Migraine

Yesterday I had a migraine, for almost 24 hours. Ramana suggests that, when we are ill, we should meditate on the feeling “Who is ill?” I valiantly try to do this when I am in the throes of the malaise, but it is next to impossible. Therefore, I feebly wait for the waves of pain to pass before attempting any enquiry of the “Who am I” variety 🙂

But the overall point is well taken. We need to relentlessly and non-verbally ask the question, who is the centre of all experience? And, what is the relationship between the experiencer and the experience? Probably, this is our best chance of dissolving the habitual dualistic vision of ourselves in the world.

And eventually, this might work during migraines as well. Who knows.

Striving (re-blog from an earlier piece)

There is no reaching the Self. If Self were to be reached, it would mean that the Self is not here and now and that it is yet to be obtained. What is got afresh will also be lost. So it will be impermanent. What is not permanent is notworth striving for. So I say the Self is not reached. You are the Self, you are already that. Ramana.

If I think of my daily life, I see it as massively structured by the need to achieve things. Perhaps I need to get a job done. Perhaps I need to get it done better than the last time. Perhaps I need to outperform my colleague. I need to love more, or be loved more, and so on and on and on.

Unconsciously, maybe, this habit of achievement is then transferred onto the so called “spiritual” world. I need to achieve peace or happiness. I need to achieve enlightenment. I need to improve spiritually, become better than my fellow seekers.

The quote from Ramana, so brilliantly counter-intuitive yet so simple, puts to rest these empty tricks of the mind. There is nothing to achieve, nothing to perform, nowhere to go. The anxious mind is just making up these stories. Behind them, reality exists, pure, simple, hugely accepting.

It is easy to mistake this as a facile truth and to lapse into self-satisfaction and lethargy. But this is missing the point. It is very hard work to understand that reality exists without effort. Effort is in the realm of the ego; reality is something quite different, and it points to a different intelligence in daily living.

You are the Self, you are already that.

Striving

There is no reaching the Self. If Self were to be reached, it would mean that the Self is not here and now and that it is yet to be obtained. What is got afresh will also be lost. So it will be impermanent. What is not permanent is notworth striving for. So I say the Self is not reached. You are the Self, you are already that. Ramana.

If I think of my daily life, I see it as massively structured by the need to achieve things. Perhaps I need to get a job done. Perhaps I need to get it done better than the last time. Perhaps I need to outperform my colleague. I need to love more, or be loved more, and so on and on and on.

Unconsciously, maybe, this habit of achievement is then transferred onto the so called “spiritual” world. I need to achieve peace or happiness. I need to achieve enlightenment. I need to improve spiritually, become better than my fellow seekers.

The quote from Ramana, so brilliantly counter-intuitive yet so simple, puts to rest these empty tricks of the mind. There is nothing to achieve, nothing to perform, nowhere to go. The anxious mind is just making up these stories. Behind them, reality exists, pure, simple, hugely accepting.

It is easy to mistake this as a facile truth and to lapse into self-satisfaction and lethargy. But this is missing the point. It is very hard work to understand that reality exists without effort. Effort is in the realm of the ego; reality is something quite different, and it points to a different intelligence in daily living.

You are the Self, you are already that.

Death contd

I have somehow always been conscious of death, the temporariness of things. This awareness goes back as far as I can recall. I remember pulling out a small red copy of the New Testament from my father’s book case (I must have been around seven at the time) and checking the contents and index for the word death. I don’t remember what that particular search revealed!

And yet this awareness or consciousness has  never been a morbid one. There was fear, certainly, around the question, but gradually that fear became focussed as a kind of curiosity, a determination to “understand” the process of death, to try to be fully present when it happened, to figure out what exactly dying while living might mean, an idea many mystics have explored.

Ramana’s description conveys a kind of focussed purity, a consequence of staying with the idea of the dissolution of mind and body without any compromise. I think most of us compromise when it comes to meditating on death; the excuses, the shying away come very naturally. Ramana’s experience reveals, by contrast, a fantastic level of clarity and insight.

Death

I find this account of Ramana’s self-realisation tremendously moving and urgent. 

Ramana:

It was in 1896, about 6 weeks before I left Madurai for good that this
great change in my life took place. I was sitting alone in a room on
the first floor of my uncle’s house. I seldom had any sickness and on
that day there was nothing wrong with my health, but a sudden violent
fear of death overtook me. There was nothing in my state of health to
account for it nor was there any urge in me to find out whether there
was any account for the fear. I just felt I was going to die and began
thinking what to do about it. It did not occur to me to consult a
doctor or any elders or friends. I felt I had to solve the problem
myself then and there. The shock of the fear of death drove my mind
inwards and I said to myself mentally, without actually framing the
words: ‘Now death has come; what does it mean? What is it that is
dying? This body dies.’ And at once I dramatized the occurrence of
death. I lay with my limbs stretched out still as though rigor mortis
has set in, and imitated a corpse so as to give greater reality to the
enquiry. I held my breath and kept my lips tightly closed so that no
sound could escape, and that neither the word ‘I’ nor any word could
be uttered. ‘Well then,’ I said to myself, ‘this body is dead. It will
be carried stiff to the burning ground and there burn and reduced to
ashes. But with the death of the body, am I dead? Is the body I? It is
silent and inert, but I feel the full force of my personality and even
the voice of ‘I’ within me, apart from it. So I am the Spirit
transcending the body. The body dies but the spirit transcending it
cannot be touched by death. That means I am the deathless Spirit.’ All
this was not dull thought; it flashed through me vividly as living
truths which I perceived directly almost without thought process. ‘I’
was something real, the only real thing about my present state, and
all the conscious activity connected with the body was centered on
that ‘I’. From that moment onwards, the I or Self focused attention on
itself by a powerful fascination. Fear of death vanished once and for
all. The ego was lost in the flood of Self-awareness. Absorption in
the Self continued unbroken from that time. Other thoughts might come
and go like the various notes of music, but the ‘I’ continued like the
fundamental sruti note which underlies and blends with all other
notes.

