Q: What is the easiest way to be free of the 'little self'?
Annamalai Swami: Stop identifying with it. If you can convince yourself "This 'little self' is not me", it will just disappear.
Question: But how to do this?
Annamalai Swami: The 'little self' is something which only appears to be real. If you understand that it has no real existence it will disappear, leaving behind it the experience of the real and only Self. Understand that it has no real existence and it will stop troubling you.
Consciousness is universal. There is no limitation or 'little self' in it. It is only when we identify with and limit ourselves to the body and the mind that this false self is born. If, through enquiry, you go to the Source of this 'little self', you find that it dissolves into nothingness.
Question: But I am very accustomed to feel "I am this 'little self'". I cannot break this habit merely by thinking "I am not this 'little self'".
Annamalai Swami: This 'little self' will only give way to the real Self if you meditate constantly. You cannot wish it away with a few stray thoughts. Try to remember the analogy of the rope which looks like a snake in the twilight. If you see the rope as a snake, the real nature of the rope is hidden from you. If you only see the rope, the snake is not there. When you have that clear and correct perception that the snake never at any time existed, the question of how to kill the snake disappears. Apply this analogy to the 'little self' that you are worrying about. If you can understand that this 'little self' never at any time had any existence outside your imagination, you will not be concerned about ways and means of getting rid of it.
Question: It all is very well but I feel that I need some help. I am not sure that I can generate this understanding by myself.
Annamalai Swami: The desire for assistance is part of your problem. Don't make the mistake of imagining that there is some goal to be reached or attained. If you think like this you will start looking for methods to practise and people to help you. This just perpetuates the problem you are trying to end. Instead, cultivate the strong awareness, "I am the Self. I am That. I am Brahman [impersonal Absolute Reality]. I am everything". You don't need any methods to get rid of the wrong ideas you have about yourself. All you have to do is stop believing them. The best way to do this is to replace them with ideas which more accurately reflect the real sate of affairs. If you think and meditate "I am the Self", it will do you a lot of more good than thinking, "I am the 'little self'. How can I get rid of this 'little self'"?
The Self is always attained, it is always realised; it is not something that you have to seek, reach or discover. Your vasanas [mental habits and tendencies] and all the wrong ideas you have about yourself are blocking and hiding the experience of the real Self. If you don't identify with the wrong ideas, your Self-nature will not be hidden from you.
You said that you needed help. If you desire to gain a proper understanding of your real nature is intense enough, help will automatically come. If you want to generate an awareness of your real nature you will be immeasurably helped by having contact with a jnani [realised being]. The power and grace which a jnani radiates quieten the mind and automatically eliminate the wrong ideas you have about yourself. You can make progress by having satsang [association] of a realised Guru and by constant spiritual practice. The Guru cannot do everything for you. If you want to give up the limiting habits of many lifetimes, you must practise constantly.
Most people take the appearance of the snake in the rope to be reality. Acting on their misperceptions they think up many different ways of killing the snake. They can never succeed in getting rid of the snake until they give up the idea that there is a snake there at all. People who want to kill or control the mind have the same problem: they imagine that there is a mind which needs to be controlled and take drastic steps to beat it into submission. If, instead, they generated the understanding that there is no such thing as the mind, all there problems would come to an end. You must generate the conviction, "I am the all-pervasive consciousness in which all bodies and minds in the world are appearing and disappearing. I am that consciousness which remains unchanged and unaffected by these appearances and disappearances". Stabilise yourself in that conviction. That is all you need to do.
Bhagavan [Ramana Maharshi] once told a story about a man who wanted to bury his own shadow in a deep pit. He dug the pit and stood in such a position that his shadow was on the bottom of it. The man then tried to bury it by covering it with earth. Each time he threw some soil in the hole the shadow appeared on top of it. Of course, he never succeeded in burying the shadow. Many people behave like this when they meditate. They take the mind to be real, try to fight it and kill it, and always fail. These fights against the mind are all mental activities which strengthen the mind instead of weakening it. If you want to get rid of the mind, all you have to do is understand that it is 'not me'. Cultivate the awareness "I am the immanent consciousness". When that understanding becomes firm, the non-existent mind will not trouble you.
Question: I don't think that repeating "I am not the mind, I am consciousness" will ever convince me that I am not the mind. It will just be another thought going on within the mind. If I could experience, even for a moment, what it is like to be without the mind, the conviction would automatically come. I think that one second of experiencing consciousness as it really is would be more convincing that several years of mental repetitions.
