A Selection of Teachings
Sri Gajapathi Aiyyer’s Unpublished 1936 Journal
Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi
Illusion and the Body
Q.: Bhagavan asserts that “awareness” is the real nature of “I”. But what exactly is this awareness? Awareness of what?
B.: Do you exist or do you not?
B.: How do you know?
Q.: I don’t understand what Bhagavan is trying to tell me.
B.: Do you need a mirror to be placed in front of your eyes in order to enable you to infer that you have eyes? You see, therefore you can tell that you have eyes which are functioning. Likewise, awareness of the world or bodily awareness is not necessary for ascertaining your own existence.
You know that you exist because of the awareness “I-AM”. This awareness is nothing but subjective consciousness of being. This consciousness is always there whether you are asleep, dreaming or supposedly awake. It is unchanged and unaffected always. Recognise it as your own being.
Man thinks he is made of flesh and blood. But this attitude is a mistake. You are pure consciousness. Whatever is physical comes afterward and its disappearance or destruction cannot affect you, who are non-physical and eternal as the one Self. All phenomena have a beginning and an end. What is born dies and what is created is destroyed. Were you ever born? If you take yourself to be the body, yes. But are you the body?
Q.: What is the proof that I am not this body?
B.: The fact that the body, which you now erroneously believe to be identical with yourself, is lost in the states of dream and deep sleep is the proof. Yet on waking you find yourself in the same body. This is continuity of memory and nothing more. What proof do you have that you are this physical body made of flesh and bone?
Q.: All my memories pertain to this body only. I have no memory of occupying any other body.
B.: The experience of occupying a body is only a mental phenomenon which is super-imposed on top of pure consciousness. Suppose you are riding a bicycle, and seriously thinking about something all along the way. After a time, you find yourself at the intended destination. But you have no recollection or memory of having made the journey because your faculty of concentration was fixed in its entirety upon the problem you were trying to solve inside your head whilst you were busily pedaling all the while. Even with your attention elsewhere, your hands and feet have carried you to your destination involuntarily.
What does it show? We super-impose the sense of doer-ship upon ourselves; in fact, all activities only take place spontaneously. The body has a pre-destined script of its own that it carries out automatically. If we concentrate on being the Self, our responsibilities in life will be smoothly performed by the body without need for the slightest intervention on our part. You say you remember occupying this body only. Even in dreams we occupy so many bodies. Does that mean we are any of those dream bodies? In our dreams, bodies came and went, but our self, the dreamer, remained unaffected.
So also, many are the bodies that you have found yourself in over the ages — but none of them is YOU. You are, I repeat, the bodiless Self.
Q.: Why did I then come to mistake myself for this body?
B.: In dreams you have many strange experiences. It is only after waking up that you ascertain that the experiences in your dreams never actually happened but were all imaginary only. Likewise here. Our Real Nature is that we are and always were the bodiless, formless and indestructible Self. But we imagine that we are trapped within a body and are making strenuous attempts to become free from the illusion of being tied down to the experience of carrying around a body, while we in fact are all the time free.
This fact will be understood only when we reach that stage. We will be surprised that we were desperately trying to attain something which we have always been and ever are. An illustration will make this clear: A man goes to sleep in this hall. He dreams he has gone on a world tour, is roaming over hill and dale, forest and country, desert and sea, across various continents and, after many years of weary and strenuous travel, returns to this country, reaches Tiruvannamalai, enters the ashram and walks into the hall.
Just at that moment he wakes up and finds he has not moved an inch but was sleeping where he lay down. He has not returned to the hall after great efforts but is and always has been in the hall. It is exactly like that. If it is asked why being the formless Self we imagine we are tied down to a body, I answer, why being in the hall did you imagine you were on a world adventure, crossing hill and dale, desert and sea? It is all mind or maya.
Q.: What is meant by maya? I understand that it is a Sanskrit word which translates into ‘illusion’.
B.: When mind pays attention to anything other than itself, we say that it is under the influence of maya. When mind pays attention to itself exclusively, it discovers itself to be the Self, and there is then no maya. Illusion means that we have mistaken ourselves to be the body or mind or intellect or anything else. That is, we have taken ourselves to be what we are not.
If, on the other hand, we remain as we truly are, we stand liberated from illusion. Freedom from identification is immortality. We imagine or think that we are the perishable body and thus delude ourselves into believing that we are mortal creatures. If this false identification with body and mind drops away, we Realise ourselves to be the immortal Self.
Q.: How can I convince myself that I am the Self?
B.: There is no need to do so. Give up the thought that you are the not-Self and only the Self is left as the reminder. That will do. That is all there is to be done. The Self does not affirm Itself to be the Self. It merely remains as the Self. No purpose is served by telling yourself, “I am the Self.” What meaning is there in doing so? Does a man go on repeating, “I am a man, I am a man…”? If a doubt arises in your mind that you might be a cow or a dog then you might go on assuring yourself that you are indeed a man.
