Most of these points aren't controversial, or even contradictory. They are confusing however, if one tries to patch them together into a coherent picture of Ramana's views, and develop an understanding of what it means to be a "Jivanmukta", one who is liberated while alive. If there's a basic definition of what it means to be "liberated" or "Self-realized" it is to have resolved all contradiction, all dualisms. Thus, at first glance, finding contradictions in the life and teachings of a reputed Jivanmukta would seem to undermine the very notion that they were truly liberated from dualism. And yet this notion is virtually unavoidable in the concept of Jivanmukta itself, since a the very notion of resolving all dualisms, all contradictions, while yet being alive in the body and thus in the world of dualistic appearances, seems to guarantee contradictions, since nothing is more certain within this world of ours than conflict and contradiction.
For that reason, reading Friesen's long paper requires not merely some point by point examination of the contradictions he cites, but an examination of the very concept of Jivanmukta, and the existential experience it represents - particularly in Ramana's own case, but also in other reputed Jivanmuktas within the modern tradition - in order to understand what it means, what contradictions are virtually unavoidable, and which are unnecessary and the product of misunderstanding. In particular, I'd like to focus on the question of the mind itself, and what the relationship the Jivanmukta has to the mind.
As Friesen points out, there are some rather obvious contradictions in the life and teachings of Ramana, and the Hindu tradition altogether, about the mind of the Jivanmukta. In many instances, Ramana describes how the mind must be killed, destroyed, and completely brought to an end for liberation to arise. Likewise, many of his reputedly enlightened devotees, such as Poonja Swami, Lakshmana Swami, and Sadhu Om, describe how the mind must be brought to an end, and how the genuine Self-realizer has "no mind" at all. And yet, clearly all of these people are able to talk in the same way that people who have a mind talk, they are able to form mental arguments, write extensive discursive works, plan activities, carry out work of all kinds, interact socially in very ordinary ways, and otherwise function in the manner we normally associate with thought, thinking, mind, and mental cognition. The notion that they have "no mind" seems directly contradicted by the simple facts. This is so obvious that either one must presume Ramana and others are not speaking of the mind in the purely functional sense, or that there is a deeper understanding being pointed to here which is not obvious at all. Or perhaps both.
Of course, the difficulty of understanding how the mind functions in relation to spiritual practice isn't limited to the small population of reputed Jivanmuktas. It applies to others as well. As an example, I cite a devotee interviewed by David Godman in his biography of Poonja Swami, "Nothing Ever Happened". Poonja Swami had agree to a request by David to speak with some of his India devotees, a number of whom came over to meet with David at Poonja Swami's house. One of the devotees seemed particularly absorbed in meditative states, and basically spent most of the evening in the corner, mumbling to himself and experiencing what looked to be an extended state of devotional disorientation. When David finally spoke to the man, he described how he spent all virtually all of his waking hours in this kind of absorbed state, virtually oblivious to the world around him. He described how he put all his attention on Pooja Swami, devotionally contemplating his Guru, and had no time for anything else. Even while talking with David, he seemed mostly absorbed in his devotional state of mind, and seemed to have a hard time carrying on the conversation. David couldn't help wondering how a man in such a state of mind could take care of himself, or earn a living, and so he politely asked if he was supported by others. The man said, no, he was gainfully employed as an engineer in a very demanding job and earned a very good living at it. David was more than a little shocked, and asked if his job interfered with his devotional life, and the man said that no, he spent all his time at work in devotional contemplation of his Guru. David asked how he was able to do that kind of work while in this devotional state, and the man explained that he didn't really know. He never thought about his work, he never worried about it, he somehow managed to do all his work satisfactorily without putting any attention on it at all. When other engineers in his office needed to talk with him, the right words came out of his mouth somehow, even though he didn't have any sense of knowing what he was saying. His daily workload was handled efficiently and accurately, he got promotions and pay-raises on schedule, and there seemed to be no interference with his devotional practice. David was left rather flabbergasted and amazed.