(In Indian classical music, “sruti” refers to a musical note, as Ramana explains).

The Basics: Nisargadatta (contd)

“You give no attention to your self. Your mind is all with things, people and ideas, never with your self. Bring your self into focus, become aware of your own existence. See how you function, watch the motives and results of your actions. Study the prison you have built around yourself, by inadvertence. By knowing what you are not, you come to know yourself.”  I Am That, p4, Ch2

I return often to the quote above, even though I am very familiar with it. It structures so much of what I define as “meditation,” or awareness of inner and outer worlds.

Your mind is all with things, people and ideas. I am humbled by the day by day, hour by hour, indeed minute to minute processes of identification that take place in our minds and bodies.  Our consciousness seems to be spread out, like a drop of water on fine paper, over vastness in space and time. I can identify with my coffee cup, and insist that I drink only from that favourite cup because it gives me some intangible, fleeting comfort. I can pass by a landscape, a road, a house, and find my consciousness imprinted upon it because this particular spot arouses such a wealth of complex feelings in my mind and body: peace, desire, regret, shame. I can look at the moon, 360,000 kilometers away, and feel attached to its beauty and the memories it arouses. And so on all the way, I presume, to the edge of the known universe! Creation seems soaked with my identity; both penetrate and mingle with each other.

And it is this exact process of deep deep identification that the mystics are challenging. Focus on the “I” that identifies, they say, rather than the thing that it is identified with. Strip away all identification so that only the “I” remains. And then see what happens. Impossible, we exclaim. And the masters calmly reply: Who is this who proclaims that it is impossible? And the cycle begins again. . .

The Basics: Nisargadatta

“You give no attention to your self. Your mind is all with things, people and ideas, never with your self. Bring your self into focus, become aware of your own existence. See how you function, watch the motives and results of your actions. Study the prison you have built around yourself, by inadvertence. By knowing what you are not, you come to know yourself.”  I Am That, p4, Ch2

All mystics through the ages have stressed on this basic idea. Forget the blazing lights, the pure bliss, the oblivion of body. The hard work of bringing the daily self into the foreground is what they primarily emphasize (Krishnamurti, Joko Beck, Buddha himself) and yet this is the toughest part, the primary challenge, for our wandering minds.

“Your mind is all with things, people, ideas.” The fundamental point that Nisargadatta stresses upon is our identification with things, people, ideas. I see a picture of a gadget, say the new Kindle. My curiosity is aroused, but it is not just an abstract curiosity. I feel a strange sense of fulfillment, a swelling of my self, an added sense of solidity and self worth, when I imagine myself holding the Kindle. I feel that it will be a deep source of pleasure. I project myself holding it, explaining its power to my friends, I sense their curiosity and slight envy (unless of course they have a better model!) There is a deep abiding bond that is built up between myself and this object. In fact, my identity seems to have penetrated the object, so that we are one entity.

(If you feel that all this doesn’t apply to you–and many people reject the above model–just remember the last time you lost your wallet, or your cell phone, or your car keys. The bond with a familiar object, and with the security it represented, was broken, perhaps forever. What were your emotions at that point?)

And yet, when I acquire the object, why is there the sense of quiet deflation, the sense of a promise not quite fulfilled? Already I am planning mentally on the Kindle upgrade.

If all this is true of things, the depth of identification with people is exponentially stronger. I identify with my girlfriend because she is my primary source of pleasure: the pleasure of sex, the pleasure of “ownership” (yes, very subtle and refined, but ownership anyway), the pleasure of control and the pleasure of submission. The cycle of fulfillment and betrayal, emotional and physical, oscillates gently through the days, bringing in its wake tenderness, anger, jealousy by turn.  This cycle is so fascinating that it keeps me interested for months and years, until maybe a new fascination comes along.

And, finally, ideas. I feel no one has explained our obsession and identification with ideas more clearly than Krishnamurti. My idea of nation and my identification with it; my idea of religion and my identification with it; family; work. The list is endless. And, very much as with relationships, powerful emotions are associated with these identifications. When the identity is questioned, fierce anger and insecurity are aroused. When there is affirmation, there is a glow, an enhancement of self and (seemingly) well being.

…continued