Friday, December 04, 2009

Jivanmukta and the Mind of the Realizer, Part II - Ramana as a Punk-Guru

My extended Thanksgiving holiday has created a backlog on top of the backlog of posts I've already been backlogging. Sorry if blogging has been light here of late. Will try to push through a bunch over the next few weeks.

My last post on Jivanmukta was something of an extended introduction to the subject, in which I tried to point out that the functional, bodily-based brain-mind of the Jivanmukta is not destroyed in realization. I'd also like to suggest that the subtle mind of the realizer is not destroyed either, as is evidenced by numerous "visions" attributable to realizers like Ramana, including the simple fact that he continued to have dreams of a subtle nature. In fact, the whole point of "Jivanmukta" as a concept is that the realizer is still alive in the body, and that his body continues to function, on all levels, even the subtler sheaths. So this should not be a serious point of controversy, and yet if one looks at the body of lore and even dharma on the subject, one encounters all kinds of objections to this idea.

As I've pointed out, even Ramana, Papaji and Nisargadatta repeatedly say that they have no mind, and that they do not function from the point of view of the mind - which can be considered two entirely different claims. This merely points out how complex the idea of Jivanmukta really is, and how it differs from the notion of Avatar or Incarnation. When these Jivanmuktas say they have no "mind", they are clearly not referring to the functional mind, which persists as the bodily organ of the brain, and as the subtle organs of the mental sheaths. Let's examine Ramana's words directly in relation to this:
Q. What is the nature of the mind?

M. The mind is nothing other than the "I"-thought. The mind and the ego are one and the same. The other mental faculties such as the intellect and memory are only this. Mind [manas], intellect [buddhi], the storehouse of mental tendencies [chittam], and ego [ahamkara]; all these are only the one mind itself. This is like different names being given to a man according to his different functions. The individual soul [jiva] is nothing but this soul or ego.
Here we can see that Ramana's definition of "mind" is the 'I'-thought. He does not refer to mind here as the primal consciousness that is our real Self or nature, and which persists even when the 'I'-thought is present. His use of the term "mind" refers only to the egoic superimposition of a false sense of limited self upon our real Self. That limitation is the body and its functions. So Ramana refers to the body and its functions as the limiting force of ego that arise from the 'I'-thought. In this, at first glance, he seems to be contradicting the very notion of Jivanmukta, of being liberated while alive in the body. This is resolved by Ramana in his concept of liberation as an end to identification with the body and its functions. The Jivanmukta, in other words, is not the body he seems to be alive as, but sees these from an entirely different perspective.

The ajnani sees himself as the body, and experiences himself from that perspective, which means he sees himself as defined and limited by the body's functional apparatus, gross and subtle. The Jivanmukta, however, does not define himself by the body and its functions. He sees himself and experiences the world from the perspective of the Self, which is universal in nature, and not defined by the body. He even recognizes the world and his own body as arising within the Self, as a modification of the Self's own consciouness and light.

In other words, the most distinctive difference between the Jivanmukta and the ordinary person is that the Jivanmukta has no 'I'-thought. Because he has no 'I'-thought, his mind is inherently "empty". From the ordinary point of view the Jivanmukta's body and brain continue to function, but without the internal overlay of an "I". This does not make his mind dysfunctional in the ordinary sense, but it does make it "open" in a way that no longer creates any sense of separation. For this reason, Ramana said that the primary sign of the Jivanmukta is "steady abidance in the Self, looking at all with an equal eye, and fearlessness under all circumstances." If there is no sense of separation, there is nothing to fear, and no possibility of inequality arising.

We have to remind ourselves, of course, that the point of view of the Jivanmukta is radically different from our own, and that even in discussing these matters, we tend to take the view that the Jivanmukta is a person who merely sees things differently than we do. We can't help that, even if Ramana makes it clear that this is the very source of our delusions about the nature of the Jivanmukta.

M. The undifferentiated consciousness of pure being is the Heart or hridayam, which is what you really are. From the Heart arises the "I am"-ness as the primary datum of one's experience. By itself it is completely pure in character. It is in this form of pristine purity, uncontaminated by  rajas and tamas [activity and inertia] that the 'I' appears to subsist in the jnani.

The existence of the ego in any form, either in the jnani or ajnani, is itself an experience. But to the ajnani who is deluded into thinking that the waking state and the world are real, the ego also appears to be real. Since he sees the jnani act like like other individuals, he feels constrained to posit some notion of individuality with reference to the jnani also.

