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Ramana’s Naan Yaar
Ravi: James, if you don’t mind, I would like to keep this dialogue going for a little longer about the teaching of the I-sense.
I read Ramana’s Naan Yaar and Path of Ramana by Sadhu Om. If you actually look at what he says, it is not different from Vedanta. If you look at his answer to the first question in Naan Yaar (what is the Self?), he says in Tamil, “Aariv,” which means “intelligence” or “knowledge.”
The only difference I can see is the focus on the I-sense, which is not Ramana’s teaching, for sure. Tripura Rahasya for sure mentions it. Is this I-sense teaching a Puranic teaching or an Upanishad teaching? What is your reason for not liking this teaching?
James: Ramana was a jnani. He states clearly that only by knowledge is the self to be gained. He dedicated his most important book, Upadesa Saram, to Shankara. It has been accepted by the Vedanta sampradaya as having the status of an Upanishad because everything in it is in harmony with the Upanishads.
The problem is that Ramana says things that apparently contradict this statement. He did not have a “teaching.” He himself said he was not a teacher, because he understood the Vedanta sampradaya. A teaching resolves contradictory statemements by contextualizing them. This is why you have sage’s commentaries on the Upanishad, Gita, etc. Ramana did not reconcile these statements. There is no contradiction between meditation on the I-sense and Vedanta. But they are in different orders of reality. The I-sense teaching is addressed to the doer. It implies that the mediation on the I-sense will set you free.
Vedanta says you are not the doer, that freedom is your nature. So the one who is meditating is ignorant of who he or she is. If the meditation on the I-sense leads to the knowledge ,“I am awreness,” fine, but it rarely does because the I-sense teaching can only be about getting a particular experience for the meditator. This is why you – and everybody else – missed it. You can find the “I-sense.” So what? Who finds it? Who is the I that finds it? This I is not a meditator. It is not a doer. It is the awareness that is present when you are meditating on the I-sense. This is what knowledge means.
Access to awareness is only available through knowledge because the I-sense is you. But you are not the I-sense. It is an object. To whom is it an object? Ramana gave this teaching to people who were not capable of understanding the non-experiencing witness in the hope that it would lead them to knowledge. Why did you come to my seminar if you were happy with the I-sense teaching? It is an intermediate teaching. It is fine. Meditate on it all you want. We do not care.
We close the sale, Ravi. Vedanta is for people who have had it with meditation. They have had it with meditation because being a doer/meditator is not moksa. You just get a vasana for mediating on the I-sense and you strengthen the idea that you are a doer. You are not a doer. Freedom is understanding why you are not a doer. The I-sense meditators think they are going to get an experience for the I-sense meditator that will solve the problem of limitation and make them happy as doers. It does not work that way, because in fact there is no doer.
When you understand the nature of awareness as it is and awareness as Isvara you are set free of the meditator and the I-sense. The I-sense is not conscious. It is an object. All objects are insentient. It is hoped that by contemplation on the I-sense attention will turn around and become “aware of awareness” and in that moment the knowledge, “I am awareness,” will arise. But it almost never happens. The doer just remains thinking it is aware of awareness and declaring itself enlightened. Awareness is self-aware with or without the presence of the doer. The nature of awareness and how it relates to the doer, i.e. the experiencer, needs to be revealed. The doer/meditator is not the one to reveal it. That is why there is Vedanta. The revelation has to come from the outside.
I don’t like or dislike this teaching. It has its place, but it is what Vedanta calls a “leading error.” A leading error is something not true that may lead you to the truth. This is why Vedanta endorses yoga, not as a means of knowledge, but because it gets your mind turned inward – antar mukka, Ramana called it – and sets you up for knowledge. But there is no guarantee that the I-sense teaching will set you free. You sit there for years meditating on the I-sense waiting for something big to happen, imagining all the time that you are doing something special. The years pass and still you sit. If you knew what the self was then meditation on the I-sense would bear fruit almost immediately. But because you think you are a doer and that the meditation doing will set you free, you are trapped. Meditation is only and act of mind. It has limited results because the meditator itself is limited in terms of knowledge, desire and action. If you are lucky, Isvara gets you out of this trap. If not, not. You just become a expert on the I-sense and natter on about it – which is to say, natter on about nothing, because it is just an object in you that you imagine is somehow meaningful.
As Ramana says, “Only knowledge will set you free.” And knowledge comes from the outside. It is not subject-, i.e. doer-, dependent. It is object-dependent. It has to come from the self. The most efficient way it comes is through Vedanta, as you yourself will have to admit. When your ignorance about who you are was removed by Vedanta, what happened to the I-sense? Why are you not mediating on it these days?
Ravi: Thank you, James, for your comments. I have no quarrel with Vedanta, because it set me free and it revealed the nature of awareness. There is no need to meditate on the I-sense, because, as you correctly said, the I-sense is an object in my awareness.