Only in such a case should one be continuously reminding oneself ‘I am a man.’ But does this ever happen? We know that we are neither cows nor dogs but men and women. Likewise, being always the imperishable Self, we need not dwell on the immortality of the Self. It suffices if we abide as pure consciousness which is not perturbed by thoughts.
Q.: If I want to Realise the Self, should I close my eyes to the world?
B.: It is enough if the mind be made insensitive to the goings-on of the world. It is like exposing photographic film to light; the more exposed the film becomes, the less discernable is the image formed upon it. If the film is left exposed to bright light for a long time, thereafter no image can be discerned from it. Likewise here. If the mind continuously and exclusively exists permanently and inseparably in the light of consciousness for a long time, it loses the capacity to register objects or think about the things of the world. Then it remains in its own native state, the state of pure consciousness.
Q.: Will a person whose mind is fixed in pure consciousness lose the capacity to function normally in the world? Does he become a mere vegetative form of life, like one who has slipped into the state of comatose?
B.: No. The activities destined to be carried on by the body go on of their own accord without any intervention from you.
Q.: That means I would no longer have any control over what my body does! Is this not a dangerous situation?
B.: Once we have surrendered to the Higher Power, He automatically takes care that only the right thing is done at any given point in time. He knows what to do and when and how. Leave everything entirely to Him. But you should not try and judge Him. Even if what He does is not to your liking or preference, do not interfere. If you have surrendered, it means that you must totally accept God’s will as being the supreme guiding force of your life, and that the exclusive consideration or priority in your life is to not permit your own ideas for your life to come into conflict with God’s.
After perfect self-surrender, only complete acceptance remains. There can be no room for making any complaint about one’s perceived defects and deficiencies if surrender to God has been genuinely unconditional or without reserve.
Q.: Meaning that we must blindly trust God? But that obviously requires a huge leap of faith!
B.: The explanation relating to surrendering to God was given to you since you wanted reassurance that things would go on in an amicable way even after your mind ceased to pay attention to the world. But the fact is, one who is truly desperately interested in Realising the Self will not bother about whether life in the world proceeds positively or not; if it did not, yet he would not bother about the matter. When the mind becomes introverted owing to the investigation “Who am I?”, and remains merged in the Heart, the conditions of outer life automatically continue as destined, owing to the force of prarabdha.
Do not worry about how life in the world would come to be affected if you dedicate your mind to the quest; it may even be that there might be no change in the outer life at all. If you calmly focus on remaining as the beingness of the Self, the upheavals and perturbations of the outer world will gradually begin to fade out or distance themselves from you and you will rest in the shanti [peace] of the Self while the body’s activities and your roles as a person will be automatically fulfilled by the Higher Power.
This is a matter for experience, and you will understand only when you sink yourself deeper and deeper into the bliss of the Self, by means of holding the mind steadily in that state where there is alert consciousness of being but neither thoughts nor sleepiness.
Q.: If the world disappears, is that not a bad thing? Were we not born into this world in order so that we might live in it and experience it?
B.: You are asking this question because you are under the impression that you are the body. Imagining yourself to be the body, you ask me whether you were not born into the world in order so that you might experience the same. Was there ever any birth for you? Know that you, the changeless Self, were never born. What was born was only the body. What do you have to do with the body? You are not the body.
In dreams you take up one body after another but after waking up do any of them ever remain with you? Likewise here. The body and the world it is experiencing are super-impositions over your nature of pure consciousness. When you Realise your Self, the world disappears as an objective Reality and is seen to be what it really is — merely an appearance in the Self.
According to you, you are a finite subject, made of physical matter, living in and spectating a permanently existing, objectively real world. This attitude must go. You are pure Spirit. Appearance of gross matter is a delusion. There is nothing physical at all. What IS, is only Spirit.
Q.: But we are able to touch and feel solid matter.
B.: That is the beauty of maya. You think you touch and feel solid matter. All sensory perceptions that we feel, including bodily sensations such as hunger, cold, pain, etc., together are like a strip of film-reel permitted to run in front of the light from a projector’s light bulb. The projector is the Self and the light emitted is pure consciousness. In a cinema show, when the film starts running, pre-recorded images are projected on the screen, but the light that gives life to the pictures remains unchanged.
Likewise, pure consciousness remains unaffected always. In our unwisdom, we identify ourselves with one of the characters seen on the screen and complain that we are mere perishable mortals. You are that unseen force of content less consciousness that gives life to the body and also to the world that is apparently the body’s environment. The body, together with all the rest of this cosmos, is only an appearance in the pure consciousness of the Self.
Q.: But how to know this is a direct experience? I am able to understand your words only at the level of the intellect. How shall I have the practical experience that the world is only an appearance in me?
B.: Such experience comes naturally to those who have Realised their Self.
Q.: So, if I completely cease to regard the world as being real, shall I be able to Realise my true Self?
B.: Yes, that is it. The mind can either diversify itself into the cosmos or it can stay fixed or quiescent in the Heart; in the latter case it quickly stands transformed into the Self.
Q.: Can you please tell me what exactly is this Self that you are talking about?
