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It’s a Pleasure to Un-Fuck Your Mind
Maureen: Dear Ramji!, thank you for Sandy’s letter and your comments – isn’t she lovely?!
Ram: She certainly is.
Maureen: I have some questions concerning the relationship between mind and the self, i.e. awareness (the subtle body) and awareness, the self. By the way, why do you put awareness and the subtle body between quotation marks? Is it because this awareness, the mind, is only reflected awareness?
Maureen: Okay, how do I manage to unfold this confusion to you? It usually starts in the morning. I wake up and I say to myself: “I am awareness, the self. Awareness is aware of this body, lying in bed.” That’s fine so far, but then I think, “This is just a thought, arising in the mind.” So it’s actually the mind saying, “I am the self, awareness.”
Ram: You are confusing the mind and the self. It may be that the mind is formulating the words “I am awareness,” but who is making the mind think this thought? In other words, before thought can happen, the self, awareness, has to illumine the mind. Your mind has a vasana for thinking about the self (because that is the way you have been using it for a couple of years), so it shines on this thought. Now, you can say that technically the mind is thinking the thought, but in actuality the mind can’t think the thought without awareness shining on it, so it is actually the self that is responsible for the thought. When the “I am the awareness” thought is over, the self illumines the next thought, “I need to get up and brush my teeth.”
Maureen: So here is the first confusion. How can the mind say, “I am awareness, the self”?
Ram: How can the mind say anything, “I am Maureen,” for example? You, the self, are using it to think about the self, so it just says it. It could just as well have thought, “The moon is blue.” If it is interested in the moon it will have moon-thoughts. The self understands that there is some sort of problem with a part of itself and is trying to give information that will correct the problem. The idea “I am awareness” is very useful for someone who is confused about their real identity.
Maybe the problem is that the thought “I am Maureen” is not wholly satisfying. When you think it, you become it. By that I mean that you identify with the complex of vasanas that it stands for and this causes an uncomfortable sense of limitation. So maybe the self is trying to offer the antidote to this limited identity. For example, if a person has homosexual vasanas but has been conditioned to think of his or herself as a heterosexual, the thought “I am heterosexual” will be uncomfortable. If the thought is changed to “I am homosexual” the suffering goes away. It is a common, everyday phenomenon these days. This small change of identity will obviously not solve all existential problems, because gender identities are limited and this puts them in conflict with the unlimited self (not to mention society), but at least a certain conflict has been resolved in this way.
Spiritual life is about getting an explanation for yourself that doesn’t conflict with who you truly are. So when a person has the wrong self-idea the self is always at work to correct the person’s thinking. It plants doubts about the way you see yourself – this is what the whole spiritual search is about. It is called “inquiry” and is going on automatically in everyone all the time, although in most people it only occasionally rises to the plane of consciousness. In your case you have become obsessed with the “who am I?” question. It is good to be obsessed (up to a point) because the obsession will cause you to stick to your quest until you have cracked the code. Seeing yourself as limited, as a person in time, not only causes subjective problems, it causes communication problems because it forces others to relate to you in a limited way (according to their limited view of themselves), making communication very difficult. When you see yourself as everything and everybody, both your subjective and objective problems disappear.
Maureen (continued): Then a whole bunch of question follows and they all culminate in the question: Is there a self beyond, outside and independent of the mind, or is it (the self) just an idea in the mind? Is the knowledge of the self not just an inference? But who would be aware of the self if not the mind? Yes, I know, the mind is nothing but the self, but it is the self in action, with name and form, even if it just apparently existing. So does the self need the mind to be aware of itself?
Ram: No. Definitely not. The self is self-aware. It does not need an instrument like the mind to know itself. The mind can know it, but as you say, its knowledge is inferential. Now, it may be that you believe that inference is not a valid means of knowledge, but it is. So the knowledge that there is a self based, for example, on tracing an effect, the mind, to its cause is valid knowledge. This is the basis of religion. It is obvious that there is a Creator. Otherwise, how could the creation appear? The self knows what it is, the mind doesn’t, so its ignorance should be removed by whatever means works. The ignorance is not removed by the mind. The ignorance in the mind is removed by the self.
