As we saw in the previous chapter, true knowledge is not a state that we can newly attain, because it always exists as our own essential and fundamental consciousness, ‘I am’, which we never even for a moment cease to know. What prevents us from experiencing it as it really is, is only the false knowledge that we have superimposed upon it. What do we mean when we speak of ‘false knowledge’ or ‘wrong knowledge’?
Except our basic knowledge ‘I am’, everything that we know is only a thought that arises in our mind, a form of knowledge that is inherently dualistic, involving as it does three seemingly distinct components, ourself as the knowing subject, something other than ourself as the object known, and linking these two a separate act of knowing. That is, when we feel ‘I know such-and-such’, this knowledge involves a knowing consciousness or subject called ‘I’, a known thing or object called ‘such-and-such’, and an action or process of doing called ‘knowing’. These three components constitute the basic triad of which every form of objective knowledge is composed.
In this basic triad of objective knowledge, the verb ‘know’ may be replaced by some other verb, such as ‘perceive’, ‘see’, ‘hear’, ‘taste’, ‘experience’, ‘think’, ‘feel’, ‘believe’ or ‘understand’, but still this triad remains as the basic structure of every form of knowledge or experience other than our essential and fundamental knowledge, which is our knowledge of our own being, ‘I am’. Since our fundamental knowledge ‘I am’ is non-dual, it does not involve any distinction between the consciousness that knows and itself that it knows, nor does it involve any separate act of knowing, because consciousness naturally knows itself simply by being itself, and not by doing anything.
Why do we say that all knowledge involving this triad is a false or wrong knowledge? Firstly, we say so because each component of this triad is a thought that we form in our mind by our power of imagination. Without our power of imagination, our power to form thoughts, we could not experience any knowledge other than ‘I am’. Thus every knowledge other than ‘I am’ is essentially imaginary.
Even the idea that our knowledge of the external world is formed in our mind not only by our power of imagination, but also in response to actual external stimuli, is a thought that we form in our mind by our power of imagination. No reason or proof exists that can justify our belief that any of our knowledge actually corresponds to something outside our mind. All we know, and all we ever can know, is known only within our mind. Even the seemingly external world that we know through our five senses exists for us only within our mind, just as the world we know in a dream exists only within our mind.
Secondly, we say so because each component of this triad is a transitory appearance. Though the knowing subject, ‘I’, is relatively constant, in contrast to the objects known by it and its actions of knowing them, which are thoughts that are constantly changing, rising and then subsiding in our mind, each one being replaced the next moment by another, even this ‘I’, the subject who knows this constantly changing flow of thoughts, is transitory, rising only in waking and dream, and subsiding in deep sleep.
This subject who thinks and knows all other thoughts is our mind, our limited adjunct-bound consciousness that knows itself not merely as ‘I am’ but as ‘I am this body’. Since this subject, all the objects known by it, and all its successively repeated actions of knowing those objects, are thus merely transitory appearances, they cannot be real, because though they appear to be real at one time, they cease to appear real at another time. Their seeming reality is therefore just a false appearance, an illusory apparition formed in our mind by our power of imagination.
Though all our knowledge other than ‘I am’ is thus an imaginary and false appearance, how does it appear to us to be real? Whatever we know appears to us to be real while we are knowing it. Even the world that we experience in dream, and the body which we then take to be ‘I’, appear to us to be real so long as we are experiencing that dream. There is therefore something that makes all our current knowledge appear to be real. What is that something?
Every knowledge, we have seen, consists of three components, the first and basic one being the knowing subject, ‘I’. This subject is a compound consciousness formed by the superimposition of an imaginary adjunct, ‘this body’, upon the real consciousness ‘I am’. Thus underlying every knowledge is the true knowledge ‘I am’, and it is this true knowledge or consciousness that gives a seeming reality to every knowledge that we experience.
How exactly is the reality of our basic knowledge ‘I am’ thus seemingly transferred to all the other knowledge that we currently superimpose upon it, even though that other knowledge is false? All our other knowledge is known only by our mind, which is the knowing subject, and which comes into existence only by imagining itself to be a body. Before imagining and knowing any other thing, our mind first imagines a body to be itself. That is, it confuses a body, which is a product of its imagination, with ‘I am’, which is its real and basic knowledge. Since ‘I am’ is real, and since our mind mistakes that imaginary body to be ‘I am’, it cannot but feel that body to be real.
Whether the body that it now imagines to be itself happens to be this body of the waking state or some other body in dream, our mind always feels that its current body is real. Since that current body is one among the many objects of the world that it is currently experiencing, our mind cannot but feel that all the other objects that it is currently experiencing are as real as the body that it now mistakes to be itself. In other words, since we mistake certain current products of our imagination to be ourself and therefore real, we cannot avoid mistaking all the other current products of our imagination to be equally real.
However, though our basic knowledge or consciousness ‘I am’ alone is real, and though all the other things that appear to be real borrow their seeming reality only from this consciousness, which is their underlying base and support, we are so accustomed to overlooking this consciousness and attending only to the objects or thoughts that we form in our mind by our power of imagination, that those objects and our act of knowing them appear in the distorted perspective of our mind to be more real than the fundamental consciousness that underlies them.
The only reason why we suffer from this distorted perspective is that we are so enthralled by our experience of duality or otherness, believing that we can obtain real happiness only from things other than ourself, that throughout our states of mental activity, which we call waking and dream, we spend all our time attending only to such other things, and we consequently ignore or overlook our underlying consciousness ‘I am’.
This distorted perspective of our mind is what makes it so difficult for us to accept that our consciousness ‘I am’ alone is real, and that everything else is just an imagination or apparition. Whereas in our distorted perspective all our knowledge of this world appears to be solid, substantial, obvious and irrefutable, our underlying consciousness ‘I am’ appears in comparison to be something insubstantial and ethereal, something that we cannot quite know with the same degree of precision and certainty.
