Thursday, May 6, 2010

Your duty is to Be, and not to be this or that
"I Am That I Am" sums up the whole truth; the method is summarized in "Be Still."
There is neither past nor future; there is only the present. Yesterday was the present when you experienced it; tomorrow will also be the present when you experience it. Therefore, experience takes place only in the present, and beyond and apart from experience nothing exists.
If anything can be gained that was not present before, it can also be lost, whereas the Absolute is eternal, here and now.
"It was in 1896, about 6 weeks before I left Madurai for good (to go to Tiruvannamalai - Arunachala) that this great change in my life took place. I was sitting alone in a room on the first floor of my uncle's house. I seldom had any sickness and on that day there was nothing wrong with my health, but a sudden violent fear of death overtook me. There was nothing in my state of health to account for it nor was there any urge in me to find out whether there was any account for the fear. I just felt I was going to die and began thinking what to do about it. It did not occur to me to consult a doctor or any elders or friends. I felt I had to solve the problem myself then and there. The shock of the fear of death drove my mind inwards and I said to myself mentally, without actually framing the words: "Now death has come; what does it mean? What is that is dying? This body dies."

And at once I dramatised the occurrence of death. I lay with my limbs stretched out still as though rigor mortis has set in, and imitated a corpse so as to give greater reality to the enquiry. I held my breath and kept my lips tightly closed so that no sound could escape, and that neither the word "I" nor any word could be uttered. "Well then," I said to myself, “this body is dead. It will be carried stiff to the burning ground and there burn and reduced to ashes. But with the death of the body, am I dead? Is the body I? It is silent and inert, but I feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of I within me, apart from it. So I am the Spirit transcending the body. The body dies but the spirit transcending it cannot be touched by death. That means I am the deathless Spirit. All this was not dull thought; it flashed through me vividly as living truths which I perceived directly almost without thought process. "I" was something real, the only real thing about my present state, and all the conscious activity connected with the body was centered on that "I". From that moment onwards, the "I" or Self focussed attention on itself by a powerful fascination. Fear of death vanished once and for all. The ego was lost in the flood of Self-awareness. Absorption in the Self continued unbroken from that time. Other thought might come and go like the various notes of music, but the "I" continued like the fundamental sruti note which underlies and blends with all other notes.


The most detailed published account of Bhagavan’s realisation is to be found in B. V. Narasimha Swami’s biography Self Realization. It was the first major biography to be written, and all subsequent accounts have relied heavily on his version, either quoting it verbatim or summarising its contents. The account in the book was not a direct transcription of Bhagavan’s words, and the author makes this clear in a footnote which has appeared in most of the editions of the book. He said that he was merely summarising, in his own words, a series of conversations which he had with Bhagavan over a period of six weeks in 1930. The following account gives two of the conversations on which his final account was based. These are the only records of the conversation that are still in existence, but fortunately they cover all the known aspects of the experience, so it is unlikely that much valuable material has been lost. The first conversation took place on 8th January 1930 and the second a few weeks later on 5th February.

There are two important points in this account that are not brought out in the published version. The first is Bhagavan’s repeated use of the word avesam to describe his initial perception of his experience. In Tamil the word means ‘possession’ in the sense of being taken over by a spirit. For the first few weeks Bhagavan felt that he had been taken over by a spirit which had taken up residence in his body. The second related point is that the feeling persisted until shortly before he left home. His discovery that the avesam was the Self, and not some external being residing in his body, may have been a contributory factor in his decision to leave home.

The account is in Bhagavan’s words, and though there are strong traces of the translator’s style and preferred terminology, it is still a more accurate version than the ones that have appeared in all the published biographies.

Bhagavan: "My fear of death was some six weeks before I left Madurai for good. That was only on one day and for a short time. At the time there was a flash of excitement; it may roughly be described as ‘heat’, but it was not clear that there was a higher temperature in the body, nor was there perspiration. It appeared to be like some avesam or some spirit possessing me.

That changed my mental attitude and habits. I had formerly [had] a preference for some foods and an aversion to others. This tendency dropped off and all foods were swallowed with equal indifference, good or rotten, tasty or tasteless. Studies and duties became matters of utter indifference to me, and I went through my studies turning over pages mechanically just to make others who were looking on think that I was reading. In fact, my attention was never directed towards the books, and consequently I never understood their contents.

Similarly, I went through other social duties, possessed all the time by this avesam, i.e., my mind was absent from them, being fascinated and charmed by my own Self. I would put up with every burden imposed on me at home, tolerating every slight with humility and forbearance. Periodically, interest in and introspection on the Self would swallow up all other feelings and interests.

That fear was only on the first day, that is, the day of the awakening. It was a sudden fear of death which developed, not merely indifference to external things. It also started two new habits. First, the habit of introspection, that is, having attention perpetually turned on my Self, and second, the habit of emotional tears when visiting the Madurai Temple. The actual enquiry and discovery of ‘Who I am’ was over on the very first day of the change. That time, instinctively, I held my breath and began to think or dive inward with my enquiry into my own nature.