So clearly there's something going on here in relation to the mind which might tend to subvert our assumptions and ordinary understanding of how the mind works in reality - and I do mean literally in reality, not merely in the human viewpoint, whether "common" or exceptional. Nisargadatta once described his own functional state of mind in a way that might shed light on this issue. He said that his own consciousness was so enlarged by realization that the ordinary affairs of life, including his conversations with devotees, took up hardly any of his awareness. He compared it to the functioning of one's internal organs, and pointed out that we don't spend any time trying to direct our liver to function, it does so automatically. His said that the jnani was like this, that most of his functioning occurred as an automaticity, like one's liver cleaning the blood, and took no conscious attention on his part to handle. This included even most of what we consider the functions of the higher conceptual mind. To the jnani, these are as simple as urination. One simply lets it flow.
Ramana himself tended to sidestep these sorts of questions. His standard response was that it was pointless to speculate about the state of the Jnani, his experience, his mind, etc. Instead, people should be concerned about their own minds, and worry about Jnanis later. This exchange is typical:
"Q. Self-realized jnanis are seen to take food and do actions like others. Do they similarly experience the states of dream and sleep?
M. Why do you seek to know the state of others, maybe jnanis? What do you gain by knowing about others? You must seek to know your own real nature. What do you think you are? Evidently, the body.
M. Similarly, you take the jnani to be the visible body whereon the actions are superimposed by you. That makes you put these questions. The jnani himself does not ask if he has the dream or sleep state. He has no doubts himself. The doubts are in you. This must convince you of your wrong premises. The jnani is not the body. He is the Self of all.
Jnana and ajnana are of the same degree of truth; that is, both are imagined by the ignorant; that is not true from the standpoint of the jnani. (Guru Vachaka Kovai, Godman, p.598)"
Sometimes Ramana went beyond this sort of reply to answer questions just like this. On one occasion, he confirmed that he did in fact have dreams, His dreams were mostly about "sacred bathing sites and holy places" as he described them. To him, they were just as real, or unreal, as the waking state. Likewise, he confirmed that while in deep sleep he was not conscious of the waking world, but merely observing such states of mind. The point of interest being that one can certainly say that Ramana did experience "states of mind" to some extent, even if our premises about these cannot be assumed to describe his experience.
And yet, Ramana also made it clear that the goal of spiritual practice and self-enquiry was to "kill or destroy the mind":
"919. Mauna Samadhi, the clarity of peace devoid of the agitation of the mind, is the means for liberation. By focused effort attain it, and by abiding as the peaceful being-consciousness that is heart-clarity, destory the illusory agitation of the mind.
920. The ego will not die by any means other than Self-attention. Similarly, the misery filled world appearance, which is seen like a dream, will not be destroyed by any means other than the total destruction of the mind."
And yet Ramana also describes how the intention or goal of destroying the mind is impossible to acheive directly through the mind's own efforts.
"Q. How to get rid of maya?
M. Do not trouble yourself to conquer maya. Be in your real state and maya will go away of its own accord. If you attempt to conquer it, it will lead you through many difficulties.
Maya, which cannot be destroyed by any other act, is completely destroyed by this intense activity which is called 'silence' [mauna]."
Ramana repeatedly affirms that the life of the jnani is beyond the mind:
924. I affirm that, even when the mind ceases to function as thought, being assuredly exists. That being abides forever as the temple of consciousness-bliss (even though it) apparently comes into existence at a favourable moment, prior to which it [apparently] remains concealed.
An alternative translation of this same verse is:
924. I declare that even when the mind, in the form of thoughts, ceases to function, something remains. That something is the reality. Manifesting as time, it operates in a hidden way, abiding always as the temple of consciousness-bliss.
To get to the heart of Ramana's teaching on the mind , we have to recognize that Ramana considered the mind to be the battleground of duality itself, which seemingly divides us into two distinct senses of self, and two distinct functional modes of awareness.
M. From the functional point of view the ego has one and only one characteristic. The ego functions as the knot between the Self which is pure consciousness and the physical body which is inert and insentient. The ego is therefore called the chit-jada granthi (the knot between consciousness and the inert body). In your investigation into the source of aharm-vritti, you take the essential chit [consciousness] aspect of the ego. For this reason the enquiry must lead to the realization of the pure consciousness of the Self.The point being made here is subtle but very important. Ramana is not suggesting that two actual "entities" which could be called "I" exist, one being the false ego and the other being the true universal Self, and that one must destroy the one to realize the other He is pointing out how what we experience as the mind has two functional capabilities. The first is the capability of consciousness-awareness itself. This is the primal reality of what we experience as our very conscious being, and it is by tracing this consciousness-awareness to its source that we recognize ourselves to be the true Self. One can rightly say, in this light, that the very awareness we experience right now is the same awareness as the Self. This thread of reality pervades all states of mind, all can be traced back within any state to its source, which is the Self.