A clear example of the effect that this distorted perspective has upon our human intellect is the famous observation made by Descartes, ‘Cogito ergo sum’, which means, ‘I think, therefore I am’. What he implied by this conclusion is that because we think, we know that we are. But this is putting the cart before the horse. We do not need to think in order to know that we are. First we know ‘I am’, and then only is it possible for us to think, or to know ‘I am thinking’.
More appropriately, therefore, his saying could be inverted as, ‘I am, therefore I think’, or better still as, ‘I am, therefore I seem to think’. Even when we do not think, as in deep sleep, we know ‘I am’. Our thinking depends upon our knowledge of our being – our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’ – but our knowledge of our being does not depend upon our thinking.
However, what Descartes observed is not altogether untrue. Whatever we know and whatever we think does indeed prove that we do exist. All our knowledge and all our thoughts are irrefutably clear proof of our existence or being.
However, to know that we exist, we do not need any such external proof, because our existence or being, ‘I am’, is self-evident. Even in the absence of any other knowledge or thought, we know that we are. In sleep, for example, we do not think or know any other thing, but we do experience that state, and we remember our experience of it now in this waking state, saying ‘I slept’. We experience the thought-free state of sleep because in that state we do indeed exist and know that we are existing. Therefore our existence and our knowledge that we do exist do not need any proof, least of all the proof provided by our thinking and knowing other things.
Our existence or being is self-evident because it is self-conscious. That is, our being is conscious of itself, and hence it does not need the aid of anything else to know itself. In other words, we are self-conscious being, and hence without the aid of anything else we know ourself as ‘I am’ simply by being ourself.
Therefore our basic self-consciousness ‘I am’ does not depend upon any other knowledge, but all our other knowledge does depend upon our basic self-consciousness ‘I am’. Hence our basic self-consciousness ‘I am’ is our one fundamental and essential knowledge.
In order to think, we must be, but in order to be, we do not need to think. And since our being is not separate from or other than our knowledge of our being, we can equally well say that in order to think, we must know that we are, but in order to know that we are, we do not need to think.
Since we always know ‘I am’, even when we know it mixed with other knowledge or thoughts, why should we say that such other knowledge obscures our knowledge of ‘I am’, preventing us from knowing it as it really is?
The true and essential nature of our consciousness ‘I am’ is mere being, because it is able to be without knowing any other thing, as we experience each day in deep sleep. Merely by being itself, it knows itself, because its being is itself the consciousness of its being. Thus it is a perfectly non-dual knowledge – a knowledge in which that which is known is that which knows it, a knowledge that involves no action, a knowledge that involves nothing but mere being.
On the other hand, all other knowledge involves not only being, but also an act of knowing, in addition to a distinction between the knower and the known. This imaginary act of knowing is superimposed upon the reality of our mere being, making it appear to us that the nature of our consciousness ‘I am’ is not merely to be, but is to know things other than itself.
Thus by the transitory rising of any other knowledge, the real and permanent nature of our true knowledge or consciousness ‘I am’, which is mere being, is obscured. Instead of knowing merely ‘I am’, we know ‘I am knowing this’ or ‘I am knowing that’. Since all knowledge other than ‘I am’ is imaginary and therefore unreal, the knowledge ‘I am knowing this’ is merely a false or wrong knowledge – a knowledge in which an imaginary adjunct has been superimposed upon our basic and only true knowledge, ‘I am’, thus obscuring it by making it appear otherwise than it really is.
In order for us to know our true self as it really is, is it therefore sufficient for us merely to cease knowing anything else? If we merely cease attending to any other thing, do we thereby automatically attain true knowledge of our real self, ‘I am’?
No, we do not, because in deep sleep we cease attending to or knowing anything other than ourself, but even then we do not have a clear knowledge of what we really are. If in deep sleep we knew ourself truly and clearly as we really are, we could not again mistake ourself to be something else – a physical body – in waking and dream. Though all knowledge of other things is removed in deep sleep, our consciousness ‘I am’ is nevertheless still obscured by a seeming darkness or lack of clarity of self-knowledge.
What is this darkness or lack of clarity that we experience in deep sleep, and that prevents us from clearly knowing the true nature of ourself, our real adjunct-free consciousness ‘I am’?
In advaita vēdānta, our power of delusion or self-deception by which we seemingly prevent ourself from knowing our true nature is called māyā. The word māyā etymologically means ‘what (ya) is not (mā)’, and is defined as the power that makes that which is unreal appear to be real, and that which is real appear to be unreal.
This power of māyā or self-deception functions in two forms, as the power of veiling or obscuring called āvaraṇa śakti, and the power of scattering, dispersion, diffusion or dissipation called vikṣēpa śakti. The former, āvaraṇa śakti, which is our power of ‘self-forgetfulness’, ‘self-ignorance’ or lack of clarity of self-knowledge, is the root and primal form of māyā, because it is the original cause that always underlies the latter, vikṣēpa śakti, which is our power of imagination that enables us to project from within ourself a seemingly external world of multiplicity. Whereas vikṣēpa śakti functions only in waking and in dream, the underlying āvaraṇa śakti functions not only in waking and dream but also in deep sleep.
Our power of ‘self-forgetfulness’, which is our power of veiling or āvaraṇa śakti, can be compared to the background darkness in a cinema, without which no picture could be projected on the screen. All the thoughts that we form in our mind, including the seemingly external world that we project and perceive through our five senses, are like the pictures projected and seen on the cinema screen. The power that projects this picture of thoughts and a seemingly external world is our power of imagination, which is our power of diffusion or vikṣēpa śakti.