Annamalai Swami: Every time you go to sleep you have the experience of being without a mind. You cannot deny that you exist while you are asleep and you cannot deny that your mind is not functioning while you are in dreamless sleep. This daily experience should convince you that it is possible to continue your existence without a mind. Of course, you do not have the full experience of consciousness while you are asleep, but if you think about what happens during this state you should come to understand that your existence, the continuity of your Being, is in no way dependent on your mind or your identification with it. When the mind reappears every morning you instantly jump to the conclusion "This is the real me". If you reflect on this proposition for some time you will see how absurd it is. If what you really are only exists when the mind is present, you have to accept that you didn't exist while you were asleep. No one will accept such an absurd conclusion. If you analyse your alternating states you will discover that it is your direct experience that you exist whether you are awake or asleep. You will also discover that the mind only becomes active while you are waking or dreaming. From these simple daily experiences it should be easy to understand that the mind is something that comes and goes. Your existence is not wiped out each time the mind ceases to function. I am not telling you some philosophical theory; I am telling you something that you can validate by direct experience in any twenty-four hour period of your life.
Take these facts, which you can discover by directly experiencing them, and investigate them a little more. When the mind appears every morning don't jump to the usual conclusion, "This is me; these thoughts are mine." Instead, watch these thoughts come and go without identifying with them in any way. If you can resist the impulse to claim each and every thought as your own, you will come to a startling conclusion: you will discover that you are the consciousness in which the thoughts appear and disappear. You are allowed to run free. Like the snake which appears in the rope, you will discover that the mind is only an illusion which appears through ignorance or misperception.
You want some experience which will convince you that what I am saying is true. You can have that experience if you give up your life-long habit of inventing an 'I' which claims all thoughts as 'mine'. Be conscious of yourself as consciousness alone, watch all the thoughts come and go. Come to the conclusion, by direct experience, that you are really consciousness itself, not its ephemeral contents.
Clouds come and go in the sky but the appearance and disappearance of the clouds doesn't affect the sky. Your real nature is like the sky, like space. Just remain like the sky and let thought-clouds come and go. If you cultivate this attitude of indifference towards the mind, gradually you will cease to identify yourself with it.
Question: When I began to do sadhana [spiritual practice] everything went smoothly at first. There was a lot of peace and happiness and jnana [true knowledge] seemed very near. But nowadays there is hardly any peace, just mental obstacles and hindrances.
Annamalai Swami: Whenever obstacles come on the path, think of them as not me'. Cultivate the attitude that the real you is beyond the reach of all troubles and obstacles. There are no obstacles for the Self. If you can remember that you always are the Self, obstacles will be of no importance.
One of the alvars [a group of Vaishnavite saints] once remarked that if one is not doing any spiritual practice one is not aware of any mind problems. He said that it is only when one starts to do meditation that one becomes aware of the different ways that the mind causes us trouble. This is very true. But one should not worry about any of the obstacles or fear them. One should merely regard them as being not me. They can only cause you trouble while you think that they are your problems.
The obstructing vasanas may look like a large mountain which obstructs your progress. Don't be intimidated by the size. It is not a mountain of rock, it is a mountain of camphor. If you light one corner of it with the flame of discriminative attention, it will all burn to nothing.
Stand back from the mountain of problems, refuse to acknowledge that they are yours, and they will dissolve and disappear before your eyes.
Don't be deluded by your thoughts and vasanas. They are always trying to trick you into believing that you are a real person, that the world is real, and that all your problems are real. Don't fight them; just ignore them. Don't accept delivery of all the wrong ideas that keep coming to you. Establish yourself in the conviction that you are the Self and that nothing can stick to you or affect you. Once you have that conviction you will find that you automatically ignore the habits of the mind. When the rejection of mental activities becomes continuous and automatic, you will begin to have the experience of the Self.
If you see two strangers quarrelling in the distance you do not give much attention to them because you know that the dispute is none of your business. Treat the contents of your mind in the same way. Instead of filling your mind with thoughts and then organising fights between them, pay no attention to the mind at all. Rest quietly in the feeling of "I am", which is consciousness, and cultivate the attitude that all thoughts, all perceptions are 'not me'. When you have learned to regard your mind as a distant stranger, you will not pay any attention to all the obstacles it keeps inventing for you.
Mental problems feed on the attention that you give them. The more you worry about them, the stronger they become. If you ignore them, they lose their power and finally vanish.
Question: I am always thinking and believing that there is only the Self but somehow there is still a feeling that I want or need something more.
Annamalai Swami: Who is it that wants? If you can find the answer to that question there will be no one to want anything.
Question: Children are born without egos. As they begin to grow up, how do their egos arise and cover the Self?
Annamalai Swami: As young children may appear to have no egos but its ego and all the latent vasanas that go with it are there in seed form. As the child's body grows bigger, the ego also grows bigger. The ego is produced by the power of maya [illusion], which is one of the shaktis [powers] of the Self.