You must distinguish between the 'I', pure in itself, and the 'I'-thought. The latter, being merely a thought, sees subject and object, sleeps, wakes up, eats and thinks, dies and is reborn. But the pure 'I' is the pure being, eternal existence, free from ignorance and thought-illusion. If you stay as the 'I', your being alone, without thought, the 'I'-thought will disappear and the delusion will vanish forever. In a cinema show you can see pictures only in a very dim light or in darkness. But when all the lights are switched on, the pictures disappear. So also in the floodlight of the supreme atman all objects disappear.-(Be As You Are, p.49)
The other capability of the mind is to identify with the body, which creates a "knot" in the heart, a feeling of separate self, and this gives rise to the "I"-thought, which rises out of the heart-knot, and is the root-thought of the individuated, separate mind. All thoughts arise from the "I"-thought, including the thought of individual self, others, and world. All illusions of maya arise as a result of this process of mind, and it is this which must be undone through sadhana, so that our real nature can be known and enjoyed. This is possible because the essential nature of the mind is not actually destroyed by the knots of the heart or the rising of the mind. The very awareness which is now aware of the mind is itself the very reality we seek. It is only that the functional illusions created by this heart-knot keep us from noticing or making use of our primal awareness that has become associated with the "I"-thought and all its consequent illusions. The purpose of self-enquiry is to give attention to this primal awareness, and let the illusions of the ego fall to the wayside.
It's important to note that this capacity for delusion is a real functional capability of our own awareness. In other words, we are able to be responsible for it. We are also able to continue making this functional error for as long as we wish. Thus, there is a primal choice we all have as to whether or not we want to continue on in ignorance, or understand who we are and open this knot in the heart, and thereby "destroy" that functional aspect of the mind which falls into error, by correcting the original mistake.
It's also important to note that this functional error occurs in relation to the physical body. It's equally important to recognize that this same error occurs in relation to all our bodies, including the subtle and causal, and all the "sheaths". I point this out to make it clear that even the jnani still has a relationship to the body, even if it is not a relationship characterized by the functional error of identification and the formation of a knot in the heart that then translates into an "I"-thought rising into the mind of awareness, and from there affecting the entire functional relationship to the subtle and physical bodies, rendering them functionally "egoic". In other words, the jnani continues to function in relation to the subtle and physical body, even though he no longer identifies with them or creates a knot in their heart. Instead, the jnani has an open relationship with the body, functioning without ego, not as a "doer", but as the very Self. Even so, this does not mean that the functional characteristics of the jnani's gross and subtle body suddenly evaporate or are rendered obsolete. The elimination of the egoic illusion does not eliminate the body itself, or the functional nature of the mind as it exists as a characteristic of the physical and subtle bodies. These commonly continue on, even though when they finally die, they may not re-create any new forms. This includes basic elements of personality and the jnani's human qualities.
The use of the word "mind" in the spiritual traditions, and even by Ramana himself, is often imprecise, and is frequently used to refer to distinct elements. At times it merely means the brain and its various neural impulses that we identify with on the level of the physical organism of our own bodies. At times it refers to the subtle awareness that we, as functionally reincarnate entities, identify with the deeper elements of the mind. At times it refers to the deeper awareness of the individuated self. At times it refers to the 'I'-thought at the root of the mind. And at times it can refer to the eseential nature of the mind, awareness itself, beyond the knot of the ego. Many of the apparent contradictions found within the Advaitic traditions, particularly among the more colloquial teachers such as Ramana and other neo-Advaitins, are the result of not differentiating between these contextual uses of the term "mind".