Just as the cinema projector could not project any picture if its indispensable light were not shining brightly within it, so our mind could not project the imaginary picture of this or any other world if its indispensable light were not shining brightly within it. This indispensable light that shines brightly within our mind enabling it to project this imaginary picture of thoughts and objects is our essential consciousness ‘I am’.
The states of waking and dream can be compared to the state in which a film reel is rolling in the projector, producing an ever changing picture on the screen, whereas sleep can be compared to the state in which one film reel is finished and another is about to be threaded into the projector. All the while, however, the bright light in the projector is shining, so in the gap between the removal of one reel and the fitting of the next all that is seen on the screen is a light.
However, though at that time we can see no pictures on the screen, but only a frame of light, the background darkness of the cinema still remains. Similarly in deep sleep, though we do not experience any of the effects of vikṣēpa śakti, but only the essential light of consciousness, ‘I am’, the veiling power of ‘self-forgetfulness’ or āvaraṇa śakti still remains, preventing us from knowing our consciousness ‘I am’ as it really is, free from any adjuncts such as a seeming lack of clarity.
Our power of self-delusion or māyā can never entirely conceal our real self, because our real self is the consciousness that enables us to know the effects of our self-delusion. All our self-delusion or māyā can do is to obscure our real self by making it appear to be something other than what it really is. We always know ‘I am’, whether our mind is functioning, as in waking and dream, or in temporary abeyance, as in sleep, but we do not know it as it really is. In all these three states we know that we are, but we do not know what we are.
In waking and in dream we know ‘I am this body, a person named so-and-so, and I am conscious of this world around me’. In deep sleep, on the other hand, we know ourself as being seemingly ‘unconscious’. Thus in waking and dream our identification with a physical body and our consequent perception of a world around us is superimposed upon our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’. Similarly in sleep our identification with the seeming ‘unconsciousness’ of that state is superimposed upon our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’. That is, in all three of these states the true nature of our real self, our fundamental and essential consciousness ‘I am’, is obscured by the superimposition of illusory adjuncts.
As we have seen earlier, our present so-called waking state is essentially no different to the many dream states that we experience while asleep. Out of our sleep of self-forgetfulness, we create both waking and dream. Since we create both of these states only by our power of imagination, they are both merely imaginary states that do not exist in reality.
Though from our point of view in this present waking state we may be able to point out certain differences between our experience in waking and our experience in dreams, these differences are only superficial differences in the quality of each of these states, and not differences in their essential substance. Because our attachment to our body in this waking state is normally stronger than our attachment to our body in a dream, this waking state appears to us (at least now while we are experiencing it) to be more solid, fixed, consistent and lasting than an ordinary dream. However, merely because from our present point of view in this waking state there appear to be such differences between the quality of our experience in this state and the quality of our experience in dream, we cannot conclude that this waking state is actually any more real than a dream.
Both waking and dream are states that we experience only within our own mind. All that we experience or know in either of these two states is only a series of thoughts that we have formed within our mind by our power of imagination. In both these states we imagine a body, which we mistake to be ourself, and further imagine that through the five senses of that body we perceive an external world, which we mistake to be real. However, these bodies that we mistake to be ‘I’ and these worlds that we mistake to be real are all merely images that we form and experience within our own mind.
So long as we mistake ourself to be this mind – this consciousness that has limited itself by mistaking an imaginary body to be itself – we cannot know anything outside the limits of this mind. In both our waking and our dream states, we live our whole life only within our mind.
Since all that we know – other than our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’ – is known by us only within our mind, we have no valid reason to believe that any world or anything else other than ‘I am’ actually exists outside the confines of our mind. We consequently have no valid reason to believe that our present waking state is anything but another dream created entirely by our own self-deceiving power of imagination.
Under what circumstances, or in what condition, can a dream be experienced? A dream can occur only when there is an underlying sleep. When we are wide awake to the world around us, and to ourself as a particular body in that world, we cannot mistake another body to be ‘I’ or another world to be real. Only after we have fallen asleep, forgetting our normal waking self (this imaginary body that we now mistake to be ourself) and the fact that we are supposedly lying in our bed, can we mistake ourself to be some other imaginary body that is undergoing various experiences in some other imaginary world.
Therefore if our present waking state is only another dream, as we have good reason to suppose it is, there must be some sleep underlying it. What is that sleep that underlies this waking state – the sleep without which this waking state could not occur?
The difference between waking and sleep is that in waking we imagine ourself to be a particular body, whereas in sleep we forget this imaginary body-bound self of the waking state. Sleep is thus essentially a state of self-forgetfulness.
In our ordinary everyday sleep we forget our normal waking self, and because we have forgotten this waking self – this particular body that we now imagine to be ourself – we are able to imagine ourself to be some other body in dream. Though our waking self is supposedly lying asleep on a bed unaware of the world around it, we forget about this waking self and instead create another imaginary self for ourself in the dream state, identifying another body as ‘I’ and seeing another world around us. Therefore, just as the sleep that underlies an ordinary dream is a state of forgetfulness of our waking self, so the sleep that underlies this dream that we call our present ‘waking state’ must be a state of forgetfulness of our real self.
However, what do we actually mean when we define sleep as a state of self-forgetfulness? In what way do we forget ourself in sleep? Even in sleep, we never actually forget that we are, but only forget what we are. Because in sleep we know that we are, but not what we are, in dream we are able to mistake ourself to be some other body. If we had not forgotten our waking self in sleep, we could not imagine that other body to be ourself in dream.
