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Elvis Was Not a Mentalist

Thoughts on Paul Brunton's doctrine of mentalism, Ramana's self-inquiry, and the "I-thought"

By Peter Holleran

   In his last ten years after his breakup with Priscilla the King took a serious interest in the occult, astrology, the writings of H.P. Blavatsky, and even joined the Self-Realization Fellowship. (1) After reading Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda he once asked a friend to look up in the sky, announcing that he was going to use his mind to move a cloud. After a few minutes he exclaimed excitedly, did you see it, man - did you see it move?!!

   This type of expectation is often associated with a beginners first introduction to the teachings of mentalism. Too much ingestion of ayahuasca on excursions to Peru, too much reading of Carlos Castaneda, and even the random occurence of such phenomenon may lead one to a mistaken understanding of this ancient philosophic doctrine, recently updated for our times by V.S. Iyer and Paul Brunton (PB), and further extrapolated on by Anthony Damiani. In this article I will offer a few thoughts of my own on what mentalism both is and is not, and what the I-thought, spoken of by the sage Ramana Maharshi, both is and is not. I will explore another way of looking at the nature of this so-called I-thought that may be more in line with our actual experience than just considering it as a thought! Also, what does seeing the world as a dream have to do with mentalism and realization, and how do feeling and willing - as contrasted with thinking - relate to the concept of the ego? Is the ego only a thought, or a bunch of thoughts, albeit strongly held ones? It will be suggested that the thinking of I is intimately related to the feeling of "I", and the "willing of "I" (or the primal act of self-will), and that in the end it is a mysterious thing that defies categorization but nevertheless impacts all of our experiencing. Further, it is suggested that only such a three-part mode of looking at it will provide any hope, certainly for westerners, of fulfilling a sadhana based on the famous who am I? enquiry of the Maharshi.

   [For those unfamiliar with the unique terminology used by PB (Mind, World-Mind, World-Idea, Overself, Mentalism), found within this paper, please see click here for a precise explanation].

   What Is Mentalism?

   Damiani states:

   "His first mental act is to think himself into being. He is the maker of his own I. This does not mean that the ego is his own personal invention alone. The whole world-process brings everything about, including the ego and the egos own self-making. (PB V6, 8:2.15) Thats mentalism in a nutshell. Thats the whole mentalistic doctrine. The Soul has for its content the World-Idea, and it actualizes that or projects that World-Idea out from within itself. And included in that World-Idea is the ego and the process that its going to go through." (2)

   PB further elaborates:

   "Every presented thing which is seen smelled, heard, felt, or tasted, no less than every representative thought, idea, name, or image, is entirely mental. The streets of busy towns and the forests of lonely mountains are all, without exception, mere constructs of the imagining faculty."

   "It is asked why, if the world is like a dream or a hallucination, we all have the same dream or suffer the same hallucination. Why do we project it in common instead of independently, since we all do have quite different dreams when asleep at night or quite different reveries when awake by day? The answer is that there is another and vaster Mind behind our personal minds which imposes the same world-image upon them all, so that all see it and live in it. Moreover, they are of necessity themselves projected by this Mind so that this image is not less real for them than their own selves. The mind makes for itself this world of illusion, this stage of space and time and form. But it does not make it independently of all prompting. For the image that it constructs is imposed upon it - or projected into it - by the Mind behind it."

   "A popular misconception of mentalism must be cleared. When we say that the world does not exist for man apart from his own mind, this is not to say that man is the sole world-creator. If that were so he could easily play the magician and reshape a hampering environment in a day. NO! - what mentalism really teaches is that man's mind perceives, by participating in it, the world-image which the World-Mind creates and holds. Man alone is not responsible for this image, which could not possibly exist if it did not exist also in the World-Mind's consciousness."

   PBs teacher, V.S. Iyer, told him:

   "Point out that the truth of idealism can become clear only by eliminating the ego; otherwise people will ask, Why can't I create a world by thought, thus falling into solipsism." (Commentaries, Vol. 1, p. 225)

   Just as Christian doctrine teaches that God is the very Soul of the Soul, therefore, and as Plotinus posits an Absolute Soul in and as which individual Souls derive their existence, so also do individual minds exist within one absolute Mind. Thus mentalism is not a form of solipsism where the apparent individual is the sole creator of his own universe - although it will be admitted, as these are mere words, or "fingers pointing to the moon," that the entire affair will remain full of mystery and paradox.

   PB continues:

   "The ego is a structure which has been built up in former lives from tendencies, habits, and experiences in a particular pattern. But in the end the whole thing is nothing but a thought, albeit a strong and continuing thought. (v6, 8:2.44)...All the former tendencies that you have are actualizing themselves as this thought..." (4)

   O.K. Right there we can establish one principle about mentalism: It is not something you can use as an ego to feather your own nest. The ego is a bunch of habit energies or tendencies that create the illusion or tentative sense of an I conjoined with a body, but which is itself actually the product of the entire cosmos. The spiritual process, in part, is to universalize the ego to include the entire World-Idea, thus evolving to an impersonal point of view. That could be a process of lifetimes.

   So, to give an example, let's consider this question: "did I write this article?" The answer is, "yes and no." Damiani says:

   "....when you're working out the meaning of the doctrine in all its implications, and you're trying to make it explicit, youll find that you can’t do it under your own power. Its only when this higher power within you, the Overself, starts taking a hand in the game, that you start finding the material you need to answer certain questions, and you find other material to provoke you into asking certain questions, and so this mysterious process keeps going on. When a person is under that kind of surveillance by the higher Power, you can almost say the Logos is working its meaning out in that person, and the person will become conscious of that." (5)

   This entire website was created during a period when Uranus was transitting conjunct my natal Mercury. The ideas flew out of me almost without effort. Of course, there were some experiences to draw upon, and years of study with a lot of concepts in the tank, but this "I" needed the cosmic energy to "package" them into something creative and hopefully useful. In addition, natal Sun-Mercury-Venus-Mars in Pisces are in the third house, which was being activated by an exact square from Pluto, as well as the conjunction from Uranus, and a crop of articles, to unsuspecting eyes seemingly being created at a furious rate, were themselves a product of this vulcanic pressure and electric stimulus. This "I" receives ideas and essentially HAD to write them down before it could get any rest. As the goddess Athena said, “some things you will think of for yourself, and others a god will put in your heart” - the “gods” essentially being the divine functioning of the transpersonal outer planets.

   According to the PB-Damiani-Plotinus version of mentalism, it is the World-Mind (i.e., God) with its expression the World-Idea, essentially the entire cosmos, represented in large measure by these trans-Saturnian planets, which impresses the body-mind (itself a product of that World-Idea), with its own ideas. They don't originate in this little brain, right? How, therefore, can I say that I am due all the credit? So a correct understanding of mentalism can help keep you a little humble. PB says:

   "Each individual Soul projects the World-Idea, but first it must have the intermediary of an ego through which the world gets projected. All [of] that exists within the Overself, within the Soul itself [or Soul identified with Nature]." (6)


   "The ego to which he is so attached turns out on enquiry to be none other than the presence of the World-Mind within his own heart. If identification is then shifted by constant practice from one to the other, he has achieved the purpose of life." (7)

   This can be confusing when conceiving the ego as an 'emanant' of the Overself. The ego is actually a complex thing. Elsewhere PB lays bear the two-fold nature of the ego, with its phenomenal and noumenal aspects:

   "There is no real ego but only a quick succession of thoughts which constitutes the "I" process. There is no separate entity forming the personal consciousness but only a series of impressions, ideas, images revolving round a common centre. The latter is completely empty; the feeling of something being there derives from a totally different plane--that of the Overself." (7a)

   So the Soul projects its 'light' into the ego or body-mind complex, which itself is a projection of the World-Idea manifesting through the Soul. Combining this quote with the previous one, we can see that the apparent ego or phenomenal sense of 'I' is changing moment to moment. The Buddhists were right about this. But the deeper feeling of reality of the 'I' comes from the Soul or Overself. So we see that, contrary to most historical descriptions of the spiritual process, the ego itself is not actually destroyed, even upon awakening, although its tyrannical sway is lessened over time by the power of conscious awakening. The ego itself, however, is inseparable from our unlimited, infinite Conscious nature. It is an evolutionary product of the World-Mind. Even so the ego as thought usurps the 'light' and then assumes it has an inherent reality. So it is in that sense 'the slayer of the real' as ancient scriptures have described it.. Direct assault techniques to "kill" it , however, are usually found unsatisfactory and wanting in transformative power. Brunton continues:

   "Unless the human ego were itself an emanation of the Overself it would be quite unable to identify with the sensation of severance from the body during the process we call dying." (8)

   So it is a very complex situation. On one hand the ego is seen as something through ignorance that separates us from the Universal Benevolence, and on the other hand it is part of the evolutionary world-process and connected with the Soul itself.

