanation is that consciousness always requires an object to be conscious of, yet if the Self is consciousness and there is nothing other than the one Self, then there is nothing left to be conscious of? Clearly, such contradictions suggest there is an error here. To escape contradiction, some advaitins, no less than Shankara, and Swami Paramarthananda who trained at Sringeri, as well as Nisargadatta, suggest that we have two consciousnesses. Nisargadatta is the clearest of these eminent jnanis and, in his deepest explanations of Advaita, separates consciousness and awareness. English is fortunate to have two words for consciousness: consciousness and awareness. In languages where there is only the one word, consciousness, it is very difficult to make the necessary distinction between the two fundamental types of consciousness.
The main differences between consciousness and awareness are… consciousness is light based, pure energy, the sattva sweetness in food and, surprisingly, is the fundamental fraud, since it reflects its light upon the screen of the mind to create the illusion of the world. Energy, of course, in essence, is entirely mechanical. Energy is associated with Shakti, and Shakti combines with Maya to create the total illusion. Shakti-Maya is the combination of universal energy with mathematical law (laws such as the law of three and the law of octaves etc), if Maya is interpreted correctly as being derived from the Sanskrit verbal root ‘ma’: to measure. Measurement is pure mathematics? Shakti does not manifest or take form without Maya. Energy without the framework of mathematical laws remains a primordial quantum field. As soon as energy combines with mathematical law… the whole and great variety of the universe becomes possible. Consciousness is Shakti’s energy. A mere speck of such consciousness creates the entire universe. Light is derived from the sun and we absorb it via food. The sun in Hinduism is the centre of Ishvara, and it is his light which becomes our consciousness. Therefore Ishvara, directly or indirectly, creates our world. Awareness, however, is not light based, and is not a form of energy. Awareness does not create a universe, real or illusory, because to the Absolute the world does not exist. Awareness stands behind consciousness, observing it… that is how you know it is there. That is how you know you are not consciousness.
Thirdly, and less frequently, it is said that you cannot be yourself, because the Self is beyond both being and non-being. Being, our sense of being, wanting to be, wanting to be forever, the enjoyment of being, and being terrified of our individual being experiencing an extinction for ever… is another subtle fraud. We live in a theatre, in the theatre that is the universe, and in theatres everything is a fraud. Ahamkara enacts the roll of the prompt in this theatre, it prompts the sense of ‘me’, the ego. Ahamkara is an emissary of Shakti-Maya, and is composed of the subtle element of air, the mere characteristic touch of which has power, the power to bring things into manifestation, to bring things to life. Ahamkara is the ‘I am maker’. Your buddhi, the higher intellect, your unseen spiritual self who is hiding behind you, is a mere static form floating in Ishvara’a light. Ahamkara touches the buddhi bringing it into manifestation. The mere touch of subtle air makes your spirit come to apparent life. The sense of ‘me’, the love of self, the sense of being, the love of being someone, are latent in the buddhi and are brought into animation by the power of Ahamkara. Once it fully manifests, once it comes alive, your buddhi projects your jiva, your nature, in the manner of an actor projecting his part. As soon as your jiva appears, then your pure consciousness, the Atman, completely identifies with it. The jiva is therefore your consciousness, the Atman, identified with what it is not. It becomes known as the jivatman. Consequently, if you identify with your consciousness, and thus with your jiva, you live the life of a natural person, for ever lamenting your limitation.
The Atman, being pure awesome consciousness looking outwards, does not know itself, since, being only consciousness and nothing else, it lacks knowledge. It is actually the Atman who asks the question; ‘Who am I?’ The answer suddenly appears in the form of a suggestion… ‘I am everything’. The Atman immediately accepts that it is everything. Shakti-Maya, by means of Ahamkara and its touch upon the buddhi, the higher intellect, next presents the jiva before the Atman. The Atman says to itself, ‘I am everything, therefore I am this jiva’. The Atman moves towards the jiva, embracing it as itself. Once identified with the jiva, a limited nature, the relatively unlimited Atman realizes it has made a mistake, but cannot disengage from it; this is because the power of the bond of the subtle element of water in the jiva is extremely strong. The bond is said to last for an eternity.
It is the Atman, pure consciousness, a type of awesome inner light, of magnificent and almost sacred quality, in which ignorance is located. It is the Atman in the form of the jivatman who undergoes transmigratory existence and is born again and again. The Atman is not the genuine Self. Consciousness, however pure and holy, is not the genuine Self. The genuine Self is never born, since it is the jivatman which is born, but because we identify with the suggestion that we are the Atman, and identify with our consciousness, and identify with a nature, which is the product of the intellect... we think we are born, we think we are living our life, we think we are the enjoyer of this life, we feel that the pursuit of enjoyment grows and evolves our being, and we believe our being is our own. And so we are what we think we are, and we think we are a being, perhaps even pure universal being itself.
In the world as a drama, you naturally believe you are the actor and you are in control of the part you play. That is the completely successful deception that your buddhi plays upon you. You do not realize that you are the part and it is your unseen spirit behind you who is the actor. The part can do nothing. Usually it does not even realize that it is a part in a drama. You were offered the part at conception, but you have long forgotten that. The instant you accept the part your Shakti goes away and arranges everything. She arranges the life and her servants, the dharmaduttas, open a window and place you through it into a line of time. Your Shakti wanted you to accept the part... but did you really want to accept it? You have forgotten all this, and thus... according to the jiva, according to the part in the drama, according to the magical power of Shakti-Maya... now all the trouble in your life will begin. The secret is to realize that the Shakti was offering the part to the jivatman, not to you. It is the jivatman who is present at conception and either accepts or rejects the offer of the incarnation, not you. Of course, if you identify with the jivatman, then you believe it is yourself who is being offered a life and who then undergoes birth. Although it is difficult, and despite many Advaita teachers saying everything is consciousness and you are consciousness etc… it is necessary to realize you are not consciousness. Consciousness is the Atman, and the Atman is an individual instance of the Paramatman, which is the collective of all the Atman, which is Ishvara, which is God, which is Saguna Brahman, the Brahman with the three gunas, in this case sattva guna, the lovely harmonious extremely desirable guna… which is merely part of the illusion. So, what is Self-realization? First, you are awareness of consciousness, and then, because even that has a trace of duality, you realize you are awareness which is unaware that it is aware.
If you cannot see yourself, cannot know yourself, and cannot even be yourself… what is left? There doesn’t seem to be very much, if anything, that is left. This is the classical Advaitic technique known as neti-neti, usually translated as: not this, not this. The idea here is that every thought, image and even the sense of being a self… are negated as not true, however many times such impulses appear. It is a long process which results in the genuine Self remaining, because although the false selves can be negated, the genuine Self can not be negated. But, the question arises… does the process of neti-neti result in nothing left at all? If so, are we an awareness, which resembles nothing? This would appear to be Nirguna Brahman, the state of darkness and alone, which is very close to Self-realization.
‘In solitude and darkness the last step is made, which ends ignorance and fear forever.’ [Nisargadatta].
The Parabrahman is transcendental to all this.
Ask questions about Self-realisation and share your experiences.
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