Similarly, if we had not forgotten the true nature of our real self, which always exists as our adjunct-free consciousness ‘I am’, we would not be able to imagine ourself to be anything other than that. That is, we would not be able to imagine ourself to be one body in the waking state, to be another body in dream, and to be ‘unconscious’ in sleep. Thus the fundamental sleep that underlies all our dreams, including the present dream that we now mistake to be our waking state, is our sleep of self-forgetfulness – the sleep in which we have forgotten our real self, the true nature of our essential consciousness ‘I am’.
Though in our present waking state we mistake the seeming ‘unconsciousness’ that we experienced in sleep to be merely an unconsciousness of our body and the world, in sleep we did not actually know or think ‘I am unconscious of my body and the world’. Only in waking and dream do we think ‘In sleep I was unconscious of my body and the world’. That which thinks thus is our mind, but since our mind was not present in sleep, it cannot accurately tell us what our experience in sleep actually was.
All we can now say about sleep is that, though we knew ‘I am’ in that state, it nevertheless appears to us now to be a state of seeming darkness, ignorance or lack of clarity. That seeming lack of clarity is the ‘unconsciousness’ that we appear to have experienced in sleep. But what actually is that seeming lack of clarity? About what is it that we seem to have lacked clarity in sleep?
Since no body or world existed in sleep, to say that we were unconscious of them is misleading. Saying that in sleep we were unconscious of our body and this world is like saying that in our present waking state we are unconscious of the body and world that appeared to exist in a dream. Since any body or world that we experience, whether in waking or in dream, is only an imagination – a collection of thoughts or mental images that appears only in our own mind – saying that we were unconscious of them in sleep is in effect saying that we were unconscious of our thoughts in sleep.
We could say that we are unconscious of our thoughts in sleep only if we actually had any thoughts in that state. When we say that we are unconscious of something, it implies that that thing actually exists, or at least appears to exist. Since in sleep we only experienced our own essential self-conscious being, ‘I am’, we have no reason to believe that anything other than that actually existed in that state.
Therefore the clarity of knowledge that we seem to have lacked in sleep can only be a clarity concerning what actually existed in that state, namely our own real self-conscious being. In other words, the ‘unconsciousness’ that we now imagine that we experienced in sleep is only our seeming lack of clear self-knowledge – our seeming lack of clarity concerning the real nature of our essential consciousness ‘I am’.
In sleep we know that we are, yet we seem to lack a clear knowledge of what we are. Therefore the seeming darkness of sleep, which in our present waking state we mistake to be merely an ‘unconsciousness’ of the body and world that we are now experiencing, is actually just our lack of clarity of true self-knowledge – our so-called ‘forgetfulness’ or ‘ignorance’ of our own real self. If our real self, which is our essential consciousness ‘I am’, were not seemingly obscured by the veil of our self-forgetfulness or self-ignorance, sleep would be a state of perfectly clear self-knowledge.
In deep sleep, therefore, the adjunct that we superimpose upon our real self, and that thereby prevents us from clearly knowing its true nature, is only this veil of self-forgetfulness called āvaraṇa. Though this veil of self-forgetfulness can never prevent us from knowing ‘I am’, it makes us experience ‘I am’ in a distorted form, thereby enabling us in waking and dream to imagine that we are a physical body, and that through the five senses of this body we are seeing a world of multiple objects and people.
Because this veil of self-forgetfulness is the original cause of the illusory appearance of our mind, the compound consciousness that imagines ‘I am this body’, in advaita vēdānta it is described as our ‘causal body’ or kāraṇa śarīra. Just as the self-forgetfulness that we experience in sleep is our ‘causal body’, so our mind which arises out of this ‘causal body’ is our ‘subtle body’ or sūkṣma śarīra (as explained by Sri Ramana in the fourth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? and in verse 24 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, both of which we cited in chapter three), and the physical body that our mind creates for itself by its power of imagination in waking and in dream is our ‘gross body’ or sthūla śarīra. That is to say, our physical body is a gross form of our mind, which in turn is a more subtle but nevertheless gross form of our self-forgetfulness.
Whenever our mind rises, whether in waking or in dream, it does so by imagining itself to be a physical body. But when it subsides in sleep, all its imaginations cease, and hence it merges back into its causal form, which is our veil of seeming self-forgetfulness. Our forgetfulness of our real self is thus the primeval sleep that underlies the appearance of both our waking and our dream states.
Is this primeval sleep of self-forgetfulness, which thus causes the appearance of both waking and dream, a state distinct from the ordinary deep sleep that we experience every day, or are they both the same state?
Though we can experience a dream within a dream (as we sometimes do when we think we have woken up from a dream, but later wake up again and find that our first ‘waking’ was only from one dream into another dream), we cannot experience a sleep within a sleep. Since dream is a state of duality and diversity, we can experience any number of dreams. But since sleep is a state devoid of differences or duality, there can only be one state of sleep.
That one and only state of sleep is our fundamental sleep of self-forgetfulness – the sleep that has come about due to our seeming lack of clear self-knowledge. This sleep of self-forgetfulness is the underlying cause for the rising of all other states – the original cause for the appearance of all duality. All our countless states of dream – including our present dream which, while we experience it, we imagine to be a waking state – arise only from this underlying sleep of self-forgetfulness. Therefore, the state of deep sleep that we experience every day is nothing other than this original sleep of self-forgetfulness that underlies the rising of both waking and dream.
Though waking and dream are both temporary states that occur in our long sleep of self-forgetfulness, we wrongly perceive sleep as being a short gap that occurs each day in our waking life. In truth, however, our present waking life is merely one of the many dreams that occur in our long sleep of self-forgetfulness.
Even now we are experiencing that sleep of self-forgetfulness, but within this sleep we are also experiencing a dream that we call our present waking life. The state of deep sleep that we experience every day is merely the state in which all our dreams have subsided, leaving only their underlying and causal state, our sleep of self-forgetfulness.