   The Soul doesn't do anything, it is Being, therefore to try and move a cloud, or a mountain, with its power, is off the mark. Mentalism simply and rightfully means the realization that all arises in consciousness, or Mind, not that we personally think everything, or can think anything, into being. What happens depends on many factors, and lots of things happen that I never thought of and don't happen that I did think of. Satya Sai Baba (the one with the Afro) was known to manifest vibhuti, or sacred ash, in his palms - but did anybody ever ask him to make a ham - er, vegieburger? - just kidding. But you get the point. Mentalism gets rid of the concept of independently existing matter, by pointing out that that is something that is unknowable, because we cannot know or experience anything outside of our consciousness of it. But the role of our individual mind, certainly at the level of the ego, is participatory, as it were, in the Universal Mind, and not a capricious creator on its own.

   "Generally when you speak about mentalism to people they get the strange idea that you are denying the existence of a certain object, whereas what he [PB] is saying is: No, we are just telling you what the object is. It is a thought. We are not denying its existence, we are explaining it." (9)

   Often we get hung up, I feel, because our idea of a thought is itself a mental or intellectual concept. Do we really know what a thought IS? From the position of the philosophy of Drik, or the essence of mentalism, as taught by Iyer or P.B., thoughts, feelings, perceptions, conceptions, are ALL mental. That is, anything presenting to consciousness is considered as mental, as opposed to material, or some stuff separate from consciousness. Pain is mental, too. That is important, because how many times do we say to ourselves when we are suffering, to hell with it is just a thought, it is a feeling! I'm frickin' HURTING!!! Perhaps this conclusion is the result of hundreds of lives of crystalizing ignorant thoughts, leading to ignorant behavior, leading to ignorant and inevitable results in the form of inauspicious feelings and karma, but in that moment, how many of us can truly see it as a thought? Yet, if we know that anything presenting to consciousness is just that, i.e., something presenting and arising in and as, and to consciousness, then at least the idea of dualism itself has been dented and lessened in intensity a little, even if we can't agree that pain is a thought.

   To see the world as an idea often takes quite some time. It can happen through mystical experience or directly through intense thinking:

   "PB says somewhere that first he had the mystical experience of mentalism and then he was able to explain it. It can be reversed, too. You can study these things for many years and then get the mystical experience of the truth of these doctrines. Usually it happens that way. You have to spend many years in profound study and reflection and then you get the experience of the world as an idea, but only after you have gone through a very lengthy study."

   "The idea of meditation is to teach your mind to be very calm, very quiet and go into itself.? Also, in meditation your thinking has to get very very sharp like a surgeon's knife.? You can't make a mistake because if you slip you are going to come up with the wrong notions. So the development of your rational faculty, the ability to concentrate for long periods of time - the ability to keep the mind quiet and still: all these things are necessary to realize and bring about the truth of who you are and what the world is."
  (Anthony Damiani 8/83)

   One way of expressing mentalism is this: "we don't see the world because it exists; the world exists because we see it." This is a radical reversal of the view of common humanity, and the profound realization of this truth is tantamount to realization itself.

   One more point. This little ego of ours is evolving, at the same time one is moved to transcend it. The words can be confusing, because some of the 'advaitic fundamentalists' will argue that there is no ego in the first place, so there is no one to transform or transcend it. So be it. Let it simply be as PB said:

   "How can man fully express himself unless he fully develops himself? The spiritual evolution which requires him to abandon the ego runs parallel to the mental evolution which requires him to perfect it...The ego is a part of the divine order of existence. It must emerge, grow, enslave, and finally be enslaved..."(10)

   Man is in the make; only the 'holy' fool gets permanently enlightened. Eckhart Tolle said, in A New Earth,

   "Awakened doing is the alignment of your outer purpose - what you do - with your inner purpose - awakening and staying awake. Through awakened doing, you become one with the outgoing purpose of the universe. Consciousness flows through you into this world. It flows into your thoughts and inspires them. It flows into what you do and guides and empowers it. Not what you do, but how you do what you do determines whether you are fulfilling your destiny. And how you do what you do is determined by your state of consciousness." (11)

   This is much the same as what Anthony Damiani wrote, commenting on words of PB:

   "There is a special uniqueness that an individual lives, and the closer it conforms to the World-Idea, the closer it conforms to the great Uniqueness. Your ego is part and parcel of the World-Idea. As it evolves it will conform more and not less to the World-Idea. Eventually you'll be pushed right into the World-Idea and be like part and parcel of the World-Idea. Then you are the great Uniqueness." (12)

   What Is the "I-thought?"

   Aside from increasing ones basic understanding through study, reflection, etc, what is the task of the aspirant, then, regarding spiritual practice ? What does one make of Ramanas famous Who Am I enquiry? Is the I-thought really a thought as commonly conceived? - or is it more akin to an I-feeling, or the feeling of I ? Can we look at it as that? If we do, then we see what Ramana was trying to move people towards with the enquiry, which he said was the same as bhakti or devotion, namely: a submission to the core of ones being. Specifically, he often spoke of a phase of the enquiry (and sometimes equated this phase with the real enquiry itself, all the rest being but preliminary) as contacting the aham sphurana, which was the current of I, "pulsating", "throbbing, and which would lead one to the Heart, and consequently liberation. Most of the time Ramana spoke in the language of yoga as if intense introversion was necessary for this, and, indeed, that was his initial experience. Lakshmana Swamy, a well-known disciple, argued similarly that unless the mind sinks into the heart and dies, there is no realization. He, too, used the language of the I-thought, but Ramana at times alternated between that and referring to a "feeling. For instance, he said:

   "So long as there is doubt or the feeling of non-realization, an attempt must be made to rid oneself of these thoughts." (13)

Ramana often stressed that the "I-thought" must be "pure":

M"...The real Self is the Infinite "I-I," i.e., "I" is perfection. It is eternal. It has no origin and no end. The other "I" is born and also dies. It is impermanent. See to whom are the changing thoughts. They will be found to arise after the "I"-thought. Hold the "I"-thought. They subside. Trace back the source of the "I"-thought. The Self alone will remain.
D. It is difficult to follow. I understand he theory. But what is the practice?
M. The other methods are meant for those who cannot take to the investigation of the Self. Even to repeat Aham Brahmasmi or think of it, a doer is necessary. Who is it? It is "I." Be that "I." It is the direct method. The other methods also will ultimately lead everyone to this method of investigation of the Self.
D. I am aware of the "I." Yet my troubles are not over.
M. This "I"-thought is not pure. It is contaminated by association with the body and senses. See to whom the trouble is. It is to the "I"-thought. Hold it. Then the other thoughts vanish.
D. Yes. How to do it? That is the whole trouble.
M. Think "I" "I" "I" and hold to that one thought to the exclusion of all others."