Question: How does maya operate? How does it originate? Since nothing exists except the Self, how does the Self manage to conceal Its own nature from Itself?
Annamalai Swami: The Self, which is Infinite power and the Source of all power, is indivisible. Yet within this indivisible Self there are five shaktis or powers, with varying functions, which operate simultaneously. The five shaktis are creation, preservation, destruction, veiling [maya shakti] and Grace. The fifth shakti, Grace, counteracts and removes the fourth shakti, which is maya.
When maya is totally inactive, that is, when the identity with the body and the mind has been dropped, there is an awareness of consciousness, of Being. When one is established in that state there is no body, no mind and no world. These three things are just ideas which are brought into an apparent existence when maya is present and active.
When maya is active, the sole effective way to dissolve it is the path shown by Bhagavan: one must do Self-enquiry and discriminate between what is real and what is unreal. It is the power of maya which makes us believe in the reality of things which have no reality outside our imagination. If you ask, "What are these imaginary things?" the answer is, "Everything that is not the formless Self". The Self alone is real; everything else is a figment of our imagination.
It is not helpful to enquire why there is maya and how it operates. If you are in a boat which is leaking, you don't waste time asking whether the hole was made by an Italian, a Frenchman or an Indian. You just plug the leak. Don't worry about where maya comes from. Put all your energy into escaping from its effect. If you try to investigate the origin of maya with your mind you are doomed to fail because any answer you come up with will be a maya answer. If you want to understand how maya operates and originates you should establish yourself in the Self, the one place where you can be free of it, and then watch how it takes you over each time you fail to keep your attention there.
Question: You say that maya is one of the shaktis. What exactly do you mean by shakti?
Annamalai Swami: Shakti is energy or power. It is a name for the dynamic aspect of the Self. Shakti and shanti [peace] are two aspects of the same consciousness. If you want to separate them at all, you can say that shanti is the unmanifest aspect of the Self while shakti is the manifest. But really they are not separate. A flame has two properties: light and heat. The two cannot be separate.
Shanti and shakti are like the sea and its waves. Shanti, the unmanifest aspect, is the vast unmoving body of water. The waves that appear and move on the surface are shakti. Shanti is motionless, vast and all-encompassing, whereas waves are active.
Bhagavan used to say that after realisation the jivanmukta [liberated one] experiences shanti within and is established permanently in that shanti. In that state of realisation he sees that all activities are caused by shakti. After realisation one is aware that there is no individual people doing anything. Instead there is an awareness that all activities are the shakti of the one Self. The jnani, who is fully established in the shanti, is always aware that shakti is not separate from him. In that awareness everything is his Self and all actions are his. Alternatively, it is equally correct to say that he never does anything. This is one of the paradoxes of the Self.
The universe is controlled by the one shakti, sometimes called Parameshwara shakti [the power of the Supreme Lord]. This moves and orders all things. Natural laws, such as the laws that keep the planets in their orbits, are all manifestations of this shakti.
Question: You say that everything is the Self, even maya. If this is so, why can't I see the Self clearly? Why is it hidden from me?
Annamalai Swami: Because you are looking in the wrong direction. You have the idea that the Self is something that you see or experience. This is not so. The Self is the awareness or the consciousness in which the seeing and the experiencing take place.
Even if you don't see the Self, the Self is still there. Bhagavan sometimes remarked humorously: "People just open a newspaper and glance through it. Then they say, "I have seen the paper". But really they haven't seen the paper, they have only seen the letters and pictures that are on it. There can be no words or pictures without the paper, but people always forget the paper while they are reading the words."
Bhagavan would then use this analogy to show that while people see the names and forms that appear on the screen of consciousness, the ignore the screen itself. With this kind of partial vision it is easy to come to the conclusion that all forms are unconnected with each other and separate from the person who sees them. If people were to be aware of the consciousness instead of the forms that appear in it, they would realise that all forms are just appearances which manifest within the one indivisible consciousness.
That consciousness is the Self that you are looking for. You can be that consciousness but you can never see it because it is not something that is separate from you.
Question: You talk a lot about vasanas. Could you please tell me exactly what they are and how they function?
Annamalai Swami: Vasanas are habits of the mind. They are the mistaken identifications and the repeated thought patterns that occur again and again. It is the vasanas which cover up the experience of the Self. Vasanas arise, catch your attention, and pull you outwards towards the world rather than inwards towards the Self. This happens so often and so continuously that the mind never gets a chance to rest or to understand its real nature.
Cocks like to claw the ground. It is a perpetual habit with them. Even if they are standing on bare rock they still try to scratch the ground.