How do we forget our real self? In truth we always know our real self, and have never forgotten it. We only appear to have forgotten it. We can never really forget it, because we are the essential consciousness ‘I am’, and the very nature of this consciousness ‘I am’ is to be conscious of itself.
However, though our real consciousness ‘I am’ can never forget itself, we nevertheless somehow appear to mistake ourself to be our mind, which is a spurious and unreal consciousness that does not know its own real nature, and that thereby imagines ‘I am this body’. Therefore to account for the appearance of this mind, we have to posit a seeming forgetfulness of our real self. However, this self-forgetfulness of ours exists only in the view of our mind, and not in the view of our original consciousness ‘I am’. Our self-forgetfulness, therefore, is not real, but is merely an imagination – an illusory appearance that exists only in the view of our unreal mind.
Our self-forgetfulness, as we have seen, is the primal form of māyā or self-delusion, and māyā is yā mā, ‘that which is not’. Our self-forgetfulness or lack of clear self-knowledge, therefore, is something that does not really exist.
Whereas our self-forgetfulness, which is our power of self-obscuration called āvaraṇa, is the primary form of māyā, our mind, which is our power of imagination or self-diffusion called vikṣēpa, is the secondary form of māyā. All forms of māyā, including not only its two basic forms of self-forgetfulness and self-diffusion, but also all the duality or multiplicity that arises from these two basic forms, are known only by our mind, and not by our original consciousness ‘I am’, whose nature is to know only its own being. Being known only by our mind, therefore, our self-forgetfulness and all that arises from it is only an imagination.
That is, though our power of imagination arises only from our self-forgetfulness, our self-forgetfulness is nevertheless a mere imagination. Our self-forgetfulness is in fact the primal form or seed of our power of imagination or mind, and as such it is itself that which appears to us as our mind. Our mind or power of imagination is therefore merely a gross form of our extremely subtle self-forgetfulness.
Such is the inexplicable and illusory nature of māyā that though our self-forgetfulness is the original cause that created the spurious and unreal consciousness we call our mind, it nevertheless does not exist except in the view of this unreal consciousness that it has created.
How then does this illusory self-forgetfulness arise? How do we appear to have forgotten our real self? Since we are in reality only our fundamental self-consciousness ‘I am’, which can never forget its own true nature, how can we even seemingly forget ourself?
Since we are in truth the unlimited consciousness ‘I am’, which alone is real, we alone truly exist. Since nothing exists other than ourself, there is nothing that can limit our freedom or our power in any way. Being the one and only absolute reality, therefore, we are perfectly free, and hence all powerful. Or to be more precise, we ourself are perfect freedom and absolute power, because freedom and power cannot be other than the only existing non-dual reality, which is our real self.
Therefore, other than ourself, there is no power that could make us forget our real self, or even seemingly forget it. Hence it must be only by our own freedom of choice that we have seemingly forgotten our real self.
Because we ourself are perfect freedom, we are free to be whatever we choose to be, and to do whatever we choose to do. We are free either to be our real self – that is, to remain just as we ever really are, as mere being, which is our own infinite non-dual self-consciousness ‘I am’ – or to imagine ourself to be a finite body-bound consciousness that experiences an imaginary world of duality.
In order to imagine ourself to be a limited body-bound consciousness, we must first choose to overlook or ignore our real nature as the unlimited adjunct-free consciousness ‘I am’, or at least to imagine that we have overlooked it. This imaginary overlooking or ignoring of our real self is what we call ‘self-forgetfulness’, and it occurs only by our own choice – by our own misuse of our unlimited freedom and power.
Though it is only by our own unlimited freedom and power that we thus imagine that we have forgotten our real self, once we have imagined thus, we have thereby seemingly become a limited body-bound consciousness, and hence we no longer experience our unlimited freedom and power, but instead feel ourself to be a finite creature possessing only very limited freedom and power. Because of our imaginary and self-imposed limitations, it is no longer possible for us to be whatever we choose to be, and to do whatever we choose to do. Our freedom of choice, therefore, is now limited.
However, even now we have the freedom either to attend to the thoughts or objects that we have created by our power of imagination, or to attend to our own essential consciousness in order to discover our real nature – who or what we really are. Only by such self-scrutiny can we remove the veil of self-forgetfulness with which we have seemingly concealed our true nature.
When we, as the absolute reality, seemingly choose to misuse our unlimited freedom and power to forget our real self and thereby to imagine ourself to be a finite individual, our power assumes the unreal form of māyā. But when instead we choose to use our unlimited freedom and power correctly to be merely as we really are, our power remains in its natural and real form, which in the language of mysticism or religion is called the power of ‘grace’. Grace and māyā are thus one and the same power – the only power that really exists.
When we misuse our power to delude ourself, we call it māyā, and when we use it correctly to remain as we are, we call it grace. Māyā is the power of delusion or self-deception, while grace is the power of ‘enlightenment’ or clear self-knowledge.
Therefore, if we want to free ourself from māyā, we must turn our attention away from all other things towards our own essential consciousness ‘I am’ in order to know what we really are. When we do so, our own natural power of grace – which is the clarity of our essential self-consciousness, which ever shines peacefully in the core of our being as our own real self, ‘I am’ – will draw our attention towards itself by its overwhelming power of attraction, and will thereby dissolve the delusion of our self-forgetfulness within itself, which is the perfect clarity of true self-knowledge.
As we have seen, our self-obscuring and self-deceiving veil of self-forgetfulness is the sleep that underlies all the dreams that we ever experience, including our present dream, which we mistake to be a state of waking. This sleep of self-forgetfulness is what enables us to imagine that we are a limited person, who feels a particular body to be ‘I’, and who perceives a world of multiple objects through the five senses of that body.