   In Talks (p. 194) Ramana actually said that the "I"-thought is the vijnanamayakosha, while the mind (manomayakosha) is all the other thoughts. Thus when the Self is not realized, in bifurcated consciousness, the "I"-thought is subject and mind the object. So one can view the "I"-thought as a very subtle thought/feeling, the root of the mind. The "I-I" could be said to transcend the mind.

   Shree Atmananda Krishnamenon affirms that the true ‘I’ is, so to speak, behind the heart:

   Arta is the forerunner of the jnani, the perfect state. It is characterized by a restless desire to attain the Truth, or in other words, a thirst for knowledge. This is pure love itself. This thirst does not come from the heart. It comes from deeper below and it takes you to the very source. The mind and intellect only clear the road and pave the way for the royal procession of the heart to the Ultimate...Look within subjectively [i.e., intuitively, or antardrishti] along the line of the heart following the track closely and earnestly, you reach the real ‘I’, behind the heart itself. Then you discover that the sense of bondage was an illusion, and that you were never bound at all.” (Notes on Spiritual Discourses, #’s 815, 848)

   “When love becomes more and more sublime, the degree of sacrifice involved also increases proportionately...It demands the whole of the lower self or the death of the ego itself. But to reach it, you must begin to cultivate that love even here, by sacrificing the interests of the lower self, little by little.” - Shree Atmananda Krishnamenon

   Interestingly, even Sant Kirpal Singh - who most of the time taught that ‘the seat of the soul in the body is at the third eye, and the Master resides there,’ - once while speaking to a group of disciples said they should “enter into the tomb of your Guru. This (gesturing to His chest) is the tomb.” (Morning Talks, 1981 edition, p. 258). A mystery?


   The reader is directed to the article by David Godman on Ramana Maharshi entitled The I and the I-I for a discussion of this subject. It would be good to read that before proceeding further.


   To recap, Ramana sometimes seems to alternate between advocating deep, one-pointed introversion, and also simply seeing that there is no "I". Paradoxically the way to do that is to “hold” the “I” in order to isolate it; then its source will be found by the magnetic grace of the Self. He varied his teaching method from the language of yoga, or experience (ie., samadhi), and that of traditional vedanta, or identity (the Self), depending on the caliber of the disciple in front of him. James Schwartz argues:

   "It is a common misconception that you can just ‘get it’ once and for all and from that point on life is just endless bliss.  I don’t know if you are familiar with the story of Ramana Maharshi, but if you are, ask yourself why, if after his death experience and the awakening it caused, he spent twenty years sitting alone in caves?  If he was the Self as he had experienced, then what is the point of sitting in caves?  Isn’t it rather stupid to say the reality only shines in caves, that it does not shine in the world?  Why not just go back home and live like a normal person?  The answer is that he had experienced the Self and he could not forget it and his mind was turned inward, ‘’by a powerful fascination’ to use his own words.  But this was just the beginning of his spiritual life.  There was still somebody there that was fascinated, inspired, by the Self.

   Ramana’s greatness was that he understood that the best way to get rid of Ramana, his sense of duality, was to keep his mind fixed on the Self (he called it Self inquiry) and just burn out all those old dualistic notions.  The best way to do it for him was to follow the tradition and go sit in a cave where he would not be distracted.  At some point the small Ramana that he thought he was, the one who had had the experience, disappeared and from that point on the name Ramana referred to the Self, not to a person who had realized the Self.  A person did not disappear because there was no person there in the first place.  All that disappeared was his notion of himself as an incomplete being.

    Awakening [causes] you to understand what the Self is but the next step is to understand that you are the Self.  Getting this understanding is hard work.  Every time you find the mind thinking as a limited ‘I’ you correct it.  You put it to work asserting your wholeness and completeness, not denying it.  And slowly the mind changes.  You can keep up this work because you know that you are the Self, not [xyz].  This is why it is not brainwashing or a kind of religious belief.  You can actually see what the Self is and that you are it.  One day, the mind gives up arguing with you.  It surrenders.  It accepts you as are you are and no longer tries to convince you that you are a limited little worm, a beggar in need of inspiration or anything else.  It sees you as you are.  This is the end of it....

   If there is only one Self and this Self always knows who it is, i.e. that it is limitless and whole and therefore does not need any particular experience to erase its sense of limitation and make it whole, how can it forget who it is?  Vedanta says that it can't forget but that it can forget.   Or to put it another way it says that there is only one Self, pure Awareness, and that this Self is capable of both knowledge and ignorance.   It would not be limitless if it were unable to be ignorant. This capability of being two opposite things at once is called Maya.   The definition of Maya is: that which is not. You can see the problem in the definition. How can something that is not, be?   Well, strangely, it can.

   There is a strange notion that when one permanently experiences the Self the intellect is switched off for good and you just remain forever as the Self in some kind of no thought state.  The fact is that the intellect keeps right on thinking from womb to tomb.  God gave it to us for a good reason.  Clear logical practical thinking is absolutely necessary if you are going to crack the identity code.  It is called inquiry.  You want to think before realization, during realization and after realization.  Realization is nothing more than a hard and fast conclusion that you come to about your identity based on direct experience of the Self.  Only understanding will solve the riddle....No experience will eradicate vasanas born in ignorance and reinforced with many years of negative behavior.”

   Question: Is self-realization a discrete occurrence in time...or is the removal of self ignorance a gradual process over time?

   Ram: It can be either or both.  Usually one realizes who one is, falls again under the sway of ignorance, applies the knowledge again, realizes again and so on.  It goes on over and over until one day there is absolutely no doubt and the process of enlightenment/ endarkenment stops for sure. Ignorance is persistent and aggressive and one needs to practice the knowledge until the last vestige is rooted out.   I have a friend, a self realized person, who said, “I realized the Self five hundred times before my seeking stopped” to illustrate that point.”
(from www.shiningworld.com) 

   So, it seemed to Schwarz that there was a reason that even a great one such as Maharshi did not immediately set up shop and teach after his first awakening, and spent years in seclusion meditating, inquiring, pondering, studying, before doing so, and even then somewhat reluctantly. In a illuminating interview, of which the above is only a small part, Schwartz, in precise language, analyzes why he feels Ramana spoke the way he did in the situations he was in, why his early teachings may have differed from the later ones, how he spoke more often from the language of yoga and experience than that of advaita and identity because of the culture he grew up in and the people he was surrounded with, why there is need for discrimination in talking about whether the mind or ego needs to die, what that really means, and the differences between partial realization or awakening and full enlightenment. See Commentary on the Teachings of Ramana Maharshi. This excellent interview ties together many of the points that have been touched upon within this article and is a must read.

   Thus, when teaching using the language of identity or vedanta Ramana would say that deep inversion wasn't necessary, and was at most a stage along the way. He is famous for saying:

   "Destroy the ego by seeking its identity. Because the ego is no entity, it will automatically vanish and the Reality will shine forth of itself. This is the direct method, while all other methods are done retaining the ego....in this method, the final question is the only one and is raised from the beginning. No sadhanas are necessary for engaging this quest."

   He is saying here that when you engage the inquiry into the ego you won't find it! Or you will see that it is just a changing array of thoughts, sensations, etc., 'around a fixed but empty center' as PB said, and that consciousness is the reality aware of the whole thing giving one the sense of 'I'.

   PB also pointed to this essentially gyana yoga technique as follows:

   "This path is a master a stroke. This method of destroying the illusion of the self by means of the intellectual function which is its primary activity stands supreme and almost alone. That very function automatically ceases when directed upon itself in the way that is herein taught. And with its cessation, the self is dissolved, appropriated by the Universal."

   "The most striking point in this simple technique is that he uses the very ego itself - for so long indicated by the mystics as the greatest enemy on the Path - as the means of divine attainment. These words may sound like pour paradox, but they happen to be true. The strength of his enemy is drawn upon for his help, while that which was the supreme hindrance transforms into a pathway to the goal."

