I have been studying the teachings of Ramana since 1980 and they have continually brought me to a deeper and deeper understanding of our true nature. I came across this wonderful book by Michael James, in which he does a masterful job of introducing Ramana’s teaching to lay people – meaning those who may not be familiar with Hindu mythology, Vedanta scriptures and Sanskrit. Below is an excerpt from the introduction of his book.
Happiness and the Art of Being (excerpt from the introduction)
Happiness lies deep within us, in the very core of our being. Happiness does not exist in any external object, but only in us, who are the consciousness that experiences happiness. Though we seem to derive happiness from external objects or experiences, the happiness that we thus enjoy in fact arises from within us.
Whatever turmoil our mind may be in, in the centre of our being there always exists a state of perfect peace and joy, like the calm in the eye of a storm. Desire and fear agitate our mind, and obscure from its view the happiness that always exists within it. When a desire is satisfied, or the cause of a fear is removed, the surface agitation of our mind subsides, and in that temporary calm our mind enjoys a taste of its own innate happiness.
Happiness is thus a state of being – a state in which our mind’s habitual agitation is calmed. The activity of our mind disturbs it from its calm state of just being, and causes it to lose sight of its own innermost happiness. To enjoy happiness, therefore, all our mind need do is to cease all activity, returning calmly to its natural state of inactive being, as it does daily in deep sleep.
Therefore to master the art of being happy, we must master the art and science of just being. We must discover what the innermost core of our being is, and we must learn to abide consciously and constantly in that state of pure being, which underlies and supports (but nevertheless remains unaffected by) all the superficial activities of our mind: thinking, feeling and perceiving, remembering and forgetting, and so on.
The art of just being, remaining fully conscious but without any activity of the mind, is not only an art – a practical skill that can be cultivated and applied to produce an experience of inexpressible beauty and joy – but also a science – an attempt to acquire true knowledge by keen observation and rigorous experiment. And this art and science of being is not only the art and science of happiness, but also the art and science of consciousness, and the art and science of self-knowledge.
The science of being is incredibly simple and clear. To the human mind, however, it may appear to be complex and abstruse, not because it is in any way complex in itself, but because the mind which tries to comprehend it is such a complex bundle of thoughts and emotions – desires, fears, anxieties, attachments, long-cherished beliefs and preconceived ideas – that it tends to cloud the pure simplicity and clarity of being, making what is obvious appear to be obscure.
Like any other science, the science of being begins with observation and analysis of something that we already know but do not fully understand, and proceeds by reasoning to formulate a plausible hypothesis that can explain what is observed, and then rigorously tests that hypothesis by precise and critical experiment.
However, unlike all other sciences, this science does not study any object of knowledge, but instead studies the very power of knowing itself – the power of consciousness that underlies the mind, the power by which all objects are known.
Hence the truth discovered by means of this science is not something that can be demonstrated or proved objectively by one person to another. It can, however, be directly experienced as a clear knowledge in the innermost core of each person who scrupulously pursues the necessary process of experiment till the true nature of being – which is the true nature of consciousness, and of happiness – is revealed in the full clarity of pure unadulterated self-consciousness.
Just as the science of being is fundamentally unlike all other sciences, so as an art it is fundamentally unlike all other arts, because it is not an art that involves doing anything. It is an art not of doing but of non-doing – an art of just being.
The state of just being is one in which our mind does not rise to do, think or know anything, yet it is a state of full consciousness – consciousness not of anything else but only of being. The skill that is to be learnt in this art is not simply the skill to be – because we always are and therefore require no special skill or effort to be –, nor is it merely the skill to be without doing or thinking anything – because we are able to be so each day in deep dreamless sleep.
The skill to be cultivated is the skill to remain calmly and peacefully without doing or thinking anything, but nevertheless retaining a perfectly clear consciousness of being – that is, consciousness of our own being or essential ‘am’-ness. Only in this pristine state of clear non-dual self-conscious being, unclouded by the distracting agitation of thought and action, will the true nature of being become perfectly clear, obvious, self-evident and free from even the least scope for doubt or confusion.
Our first and most direct experience of being is that of our own being or existence. First we know that we exist, and then only can we know of the existence of other things. But whereas our own existence is self-conscious, the existence of each other thing depends on us to be known.