The primal form of māyā that first enables us to forget ourself is our power of self-obscuration called āvaraṇa śakti, while the secondary form of māyā that then enables us to imagine a multitude of thoughts and objects that are seemingly other than ourself is our power of self-dissipation called vikṣēpa śakti. In waking and dream we experience the effects of both of these two forms of māyā, but in sleep we only experience the effect of the primal form of māyā, the power of self-forgetfulness called āvaraṇa śakti.
Therefore in order to free ourself from the power of māyā and thereby know our real self, we must not only set aside the false knowledge of multiplicity created by its vikṣēpa śakti, but must also pierce through the veil of self-forgetfulness cast by its āvaraṇa śakti. That is why in verse 16 of Upadēśa Undiyār, which we have discussed earlier, Sri Ramana does not merely say, ‘[Our] mind giving up [knowing] external objects is true knowledge’, but instead says, ‘[Our] mind knowing its own form of light, having given up [knowing] external objects, alone is true knowledge’.
Without giving up attending to external objects, we cannot turn our attention inwards to focus it wholly and exclusively upon our ‘form of light’, which is our true self-consciousness ‘I am’. But by merely giving up attending to external objects, we do not automatically focus our attention on our true consciousness ‘I am’. Therefore Sri Ramana places ‘having given up [knowing] external objects’ as a subordinate clause, and places our ‘mind knowing its own form of light’ as the subject of the sentence.
True knowledge is not merely a state in which we have given up knowing any external objects, but is the state in which we clearly know our own true self. In sleep we give up knowing external objects, but we do not thereby attain true knowledge. In order to attain true knowledge, it is not sufficient for us merely to remove all our other forms of false knowledge – that is, our knowledge of multiplicity, duality or otherness – because mere removal of such false knowledge will not destroy its root and foundation, which is our forgetfulness of our own real self.
Removing our other forms of false knowledge without putting an end to our self-forgetfulness, which is our primal form of false knowledge, will result only in a temporary subsidence or abeyance of our mind. From such a state of abeyance, our mind will rise again, and when it rises, all our false knowledge of duality will rise again with it.
Our mind can rise and be active only by experiencing the false knowledge of otherness – that is, only by knowing duality – because as a separate individual consciousness its very nature is to know things that appear to be other than itself. However, even without knowing any duality, it can still continue seemingly to exist in a dormant seed-form, as it does every day in deep sleep. The seed-form in which it seemingly remains in sleep and other such states of abeyance is its ‘causal body’, which is its basic self-forgetfulness or lack of clarity of self-knowledge.
Therefore, to attain true knowledge, it is necessary for us not merely to make our mind subside temporarily in a state of abeyance, but instead to destroy it forever by putting an end to its original cause and supporting base, which is our forgetfulness or ignorance of our real self.
When we finally put an end to our self-forgetfulness by knowing our real self as it is, we will discover that our mind was merely an apparition or illusory superimposition that never really existed, just like the illusory snake that our imagination superimposed upon a rope. The state in which we thus discover that our mind is truly ever non-existent is described in advaita vēdānta as the state of ‘mind-annihilation’ or manōnāśa, and is the state that in both Buddhism and advaita vēdānta is called nirvāṇa, a word that means ‘extinction’, ‘extinguished’ or ‘blown out’.
Being an illusory apparition, our mind can only be destroyed or annihilated by our recognising that it truly does not exist, which we can do only by knowing our real self. Just as we can ‘kill’ the illusory snake that we imagine we see lying on the ground only by recognising that it is merely a rope and not a snake, so we can ‘kill’ the illusory mind that we now imagine ourself to be only by recognising that it is merely our real self – our own unlimited adjunct-free consciousness ‘I am’.
That is, when we know what we really are, we will discover that we were never the mind that we imagined ourself to be, and that that mind was merely a product of our power of imagination – an insubstantial shadow that appeared in the darkness of our ignorance or forgetfulness of our own real self.
Every day in deep sleep we remove all our false knowledge of duality, but because sleep is only a state of temporary abeyance of our mind, such false knowledge arises again as soon as our mind rises from sleep. However, instead of making our mind subside temporarily in a state of mere abeyance, such as sleep, if we destroy it by putting an end to our self-forgetfulness, it will never rise again, and hence all our false knowledge will be destroyed forever.
As Sri Ramana says in verse 13 of Upadēśa Undiyār:
Subsidence [of our mind] is of two kinds, laya [abeyance] and nāśa [annihilation]. That [mind] which is in abeyance will rise. [But] if [its] form dies, it will not rise.
By certain forms of meditation or yōgic practices such as breath-control, it is possible for us to remove all our false knowledge of duality artificially and thereby to make our mind subside temporarily in a state of abeyance, sometimes even for a very prolonged period of time. But the only means by which we can destroy our mind is by knowing our real self, and we can know our real self only by scrutinising our essential consciousness ‘I am’.
Therefore in verse 14 of Upadēśa Undiyār Sri Ramana says:
When [we] send [our] mind, which subsides [only temporarily] when [we] restrain [our] breath, on the one path of knowing [our real self], its form will die.
The words that Sri Ramana uses in this verse to mean ‘the one path of knowing’ are ōr vaṙi, which can be taken to mean either oru vaṙi, the ‘one path’, the ‘unique path’ or the ‘special path’, or ōrum vaṙi, the ‘path of knowing’, the ‘path of investigating’, the ‘path of examining’ or the ‘path of considering attentively’. Because examining and knowing our real self, our essential consciousness ‘I am’, is the unique and only means by which we can put an end to our self-forgetfulness, which is the cause and foundation for the illusory appearance of our mind and all its false knowledge, Sri Ramana deliberately chose to use these words ōr vaṙi here, knowing that they would thus give this double meaning.
