A young man went to a sword master and asked to be accepted as a student.
"I am sorry to offer you this poor student who has no skill with the sword, but please accept me, for the people in my village have no one but me to defend them."
The sensei invited the young man to stand opposite him with his sword.
After a short time the sensei lowered his sword and said, "You have been dishonest with me. You are a master."
"No," replied the young man. "I know nothing."
"Your feeling is that of a master," said the sensei. "Tell me, what have you done?"
"Since my skill with the sword was so poor, I thought that I would be killed very quickly, so every day I practiced facing and accepting my death."
"Ah!" said the sensei. "Truly you are a master, a master of your self, and I can teach you very quickly. Technique is easy. Accepting death is the most difficult part and you have already accomplished that."
The chair on which you are sitting at this moment is traveling through interstellar space at the speed of 1,110 miles per hour, together with the planet Earth, of course, and the whole solar system including the sun. The sun itself is a middle-aged yellow star on the periphery of our galaxy, one star among the hundred billion others composing the galaxy (per Carl Sagan). Astronomers tell us that there are numberless other galaxies like our Milky Way, each made up of billions of stars, most of which quite likely have their own planets circling around them.
If only 1/10,000 of 1 percent of these planets harbors a technical civilization, and this seems to be a conservative estimate, the universe teems with more than 100 trillion civilizations.
As vast and limitless as the outer world is, the inner world is just as vast and limitless.
Our first experience is always of the outward-turned consciousness. It is not until we change the direction of our seeking, not toward objects but toward an eternal and all-encompassing consciousness, do we become aware of the inward-turned consciousness.
The Crest-Jewel of Discrimination
The Indian saint, poet and philosopher Shankara (788-820 C.E.) was one of the earliest exponents of Advaita Vedanta. In addition to his commentaries on the Brahmasutras, the principal Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, he produced two major philosophical works: the Upadeshasahasri and the Viveka-chudamani, which translates as the Crest-Jewel of Discrimination.
In the Crest-Jewel of Discrimination Shankara talks about developing viveka, the human power of discrimination, and conceives of this as the most essential ingredient – the crest-jewel – in the spiritual journey toward moksha, liberation. He invites us to find out for ourselves what is true - no teacher, no scripture can do the work for us. We must actively participate in the search. Direct personal experience is the only satisfactory proof of Reality.
We all know that we exist. We are all aware of our own consciousness. But what is the nature of this consciousness, this existence? With the development of this faculty of discrimination, we soon see that the ego-idea is not the fundamental reality, that there is something beyond.
We are trying to be aware of what we already are, what we always are, and this awareness is not merely an aspect of consciousness, it is consciousness itself. The awakened seer does not merely know Consciousness, he is Consciousness, he is Existence, he is Knowledge. Absolute freedom is not something to be attained, absolute knowledge is not something to be gained, Consciousness is not something to be found. It is only ignorance which has to be overcome. The positive fact of our real nature eternally exists, we just ignore this fact.
Franklin wrote 56 aphorisms on Consciousness Without an Object that echo the Shiva Sutras. Reading these aphorisms is a great meditation in itself.
Here are the first five:
Before objects were, Consciousness-without-an-object is.
Though objects seem to exist, Consciousness-without-an-object is.
When objects vanish, yet remaining through all unaffected, Consciousness-without-an-object is.
Outside of Consciousness-without-an-object, nothing is.
He says about the aphorisms:
"To know That which the aphorisms symbolize is to be possessed by That, and then to be one with That. Thenceforth, all thinking, all feeling, all particularization, and all selfhood lie below.
To be sure, all these remain, but no longer as claimants to a Throne they could not possibly fill. They remain thenceforth as the actors in the Divine Drama, but no more."
Consciousness Without an Object
Franklin Merrell-Wolff (1887-1985) was a contemporary American philosopher and mystic. Educated in philosophy and mathematics at Stanford and Harvard, Merrell-Wolff saw an indescribable beauty in pure mathematics as well as a doorway to transcending the normal limits of human consciousness. Abandoning academia, he dedicated his life to pursuing this goal. He explored various mystical teachings and paths, including the path of jnana yoga and the writings of Shankara, through which he ultimately had his awakening.