B.: It is that unlimited expanse of consciousness which has nothing to do with and is in no way capable of being limited by temporal or spatial considerations, which are merely mental constructs or ideas. It is different from your feeling of subjective awareness, which, owing to your perverse imagination “I am the body”, finds itself to be locked into a particular body and therefore is inevitably bound by time and space.
Q.: What prevents me, then, from being aware of my true Self?
B.: Each and every person in the world styles himself as “I”, taking himself to be the physical body which was born. But nobody investigates into what “I” means. If the investigation is seriously pursued, no such thing called “I” is ever found and then only the Self remains. What prevents Self-awareness? “I” is the culprit. It is “I” that is known as maya or illusion. “I”, which is nothing but the ego or mind, cannot remain in isolation; it always latches itself onto, or associates itself with, something.
In the jagrat state, it takes itself to be the gross body made of flesh and blood, in dreams a dream body, and so on. These adjuncts or unwarranted outgrowths are manufactured by the mind because the mind does not want to sink down into the Self and become one with it. If the mind’s tendency to associate itself with objects is killed, the mind stands destroyed. In the state of absence of association with thoughts, objects and mental concepts, the mind’s actual nature can be discovered to be pure consciousness in which there is not the slightest ripple of perturbation.
In order to recover our original nature of freedom from false limitations, we must search continuously and incessantly for the source of the mind. Then the mind subsides, and we remain as our true Self. Continuous search for the mind or what the mind is results in its disappearance.
Q.: I am frightened to imagine a state without mind.
B.: How are you in the state of deep dreamless sleep?
Q.: In deep sleep there was no awareness of anything.
B.: You say so now, but did you say this or anything else in the state of sleep itself?
B.: The state of sleep is considered to be emptiness or blankness from the perspective of the jagrat state. The mind cannot remember what it was to be like without mind. How can something recollect its own absence? In sleep there was no mind. Therefore, anything the mind says about sleep is necessarily false. Taking the mind’s testimony in relation to the state of sleep is meaningless, because the mind was not there then to witness anything.
Mind cannot know no-mind, because no-mind implies total absence of mind. The fact is that sleep is a state of Unity. We are quite happy in sleep because we are entirely free from thought or imagination. We say we have woken up when “I” comes into play again. But what is the fact? Are you awake now? No. You are fast asleep — to your true Self.
The same Unity that existed in the state of deep sleep exists now also; there can be no break in it. The present diversity perceived in the cosmos is the handiwork of the mind. If mind is transcended, only unqualified Bliss, which is your true nature, remains.
Q.: But how to do this?
B.: No special efforts are needed to Realise the Self. Only remain or BE as you ARE.
Q.: I don’t understand what you are trying to say.
B.: Awareness of the Self need not be cultivated, because it is always existing. The only thing which needs to be done is to give up awareness of the not-Self. Then only the Self is left as the eternal residue. Man’s mind is crowded with attachments, desires and thoughts of all sorts; if all these are discarded, only the mind’s essence, which is pure consciousness, is left as the underlying, undying substratum.
Suppose you want to make space inside a room filled with useless junk. Do you bring or import additional space from outside? No. You simply throw out everything that is in the room and the room is found to have become perfectly spacious. Likewise, relinquish or abandon all of the mind’s contents. Thereafter we need not do anything further — the Self stands automatically Realised. Realisation of the Self only means and is only possible through abandonment of the not-Self.
Q.: But if I am really the formless Self, why do I have this body?
B.: It was explained to you that the body is nothing more than a mental phenomenon. Owing to the fact that you pay attention to it and mistake it to be yourself, the body appears real. The world, not excluding the body, is nothing more than the impression in your mind that something called ‘world’ exists.
What people call ‘world’ is only a mere concept in their minds. So, if you pay attention to your Self exclusively, you will soon discover that you never did have any body at all, and that you always have been the bodiless and formless Self, the one perfect Reality underlying the myriad variety of names and forms you see around you.
Q.: So, I am only imagining that I have a body, whereas in fact I already have no body?
B.: That is so.
Q.: But the bodily sensations such as pain seem very real to me. I am unable to dismiss them or explain them away as being mere mental creations or imagination.
B.: It was explained to you that all sensory perceptions and impressions — including those pertaining to bodily awareness — are super-impositions of ideas on top of pure consciousness. You mentally identify yourself with bodily sensations instead of remaining as pure consciousness; therein lies the mischief.
Q.: But when we feel pain, cold, etc. in our body, these sensations are not the result of our thoughts; they have a physical reality quite apart from our mind or its thoughts.
B.: The pain does not occur to you as the body; the pain occurs in you as the Self. When there is pain, you become miserable because, thinking that you are the body, you imagine that pain is being inflicted upon you. But is there anything apart from you, from yourself? The pain is you, the body is you, everything is truly yourself and there is nothing apart from YOU.
You are not the body or mind you imagine yourself to be. You are that plenary, unbridled expanse of pure consciousness that knows no limitation whatsoever. But to remain as pure consciousness, without spilling over into the quagmirish realm of thought, requires continuous, sustained practice.
Edited by John David Oct 2021