Thursday, July 6, 2017

Ego preservation strategies (1)

Saw this conversation recently online in a 'nonduality' forum:

Questioner: What do people think about the ego? It's hard to find when it is looked for. Maybe these practices are just engaging the ego itself?

Respondent 1: Well I've never found the ego.. I don't know what people are talking about when they talk about 'ego'.

Respondent 2: Who's asking??


Are these sorts of question / answer sessions really helpful?

No. Neither for the questioner who is none the wiser, nor for the respondent.

What are these sorts of responses, actually?

Ego preservation strategies.

Ego preservation strategy 1) Blatant denial of the ego by the ego-- "It doesn't exist!", "What? There's no such thing as an ego.. find me one!", "I can't find any ego here!"

Ego preservation strategy 2) Over-exertion or over-effort in trying to extinguish the ego by the ego-- "Kill the ego!", "I need to fight the ego, suppress it, and conquer it!", "I need to detach from the ego!"

Stay calm. Keep practicing.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Pure awareness- note.

I recently found a quote with the book 'The Seven Steps To Awakening' (ed. Michael Langford). It contained a quote from the Yoga Vasistha (The Supreme Yoga), an ancient Indian yogic text, that states:

"Consciousness does not truly undergo any modification nor does it become impure."


"Nothing is created in or by cosmic consciousness, for it remains unchanged and unmodified."

I would like to draw attention to the idea of 'pure consciousness', which is spoken about in nondual teachings.

This term does not actually mean that consciousness can be or become 'impure', or that there are two types of consciousness- a mixed, impure consciousness and a pure unadulterated consciousness. It is also not referring to pure in terms of good/bad, morally speaking.

The term is rather a pointer to the idea of consciousness alone. When starting to work with the idea of consciousness (or awareness), a beginning point is often emphasized- to become acquainted with just consciousness, rather than the objects appearing in consciousness. Likewise, the idea is introduced to become more familiar with the subject of experience, rather than objects appearing in and as experience.

This pointer achieves 2 aims- 1) the seeker is led to the discovery that consciousness or awareness must be prior to the appearance and disappearance of objects that arise in one's experience, and 2) consciousness cannot be denied or negated, since the very denial must also appear within consciousness. There is also the added bonus that allows one to become less identified and enchanted with objects, events etc. appearing in one's experience, and more interested in the actual source of such objects and events in one's experience.

Ultimately however, it may be seen and experienced with increasing duration, that consciousness cannot be separated from the objects that appear in experience. Can a border between subject and object be found? Likewise, the search for consciousness is being conducted by consciousness itself, which has no observable characteristics, being self-evident only. The practice of self-enquiry and self-investigation (e.g. "Who am I?") is a practical and useful way to investigate and repeatedly experience this point.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Self-inquiry and Maturity


The devotee: “It is for that, is it not, that Bhagavan says that the best thing to do is to follow the path of Self-enquiry of ‘Who am I’?”

Bhagavan: “Yes; but in the Vasishtam it is mentioned that Vasishta told Rama that the path of Self-enquiry should not be shown to anyone who is not sufficiently qualified. 

In some other books it has been stated that spiritual practices should be done for several births, or for at least twelve years under a Guru. 

As people would be scared away if I said that spiritual practices had to be done for several births, I tell them, ‘You have liberation already within you; you have merely to rid yourselves of exterior things that have come upon you’.

Spiritual practices are for that alone. Even so, the Ancients have not said all this for nothing. If a person is told that he is the Godhead, Brahman itself, and that he is already liberated, he may not do any spiritual practices, thinking that he already has that which is required and does not want anything more. That is why these Vedantic matters should not be told to spiritually undeveloped people (anadhikaris); there is no other reason.” And Bhagavan smiled.

- Letters no 158

(Ramana Maharshi)

Friday, April 28, 2017

Verse from Guru Vachaka Kovai - on self-inquiry


394 Since pramada, forgetfulness of the Self,  is, in truth, 
death, for those who are attempting to attain immortality, transcending the death that frightens one and all, it is essential at all times to destroy pramada, the real nature of death, without giving it the slightest scope to survive

There are therefore no rules to the effect that the jnana-vichara performed to know and attain the immortal Self should be practiced only during specific periods.

Muruganar: 'Attempting to attain' here means making uninterrupted effort, with the entire attention focused on the endeavor one has embarked upon, until it takes one to the goal. 

Bhagavan: "Destruction of mind alone is tapas. This alone is one's duty. One who is doing his own work will not pay attention to anyone else's work. One should never give room for swerving from the thought of the Self. However many duties one may have, at all the other times not meant for performing duties one must perform only self-enquiry.

While standing, sitting and taking food one can do vichara, can one not? If the mind happens to forget the enquiry 'Who am I?' because of vasanas, when it remembers the enquiry, it should try not to lose hold of the enquiry again. 

– Who am I?;  an early draft

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Is effort required for self-inquiry and Self-Realization?

From Michael James' blog "Happiness of Being", on the topic of whether effort is required for self-inquiry and self-attentiveness.

Is effort required, as do assert some traditional paths of awakening (e.g. early Buddhism, traditional Advaita Vedanta etc.), or is no effort required for what is already present, as do assert neo-Advaita teachers and some modern proponents of 'nonduality'?