Q. How then does the aham-vritti ['I'-thought] function in the jnani?

M. It does not function in him at all. The jnani's real nature is the Heart itself, because he is one and identical with the undifferentiated, pure consciousness referred to by the Upanishads as the prajnana [full consciousness]. Prajnana is truly Brahman, the bsolute, and there is no Brahman other than prajnana.
Those who see the Jivanmukta from the perspective of the 'I'-thought are of course going to see him as a human being who seems somewhat different than others, but of the same basic nature. However, the Jivanmukta does not see himself that way at all. It is not that he seems himself to have a different nature than others, he merely sees that both himself and others have an entirely different nature than is presumed to be the case by those who see the world from the perspective of the 'I'-thought. Unfortunately, we cannot readily consider the Jivanmukta from his own perspective - we are only able to see him from our perspective, and try to understand him as best we can. This means accepting the human character of the Jivanmukta as having the same degree of reality that our own human character has to us, and to others. And this therefore means accepting the human qualities and limitations of the Jivanmukta without presuming them to be limitations upon his realization, but merely aspects of his human body-mind, and perhaps his subtle body as well.

As I've mentioned before in this blog, one of the primary existential aspects of our humanity is that we are hybrid creatures, with a mind rooted in the subtle realm of spirit, and a physical body which exists in the material world, and a living connection between the two which is the focus of our human development. In the case of the Jivanmukta, this linkage persists just as physical life does. Which means that the Jivanmukta also functions on a spiritual level, even if from his own perspective these too are illusions of the ego. The difference once again is that the Jivanmukta does not function with an 'I''-thought and all its consequent functional limitations, even if we do. This introduces an entirely different kind of functional capacity that needs to be examined.

Ramana has often described the ego as a "knot" in the heart, and liberation as an opening of this knot. When the heart-knot is closed, it gives rise to the 'I'-thought. From the 'I'-thought arise all the other thoughts and perceptions, including the body itself, and subsequently this thought travels through the various nadis of the body-mind to create a sense of limited self everywhere it goes. When the knot is opened, the 'I'-thought is vanished, and in its place rises the pure consciousness of the Self, which also travels through all the nadis and replaces the sense of limited egoic self with the pervasive sense of the unlimited universal Self. To Ramana, the Jivanmukta is "lived by the Self", rather than by the separate egoic self, and even the body itself is lived by this "higher power", such that no individual is in any sense present to "act".

However, from the perspective of the bodily life, one can describe this process, as it seemingly occurs in time and space, as a definite transformation of the apparent human individual. Even if the from the Jivanmukta's perspective time and space no longer exist as limitations upon the Self, from those who live with the Jivanmukta, a process within time and space can be observed, in which his body and mind are transformed by this opening of the heart-knot. In fact, I would suggest that we can observe this process going on in Ramana himself, and in others, and that unless we take this process into account, we will not be able to understand what is occurring in the life of a Jivanmukta, and tend to impose incorrect categorical imperatives upon him or her.

In the first place, we have to understand that while to the Jivanmukta liberation is not only instantaneous and eternal, and even always already the case, to  those of us living otherwise it seems to occur within time and even to develop over time. The body, we must remind ourselves, exists within time. Even the subtle body and mind, though dwelling in a different kind of time and place, still exist within time. So there is a developmental process, and limitations to be overcome, which take time to appear and be vanquished.

For this reason in Ramana's discussion of the Jnana-Bhoomikas, he acknowledges that a process of development occurs within the life of the jnani, even if none of that changes the realization of the jnani in any way. Even in Ramana's own life, we can see a process of development, and even an ordinary process of learning various things about the world and the development of spiritual teachings, including Advaita itself.

One of the issues Friesen brings up in his study of Jivanmukta is that Ramana clearly seems to have gone through a process of development after his supposedly final awakening at the age of sixteen. Friesen presents the evidence of this development as a kind of contradiction to the notion that Ramana's realization was unchanged. In this, he simply doesn't fully understand the full concept of the Jivanmukta, which is of an instantaeous realization that transcends time and space, but which, from the point of view of time and space, initiates a process of development. Friesen points out that Ramana expresses some doubt and confusion about what happened to him in the days and weeks following his awakening, which is simply natural, in that the body-mind takes some time to adapt to the realization that has spontaneously opened up its knots.

