I am...

Ramana Maharshi taught self-enquiry as a means to self-realization. One of the main methods he suggested is to enquire "Who am I?" and holding on to the I thought till the I dies off in the Heart and then abides as Self.

Of course, it sounds simple and had it not been for the monkey mind, it would have been so too! Well, the unfortunate part is that this is not the only problem that we all have with Ramana's direct path. Most of the people have understood it to be one or more of the following:
  • Ask "Who am I?" continuously.
  • Ask "Who am I?" and wait for an answer from within.
  • Keep on repeating "I am" mentally.
  • Focus on the "I am" and search for the I (or lead the I to find who the I is).
  • Be as you are, while focusing on the I/I am.
My understanding is that the last two may be closer to what Bhagavan's teaching is. The mind is a bunch of thoughts and to focus on the I thought is as difficult as any other path of jnaana. As Maharshi said walking the path of jnaana is like coaxing a bull with a blade of grass. That sounds about right, even in any beginner's understanding of trying self-enquiry, any which way!

Now what is it meant by focusing on the I thought, in each thought? Although Ramana's teachings came from his experience, he himself said that others found out the same to be inline with Shankara's teachings on advaita vedaanta. Yesterday, I was trying to analyze this particular aspect of self-enquiry with what little I know in the traditional advaita. Advaita tells us that the seer sees the object that is this universe, to start with, because the mind goes out and takes the form of any object that is perceived. Trying to draw parallels with what Maharshi says, when we think of any person/thing/whatever, the former being the subject and the latter the object, a thought goes out and takes the shape of that object and we wastingly live the moment so. Our focus is drawn to the object instead of the subject that is I. I'll try to express this in better detail, bringing in day-to-day examples:
  • I woke up: The inference here should be that "the I" woke up; woke up from sleep? So was the I sleeping? If I was sleeping then how can I say that I experienced a bad sleep or blissful sleep? So is it I who slept or the body that slept? It has to be the latter. Then who is this I? So this is the I-thought that I need to hold on to here.
  • I'm freshening up: The "I am" of "freshening up" can be held to and thought of as who is this I, but I deviate here to explain my advaitic understanding. The unstill part of the mind that assumes the shape of the objective "freshening up" takes the still part of the mind thats I (according to tripuraa rahasya). So when one makes the statement "I am freshening up", the "doing of the action" of "freshening up" is what is understood by us, generally. But if one rightly sees it as it to mean that I have *become* the act of freshening up, then the statement means something else, while still reading the same! Thats what happens. The mind takes the shape of the the objective and becomes it, while doing so dragging the I along with it!
  • I'm taking a bath: Similarly, *I* becomes the act of taking a bath and so "I am" equals "taking the bath". And so the others like:
  • I'm dressing
  • I'm eating
  • I've to go to work: I (am the one who has to) go to work. "I am", and so I, becomes the act of going to work.
  • I'm driving: as taking a bath.
  • I'm working: as above
  • I'm asking "how are you?": The mind goes out to become the speech, and the action of actually asking the question here.
  • I'm talking lots in the meeting: as above.
  • I'm thinking: A recursive activity here thats a big stumbling point in self-enquiry. I think that I'm thinking... and so on. This is mostly what happens when the mind fools us that its into self-enquiry while slipping us a thought that its thinking!
  • I'm sleeping: The most peaceful thought that can occur when one is in deep sleep. This is a contradictory one, in the sense that how can the mind and enquiry be active in sleep, but one of my most favourites. I always had a strong feeling that the deep sleep state is very similar to the realized state, except for ignorance. Gaudapaadaacharya has a similar explanation as per my understanding. If one can enquire in deep sleep, so to say, it could be quite fruitful.
In all of the above, subject can easily lose the focus and become the object. If the mind's dragging the I into name and form of the object is understood, it should be comparatively easy to negate that in theory and focus on the I-thought as the only one in practice!

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