1. We are always self-aware, but we must make effort to be attentively self-aware

We are always self-aware, because self-awareness is our very nature (what we actually are), so we do not need to make any effort to be self-aware. However, though we are always self-aware, we are generally not attentively self-aware, because most of our attention is taken up with being aware of other things, since we find it more interesting and appealing to be aware of other things than to be attentively aware of ourself alone.

This self-negligence or lack of self-attentiveness is what is called pramāda, and it is the root of all our problems, because it is the very nature of the ego and the means by which the ego seems to rise, stand and flourish. Therefore all our efforts should be directed towards being self-attentive and thereby overcoming our pramāda.

~ Michael James

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Sufism 1 - some general notes and the use of the Zekr.

Sufism 1 - general notes

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ

Some basic notes and conclusions in regards to Sufism:

  • The Zekr is used initially as a meditation calm-abiding tool. This is how it was introduced to me by a Sheikh of the Order. I was told to concentrate on the sound and also some feeling in the heart, until ‘the heart’ took over the zekr and it became automatic throughout the day. I was told to do this for 15 minutes twice a day ideally.
  • The above advice is quite similar to T.M. but less detailed.
  • The use of the Zekr is minimised during formal group sittings with sacred music (Samaa’). At this time, it seems more helpful to concentrate on the music itself. This wasn’t discussed in detail though. The group sessions tend to be more emotive. Some Orders practice group sessions that lead to intense states of emotionality, abandonment, mystical experience, etc.- but which are temporary.
  • Often a group session will involve use another completely different Zekr, introduced by a sitting Sheikh, which is used by the whole group. The session then shares more of a ‘shamanistic’ flavour than introspective. Trance states often ensue in this form of group practice. It would seem the point of such practices would be to activate higher states of devotion, motivation and possible surrender, which can aid later periods of silent introspection and meditation.
  • In some books by JN, it is advised that the in-breath is breathing in ‘the attributes of God’, and the out breath is ‘taking refuge in the essence of God’. This instruction is quite vague, and seems more of a mind exercise, or mindful contemplation which obviously involves thought and conceptual use of the mind. I’m inclined to think that one could not get into a deep jhana / samadhi by using this, but it might serve at quieting the mind provided there is enough interest. There is some chance of behaviour modification as well due to contemplating the more benign attributes of God for a set time.

  • The best way (IME), by far, in using the zekr, after the above has been practiced for a while (I personally practiced the above intensely for several years), would be the advice given by SRM to GM- who was himself an adept at mantra yoga. This advice was given after a period of silent contemplation by SRM while sitting in front of GM. The advice given was to watch where the notion of “I” comes from, and to be attentive to the ‘source’ of the mantra sound. In other words, use the mantra to point back to the Self (Godhead). Both the notion of “I”, and the sound of a mantra arise within and as consciousness itself. Consciousness or awareness is thus prior to the apparent arising and falling of the notion of “I”, and mind objects such as a mantra.
  • The mantra thus becomes a tool for self-enquiry, which was SRM’s standard practical instruction for those that could not simply ‘be’ or imbibe the direct teaching of Silence.
  • The above accords exactly with the aims of Sufism, and all of the mystical poetry written about Sufi love, ‘the drop going back to the ocean’, being consumed in ‘the flame of Love’, etc.
  • However, the above is also a key element missing from almost every Sufi school that I have encountered, both orthodox and non-traditional. I was never given the advice that ‘hllA’ or God, was, simply stated, this ever present, conscious awareness that is present here now as one’s ‘I am-ness’ or beingness. This simple truth is stated openly in some teachings, such as Advaita Vedanta, Dzogchen, Zen and Kashmir Shaivism. It would have been extremely guarded though, in Sufism, which was (and still is) open to attack from orthodox religious forces throughout history. As a result, the above truth had to be encoded in poetry, or guarded from master to very few select students. A similar situation ensued for Christian Mystics in the Middle Ages.

  • Much of Sufism had to be boxed within the confines of Islamic practice, so as to make it acceptable for existing in its societal homeplace, of which, Islam has had much more of a prominent role than other religious system due to its dual political / governance and religious role. The extent of this adjustment changed throughout history as ruling bodies changed philosophy. This wasn’t an issue however, since many core Islamic practices such as daily prayer (devotional ritual), fasting, pilgrimage, charity, memorizing scripture etc. can serve the ultimate aims of Sufism by preparing the mind for more direct practices (such as self-enquiry, introspection, and radical surrender).
  • The standard set of Islamic practices (5 pillars of Islam), and standard teachings on morality (as found in Qur’an and Hadith) are helpful aids towards the ultimate goal of Sufism, provided they are understood rightly and not given to excess, extremes, emotionality, or unskillful action. A master would have been indispensable in this regards- interpreting and advising on standard Islamic teachings in light of the aims of Sufism, rather than the aims of Islamic religious orthodoxy or politico-religious hierarchies.

  • The theme of ‘love’ and longing for the ‘beloved’ in Sufism can be translated into the intense desire for liberation, and the desire for an end of suffering for the individual (and the world).
  • The themes of ecstasy, and love-bliss in Sufism can be translated as peace-bliss (Ananda) and the feeling of loving-kindness.
  • The themes of drunkenness and sobriety can be translated as relating to the bliss of egoic loss (or the loss of subject-object), and the gaining of equanimity of mind, respectively.

  • All of the above are expedient means towards the end goal of Sufism, which is the permanent transcendence and disidentification of ego / personality / “me” / subject-object experience (fanaa’) and permanent abidance as the Absolute only (baqaa’).