It needs to be said that the spontaneous, non-dual realization of the Jivanmukta has no content to it whatsoever. It does not take the form of a thought in the mind, or the communication of a verbal teaching. It is the opposite of that, it is the death of that point of view about the mind. It does not even have a verbal or conceptual understanding of what has occurred to guide the Jivanmukta. Nor does the body-mind of the Jivanmukta instantly comprehend what has occurred. The body-mind, which exists in time, takes time to adapt itself. The force of the Self which now rises out of the heart and irradiates the body-mind of the Jivanmukta takes time to transform it and clear it of all its vasanas and tendencies.

This, it would appear, is exactly why Ramana reduced all his activities to a bare minimum in the weeks following his awakening, and soon left his home to travel to Arunachula, where he spent much of the next three years in meditative silence. From Ramana's own testimony, it would not be accurate to call this period a time of absorption in samadhi. Ramana described this time as one in which he was fully attentive to the body and mind, but simply had no impulse to do anything with it other than simply sit. Instead, a process seems to have gone on in Ramana's body-mind during this time, a process of silent development that represented the opening of his nadis throughout the body-mind to the force and power of the Self. I would suggest that this occurred not merely or even primarily in the physical body itself, but in the subtle connections that grow the links between the subtler bodies and the physical body.

I've mentioned before how the primary functional value of meditation is that it allows us to grow a deeper and more powerful connection between our physical body and brain and the subtle mind and body of our spiritual self. In the case of a Jivanmukta, one could describe this process as supercharged, in that it not only builds deeper links between the subtle and the physical, but all the way to the heart itself, beyond all these. This is how various "siddhis" develop in a natural way, the primary siddhi merely being the deepening Presence of the Self that is communicated in the physical and subtle presence of the Jivanmukta. Other siddhis are secondary and usually insignificant in comparison to this primary siddhi of mere Presence. This is why we tend to feel a sense of peace and calm in the company of the Jivanmukta. Their body has undergone a spiritual transformation that can be beneficial to us as well, if we are cooperative with it.

Therefore, Ramana himself needed to submit to a process of development in the aftermath of his realization. Even if his realization itself was instant and penetrated all facets of the ego and the world, the developmental process that followed necessarily took time. It's not a contradiction to see him expressing doubt and confusion about what had occurred in him in the days and weeks that followed. That is simply natural. His body and mind had to undergo a developmental process of submission to the realization that had awakened, and this takes time.

Likewise, the development of a conceptual teaching about realization also takes time. Ramana did not awaken with any conceptual understanding of what had occurred at all. He appears to have used whatever crude language and concepts were available to him at the time to describe it, which included some basic Hindu notions about God, and even Christian ideas he had learned at the school he attended, which was a Christian one. These should not be taken as a sign of anything other than his own lack of education in the finer points of Advaitic dharma. In the years that followed, he learned many aspects of Hindu Dharma, including Advaita, from the people who came to him, and he used these teachings to describe his own realization. For the most part, he found agreement in the Advaitic teachings, but he did not ever consider himself an Advaitic, or even a Hindu. He merely found their teaching concepts useful in both describing his own realization, and in teaching others the process that leads to realization. As Friesen points out, however, Ramana frequently denied having any teaching, or dogma, or interest in developing anything like that. Most of what we call Ramana's teaching or philosophy is simply stitched together by his devotees from things he said along the way. It was not meant by him to represent some coherent "truth", but merely things he found useful in the course of trying to help other people.

Therefore, it's relatively easy to find numerous contradictions in his instructions. He acknowledged this himself many times, and reminded people that his purpose was not to construct seamless conceptual systems of philosophy, but merely to inspire and guide people through whatever process they needed to go through in order to realize the Self. It was not supposed to make sense, in other words, even if it did to some degree. Some might consider this approach irresponsible, or even not that of a genuine teacher. To Ramana, however, it was precisely what was needed, and represented a higher kind of teaching method than what one would normally get from a spiritual teacher. To him, the highest teachings were not conceptual at all, but were given in silence. As he often said, he only spoke to help people who couldn't readily understand his silence.

Even so, his spoken teachings cannot honestly be said to have arisen from out of the blue, or merely out of his own realization. Clearly there was an internal process of development, but there was also an external process as well, as Ramana was introduced to a wide variety of Hindu and western sources of spiritual teaching. He seemed to make some use of nearly all of them, and over time developed his own unique emphasis, which clearly centered upon the Self and the process of self-enquiry, but which was not limited to these. Ramana seemed perfectly willing to subordinate his own point of view in order to help whomever came to him, which usually meant teaching from their point of view, and not his own.