The mind won’t be aware of the self, because the mind is inert, jada. It seems to be conscious because it is such a subtle form of the self, but it isn t. It is true the mind is subtler than physical matter, but it is not subtle enough to directly perceive the self.
Maureen: I still don’t understand how there can be awareness without content.
Ram: Awareness is the content. The mind is the container. One need only separate the two in one’s understanding. See what part of you changes and what part doesn’t. The part that changes is the mind, the container, the shell or sheath that seems to contain the self. The part that doesn’t change, the essence within, is the self.
Maureen: Is it possible at all that nothing arises?
Ram: In the self nothing arises. When maya is operating, the self seems to arise as mind.
Maureen: What is the difference between the reflected awareness, the subtle body, and the self?
Ram: The self is conscious. The subtle body is not conscious. It is chitta, a subtle material that reflects the light of the self. It is through the chitta that the self is first known by a mind in darkness. In a sattvic moment, the self, thinking of itself as an ego, perceives light within and begins to seek itself. It is very subtle and therefore confusing. The mind is trying to understand something, maya, that is responsible for its existence. This is equivalent to any human being trying to know the first human being. That there was a first human being is obvious. Inference tells us this. And inference should be enough to stop us seeking to know who the first human being was. If the mind doesn’t accept a perfectly valid means of knowledge and stop its search, it is simply going to end up frustrated. If you don’t know what can be known by the mind and what can’t with the means of knowledge available to it, you will just confuse yourself. The beauty of Vedanta is that it is a means of self-knowledge that begins where other means leave off – so it can deliver knowledge of something that other means can’t.
Anyway, the subtle body seems to be conscious because of its proximity to the self. In Atma Bodh Shankara uses the image of an iron ball in a blacksmith’s fire to illustrate the relationship between the self and the mind. The ball is inert iron, but it glows like a fire because every atom is pervaded by the fire. Every tiny particle of chit shakti is pervaded by the self, so it glows like the self.
Maureen: What is knowledge?
Ram: Knowledge is what removes ignorance. You don’t know where your keys are. I show you that they are in your purse. The knowledge removes the ignorance.
Maureen: Knowledge appears, just as ignorance appears, so it is not the actionless self. It is an appearance in the mind, so what does it have to do with the self?
Ram: A part of the self has apparently forgotten what it is, so the self uses knowledge to remove its ignorance of itself and give the mind peace.
Maureen: Every realization happens in the mind, so is there something like an “objective truth” at all?
Ram: There is no objective truth. All truth depends on the one who knows it. Or put it this way: the only objective truth is the self. By this is meant that the ultimate knower is awareness, the self. And this knower will always be the same. All truths in maya are conditional and relative.
Maureen: Please don’t throw me out of your heart for all this heresy!
Ram: How can I do this? You are my heart.
Maureen: If I am the self, limitless, all-pervasive awareness, independent of everything, why am I only aware of Maureen’s body and mind? (I know, this is a confusion between the two “I”s, but I just don’t get that clear.)
Ram: You are aware of every body and every mind. How? As the self. It is the same awareness in every living being. Maureen has unlimited awareness, but limited knowledge. God has unlimited awareness and limitless knowledge. Only the object, knowledge, is different. God is the self with reference to the totality of the creation, and Maureen is the self with reference to a specific individual. God’s knowledge is not superior to an individual’s knowledge. It is just the sum total of all individual knowledges, including all the individual animals and plants. If you add together the knowledge of a bird and the knowledge of a tree and the knowledge of Einstein, is the total of this knowledge superior to any one of these individual knowledges? Whether the knowledge is vast and deep or shallow and limited, it is all the same to the self.