What I am struggling with is to explain Vedanta to my colleagues/friends, who have no idea what karma yoga or Ravi actually mean. A lot of these nuances are cultural, and to ask a Westerner to follow this path is maybe asking too much.
Ram: You must be kidding. Karma yoga and Ravi are as easy to understand as falling off a log. Who are you talking to? Third-graders? You are one of the most intelligent people I know, but sometimes the statements you make and questions you ask defy belief. It must be me. There is something that I don’t understand. I am famous because I make Ravi and karma yoga so clear that even morons can understand. Maybe your moksa wiped your memory clean. That’s a nice bonus. ☺ Did you read my book? It is all in there. People write me every day thanking me for making it all clear.
Anyway, sorry for the rant, I will take it seriously. I am attaching two chapters from a new book I am writing that explain karma yoga in detail, ad naseum.
There is chapter in my book on Ravi. It is only at the website. It is called How to Realize the Self, or something like that. If you are going to keep up this spiritual business I suggest you learn Vedanta from scratch. Use the logic established in my book to teach. Start with the purusharthas, the knowledge-and-experience means of knowledge, qualifications, the self, the yogas, etc. I have disciples that are not nearly as intelligent and spiritual as you are who are teaching effectively.
Maybe the problem is that the people you are trying to share with are not even vaguely qualified. Forget the Sanskrit Indian context and just speak to them in straightforward English. They will get it if you are clear about it. If not, teaching others is good because it shows you where your understanding needs work.
Ravi: As you know, to actually practise discrimination correctly you need to have a clear and still mind, which is not possible if you don’t meditate.
James: This is true and it is not true, Ravi. Meditation can help, but you are a meditator and look at how confused your mind still is. Moksa cleared your doubt about you nature, but there is still ignorance in your mind. Meditation is for steadying the mind, not for purifying it, although if you mediate you won’t be doing other things that disturb it, so in that sense it is helpful. Karma yoga purifies the mind. The best purifier is discrimination, which you can use most effectively if you have practiced karma yoga. Krishna says in the Gita that it is the best purifier.
Ravi: To mediate correctly, you need a particular methodology, otherwise you will sit on the cushion and get trapped in a recursive mental process. I struggled with Zen for long time trying to make my mind still and it just did not work. The moment I found my I-sense, which happened in an instant, my mind automatically stopped. I could meditate without trouble after that insight. After a while, I realised that the seeker and the sought are one and the same. Then I met you and you cleared my doubts.
James: Yes. It is true. But there are still doubts left, not about you, but about things in the apparent reality, teachings, etc. Even doubts about the self, actually.
You recently asked me questions like what is the self and what is good and evil, didn’t you? Do you think it is fair that I answer questions that are clearly answered at my website and in my book, particularly softball questions like what is good and evil? I have several realized disciples (who will be teachers and some who are teaching) with whom I communicate about teachings and other issues of interest to them, but the understanding is that these kind of questions are beyond my job description as a Vedanta teacher and that I have to live, and since I do not charge for my seminars, they donate regularly to ShiningWorld.
Anyway, in answer to your question, yes, your mind stopped, but it did not clear your doubts. Ignorance survives a stopped mind. The doubts are suppressed, but that is all.
Ravi: Compared to the Buddhist meditation practices, the I-sense meditation is far superior. The point being, the sattvic energy generated from self-inquiry can be used for discrimination. Adi Shankara was a great tantric adept as was Maharaj, Nityananda and many others. You yourself meditated in caves for a long time.
James: It is an aid, no doubt. But it is not necessary. Probably 70% of the people who get moksa from me never did a lick of meditation. I have not met one person who realized who they are from meditation. Epiphanies, yes. Laya, yes. But not self-knowledge. About half of the people who come to Vedanta did so because meditation did not work. It worked for you up to a point, but it did not close the sale.
Ravi: Honestly, I cannot see anyone can get enlightened without a good foundation in meditative practices. Hence the focus on the I-sense. In some ways, I see the I-sense teaching as a sort of a bridge between the Yogacara and Vedanta schools of thought. This teaching might be more palatable to the Western mind.
James: It is helpful, no doubt, Ravi. But you are projecting, assuming that what worked for you should work for everyone. It isn’t like that. What you fail to understand is the value of the qualifications. If a person is qualified, irrespective of whether or not he or she has done one spiritual thing, he or she can get moksa through Vedanta easily. And the truth is that it is always a lot easier for people who have not been corrupted by the dumb ideas that pass for knowledge in the spiritual world, particularly the yoga world, which is in thrall to experience.
Why do you not need meditation? Because the self is ever-present. It is always known, just covered by ignorance. Vedanta reveals the self and the ignorance goes. It has nothing to do with what a person has done in the past, spiritual or otherwise. Thieves and murderers can understand if they are rightly resolved.
Children can understand – because it is you. You are you. You know you.
Somehow, you forgot. And in your forgetting you think that you are only available through some kind of action, like mediation. It is not true. It is absurd, actually.
Anyway, I hope this is helpful.
~ Much love, James