‘This body is going to die,’ I said to myself, referring to the gross physical body. I had no idea that there was any sukshma sarira [subtle body] in human beings. I did not even think of the mind. I thought of the gross physical body when I used the term body, and I came to the conclusion that when it was dead and rigid (then it seemed to me that my body had actually become rigid as I stretched myself like a corpse with rigor mortis upstairs, thinking this out) I was not dead. I was, on the other hand, conscious of being alive, in existence. So the question arose in me, ‘What was this “I”? Is it the body? Who called himself the “I”?’

So I held my mouth shut, determined not to allow it to pronounce ‘I’ or any other syllable. Still I felt within myself, the ‘I’ was there, and the thing calling or feeling itself to be ‘I’ was there. What was that? I felt that there was a force or current, a centre of energy playing on the body, continuing regardless of the rigidity or activity of the body, though existing in connection with it. It was that current, force or centre that constituted my Self, that kept me acting and moving, but this was the first time I came to know it.

I had no idea of my Self before that. From that time on, I was spending my time absorbed in contemplation of that current.

Once I reached that conclusion (as I said, on the first day of the six weeks, the day of my awakening into my new life) the fear of death dropped off. It had no place in my thoughts. ‘I’, being a subtle current, it had no death to fear.

So, further development or activity was issuing from the new life and not from any fear. I had no idea at that time of the identity of that current with the personal God, or Iswara as I used to call him. As for Brahman, the impersonal absolute, I had no idea then. I had not even heard the name then. I had not read the Bhagavad Gita or any other religious works except the Periyapuranam and in Bible class the four Gospels and the Psalms from the Bible.

I had seen a copy of Vivekananda’s Chicago lecture, but I had not read it. I could not even pronounce his name correctly. I pronounced it ‘Vyvekananda’, giving the ‘i’ the ‘y’ sound. I had no notions of religious philosophy except the current notions of God, that He is an infinitely powerful person, present everywhere, though worshipped in special places in the images representing Him. This I knew in addition to a few other similar ideas which I picked up from the Bible and the Periyapuranam.

Later, when I was in the Arunachala Temple, I learned of the identity of myself with Brahman, which I had heard in the Ribhu Gita as underlying all. I was only feeling that everything was being done by the current and not by me, a feeling I had had ever since I wrote my parting note and left home. I had ceased to regard the current as my narrow ‘I’. This current, or avesam, now felt as if it was my Self, not a superimposition.

While, on the one hand, the awakening gave me a continuous idea or feeling that my Self was a current or force in which I was perpetually absorbed whatever I did, on the other hand the possession led me frequently to the Meenakshi Sundaresa Temple [in Madurai]. Formerly I would visit it occasionally with friends, but at that time [it] produced no noticeable emotional effect, much less a change in my habits. But after the awakening I would go there almost every evening, and in that obsession I would go and stand there for a long time alone before Siva, Nataraja, Meenakshi and the sixty-three saints. I would sob and shed tears, and would tremble with emotion. I would not generally pray for anything in particular, although I often wished and prayed that…"

The rest of this particular manuscript is missing, but a few weeks later, on 5th February 1930, Narasimha Swami questioned him again on this topic, and Bhagavan gave the following answer:

"It was not fear of death that took me to the Madurai Temple during those six weeks in 1896. The fear seized me for a short while when I was upstairs in my uncle’s house, and it gave rise to that avesam or current. That obsession made me introspective and made me look perpetually into my own nature, and took me also to temples, made me sob and weep without pain or joy or other explanation, and also it made me wish that I should become like the sixty-three saints and that I should obtain the blessings or grace of Iswara – general blessings, specifying and expecting nothing in particular.

I had no thought or fear of death then, and I did not pray for release from death. I had no idea before those six weeks or during those six weeks that life on earth was full of pain, and I had no longing or prayer to be released from samsara, or human life or lives. All that idea and talk of samsara and bandha [bondage] I learnt only after coming to this place and reading books. I never entertained either the idea that life was full of woe or that life was undesirable.

That avesam continues right up to now. After reading the language of the sacred books, I see it may be termed suddha manas [pure mind], akhandakara vritti [unbroken experience], prajna [true knowledge] etc.; that is, the state of mind of Iswara or the jnani."

Question: How is it that there was a perception of difference and prayer that ‘I should become like the sixty-three saints and get Iswara’s grace?

Bhagavan: "The akhandakara [unbroken] current was sporting with these and still remained despite that desire."

David Godman: What I like in this account is the clear process of self-enquiry that is mentioned. This seemed a lot more vague in the final published version. I was also pleased to note that the phrase ' ...I feel the full force of my personality...' is absent here. I always found it odd that Bhagavan would say that he felt the full force of his personality after his realisation, so I suspect that this phrase was inserted by Narasimha Swami. Twenty-five years ago I talked to Prof. Swaminathan about this and asked him what Tamil phrase might correspond to this 'full force of his personality', but he couldn't think of anything that it might have been.
The term avesam does appear in the Self-Realisation account, but it is translated there as 'spirit, current or force'. The idea of possession is absent.]

Satsang will make the mind sink into the heart. Satsang means association with truth.
The mind, turned outwards, results in thoughts and objects. Turned inwards, it becomes itself the Self.
The degree of the absence of thoughts is the measure of your progress towards Self-realization. But Self-realization itself does not admit of progress, it is ever the same.
To ask the mind to kill the mind is like making the thief the policeman. He will go with you and pretend to catch the thief, but nothing will be gained.