Vasanas function in much the same the way. They are habits and patterns of thought that appear again and again even if they are not wanted. Most of our ideas and thoughts are incorrect. When they rise habitually as vasanas they brainwash us into thinking that they are true. The fundamental vasanas such as "I am the body" or "I am the mind" have appeared in us so many times that we automatically accept that they are true. Even our desire to transcend our vasanas is a vasana. When we think "I must meditate" or "I must make an effort" we are just organising a fight between two different vasanas. You can only escape the habits of the mind by abiding in consciousness as consciousness. Be who you are. Just be still. Ignore all the vasanas that rise in the mind and instead fix your attention in the Self.
Question: Bhagavan often told devotees to "Be still". Did he mean "Be mentally still"?
Annamalai Swami: Bhagavan's famous instruction "summa iru" [be still] is often misunderstood. It does not mean that you should be physically still; it means that you should always abide in the Self. If there is too much physical stillness, tamoguna [a state of mental torpor] arises and predominates. In that state you will feel very sleepy and mentally dull. Rajoguna [a state of excessive mental activity], on the other hand, produces emotions and a mind which is restless. In sattva guna [a state of mental quietness and clarity] there is stillness and harmony. If mental activity is necessary while one is in sattva guna it takes place. But for the rest of the time there is stillness. When tamoguna and rajoguna predominate, the Self cannot be felt. If sattva guna predominates one experiences peace, bliss, clarity and an absence of wandering thoughts. That is the stillness that Bhagavan was prescribing.
Question: Bhagavan, in Talks with Ramana Maharshi, speaks of bhoga vasanas [vasanas which are for enjoyment] and bandha vasanas [vasanas which produce bondage]. He says that for the jnani there are bhoga vasanas but no bandha vasanas. Would Swamiji please clarify the difference.
Annamalai Swami: Nothing can cause bondage for the jnani because his mind is dead. In the absence of a mind he knows himself only as consciousness. Because the mind is dead, he is no longer able to identify himself with the body. But even though he knows that he is not the body, it is a fact that the body is still alive. That body will continue to live, and the jnani will continue to be aware of it, until its own karma [destined action] is exhausted. Because the jnani is still aware of the body, he will also be aware of the thoughts and vasanas that arise in that body. None of these vasanas has the power to cause bondage for him because he never identifies with them, but they do have the power to make the body behave in certain ways. The body of the jnani enjoys and experiences these vasanas although the jnani himself is not affected by them. That is why it is sometimes said that for the jnani there are bhoga vasanas but no bandha vasanas.
The bhoga vasanas differ from jnani to jnani. Some jnanis may accumulate wealth, some may sit in silence; some may study the shastra [Scriptures] while others may remain illiterate; some may get married ands raise families, but others may become celibate monks. It is the bhoga vasanas which determine the kind of lifestyle a jnani will lead. The jnani is aware of the consequences of all these vasanas without ever identifying with them. Because of this he never falls back into samsara [worldly illusion] again.
The vasanas arise because of the habits and practices of previous lifetimes. That is why they differ from jnani to jnani. When vasanas rise in ordinary people who still identify with the body and the mind, they cause likes and dislikes. Some vasanas are embraced wholeheartedly while others are rejected as being undesirable. These likes and dislikes generate desires and fears which in turn produce more karma. While you are still making judgements about what is good and what is bad, you are identifying with the mind and making new karma for yourself. When new karma has been created like this, it means you have to take another birth to enjoy it.
The jnani's body carries out all the acts which are destined for it. But because the jnani makes no judgement about what is good or bad, and because he has no likes or dislikes, he is not creating any new karma for himself. Because he knows that he is not the body, he can witness all its activities without getting involved in them in any way.
There will be no rebirth for the jnani because once the mind has been destroyed there is no possibility of any new karma being created.
Question: So whatever happens to us in life only happens because of our past likes and dislikes?
Annamalai Swami: Yes.
Question: How can one learn not to react when vasanas arise in the mind? Is there anything special that we should be looking out for?
Annamalai Swami: You must learn to recognise them when they arise. That is the only way. If you can catch them early enough and frequently enough they will not cause you trouble. If you want to pay attention to a special area of danger, watch how the five senses operate. It is the nature of the mind to seek stimulation through the five senses. The mind catches hold of sense impressions and processes them in such a way that they produce long chains of uncontrolled thoughts. Learn to watch how your senses behave. Learn to watch how the mind reacts to sense impressions. If you can stop the mind from reacting to sense impressions you can eliminate a large number of your vasanas.
Bhagavan never like or disliked anything. If we have likes or dislikes, if we hate or love someone or something, some bondage will arise in the mind. Jnanis never like or dislike anything. That is why they are free of all bondage.
(Living By the Words of Bhagavan)