   But as always, he emphasizes the overall integral nature of the Quest:

   "...its method is an intellectual as well as emotional purification, a moral and practical discipline, an intuitional and mystical preparation, and above all an elimination of the personal reference carried on incessantly through a long period." (14b)

   Ramana continues:

   "There is no greater mystery than the following: Ourselves being the Reality, we seek to gain reality. We think [there is that word again] there is something hiding our reality, and that it must be destroyed before the reality is gained. That is ridiculous. A day will dawn when you will yourself laugh at your past efforts. That which will be on that day you laugh is also here and now." (15)

   "Again, people read in the books, hearing, reflection and one-pointedness are necessary. They think that they must pass through savikalpa samadhi and nirvikalpa samadhi before attaining realization. Hence all these questions. Why should they wander in that maze? What do they gain in the end? It is only cessation of the trouble of seeking. They find that the Self is eternal and self-evident. Why should they not get that repose even in this very moment?" (16)

   ”When the non-self disappears, the Self alone remains. To make room anywhere, it is enough that things are removed. Room is not brought in afresh. Nay, what's more - room is there even when crowded." (17)

   This latter comment - "room is there even when crowded" - to me means that the Void, or Emptiness, is always the case and can be realized whether or not there are thoughts, a thought-free state, apparent inversion or extroversion. The non-dualists concur on this. PB spoke in two different ways as well. In his earlier works, and parts of the Notebooks, he talks of inverting and isolating , or tracking the ego down to its lair, in the interior, formless void, where it can be dealt a knock-out blow, which in this case would be nirvikalpa samadhi. That is virtually identical to the advise of Ramana to catch hold of the ego, or I-thought, contact the aham sphurana, and follow that into the Self. PB and Ramana both also made it clear, however, that even repeated nirvikalpa samadhi was not sufficient to eradicate the ego or to attain reality, for which was proposed the further stabilization into sahaj samadhi. PB later went so far as to admit that the intial achievement of trance was not even necessary for this. Something just as exacting and demanding, however, was required to achieve such a state, which he called the exterior equivalent of attaining the void, which was detachment (see Essays on the Quest). This must be simultaneously practiced in order to stabilize ones realization into sahaj in any case.

   Of course, the beginner must be cautious here , because without allowing some attachment (!) in the first place, how will he learn how to love, to serve, and so on? How could he do so by merely by employing a motivated or even ascetic strategy of detachment, which is really only his concept of detachment? So there is a paradox here that must be well understood. In what sense does PB mean "detachment", when there is in truth no self or "entity" to be detached or separate from anything? That is a good subject for another essay.

   Most contemporary non-dualists have not had, and are not capable of the concentrative depth of nirvikalpa samadhi, nor do most of them argue that such is necessary in order to realize ones true nature, Emptiness, Reality, or Mind. In some cases they even argue that no form of practice or purification is necessary either. A more typical advaitic example is that of contemporary teacher Stephen Wingate. He writes:

   "Saying that nothing can be done to alleviate suffering in order to remain true to the concept of non-duality makes what can be a potent tool into a sterile and lifeless religious philosophy. It sounds good when read in a book, but it becomes impractical and dead. On the other hand, suggesting that we do more than question the primary misconception that 'I am a separate, limited person' is counter-productive... [It ] only adds to the sense of personal doership, which is the core problem and cause of suffering." (18)

   This is an important point. In reality there is no "I-thought", but only a bundle of tendencies and qualities around an imaginary center. But it seems real, until we realize that it isn't.

   The late American sage Robert Adams, a direct disciple of Ramana Maharshi, speaks on the dilemma for the teacher of non-duality:

   "If you have to meditate, by all means, meditate. This path is never against any other method, due to the fact that they all eventually lead to awakening. You have to do whatever you have to do. But for those who can understand what I'm talking about, and realize that you're dealing with no mind, no body, no world, no universe, no God, the awakening comes immediately because there is no one who is sleeping. Do you follow this? If you think you've got something to overcome, if you believe that you've got to work on yourself, you've got to make some kind of effort, it will be hard. After all, who makes the effort? The ego. Who is telling you all these things you have to overcome? The mind. You think you have to overcome your bad habits, you have to overcome past karmas, you have to overcome samskaras. That's all a lie."

   "I realize that I talk about these things sometimes. It sounds like a contradiction, but I am sharing with you the highest truth. There are no samskaras to overcome, because they never existed. There is no karma to overcome because it doesn't exist. But it does for the immature students. They have to work on something. So I explain to them there's karma, there are samskaras, there are latent tendencies that have got hold of you, and you have to transcend them. Yet I'm telling them a lie. But they really need to hear that at this time of their evolution, otherwise they cannot work on anything else."

   The reasoning for the five-fold quest as outlined by PB (moral transformation, altruistic activity, religious veneration, metaphysical reflection, and mystical contemplation), goes back to the discussion on the nature of the ego, as well as an understanding that the path is one of many lifetimes, calling for a complete development, and not just the elimination of psychological suffering in this one, which at times appears to be the point of view of many of the newer non-dual teachers. If instead of calling the ego the I-thought (which can give the impression that it is just something in "the head"), we think of it as at least threefold, that is, a primal I-thought, a primal feeling of I, and a primal act of self-will, then we will see the necessity for practice, and the inevitability of an ordeal, due to the accumulated habit energies and tendencies from time immemorable.

   PB wrote:

   "He will advance most on the Quest who tries most to separate himself from his ego. It will be a long, slow struggle and a hard one, for the belief that the ego is his true self grips him with hypnotic intensity. All the strength of all his being must be brought to this struggle to remove error and to establish truth, for it is an error not merely of the intellect alone but of the emotions and the will." (20)

   He hints at the Short Path and gives a nod to the non-dualists here when he indicates that it is the "belief" that the ego is his true self which stands in his way, but puts emphasis on the fact that this belief is reinforced by a life of maladaptation in thinking, feeling, and willing. He says:

   "Ramana Maharshi was quite right. Pruning the ego of some faults will only be followed by the appearance and growth of new faults! Of what use is it so long as the ego remains alive?...But although Maharshi was right, his teaching gives only part of Truth's picture. Presented by itself, and without the other part, it is not only incomplete but may even become misleading. By itself it seems to indicate that there is no need to work on our specific weaknesses, that they can be left untouched while we concentrate on the essential thing - rooting out the ego. But where are the seekers who can straight away root it out? For the very strength of purpose and power of concentration needed for this uprooting will be sapped by their faults." (21)

   PB's teacher, vedantist V.S. Iyer, made the very same observation. One must work on ones faults in order to gain the universal vision desired by self-inquiry, and not wait until one is realized for their demonstration.

   So did the sage Atmananda Krishnamenon:

   “When love becomes more and more sublime, the degree of sacrifice involved also increases proportionately...It demands the whole of the lower self or the death of the ego itself. But to reach it, you must begin to cultivate that love even here, by sacrificing the interests of the lower self, little by little.” - Shree Atmananda Krishnamenon (Notes on Spiritual Discourses)

   In Essays on the Quest, PB also explains:

   "He may think that eradication of personal faults has little to do with finding the true self, but this is not correct. These very faults arise out of the false conception of the 'I'. Moreover the eradication is suggested not only to help him to overcome such false conceptions but also to help him become a better servant of humanity."