We know our own being because we are consciousness. In other words, our being is itself the consciousness that knows itself. It knows itself because it is essentially self-conscious. Thus it is reasonable to hypothesize that consciousness is the primal and essential form of being. Without consciousness, being would be unknown, and without being, consciousness would not exist.
Our being and our consciousness of being are inseparable – in fact they are identical – and both are expressed by the single phrase ‘I am’. This being-consciousness, ‘I am’, is our most fundamental experience, and the most fundamental experience of every sentient being. ‘I am’ is the one basic consciousness – the essential non-dual self-consciousness – without which nothing would be known. ‘I am’ is therefore the source and foundation of all knowledge.
What then is the use of knowing anything else if we do not know the truth of our own being-consciousness, our self-consciousness, ‘I am’, on the basis of which all else is known? All that we know about the world and all that we know about God – all our sciences and all our religions – are of no real value to us if we do not know the truth about ourself, who desire to know the truth about the world and God.
We are the being-consciousness ‘I am’, yet our knowledge about this ‘I am’ is confused. We all believe ‘I am this body’, ‘I am a person’, ‘I am called so-and-so, and was born on such-and-such a date at such-and-such a place’. Thus we identify our consciousness ‘I am’ with a particular body. This identification is the result of a confused and unclear knowledge of the true nature of consciousness.
Our consciousness ‘I am’ is not something material, whereas our body is merely a bundle of physical matter, which is not inherently conscious. Yet somehow we are deluded into mistaking this material body to be our consciousness ‘I’. As a result of our unclear knowledge of consciousness, we mistake matter to be conscious, and consciousness to be something material.
That which thus mistakes this body to be ‘I’ is our mind. Our mind comes into existence only by imagining itself to be a body. In deep sleep we are unaware of either our mind or our body. As soon as we wake up, our mind rises feeling ‘I am this body, I am so-and-so’, and only after thus identifying itself as a particular body does it perceive the external world through the five senses of that body.
Exactly the same thing happens in dream – our mind identifies itself as a particular body and through the five senses of that body it perceives a seemingly real and external world. When we wake up from a dream, we understand that the body we mistook to be ‘I’ and the world we mistook to be real and external were both in fact only figments of our imagination.
Thus from our experience in dream we all know that our mind has a wonderful power of imagination by which it is able to create a body, to mistake that imaginary body to be ‘I’, and through that body to project a world which, at the time we perceive it, appears to be every bit as real and external to us as the world that we now perceive in this waking state.
Knowing that our mind possesses this wonderful power of creation and self-deception, is it not reasonable for us to suspect that the body we take to be ‘I’ and the world we take to be real in our present waking state may in fact be nothing more than a mere imagination or mental projection, just like the body and world that we experience in dream? What evidence do we have that the body and world we experience in this waking state are anything other than a creation of our own mind? We may be able to point out certain differences between waking and dream, but on analysis we will discover that those differences are superficial, being concerned with quality or quantity rather than with substance.
If we compare the world drama we see in waking or dream to a drama we see on a cinema screen, we may say that the drama seen in waking is a better quality and more impressive production than that seen in dream, but both are productions none the less – productions not of some external agency but of our mind which sees them.
In substance, there is no essential difference between our experience in waking and that in dream. In both states our mind rises, attaching itself to a body by taking it to be ‘I’, and through the senses of that body it sees a world bound within the limits of time and space, and filled with numerous people and other objects, both sentient and insentient, all of which it is convinced are real. How can we prove to ourself that what we experience in the waking state exists at all outside our own imagination, any more than a dream exists outside our imagination?
When we carefully analyse our experience in our three states of waking, dream and deep sleep, it is clear that we are able to confuse our consciousness ‘I’ to be different things at different times. In waking we mistake our present body to be ‘I’, in dream we mistake some other imaginary body to be ‘I’, and in sleep we mistake unconsciousness to be ‘I’ – or at least on waking from sleep what we remember is that ‘I was unconscious’.
What we were in fact unconscious of in sleep was our mind, our body and the world, but not our own existence or being. Our experience in sleep was not that we ceased to exist, but only that we ceased to be aware of all the thoughts and perceptions that we are accustomed to experiencing in the waking and dream states. When we say, ‘I slept peacefully, I had no dreams, I was unaware of anything’, we are confidently affirming that ‘I’ was in sleep – that is, that we existed and knew that we existed at that time.