Describing his experiences in detail in his own great works, Pathways Through to Space and The Philosophy of Consciousness Without an Object, Merrell-Wolff tells us:
"Awareness is. It has independence and self-existence. As soon as consciousness is concerned with content, inter-relations or duality is introduced. Deleting content, only consciousness remains as the common denominator.
It is as though the ‘I’, which in the original state was like a bare point within the universe witnessing all objects, had suddenly transformed itself into a space that comprehended all objects. But the duality between the subject to consciousness and the object of consciousness is destroyed, yet still remains as a Self that is aware, that maintains its own identity. Such a Self realizes values such as Bliss, Peace, and Freedom.
It remains impossible to doubt one's own Being, however little we may be able to understand the nature of that Being. The subject, or Self, in its purity, unmixed with any objective element, can never truly be an object of consciousness. That pure subjectivity, or the bare power to be aware, is a permanent or unchanging element.
The Self is not far away, but near at hand, in fact closer than the universe of objects. There is no difference between the purely subjective element of the subject-object consciousness and the Self. What is nearer to us than our most immediate Self? That which we call 'I', and which is always present, however much the content of consciousness may change. We have the power to see, yet constantly project ourselves into the objects seen, thereby superimposing upon ourselves the limitations of those objects.
Every human problem grows out of this.
When in meditation we dissociate the 'I', or subject, from the whole universe of objects, we have seemingly retreated into a bare point of consciousness. In the deepest meditation the point is metamorphosed into a kind of space in which the self and the content of consciousness are blended in one inseparable whole. Now, it should be understood that this is not a consciousness wherein the individual merely finds himself in space, but he is, as a Self, identical with the whole of space.
The final thought before the 'breakthrough' was the very clear realization that there was nothing to be attained. For attainment implied acquisition and acquisition implied change of content in consciousness. But the Goal is not change of content. Thus recognition has nothing to do with anything that happens. I am already That which I seek, and therefore, there is nothing to be sought. By the very seeking I hide myself from myself. Therefore, abandon the search and expect nothing. This was the end of the long search. I died, and in the same instant was born again. Spontaneity took over in place of the old self-determined effort. After that I knew directly the Consciousness possessing the characteristics reported by the mystics again and again."
The Journey Begins
My own path began with this reading of the accounts of sages and saints recording their own awakening. I began my search in the only bookstore around at that time - 1969. Samuel Weiser, Specialists in Occult & Oriental Philosophy, said the sign in the window.
I was living as an aspiring artist in the East Village in Manhattan in a sixth-floor walkup. I was in my late twenties, still chasing after experience, and I could tell how my life was going when I would come home after a (very) late night in the Jazz clubs by how difficult it was for me to get up those six flights of stairs.
I had always believed I would die when I was 29. My father died when he was 29, and he predicted he would die then because his father had also died when he was 29. And so the seed was planted in me. My 29th birthday came and went. I thought, OK if I am going to live, then I want to be healthy and I began to clean up my act through the study of yoga. One of the most empowering events in my life at that time was quitting smoking.
I had read that the power of Will was the closest power to the true Self. First comes the thought I, then comes the thought will. I will. I will not. I understood that I would not be able to meditate if I was in constant withdrawal from nicotine. And so I stopped. I simply said, I WILL NOT. Wow! I had found my source of power. My body could not do anything on its own. I plunged into yoga with a focus and a power that I’d forgotten I had.
Who am I?
Who Am I? is the first set of instructions in Ramana's own words. The mind consists of thoughts, he said. The 'I' thought is the first to arise in the mind. When the inquiry 'Who Am I' is persistently pursued, all other thoughts get destroyed, and finally the 'I' thought itself vanishes, leaving only the supreme non-dual Self.
Weiser's was in the West Village. I would walk over to the store and walk around the stacks of books looking at the covers to see if any resonated with me. One such book had the picture of the most serene face looking right at me with pure love - The Teaching of Ramana Maharshi.
