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The Perfect Language
Vivek: I have a question that I wanted some clarification on. When Ramana talks about the I-thought, is he referring to the Witness when the mind is sattvic? Both Witness and I-thought arise from awareness, so is there a distinction or are they pointing to the same thing?
James: He is referring to the jivatman, the non-experiencing witness plus the subtle body, otherwise known as the antakarana, the reflected self, or the “notion” (kara) of I (aham). The subtle body, the reflecting medium, popularly known as the mind, is awareness’s instrument of knowledge and experience. This “I” reflects and therefore points to limitless, i.e. unmodifiable, ever-present, unborn, all-pervasive, ordinary awareness. Investigation of the “I-thought” along scriptural lines leads to the knowledge that the I and the I-thought are non-different.
He is not referring to the Witness when the mind is sattvic. The non-experiencing Witness is free of the gunas. It witnesses when the mind is sattvic, rajasic and tamasic, but seemingly witnesses clearly when the mind is sattvic. The witnessing of the experiential witness, the subtle body, however is affected by the gunas. Your use of the word “when” associated with the word “Witness” indicates a confusion between the I-thought and the I. Ramana and Nisargadatta never explained the “I-thought” teaching properly so far as I know.
Vivek: Thanks, James. This is very helpful. I am finally beginning to see the logic of Vedanta. It is probably one the best systems to show that you are non-different awareness. That said, it does require a mature mind. Not seeking experience is a must.
James: Yes, indeed.
Vivek: I am beginning to see why you are so particular about language, especially Vedantic. I spent a good part of my time trying to figure out what Ramana meant by “Heart” and I finally realized after reading one of the commentaries on ShiningWorld, that the Heart actually means the non-experiencing witness. I spent so much time and effort trying to figure how to see from the Heart and it made no sense to me. If I asked someone what the Heart means, they would give me a convoluted answer and confuse me further.
Also, the thought that “I am awareness” confused me for a long time until I spoke to Arlindo, and realized that it is also pointing towards the non-experiencing witness. I was confused because all thought is dualistic and I was wondering how the thought “I am awareness” is non-dual! It is the knowing principle that it is pointing towards.
There is temptation for people like me, especially coming from the Ramana tradition and J. Krishnamurti’s teaching, to think that Vedanta is meant for ascetics, but I am beginning to realize that the right language is critical for self-knowledge. Vedanta has probably figured out the perfect language through centuries of teachings to the common man.
These were the last two doubts that I had, and my understanding is complete. If I had just kept my head down and studied only Vedanta, then I could have probably understood this earlier, but maybe my karma was to go through this process before I was ready to see the truth. And to be honest, my shift was more experiential than knowledge-based, and that probably had something to do with my past karma.
Thank you once again.
James: I’m very happy to receive this email, Vivek! Vedanta is the only complete, direct, straightforward, impersonal means of means of self-knowledge. It is called a shabda pramana, a “word means.” One needs to be taught the meaning of the words by a qualified teacher before one even thinks about seeking. You cannot learn it on your own, because your ignorance will unwittingly cause you to misunderstand the teachings. The words are not meant to be interpreted. They are meant to be heard as they are. This is why the tradition is called sruti and insists on qualifications. If you are qualified, meaning if your mind is sattvic and behind your senses when the teachings are presented, you will “hear” them as they are. They will wipe out misconceptions and reveal the Self to be one’s self.
Ramana and Nisargadatta somehow managed to assimilate the meaning of the words by constant, prolonged contemplation, but they were never taught in the traditional manner. Neither of them claimed to be teachers. They both only claimed identity with awareness. Ramana went on to study the scriptures and eventually wrote scripture. Very few people got moksa from him because of his failure to distinguish knowledge and experience clearly, so most of his devotees were content with the experiential “silence” idea. Vedanta is the source of most teachings but derivative teachings are never complete teachings. They always involve some kind of selection and interpretation process, so essential bits are either left out, interpreted incorrectly or are over- or under-emphasized. The modern spiritual world is a case in point. Isvara had to give you that experience in the satsang in Vancouver to get your attention. The last few years – it must be six or seven now – have involved picking up the teachings piecemeal and understanding the value of knowledge. You need to pat yourself on the back for perseverance. It is quite amazing that you have come this far in such a short time considering your householder karma. Assimilation is always difficult but it was easier for Ramana and Nisargadatta, owing to the nature of Indian society years ago. Many more Western people would gain moksa, but the rajasic nature of our societies hold them back: too much extroversion.
~ Love, James