Because we associate consciousness with being conscious of all the thoughts and perceptions that make up our life in waking and in dream, we consider sleep to be a state of unconsciousness. But we should examine the so-called unconsciousness of sleep more carefully. The consciousness that knows thoughts and perceptions is our mind, which rises and is active in waking and dream, but which subsides in sleep. But this rising and subsiding consciousness is not our real consciousness. We are conscious not only of the two states of waking and dream, in which our mind rises to experience thoughts and perceptions, but also of a third state, sleep, in which our mind has subsided in a state devoid of thoughts and perceptions.
This fact that we are conscious of sleep as a state distinct from waking and dream clearly indicates that we are the consciousness that underlies the rising and subsiding of the transient consciousness that we call ‘mind’. The consciousness that enables us to affirm confidently, ‘I did exist in sleep, but I was unconscious of anything’, is not our ‘rising consciousness’ but our ‘being consciousness’.
This ‘being consciousness’, which exists in all our three states, is our real consciousness, and is what is truly denoted when we say ‘I am’. Our mind, the ‘rising consciousness’ that appears in waking and dream and disappears in sleep, is only a spurious form of consciousness, which on rising mistakes itself to be both our basic consciousness ‘I am’ and this material body.
Thus, by analysing our experience in our three states of waking, dream and deep sleep, we can understand that though we now mistake ourself to be a body limited by time and space, we are in fact the consciousness that underlies the appearance of these three states, in only two of which the sense of being a body and the consequent limitations of time and space are experienced.
However, a mere theoretical understanding of the truth that we are only consciousness will be of little use to us if we do not apply it in practice by endeavouring to gain real experiential knowledge of that truth. By itself, a theoretical understanding will not and cannot give us true and lasting happiness, because it cannot destroy our deep-rooted sense of identification with the body, which is the root of all ignorance, and the cause of all misery. That which understands this truth theoretically is only our mind or intellect, and our mind cannot function without first identifying itself with a body. Since our mind or intellect is thus a confused knowledge whose existence is rooted in ignorance about who or what we really are, no intellectual understanding can ever by itself give us true self-knowledge.
Self-knowledge can only be gained by direct experience of the pure unlimited consciousness which is our real self, because only such experience can root out the ignorance that we are anything other than that consciousness. Therefore a theoretical understanding of the truth can be of real benefit to us only if it prompts us to investigate our essential consciousness of being – our simple self-consciousness, ‘I am’ – and thereby attain through direct experience a clear knowledge of our own true nature. Only by attaining such a clear knowledge of the consciousness that is truly ‘I’, can we destroy our primal ignorance, the confused and mistaken knowledge that we are the mind, the limited form of consciousness that identifies a body as ‘I’.
If we truly understand that we are not a body, nor the mind which imagines itself to be a body, and that every form of unhappiness that we experience is caused only by our mistaken identification with a body, we will endeavour to destroy that false identification by undertaking practical research to discover who or what we really are. To know what we really are, we must cease attending to any other things, and must attend instead to ourself, the consciousness that knows those other things.
When we attend to things other than ‘I’, our attention is a ‘thought’ or activity of the mind. But when we attend to our essential consciousness ‘I’, our attention ceases to be an activity or ‘thought’, and instead becomes mere being. We know other things by an act of knowing, but we know ourself not by an act of knowing but by merely being ourself. Therefore, when we attend to the innermost core of our being – that is, to our essential and real self, which is simple thought-free non-dual self-conscious being – we cease to rise as the incessantly active mind and instead remain merely as our naturally actionless consciousness of being.
Therefore self-attention is self-abidance, the state of merely being what we really are. So long as we attend to things other than ourself, our mind is active, and its activity clouds and obscures our natural clarity of self-consciousness. But when we try to attend to ourself, the activity of our mind begins to subside, and thus the veil that obscures our natural self-consciousness begins to dissolve. The more keenly and intensely we focus our attention upon our basic consciousness ‘I’, the more our mind will subside, until finally it disappears in the clear light of true self-knowledge.