My first really profound and transforming experience of myself came from his sparse writing called Who Am I?
Sri Ramana Maharshi was born in 1879 in South India. At the age of seventeen he suddenly had an experience of death, in which he realized that the body dies but that consciousness is not touched by death. 'I' am immortal consciousness.
"All these," he later reported, "were no idle speculation. They went through me like a powerful, living truth that I experienced directly, almost without thinking. 'I', that is, the true I or Self, was reality, the only reality in this momentary state. All conscious activity that related to my body flowed into this 'I'. From that moment, all attention was drawn, as if by a powerful magic to the 'I' or Self. The fear of death was permanently extinguished. From this time on I remained fully absorbed in the Self."
Ramana left home for Arunachala, a mountain considered sacred by Hindus. There he spent several years in silent self-absorption, first in a dark corner of a temple in Tiruvannamalai, at the foot of the mountain, and later in various caves on the mountain itself. He lived at Arunachala for the rest of his life.
He maintained that the purest form of his teaching was the powerful silence which radiated from his presence and quieted the minds of those attuned to it, and gave verbal teaching only for the benefit of those who could not understand his silence. When asked for advice, he recommended self-inquiry as the most direct path to the Self.
There, in 1950, Ramana Maharshi passed into mahasamadhi - he left his body.
The false identification of the Self with the phenomena of non-self, such as body-mind, thus ends and there is illumination. As one inquires, 'Who Am I?', other thoughts arise, but as these arise, one should not follow after them. On the contrary, one should ask, 'To whom do they arise?'
For the mind that has gained skill in concentration, Self-inquiry becomes comparatively easy. It is through ceaseless inquiry that the thoughts are destroyed and the Self realized - the Reality in which there is not even the 'I' thought. The experience that is referred to as 'Silence.'
I started to read Ramana's instructions.
The gross body, which is composed of the seven humours, I am not.
I consciously stepped back from the body as the witness of the body.
The five cognitive sense organs, the senses of hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell, I am not.
I consciously stepped back from the senses.
The five objects of the senses, sound, touch, color, taste and odor, I am not.
I consciously stepped back as the witness of the objects of the senses.
The five organs of speech, locomotion, grasping, excretion and procreation, which have as their respective functions speaking, moving, grasping, excreting and enjoying, I am not.
I consciously stepped back as the witness of these functions.
The five vital airs, prana, etc., which perform respectively the five functions of in-breathing, etc., I am not.
I consciously stepped back as the witness of my breath.
Even the mind which thinks, I am not. Even the quiet mind, in which there are no objects and no functionings, I am not.
I consciously stepped back as the witness of the mind.
I began to weep with inner joy. I was not what I had always thought I was! I experienced myself beyond body and mind, in a state of pure being. I had come home again, lost to me since my running days. I knew it once again. I recognized it. It was the wonderful silent space in which all experience was unfolding spontaneously in a rush of energy! And wonder of wonders, I was not the mind or any of that stuff I thought about myself. I wept for a long while, with a joy, a freedom, and a release that I had never known. Who am I, indeed?
I was sorry to learn that Ramana had left his body, but I realized that there must be living Masters in the world, I needed only to meet them. My search intensified.
- Desire robs us of discrimination. It makes us consider the unreal to be real, and the real to be unreal.
- Discipline brings peace, freedom and bliss into your life.
- The lives of sages and saints and their words have a peculiar power and can produce an awakening in one’s own life.
- Ramana Maharshi’s instructions on self-inquiry are a powerful meditation.
- Existence - Consciousness - Bliss (Sat - Chit - Ananda) are the very nature of our true Self.
I am That
Prior to the physical body of wind, fire, water, and earth,
Prior to the mental body of thoughts, emotions, and images,
Prior to the ego, the individual consciousness,
Prior to the intellect, the knower of the intellect,
Prior to the will to know and the power to act,
Prior to the universe of names and forms, the creative unfolding of Consciousness is.
The pure light of Consciousness is, and knows that it is, and loves itself.
And You are That.
Rest in this pure Consciousness for a few minutes.