   He, therefore, even goes so far as to say,

   "At a certain stage of development, it is more important to work hard at self-improvement and to detect hidden weaknesses and remedy them than to attempt anything else." (23)

   "He himself has sought this self-cleansing. He must be prepared to witness the rising up to the surface of negative qualities that have lain inert or only self-active, as well as the throwing into focus by outer events those which have already been fully active. He will now have to deal with these qualities, usually one at a time, and to deal with them repeatedly so long as they are not thoroughly transmuted. it is all a part of the work of purification, resulting from the co-operation of his own higher self." (24)

   Alan Jacobs, in Advaita and Western Neo-Advaita, writes:

   "In fact the 'ghost of the me' doesn't really exist as an entity, this is true, but the notion of 'the false me' is very powerfully fueled subconsciously by the selfish-will and compounded by the vital force...It has to be diligently enquired into to be destroyed. The Maharshi says emphatically that our only freedom as an ajnani is to turn inwards. It is not trying 'to get something', it is rather trying to 'get rid of something', the sense of separation, i.e. identification with the thoughts, mind and feelings. Otherwise there is a permanent occlusion, the Granthi Knot, permanently screening off the tremendous power of the Real Self, which is the Absolute Unborn Deathless Consciousness, God, Unconditional Love, Dynamic Silence, and Oneness."

   This may also be why the Tibetans say:

   "Do not make mistake understanding for realization, and do not mistake realization for liberation."

   And also why the Lankavatara Sutra speaks of the turnabout in the deep seat of understanding, as well as the inconceivable transformation death of the Bodhisattvas individualized will-control.

   We might remember that the Divine Mind is often spoken of in terms of three attributes: "Sat-Chit-Ananda", or "Being-Awareness-Bliss", but also as "Light, Life, and Love". In Dzogchen the three kayas or aspects of Mind are "Empty Essence, Radiant Nature, and All-Pervading Energy". The masters of Sant Mat sometimes add "Word, Life-Impulse, and Power". Considering things only in terms of thought as we know it can make it all seem rather dull. This is partly due to Descartes who split western thought into an unhealthy dichotomy of idealism and realism, at the same time eviscerating the multi-level ensouled cosmos of the ancients. It IS a living Mind we are talking about, after all, not just some ghostly thoughts in the head. So the above suggestion may have practical and inspirational merit, even if the system of mentalism is logically unassailable or metaphysically true, and even convincing in ones most sattvic moments.

   Let me try to summarize some of this thinking. Anthony Damiani does a great job in Standing In Your Own Way in describing one process whereby the ego in meditation is approaching its primal lair, as PB might say, getting isolated from all its bodies and limiting adjuncts up to the threshold of the Void, and he then asks his students to pinpoint exactly what it is that is then to be surrendered, and to what, and HOW. Anthony says here the ego is beyond reason, thought, body and emotions, and is flying blind. It hasn't entered the final battle yet, but is close. A problem is that the ego now has no knowledge that there is an Overself, or a benevolent something to take its place in the Void, which represents its extinction. What must it then do? What must surrender?

    "Now, it stands alone and isolated. Separated off from everything else. The point I'm making is: Now you're encapsulated within that, what do you do? Are you willing to give it up? No. Of course not, because the only thing that surrounds you is nothingness and an abyss. You're encapsulated now in the ego structure which we distinguished and separated off from the reasoning phase of the soul and the higher phase of the soul you're going to surrender? You won't do it. You might be forced into doing it and then your prior discipline and training might come to your aid, but you're not going to do it willingly."

   "The important thing is to see that you stand alone in that isolated capsule and that within, there, is where the self-will is going to try to surrender itself. But what will it surrender to? How will it cancel itself out? To whom? PB says to the higher self. Right. But when you're in there you don't know that there's a higher self."

   "What distinguishes the ego is its self-will. If you introspect into yourself, moment by moment you are actualizing yourself through that self-will, and that's what will have to surrender itself. Now, how could the self-will surrender itself? It has to be brought to do so. It can't do so on its own." (26)

   This obviously implies grace. Now, in addition, based on all we have said so far it may be the case that a similar process can and must happen when one is NOT in an introverted state. This would be the long drawn out affair PB describes as the whittling down of the ego, or learning detachment, or perhaps better stated as "interdependency" or "no-separation", which he calls an equivalent to entering the Void. This could be just as profound in nature as that described above for the terminal phase of the meditative process, and of course more painful inasmuch as the body is involved. [Just a thought to ponder here, however: "who" learns detachment?, "who" gets undone? Me? Who am I? Is there any such person?! Even this is a paradox.] Fear, sorrow, anger, resistance, refusal, unlove, and all the rest must be faced to be transformed at the heart and allow the ego or the false identification, thought, and feeling of I, a bunch of tendencies contracting around an imaginary or empty center, to finally be undone and allow the true heart-centre to flower and unite the unmanifest with the manifest in a living way. And at the exact point of the more extreme moments when the letting go must take place, the ego [who?!] has no security that the divine will take its place if it does so, just like it has no such assurance when it is facing the void. Both moments are difficult and a test of faith. To a degree this outer letting go [but, again, "who" lets go?] must continue even after nirvikalpa (if one has the potential for or pursues a sadhana to achieve that), for re-identification upon exiting trance will necessitate the development of stable insight into reality. I will take the liberty here of transposing words of Anthony to this scenario:

   "Question: Is it possible that true surrender takes place without your really knowing it? - Don't worry. It will be the most agonizing thing youve ever gone through." (27)

   PB speaks of the need for the egoism to be completely crushed out of a man. I know, Adyashanti sometimes speaks differently. He feels that such a belief system about a spiritual battle has been built up in the traditions that prevents ordinary people from getting realized. Well, that may be true, but no one said you have to go looking for it. It will find you if it has to. Adya also says that ones ego must be ground down to ash. I think each person has to see where they are at, therefore, and what is true for them, but also know that there is precedent for much of what has been quoted here:

   "When God crucifies in the inmost part of the Soul, no creature is able to comfort it." (28) - Michael Molinos

   "...nothing so much wounds our self-love. It is a holocaust in which it is completely consumed by the fire of divine love. You must not then be surprised at the violent resistance it offers, especially when the soul experiences mortal anguish in receiving the death-blow to this self-love. The suffering one feels then is like that of a person in agony, and it is only through this painful agony and by the spiritual death which follows it that one can arrive at the fullness of divine life and an intimate union with God...For the time that these crucifying operations continue, the understanding, the memory and the will are in a fearful void, in nothingness. Love this immense void since God deigns to fill it; love this nothingness since the infinitude of God is there." (29) - Jean-Pierre deCaussade

   “Your handicap is the strong ego, the “I” which stands in the path and must be surrendered by emotional sacrifice in the blood of the heart.” (29a) - PB

   The reason that "Who am I?" enquiry is said to be an advanced practise is that the 'I'-thought is not an ordinary thought, but the very root of the mind/ego. It is largely unconscious, and assuredly subconscious. PB described it thusly:

   “The ego is a knot tied in the psyche of our inner being, itself being compounded from a number of smaller knots. There is nothing fresh to be gathered in, for b-e-i-n-g is always there, but something to be undone, untied.”

   “The ego is like a repression which must be dug out of the subconscious mind, seen and understood for what it is, and then let go until it vanishes, losing all its secret power thereby.”

   So what makes classic self-inquiry so difficult for many people is that they are essentially unprepared or unripe. The ego must first be understood and isolated before it can be held onto; the eventual ‘sinking into the Heart’ is a matter of grace. This entails a life of sadhana, that is, a life of dedication and earnestness. Earnestness was a key word for Sri Nisargadatta, who confessed that he agreed with most all of Ramana’s teaching except “the heart on the right business.’ Some advaitins and sometimes Ramana maintain that once the ‘I-thought’ sinks into the heart (PB once used the terms ‘is cauterized’ in the heart) the mind does forever. This has been questioned by other sages and can lead to a confusion of whether the sage ever ‘sees’ the world or things again, but only ‘sees’ the Self, or whether this is not quite the case but that everything works as before except he never loses his awareness of being the Self. It can seem quite confusing, and perhaps even cause undo concern whether one is doing things right.