For example, when Lakshmana Swami says that he has "no mind", he is not meaning, I would suggest, that his physical brain is dead or dysfunctional. I think one can safely assume that whatever changes occur in the physiology of jnanis, it does not include their brains going flatline. I assume that their brains and nerves and all the functional capacities these organs normally handle continue to function in the case of realization. There may be some heightened functional capacity introduced by the relaxation of the ego-knot and the opening of the heart. It's hard to imagine that nothing at all would change, but it's also hard to see how the entire functional complex of the brain would be eliminated. So I think it is safe to assume that when a jnani describes himself as having "no mind", he is referring to something else. The most likely explanation is that the jnani's consciousness no longer identifies with the body, which means it no longer identifies with even the nerves or impulses that pass through the brain. In other words, he does not see these nerve impulses as his own, or in any way defining him, even as they are continually created within the brain. He does not see these as "thoughts" any more, even if we might see his brain forming the kinds of circuits we would normally call thoughts.
Similarly, I don't think we can say that the jnani's subtle mind or body is eliminated by Self-realization. Just as the physical body continues, so does the subtle body, and those functional qualities of awareness that are handled by the subtle mind, which in the case of reincarnate human beings represents quite a lot of what we can see and observe in one another. As I've written extensively about in earlier posts, human beings are not simply physical creatures, but a hybrid of both physical and subtle beings. We are fundamentally subtle beings who come into a symbiotic relationship with a physical being, the physical organism of the human body and brain. That body and brain has its own characteristics, as does the subtle being who connects to it. In the case of a Jivanmukta, therefore, an additional complication must be taken into account, which is that the Jivanmukta does not identify with either the physical or the subtle being, but is not disassociated from them either. The Jivanmukta has released the knot of ego, but the process of incarnation continues. In some respects this is what allows incarnation to "complete itself", in that the Jivanmukta is no longer obstructing the process with egoic patterns of illusion and dysfunctionality. And yet, it is also bringing the entire cycle of incarnation to an end, in that the very impulse to incarnate is eliminated, even if the body and functional mind are not.
The Jivanmukta therefore occupies a strange place in the natural hierarchy of human and spiritual beings. Many fabulous mythologies have been created around the phenomena of the Jivanmukta, but I would suggest that most of these are either the result of a misunderstanding of the actual functional process that occurs in the course of liberation from the illusion of the ego, or they have been misinterpreted by others out of their proper context. Notions of perfection, immortality, mindlessness, and disassociation have become melded together in the course of many spiritual traditions, old and new, resulting in a confusion about the functional orientation of the Jivanmukta, and what we can reasonably expect to encounter in the human play of such human individuals.
The primary point that I think must be made about the Jivanmukta is one that both Nisargadatta and Ramana were in close agreement about - the Jivanmukta's functional relationship to all the manfiest worlds, gross, subtle, and causal, even his own body-mind as it lives on all these levels, is that of a pure "observer". In other words, the Jivanmukta does not feel himself to be "in" the world, at any level at all. In relation to the body and world, the Jivanmukta can only be said to observe all these, and not to be incarnate "in" them. To the contrary, the Jivanmukta sees all "things" as arising within himself, rather than the other way around. And he recognizes that there are no "things" at all, but only modifications of his own infinite consciousness and being.
And yet, on the functional human level, the Jivanmukta demonstrates all the ordinary signs of being human, of relating to others through his own physical body and brain. Each Jivanmukta, though feeling themselves in reality to be the same One, functionally appears through the characteristic qualities of their body-mind. Ramana has his own human character, which was different from Papaji's which was different from Nisargadatta's. One can see similarities in their deeper qualities, and in their teachings, but one cannot pretend that their teachings are not influenced by the human experience they have undergone in this lifetime, or even in past lifetimes. Their subtle minds continue as well, and perhaps persist in some cases beyond the death of the physical body. At some point, of course, even their subtle body may die as well, and all that remains of their influence is the pure Self unimpeded by such manifest qualities. This is not a retreat or a functional hindrance to the communication of truth, but an advance into the pure teaching of silence, which as we can already see Ramana felt was the most important of all.
On that note, I think I'll end this current post, which in some ways is just a pre-amble for further discussion of the Jivanmukta, not just as we find it in the example of Ramana and his teachings, but in many others as well. It's one of the most important topics to be discussed in the field of esoteric spirituality, and I'd like to come back to it again and again in the course of this blog.