When our mind subsides temporarily in sleep, or in any other similar state of abeyance brought about by some artificial means, why do we not thereby attain true knowledge? Since all our false knowledge of otherness is removed in sleep, what prevents us from knowing the real nature of ourself in that state? The only answer we can give is to say that our self-forgetfulness persists in sleep, and it does so because we have not put an end to it by knowing our real self as it is.
However, if we do not know anything other than ‘I am’ in sleep, why do we not know it as it is? What exactly do we know in deep sleep? Now in the waking state, when we mistake ourself to be our mind, we cannot say exactly what we experienced in deep sleep, because we as our mind did not exist at that time. That is, our waking mind cannot accurately tell what we experienced in deep sleep because it did not exist in that state.
We, however, did exist in sleep, and we knew that we existed at that time, because we now clearly know that we did sleep and that we did not know anything other than ourself at that time. We have a definite memory of having slept, even though we are unable to remember exactly what we experienced in deep sleep.
Since we wake up from sleep and again mistake ourself to be this body, we obviously did not experience a clear knowledge of our true self in that state. But though it is clear to us (at least from our present perspective as a waking mind) that sleep is not a state of perfect knowledge, we still do not know exactly what we experienced in sleep that prevented us from clearly knowing our true self. From the viewpoint of our present waking mind, we can vaguely recognise that we did experience our consciousness ‘I am’ in sleep, but we cannot say exactly in what form we experienced it.
To our present waking mind sleep appears to be a state in which we were enveloped by a confused cloud of seeming ignorance or lack of clarity of self-consciousness, just as in waking we are now enveloped by our confused identification of ourself with this particular body, and in dream we were enveloped by our confused identification of ourself with some other body. But though we do not know exactly what we experienced in deep sleep, other than the fact that we did experience ‘I am’, can we at least find a reason for our lack of clarity of self-consciousness in that state? That reason must be the same fundamental reason why we also lack clarity of self-consciousness in this present waking state, and in the state of dream.
Whatever may be the fundamental reason why we do not clearly know ourself in sleep, since that same fundamental reason is the underlying cause of our lack of clear self-knowledge not only in sleep but also in waking and in dream, all we need do is to find and do away with that cause now in our present waking state. If we can clearly know our real self now, that will destroy the inexplicable self-forgetfulness that underlies not only waking but also dream and deep sleep.
In our present waking state we do not know what we really are because we spend all our time attending only to things other than ourself, and never turn our attention to focus it wholly and exclusively upon our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’. As a result of our thus not attending exclusively to our consciousness ‘I am’, we confuse ourself by imagining ourself to be something else.
Because we thus confuse ourself by mistaking ourself to be our body and mind in the waking state, and because our body and mind are absent in sleep, we continue to confuse ourself in that state by mistaking ourself to be in some way unaware of our real nature. However, since our mind is absent in sleep, we cannot in that state make any effort to focus our attention keenly upon our essential self-consciousness ‘I am’. We can make such an effort only now in this waking state, or in dream.
In a dream, however, if we try to turn our attention towards our essential consciousness ‘I am’, we usually find that we awaken immediately from that dream into our present waking state. Because our attachment to the body that we mistake to be ourself in dream is not as strong as our attachment to this body that we now mistake to be ourself in this waking state, our attachment to that dream body is easily dissolved by our making even a little effort to attend to ourself.
However, if our self-attention in dream thus results only in our remembering our waking self, it is clearly not a very keen or deep self-attention. Since our illusory imagination that we are a body in dream is so easily dissolved by even a superficial self-attention, it is difficult for us to attend to ourself deeply and keenly in dream. Therefore it is only in the present waking state that we can seriously make an effort to attend to ourself deeply – that is, to attend wholly and exclusively to our essential self-consciousness ‘I am’.
In a dream, if we cease to know any objects, but do so without actually knowing our waking self, we will slip either into deep sleep or into another dream. Similarly in this waking state, which is also a dream, if instead of trying to know our real self we merely try to give up knowing any of the objects or thoughts that we are experiencing, we will slip either into deep sleep or into another state of dream.
Therefore, in order to go beyond these three ordinary states of waking, dream and deep sleep, we must not only cease knowing other things, but must also remove our veil of self-forgetfulness by remembering our true self. That is, in order to awaken to our true self, we must turn our attention selfward to scrutinise and clearly know the true nature of ourself, our mere consciousness of being, ‘I am’.
Though we know our essential consciousness ‘I am’ in all our three normal states of waking, dream and deep sleep, we know it in a different form in each of these states. In waking we know it in the form of this body, in dream we know it in the form of some other body, and in deep sleep we know it in the form of a seeming unconsciousness.
Since the form in which we know our consciousness ‘I am’ in each one of these states does not exist in the other two states, each of these forms is merely an illusory adjunct that we superimpose upon it. Therefore none of the forms in which we know it in any of these three states can be its true form.
If we clearly knew our consciousness ‘I am’ in its true form in any one of these three states, we could not mistake it to be anything other than that in the other two states. Therefore, since we experience ourself in a different form in each of these three states, and since we pass through each of these states repeatedly one after another, it is clear that we do not know the true form of our essential consciousness ‘I am’ in any of them.
However, since we are this consciousness ‘I am’, and since the very nature of this consciousness ‘I am’ is to be conscious of itself, it must be possible for us to know this ‘I am’ in its true form. In fact, at the very deepest level of our being, which is our absolutely pure and non-dual self-consciousness ‘I am’, we must even now know it clearly in its true form. Therefore, beyond our ordinary three states, which are all states of wrong knowledge, there must exist a state of true knowledge in which we always clearly know the real nature of our essential consciousness ‘I am’.