Anyway, you don’t get more happiness by getting more knowledge, so there is no point for an individual to know what God knows. God does not have a potential for greater happiness than any individual. All the fame, knowledge and power that belongs to God does not make God any more satisfied than the knowledge “I am limitless, non-dual, actionless awareness” makes an individual. Self-knowledge for God is the same as self-knowledge for the individual. Knowledge does not complete you, because you are already complete. Knowledge just makes you appreciate what you are.
Maureen: Whenever I tell myself that I am everything, the question arises: “Then, why am I not aware of everything?” When I am miserable, I sometimes tell myself that all glory is my glory, all the happiness in this world is my happiness, so why fret? But then the mind asks: “If that is so, why am I not aware of all this happiness? Why am I just aware of this particular misery here?”
Ram: If you look through your reading glasses, will you see ultraviolet and infrared? If you look through Maureen you will only see what is in Maureen. You will not see what is in anything else. But if you understand that what you are aware of is you, whether it is the total or some small fraction of the total, you will be happy. Misery is just as good as happiness to the self. Why? Because both are the self, but the self is free of both. The self does not draw its happiness from objects. It is self-satisfied, meaning it is satisfied with itself.
Here is another argument. You say, “Why am I not aware of all this happiness?” But I say how can you say you are not aware of all this happiness when you say that all this happiness exists? If you are not aware of it, then you will be quite satisfied with your misery. Why? Because you will not know that there is anything else.
Maureen: And in the last satsang you said, “It is true that if you know that this is a benign non-dual reality fear does not happen. However, if one’s knowledge of this fact is a bit shaky, then it is possible, when the desire for love arises in a mind that is not pure (the desire for love does not arise in a pure mind, because it experiences love every mind) for one to allow the mind to fall in love.”
Who is that “one” that allows the mind to fall in love? Who else is there except the mind?
Ram: The self under the spell of apparent ignorance allows the mind to have its way. When this apparent ignorance is removed by apparent knowledge, the self may not allow the mind to have its way, because it knows there is nothing to gain. Alternatively, it may allow the mind to have its way because it knows that whatever karma the mind creates cannot affect it. An impure mind is one that does not know that the self is the source of all true love. It believes that love is only to be had by contact with objects.
Maureen: Dear Ramji, maybe this is all mind-fuck. But you say understanding is the only way, and understanding happens in the mind, so we have to “un-fuck” it, right?
Ram: Sure. It’s a pleasure to un-fuck your mind. Please make sure you don’t fall in love with your ignorance. If you do, I am out of a job.
Maureen: Underneath or above or behind all these questions there is a certainty, a conviction, that it is all true, that I am this One No-thing, that nothing can ever happen either to ME or me, but my mind is just too confused, tamasic, impure or whatever, to see it clearly and understand it. Lilly says: “Loving is the one most precious thing one gets from loving.” How lucky I am to love you!
Ram: Ah, this is music to my ears. How lucky you are to love. Stick with the certainty. That’s you, the self. Work on the mind’s questions patiently, but don’t take it too seriously. You can let it be a bit ignorant. It doesn’t matter what it knows. Ignorant or not, you are still you.
Maureen: Dear Ramji!, I just got your answer, thank you! Don’t worry, I’m not falling in love with my ignorance; it’s more like a breakout of rash: it itches and I have to scratch, but I don’t love it. What feels good is the conviction, not the doubt. Now I see that the kernel of my confusion was that I forgot that the mind is inert. I had endowed the mind with consciousness. Now I see at least this point clearer. And thank you for the last bit: it doesn’t matter what the mind knows. Ignorant or not, I am still I.
~ Goodnight and loads of love, Maureenji
Ram: Dear Maureen, very good. Your mind has zeroed in on the essence. One needs to always distinguish the mind from the self. The mind is the self, but the self is free of the mind. “Sentient” and “insentient” are good words to indicate the difference. You cannot ascribe sentiency to the mind, only to the self. And the last statement was a statement of pure knowledge: whether the mind is ignorant of not, “I am still I.” I really like this statement. It is an Upanishad in itself.
There are not two selves, one limited, the other limitless. There is only the “I” with apparent knowledge or apparent ignorance.