   The “I”-thought in its purity, upon awakening from sleep, is said by Ramana to arise from the Heart on the right side and go to the sahasrar or crown and only then descend into the brain and expand into the conventional human ego. It is hard to isolate and catch: the thought 'I' in the head is already too late; the identification with ego is there. This happens more or less automatically in the usual person. Ramaji in his book 1000 says this takes about one-third of a second!

   Imagine feeling the worse betrayal, the worst mortal blow or disappointment of your life. Feel the crushing pressure in your chest. Then imagine what it might be like to actually have a heart attack. As the spokes of your being gather in one central place or point, feel your life ebbing away or concentrating there. Now consider how maybe the truth of what the ego is lies somewhere within this experience. Feels like more than just a "thought", doesn't it? Certainly like more than what our concept of a thought is, at any rate. This is not the 'I'-thought, but the resistance, manifested psycho-physically, of the 'I'-thought to the threat of its impending death. The 'I'-thought is the granthi or the self-knot binding the Self to body mind, its own projections. To the advaitic philosopher, feelings, perceptions, thoughts, are all appearances to consciousness. The 'I'-thought is itself a vriti, call it either a thought or a feeling, as you please. Meditation or self-inquiry is not a way to avoid this most primal core feeling, but of knowing and becoming conscious of it, falling into it, as it were, without resistance. Therefore it is likely that the terminal phase of inquiry will not be during an intense episode of fear, but in a more subtle moment when the thought eventually dies by itself from lack of fuel and through the power of grace. This requires, once again, all the means of practice, over time, before its isolation and surrender becomes possible. It is, truly speaking, not merely a mental game or technique. Somehow or other, within the quagmire of your life the truth of the 'I' will be found. But, the more preparation of the ground, the less drama. It may be said to be like dying. Christian mystic and spiritual director said this which may apply to how one anticipates the terminal phases of self-inquiry:

   "If we die in part every day of our lives, we shall have little to do on the last. What we dread so much in the future will cause us no fear when it comes, if we do not suffer its terrors to be exaggerated by the restless anxieties of self-love...O how utterly will those little daily deaths destroy the power of the final dying. Then your bodily death will be but a falling asleep. Happy are you who sleep this sleep of peace!”

   So the previous analogy is simply an extreme description posed to suggest the tenacity of this "thought" or "feeling". It must be noted that formal self-inquiry is not the only way to enlightenment. And much depends on the esoteric streams of grace or enlightened help supporting the practitioner. Extremes of ‘ego-death’ are not one's usual experience, or a model for practice. It is however a core existential dilemma as a separate self in felt human form. For one who has reached or been reduced to this point there is really little else to actively do. For those so inclined, however, each person must find what form or description of his sense of self fits for his particular inquiry if it is to be fruitful. Simply inquiring "who am I' is useless if it doesn't resonate deep within oneself. Maharshi once said to a disciple to consider, not "who am I?", but rather, "what is this 'me'?" Asking "what am I" may avoid some of the possible self-centeredness that can accompany "Who am I?" Whatever phrase most closely fits what one feels to be himself as a separate entity is likely to be a useful form of inquiry. It must really grab you, or it is just an intellectual mind game with little value or efficacy. And it IS a form of inquiry we re talking about, not, as Ramana emphasized, a rote question or mantra - one is to look and see and find out if what he identifies as himself is true or not.

   Sri Sadhu Om, an enlightened devotee of Ramana, gave some cautions on what Self-inquiry is and is not:

   “Clinging to the consciousness ‘I’ and thereby acquiring a greater and greater intensity of concentration upon it, is diving deep within. Instead of thus diving within, many, thinking that they are engaged in Self-inquiry, sit down for hours together simply repeating mentally or vocally, “Who am I?” or “Whence am I?” There are others again who, when they sit for inquiry, face their thoughts and endlessly repeat mentally tthe following questions taught by Sri Bhagavan: “To whom come these thoughts? To me; who am I?”, I r sometimes they even wait for the next thought to come up so that they can fling these questions at it! Even this is futile. We should not remain watching “What is the next thought?” Merely to keep on questioning in this manner is not Self-attention.” (The Path of Sri Ramana, Part One

   Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, in I Am That, seemed to concur with Ramana that the inquiry is into not only the "thought" of "I", but also the "feeling" or basic sense of "I". This eliminates some possible confusion:

   "Refuse all thoughts except one: the thought 'I am'. The mind will rebel in the beginning, but with patience and perseverance it will yield and keep quiet. Once you are quiet, things will begin to happen spontaneously and quite naturally, without any interference on your part. Just keep in mind the feeling 'I am', merge in it, till your mind and feeling become one. By repeated attempts you will stumble on the right balance of attention and affection and your mind will be firmly established in the thought-feeling 'I am'. Whatever you think, say, or do, this sense of immutable and affectionate being remains as the ever-present background of the mind. To know what you are you must first investigate and know what you are not. And to know what you are not you must watch yourself carefully, rejecting all that does not necessarily go with the basic fact: 'I am'. ... Separate consistently and perseveringly the 'I am' from 'this' or 'that', and try to feel what it means to be, just to be, without being 'this' or 'that'."

   "Give up all questions except one: 'Who am I'? After all, the only fact you are sure of is that you are. The 'I am' is certain. The 'I am this' is not. Struggle to find out what you are in reality. Cling to one thing, that matters, hold on to 'I am' and let go all else. This is sadhana. In realization there is nothing to hold on to and nothing to forget. Everything is known, nothing is remembered....just remember yourself. 'I am', is enough to heal your mind and take you beyond. Just have some trust."

   And if you simply feel like hell, hopeless, beaten down, trust that, too. Don't run, even if you could.

   Nisargadatta advised one to hold onto that thought or feeling" (Ramana said to "hold onto the ego"), which, strangely, will take one to realization, the source of the "I am", by grace:

   "You live, you feel, you think. By giving attention to your living, feeling and thinking, you free yourself from them and go beyond them. Your personality dissolves and only the witness remains. Then you go beyond the witness [the "I am"]. Do not ask how it happens. Just search within yourself....What do you love now? The 'I am'. Give your heart and mind to it, think of nothing else. This, when effortless and natural, is the highest state. In it love itself is the lover and the beloved. Before the world was, consciousness was. In consciousness it comes into being, in consciousness it lasts and into pure consciousness it dissolves. At the root of everything, is the feeling 'I am'....Relax and watch the "I am". Reality is just behind it. Keep quiet, keep silent; it will emerge, or, rather, it will take you in." (31)

   Sri Nisargadatta asks us to get creative and fully open up the inquiry by questioning many assumptions we take for granted:

   "Begin to question. The most obvious things are the most doubtful. Ask yourself such questions as: 'Was I really born?' 'Am I really so-and-so?' 'How do I kow that I exist?' 'Who are my parents?' 'Have they created me, or have I created them?' 'Must I believe all I am told about myself?' 'Who am I. anyhow?'...All hangs on the idea 'I am'. Examine it very thoroughly. It lies at the root of every trouble." (32)

   Indeed, in a way the question "Who am I?' is a bogus one, as [source misplaced] has pointed out:

   "Do understand that you cannot ask a valid question about yourself, because you do not know whom you are asking about. In the question 'Who amI?' the 'I' is not known and the question can be worded as 'I do not know what I mean by 'I'." You can know reality only when you are astonished."

   With true inquiry astonishment grows and grows.

