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Clinging to the “I Sense”
Peter: Dear Ramji, HARI OM!
I hope both you and Sundari are doing well. I am looking forward to this summer when I hope to see you again in Berkeley and Trout Lake.
Meanwhile, a question came up in my Vedanta class about the ego. We were studying Drg Drysha Viveka, sloka 12, which alludes to the Gita 2:5. As Krishna explains to Arjuna, the body is ever-perishing while the subtle body continues along with the causal body to eventually attached to another body. But what about the ego? Yes, it is a part of the subtle body and so is the intellect. But both Ramana and Nisargadatta stressed the “I-thought” as a vital part of their practices of self-inquiry. When the self, reflecting through the intellect first identifies with the new body, the “I-thought,” the ego, is formed. Now our archarya said that the ego is beginningless. It continues on with the subtle body lifetime after lifetime until one is self-realized, then the ego drops away. But isn’t a new ego formed, each time we have that initial I-thought identification with each new body? And when that body dies, doesn’t the ego also drop away, since it no longer can identify with a body? Isn’t that true of the intellect as well?
Since one may have been a calm, rational doctor in a past life and a fiery, emotional opera singer in their new life, the singer would have no intellectual knowledge of medicine. And the doctor before her may have had only a little knowledge of music. So their intellects are different as well as their egoic personalities.
I know you are very busy, Ramji, so no hurry to answer, whenever it is convenient. Thank you so much for the vital work you are doing both in your satsangs and at ShiningWorld.
Ramji: Good thinking, Peter. Let me explain the problem. The idea that the ego is a problem for moksa when it is present and not a problem when it is gone is ignorance (avidya), i.e. duality. It is only a problem if the mind is incapable of non-dual thought. Reality is non-dual consciousness, i.e. you (satya). By the grace of maya it appears in two orders: satya and mithya. The ego, the “I sense,” is in the mithya dimension. Anything in the mithya dimension does not affect or negate satya, just as the table in a wooden table does not negate the wood. If you weigh the wood and subtract the weight of the table, the weight of the wood is the same.
Satya, you, are always free of mithya, so there is no reason to get rid of mithya, the “I sense.” The problem is due to a confusion of the term “I sense” and ignorance. The “I sense” is an effect of ignorance that remains when Vedanta reveals the fact that you are limitless awareness. Although it remains, it is as good as non-existent because it has no effect on you, as I mentioned. The “I sense” is an essential component of the subtle body because you can’t do actions unless they are motivated by a thought (“I want” or “I don’t want,” for instance), that’s the way Isvara has set it up.
Although Ramana and Nisagaradatta were jnanis, they both were not proper teachers, not that they claimed to be teachers. Ramana didn’t make clear the distinction between Yoga and Vedanta and their relationship to each other, so his devotees generally have a knowledge and an experience confusion (see Chapter II of my book The Essence of Enlightenment), which could be easily removed by the satya/mithya teaching.
Ramana himself made it abundantly clear that moksa was discrimination (jnana) alone, i.e. the discrimination between satya and mithya. Nisagardatta didn’t clarify the distinction between original pure consciousness (satya) and the reflected self (the “I sense”), which is mithya. His idea that the Absolute is beyond consciousness may have very well have been his translator’s clumsy rendition of the semblance (pratibimba) teaching, i.e. satya/mithya, but it certainly isn’t helpful. So people try to “cling to the ‘I sense’” as a practice, which boils down to clinging to something that is apparently real. In the case of Ramana bhaktas, they want to get rid of the ego, which is a yogic notion that came from Patanjali. Ramana said that there is always a “functional” ego, ahamkara (the “I sense”). The subtle body, which is eternal, is created by Isvara in conjunction with maya. It has several functions, one of which is the “I sense.” It is always present, even in deep sleep where it is unmanifest. It is not the jiva’s creation, so the jiva can’t destroy it.
Vedanta advises “clinging” to the thought “I am limitless non-dual awareness,” not to the “I sense,” because contemplation of it in the context of the satya/mithya teaching sets the inquirer free insofar as moksa is the discrimination between the self and the “I sense.” To say that moksa is discrimination implies that the “I sense” is not a problem. The “I sense” is like a ray of sunlight with reference to the sun itself. There is no contradiction. They share the same nature, light.
When one’s discrimination is clear, the “I sense” doesn’t “drop away,” it is negated. Negated means that it continues to exist but that it is known to be mithya, not real, a paper tiger. See the imprecise nature of meaning of words that appear in the books about these modern teachers. And without exposure to the whole Vedanta teaching, an inquirer has no way to contextualize specific teachings, like the “I sense” teaching. I Am That was a very inspirational book and it turned a lot of people on to the idea of self inquiry, but it created as much confusion as it did clarity. Ramana didn’t systematically teach Vedanta. He was a jnani who was well-versed in the scriptures. He even wrote a scripture, Upadesa Saram, which has been accepted by the Vedanta sampradaya as an Upanishad. Because his teaching was idiosyncratic, not methodical, people who read the teachings get easily confused.
It is understandable that people suffer and that they want to be free of it. And it is understandable that they don’t have discrimination when they begin and are forced to accept what they read and hear for want of the big picture. So there is no blame. You have to start somewhere and you have to suffer a lot of misconceptions when you don’t know the big picture. But if you stick to it, eventually Isvara will lead you to Vedanta and the misconceptions will dissolve.
Peter: Yes, you have certainly cleared up this matter. I’m so grateful for your clear and to-the-point explanation. The fact that the “I sense,” an effect of ignorance (avidya), remains even after one realizes that one is limitless awareness makes complete sense. Though it remains, it is ineffective for one who is capable of non-dual thinking. Of course it does have value inasmuch as it is needed in a transactional sense for daily interactions within the dualistic world. Other than that, one who has attained moksa is completely free of any emotional attachment normally present when one is under the influence of the “I sense.” Viveka, the discrimination between satya and mithya, and vairagya (dispassion) are not only pre-eminent qualities of moksa but also necessary qualifications one must have before entering into nirguna isvara jnanam.
The other important point that you brought out is that the “I sense,” being one of the functions of the subtle body, is a creation of Isvara in conjunction with maya, and not a creation of the jiva. Many of us tend to overlook that fact.
Ramji: I’m happy I cleared it up, Peter. I’m also happy that you gave me the feedback because I can see that you assimilated the knowledge correctly.