Ramana described how his own experience was of the pure "Ajata Vada" or "no-creation" point of view, in which the world is not seen so much as an illusion, but as never even having come into existence in the first place. This viewpoint is at the heart of the non-dual tradition, and it literally makes no sense, in that it asserts something which the very assertion of which seems to contradict its assertion. WHich is why Ramana seldom spoke of it, and instead usually taught others from the perspective of lesser vadas, such as the "creation" point of view that most religious or even atheistic people feel comfortable with, or at best, the "mind-based" viewpoint that most spiritually sensitive people are able to relate to. For this reason it's easy to find all kinds of contradiction in Ramana's teachings, if one compares what he said to the full spectrum of individuals who came to him, since these differing views are inherently contradictory to one another. It's only if one takes a larger overview that the contradictions are resolved.

If there's a single unifying principle in Ramana's teaching it is that there is indeed a larger overview that completely resolves all contradictions. That overview is the Self, from which all apparent or potential contradictions become self-evidently obvious as mere aspects of the One Self that has no contradiction, even in apparent multiplicity. From this perspective, nothing has ever happened, and nothing ever could happen. This does not make Ramana our of touch with the manifest world, it simply gives him the ultimate perspective on it all - which is the genuine "theory of everything" that constantly evades those who value concepts above the reality they seek to describe.

The Self that resolves these contradictions is not a concept, however. Therefore, no conceptual system built around the Self can itself be free of contradictions. Those who would like to build a perfect conceptual system that is free of contradiction, therefore, are doomed to failure, even if it might be fun trying. This is why Ramana didn't spend much time in that kind of effort. If anything, his method was one of deconstructing all such systems and leaving their guts hanging out. That's what the process of self-enquiry actually entails - hanging one's guts out without an organizing principle in place while simply examining the very mind that would like to organize it all around a central principle - the ego. That's not really a teaching at all, it's a form of rebellion against the very idea of teaching others. In that sense, one could say that Ramana was the ultimate punk Guru. He didn't like the idea of being a traditional Guru, because he felt that such ideas could get in the way of realization, and that was the last thing he wanted.

The ego tends to turn the Guru into an externalized extension of itself, seeing the Guru as the organizing principle of spiritual life, around which it can create its own sense of reality. That's how Gurus become egoic narcissists - they allow themselves to become the outer sign of the ego, rather than the principle which deconstructs the ego. So Ramana felt it necessary to forgo much of that, in order to prevent the ego from usurping him. Much of his relations with devotees, while peaceful on the surface, masked a nearly constant struggle to undermine their desire to make him into a traditional Guru. This is why he never gave formal diksha, and never even like to give actual directions about how his ashram should be organized. He made everyone, even the Sarvadhikari, guess at what his intentions or interests were. No one ever knew precisely what Ramana wanted, and he liked it that way. It gave him room to be free, rather than to be the organizational center upon which spiritual egos could hang their flag. And for that reason its important not to ascribe an actual "teaching" to Ramana, other than silence itself.

This doesn't mean we can't take seriously what he actually said. I think it's very important to be attentive to what he did manage to say, because most of us obviously still don't entirely grasp his silent teaching. It should just humble us, in that we clearly aren't among the most advanced of his students. To advance beyond concepts is the very goal of his conceptual teaching, regardless of what words he borrowed from whatever traditions he came across.

1 comment:

\m said...

For this reason it's easy to find all kinds of contradiction in Ramana's teachings, if one compares what he said to the full spectrum of individuals who came to him, since these differing views are inherently contradictory to one another. It's only if one takes a larger overview that the contradictions are resolved.

Hence the rise of "crazy wisdom". Zen roshis might hit you with a stick or say startling things, Ramana might say seemingly contradictory things to different devotees, Frank might sleep with your wife, and Andrew Cohen might yell at you for an hour.

Then one must distinguish between "benign crazy wisdom" and "malign crazy wisdom".

That's a big caveat emptor to spiritual seekers of all stripes. Papaji trained Andrew Cohen and many others. Frank trained, uh, Saniel, and Nisargadatta trained Wayne Dyer. Sasaki-roshi trained Richard Baker, Chogyam Trungpa trained Osel Tendsin etc. etc. etc. Were they attuned to their masters' silence?

It's a craazy world out there. Thank you for the clear exposition, I appreciate it.