   Ed Muzika, a disciple of Robert Adams, in seeming contradiction to the latter's confession that nothing is really necessary, is a strong advocate for intense practice. Moreover, he argues, as apparently did Sri Nisargadatta, that there is a state 'beyond' even turiya or pure consciousness. This requires a bit of explanation. Greg Goode, who holds Atmananda to be his karana guru and an exponent of 'The Direct Path', says that what is actually meant by 'consciousness' by certain teachers like Sri Nisargadatta is really the 'generic waking and dreaming' states, while what is 'awareness prior to consciousness' is traditional turiya or "pure consciousness without the superimposition of the witness aspect" (The Direct Path, p. 227). He bases his interpretation of Atmananda's position on extensive study of Atma Darsana and Atma Nivritti so we can reliably consider his assessment of Atmananda's position to be correct. However, Rajiv Kapur teaches (based on his association with Ed Muzika (and interalia Robert Adams and Ramana Maharshi/Sri Nisargadatta)) that the so-called 'absolute' IS 'beyond' even turiya. This is novel, and apparently more than even what the Mundakya Upanishad teaches. Rajiv and Ed, contrary to Greg, feel even turiya is not who we ARE, that we are beyond even that. They both feel that most modern self-inquiry-based teachings lack meditative depth. On the latter point we agree, but feel that the confusion over what is turiya or the absolute my be unnecessarily obscurating, and that what Sri Nisragadatta meant by 'consciousness' is likely the same as what other advaitins mean by 'empirical or waking consciousness', and by 'awareness beyond or prior to consciousness' he simply meant what the majority of advaitins mean by 'pure consciousness' or turiya. But there may in fact be more to it.

   In the book, Samana, by the venerable theravada master Luangta Maha Boowo (1913-2011), it is similarly argued that after working one's way through the samadhis of the 'emptiness of the self', and 'emptiness of the world', and even the transparent 'oneness' these two produce, there is beyond this the 'samadhi of the Buddha', which is simply 'beyond' - the recognition that even emptiness is a mental fabrication. Muzika mentions time an again that many practitioners get stuck in emptiness because they cannot recognize and follow the I AM sense and truly go beyond. Anadi also warns the practitioner not to lose awareness of the soul while experiencing impersonal awareness.

   To a questioner who asked whether it was necessary in the beginning to pray and meditate for some time before being ready for this inquiry, Nisargadatta responded:

   "If you believe so, go on. To me, all delay is a waste of time. You can skip all the preparation and go directly for the ultimate search within. Of all the Yogas, it is the simplest and the shortest." (33)

   We say, if prayer is all you can do, then do it. Some prayers are the prayer of a buddha. "Never be too proud to pray," said Anthony Damiani. It takes great good fortune (although it may not feel like it) to reach such a state.

   Let's try to summarize a few points here. One, the doctrine of Mentalism explains, but does not explain away, the world and the ego. It reconciles duality with "not-duality" and finally "non-duality". It does not give fuel to the idea that no practice is necessary, only that reality is always the case and not elsewhere.

   Two, the I-thought is a confusing idea and may be less than fruitful for some practitioners to focus on. People may say to themselves Who am I, Who am I, for years - and never are. It is easy to confuse the notion of thoughts emanating out of the head or brain with the fundamental perception or feeling that is the true import of the phrase, the I-thought. It often takes quite a lot of maturing and practice to get a grip on, or to "hold on to", the ego or I-thought as Maharshi advised, in order to finally rest easy as the "I am" - the source of the 'I-thought'. According to Anthony and PB, we need a broad understanding of what this ego actually is, how it functions, its many disguises, and so forth, to succeed in objectifying it, so it can be consistently disidentified with.

   Three, for westerners particularly, focussing too much on finding the source of the I-thought within may lead to an inability or unnecessary delay in discovering what is going on without! It may focus attention more on the ego, in a negative sense, wherefore it may perhaps for some be more appropriate, as previously suggested, to spend some time contemplating ”WHAT Am I?” and ”WHAT Is This?”, or “What is this me?”, before ”WHO Am I?”. That is, a study of the philosophic doctrines with some depth may give a broader understanding of what is to be accomplished and the true nature of the problem (if any) that is before us. When subjective egoity based on a wrong relationship with the world is purified, then "Who AM I?", without Ramana sitting right in front of you, may be more productive. In PB's terminology, the emanent that the Soul is projecting, the re-embodying Soul, or the ego, a "unit of life" or complex karmic stream, evolves and gets purified, "becomes wisdom" by experiencing and being part of the World-Idea, at some point gets 'ripe', and through enquiry or surrender reunites, so to speak, with its source, the divine Overself. It is not merged forever or annihilated in God as common mysticism teaches (the fallacy of divine identity), but remains a dedicated servant of its higher self, which identity one now becomes one with. These are words, and, no doubt, difficult to intellectually reconcile with the ultimate arguments of the ajatavada (no creation, no causality) advaitists. Nevertheless, the main point is that if one merely negates his experiences because of a simplistic and incomplete doctrine about the ego (i.e., it is unreal, etc.) he will not continue to grow.

   V.S. Iyer said that one must start with examining the world in front of one. First, understand that it is an idea. Then know that the body is an idea. Finally, understand that the ego-I is an idea. Knowing these are ideas effectively dissolves them into Mind or Consciousness. This is a form of gyan samadhi, without trance, in which one realizes the Atman. Starting with "who am I," says Iyer, assumes there is such a thing and that we know what it is. But there isn't and we don't. So "who am I" is misleading. As Ramana sometimes said instead, "what is this me?" is a more accurate question. When all of this is abidingly established in oneself, then one can know the real "I", which is Brahman. "I and "world" are known as Brahman. That is the true "I". [See Commentaries (ed. Mark Scorelle, 1999) for more on Iyer's thought].

   Adyashanti spoke of this brilliantly. He said:

   "Inexplicably it comes. When you least expect it. For a reason you can never know. One moment you are striving, figuring, imagining, and then, in the blink of an eye, it all disappears. The struggle disappears. The striving disappears. The person disappears. The world disappears. Everything disappears, and the person is like a pinpoint of light, just receding until it disappears. And there's nobody there to witness it. The person is gone. Only, only awareness remains. Nothing else. No one to be aware. Nothing to be aware of. Only that remains itself. Then it's understood, finally and simply. [PB called this "one of the unforgetable meditations"]

Then everything, all the struggle, all the striving, all the thinking, all the figuring, all the surrendering, all the letting go, all the grabbing hold of, all the praying, all the begging, all the cursing, too, was just a distraction. And only then is it seen that the person was, is, and ever will be no more than a thought. With a single thought, the person seems to reemerge. With more thoughts, the world seems to reemerge right out of nothing. But now you know.

The incarnation is nothing more than a thought. A thousand incarnations are but a thousand thoughts. And this amazing miracle of a mirage we call the world reappears as it was before, but now you know. That's why you usually have a good laugh, because you realize that all your struggles were made up. You conjured them up out of nothing with a thought that was linked to another thought, that was then believed, that linked to another thought that was then believed. But never could it have been true, not for a second could it have actually existed. Not ever could you have actually suffered for a reason that was true only through an imagination, good, bad, indifferent. The intricacies of spiritual philosophy and theologies are just a thought within Emptiness.

And so at times we talk, and I pretend to take your struggles seriously, just as I pretended to take my own seriously. You may pretend to take your own struggles seriously from time to time, and although we pretend, we really shouldn't forget that we are pretending, that we are making up the content of our experience; we are making up the little dramas of our lives. We are making up whether we need to hold on or surrender or figure it out or pray to God or be purified or have karma cleansed, it's all a thought. We just collude in this ridiculous charade of an illusion pretending that it's real, only to reveal that it's not. There is no karma. There is nothing really to purify. There's no problem. There is only what you create and believe to be so. And if you like it that way, have at it!

But we cannot continue this absolute farce indefinitely. We cannot continue to pretend this game we play, indefinitely. It's impossible. Everything comes back to nothing.

And then it's a bit harder to hold a straight face consistently for the rest of your life."

   PB, according to Anthony, was supposedly "in agony" even after realizing Nirvikalpa. How could that be if he had thus 'tracked the ego down to its lair' and had his egoism slain? There must be more to this picture, therefore, than at first appears. In Nirvikalpa the ego may be dealt a "knock-out blow", but in most instances it is revived and gets up from the mat, hopefully a bit more sober, but still active and not understood fully. More over, it is not necessary to experience Nirvikalpa samadhi. As you are a conscious entity, you can realize what you are without falling into a deep state of trance; that is just the traditional Indian way.

   Fourth, considering the ego as threefold, therefore, as thought, feeling, and self-will, which somehow the King within (no, not Elvis, but the Grace of the Overself), brings to a mysterious and enigmatic conclusion within our understanding, may be more useful. PB wrote that the fulfillment and balancing of the three functions of thinking, feeling, and willing by the ego would spontaneously ignite mystic forces within, leading to a the superior and inconceivable faculty of spiritual insight. Thus, 'Who am I' is not some mystic short-cut, or easily fulfilled practice, for most people. One must be ripe for it, generally through various practices, studies, and disciplines of the quest. For others, as suggested above, more individualized forms of inquiry, or, if you will, questions to ponder, may be more useful.

   Fifth, yogic experience of the heart on the right, or the Amrita nadi, or the rising of the kundalini to the sahasrar or crown, or the explosion or the more rare ‘severing’ of the sahasrar [for more see “Kundalini: Up, Down, or ?” on this website] are necessary experiences. One’s progression may be much simpler than this, especially if one is earnestly on a traditional devotional path, in which one may still incorporate less formal forms of inquiry.

   As a help, for instance, one might contemplate on the following: Do we know what a thought is? Do we "know" what a feeling is? Do we "know" what self-will is? Do we "know what anything is? We will find the answer is a resounding "No!" All we have are concepts about what they are. If we can drop the concepts and abide for some time in the ignorance left in their wake, we may find we might make some headway, or actually dwell in the ignorance, the "no-thing", of what we are. This was the approach of Nisargadatta. And that is the result of the inquiry. That is the answer. It will not come to the mind. Realize that you are the presence, the simple awareness, conscious itself, and abide as that. Find out for yourself, that is, inquire, if there is really a self anywhere, and rest more and more in the answer to that inquiry. Of course, there will be no answer(!), although there may be a response (of grace). Even Ramana said as much. YOU are the answer. The mind will never know it. Aham sphurana or no aham sphurana, when the "I-thought", the "I-feeling", and the "self-will" finally die or resolve in the heart it will be in a mysterious silence beyond all concepts and knowledge. Sages suggest, why not then get used to it now, little by little?

   Robert Adams recommended self-inquiry, but also would frequently said to his students to just 'be free of the whole thing'. After all, he said:

   "Do not be in conflict with anyone or anything. When you're not in conflict with anything, the mind begins to surrender itself and goes back into the Heart, and you become the Self. This is the easiest thing that you ever had to do...Do not judge your thoughts, analyze your thoughts, or try to change your thoughts, or try to remove your thoughts. This will put you back in conflict with your thoughts. Do not even observe your thoughts. Do not even be the witness to your thoughts. Why? Because in reality there are no thoughts. The thoughts that you think you are thinking are an illusion. It is false imagination. Don't you see, everything that you're thinking about is false. There is no thinker and there are no thoughts. So why have you been practicing all these exercises all of your life? It's like a person in the ocean going in search of water...Self-inquiry is very important, don't get me wrong. The day will come when you go beyond Self-Inquiry. When you just realize and understand that there is no I-thought at all. It never existed. Therefore you do not have to get rid of it. There is nothing to get rid of, because nothing exists. You are total freedom, right this instant, right this minute." (35)

   Okay, what about the experience of perceiving that the world is like a dream? Many have had this experience, but miss recognizing it as a taste of mentalism while they await the achievement of trance, nirvikalpa, sahaj, etc, which is unfortunate, as most of us westerners are never going to get nirvikalpa anyway, short of dying! But is that glimpse or vision of the dream-like nature of the world the reality, and the fruit of mentalism? Anthony says no, but it is still good and should not be overlooked:

    "When you experience the world as a dream you know you are getting closer to its reality. it is not reality yet, but you know you are getting closer. It is an intuitive understanding that dawns - that the mind projects the world, then experiences the world that it projects...when you experience the world as a dream, rather than the way you experience it now, there is an intuitive understanding that arises with it at the same time that you are coming closer to the very nature of the mind.' (36)

   This remark, as all remarks, is paradoxical, as there is no "you" to get closer to reality. Any "you" dissolves in reality, and never really existed in the first place! Yet something mysteriously remains. Nevertheless, recognizing the limits of our language, this is somewhat similar in nature, albeit at a lesser degree, to a comment by Ramana on the nature of visions attained through deep concentration:

   "God [ie., light] is seen in the mind. The concrete form is seen...it is like a dream-vision. After God is perceived, vichara [enquiry] begins. This ends in realization of the Self. Vichara is the ultimate route." (37)

   Thus seeing the world as a dream is akin to being in the Winess state. Yet there is one more stroke to go, as it were, one more apparent veil to be lifted, before Reality or the non-dual Self dawns.

   “When you take a particular thought over and over again, the heart begins to function and craves for that thought. This though begets feeling and descends into the heart.” - Shri Atmananda (38)


(1) Joe Espositio and Elena Oumano, Good Rockin Tonight (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994), p. 123
(2) Anthony Damiani, Standing in Your Own Way (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1993), p. 125)
(3) The Notebooks of Paul Brunton (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1988), Vol. 13, Part 3, 2.91, 3.64, 3.66
(4) Anthony Damiani, op.cit., p. 123
(5) Anthony Damiani, Living Wisdom (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1996), p. 64-65
(6) Anthony Damiani, Standing in Your Own Way, op. cit., p. 125-126
(7) Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 6, Part 1, 1.127
(7a) Ibid, Vol. 6, 8:2.29
(8) Ibid, 1.136
(9) Anthony Damiani, Looking Into Mind (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1990), p. 42
(10) Brunton, op. cit., 1.158, 1.165
(11) Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth (New York: Dutton, 2005), p. 294
(12) Anthony Damiani, Standing in Your Own Way, op. cit., p. 170
(13) Talks with Ramana Maharshi (Carlsbad, CA: Inner Directions Foundation, 2001), p. 161
(14) Ibid, p. 184
(14a) Brunton, op.cit., Vol. 13, Part 1: 3.79-80
(14b) Ibid, 3.83
(15) Ibid, p. 101-102
(16) Ibid, p. 254
(17) Ibid, p. 161
(18) Stephen Wingate, The Outrageous Myths About Enlightenment (Atma Publishing, 2006), p. 28-29)
(19) Robert Adams, Silence of the Heart (Santa Barbara, CA: Acropolis Books, 2007), p. 37
(20) Brunton, op. cit., 4.198
(21) Ibid, Vol. 15, Part One, 1.183
(22) Paul Brunton, Essays on the Quest (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1984), p. 183
(23) The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 3, Part 1, 2.112 (25) Anthony Damiani, Standing in Your Own Way, op. cit., p. 212
(26) Ibid, p. 208
(27) Ibid, p. 216
(28) Michael Molinos, The Spiritual Guide (Christian Books Publishing House, 1982), p.
(29) Jean-Pierre deCaussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence, Letters(www.ccel.org/ccel/decaussade/abandonment.iv.vii.ix.html) (Christian Ethereal Classics)
(29a) Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 6, Part One, 4.33
(29b) Ibid, 3.1,2
(30) Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, I AM THAT (Durham, North carolina: The Acorn Press, 2008), p.
(31) Ibid, p.
(32) Ibid, p. 298
(33) Ibid, p. 347
(34) (Transcribed from a talk in Pacific Grove, CA, June 9, 2006
? 2006 by Adyashanti. www.adyashanti. org)
(35) Robert Adams, op. cit., p. 202-203
(36) Anthony Damiani, Looking Into Mind, op. cit., p. 43
(37) Talks with Ramana Maharshi, op. cit., p. 172
(38) Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda, #885