Though this state of true knowledge – the state in which we are fully awake to the absolute reality of our own self – transcends all our ordinary three states, it nevertheless underlies them at all times, including this present moment. Therefore, in order to experience this fundamental state of true knowledge, all we need to do is to scrutinise and know our essential consciousness ‘I am’ at this precise moment.
Since this state of true knowledge transcends our ordinary three states, it must be devoid of all the false knowledge – all the imaginary knowledge of differences or duality – that we only experience in two of them. Therefore, since it is a state in which we experience no duality, it is a thought-free state like sleep, but since it is at the same time a state in which we experience absolute clarity of self-knowledge, it is also a state of perfect wakefulness. Hence in advaita vēdānta this fundamental state of true self-knowledge is sometimes described as the state of ‘wakeful sleep’ or ‘waking sleep’ – jāgrat-suṣupti in Sanskrit, or naṉavu-tuyil in Tamil.
Since this state of ‘wakeful sleep’ is beyond our three ordinary states of waking, dream and deep sleep, in advaita vēdānta it is also sometimes referred to as the ‘fourth state’, turīya or turya avasthā. Somewhat confusingly, however, in some texts another term is used to describe it, namely the ‘fourth-transcending’ or turīyātīta, which has given rise to the wrong notion that beyond this ‘fourth state’ there is some further ‘fifth state’. In truth, however, the non-dual state of true self-knowledge is the ultimate and absolute state, beyond which no other state can exist.
Since it is the absolute state that underlies yet transcends all relative states, true self-knowledge is in fact the only state that really exists. Therefore in verse 32 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Anubandham Sri Ramana says:
For those who experience waking, dream and sleep, [the real state of] ‘wakeful sleep’, [which is] beyond [these three ordinary states], is named turiya [the ‘fourth’]. [However] since that turiya alone exists, [and] since the three [states] that appear [and disappear] are [in reality] non-existent, [the one real state that is thus named turiya is in fact] turiya-v-atīta [that which transcends even the relative concept that it is the ‘fourth’]. Be clear [about this truth].
Our fundamental and natural state of ‘wakeful sleep’ or true non-dual self-knowledge is described as the ‘fourth’ only to impress upon us that it is a state that is beyond our three ordinary states of waking, dream and sleep. However, when we actually go beyond our three ordinary states by experiencing our fundamental state of true self-knowledge, we will discover that this fundamental state is the only real state, and that our three ordinary states are merely imaginary appearances, which are seemingly superimposed upon it, but which in reality do not exist at all. Therefore, though it is sometimes called the ‘fourth state’, the state of true self-knowledge or ‘wakeful sleep’ is in fact the only state that truly exists.
Hence, since the term turīya or the ‘fourth’ implies the existence of three other states, it is actually not an appropriate name for the only state that truly exists. Therefore, though the true state of ‘wakeful sleep’ is named turīya, it could more appropriately be named atīta, ‘that which transcends’.
In other words, since it is the one absolute reality and is therefore completely devoid of all relativity, it transcends not only the three relative states of waking, dream and sleep but also the equally relative concept that it is the ‘fourth’ state. This is the reason why it is also described as turīyātīta, a term that literally means ‘that which transcends the fourth’.
The above verse was composed by Sri Ramana as a summary of the following teachings that he had given orally and that Sri Muruganar had recorded in verses 937 to 939 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai:
When all the states [waking, dream and sleep], which are seen as three, disappear in sages, who have destroyed ego [the self-conceited sense of being a separate individual], turīya [the ‘fourth’], which is the exalted state, is that which predominates in them excessively as atīta [that which transcends all duality and diversity].
Since the states [waking, dream and sleep] that huddle together [enveloping us] as the three components [of our life as an individual consciousness] are mere apparitions [that appear and disappear] in the non-dual atīta [the one all-transcending state], [which is] the state of [our real] self, [which is known as] turīya [the ‘fourth’], [and] which is pure being-consciousness [‘I am’], know that for those [three illusory states] [our real] self is the adhiṣṭhāna [the single base upon which they appear and disappear, and] in which they [must eventually merge and] become one.
If the other three [states] were fit [to be described] as real, [only then would it be appropriate for us to say that] ‘wakeful sleep’, [which is the state of] pure jñāna [knowledge], is the ‘fourth’, would it not? Since in front of turīya [the so-called ‘fourth’] those other [three states] huddle together [that is, they merge together and become one], being [revealed to be] unreal [as three separate states], know that that [so-called ‘fourth’ state] is [in fact] atīta [the transcendent state], which is [the only] one [real state].
Whereas the reality of our fundamental state of true self-knowledge is absolute, the seeming reality of our three ordinary states is merely relative – relative only to our mind, which alone knows them. However, when we experience the absolute state of true non-dual self-knowledge, we will discover that our mind was a mere apparition that never truly existed. Therefore when the phantom appearance of our mind is thus dissolved, all our three relative states of waking, dream and deep sleep, which are mere figments of our imagination, will dissolve along with it. After this dissolution of our mind, all that will remain is our natural state of ‘wakeful sleep’, the peaceful and non-dual state of absolute true knowledge.
All forms of duality or relativity are experienced by us only in the waking and dream states, and not in their underlying state, the state of deep sleep, from which they both arise. Since duality and relativity are known only by our mind, and since all things known by our mind are only thoughts that it forms within itself by its power of imagination, all forms of duality or relativity are mere imaginations, thoughts that we have ourself created.
Since our mind, which thus creates all duality and relativity, is itself a false form of knowledge – a spurious form of consciousness that arises only when we imagine ourself to be a body, which is itself just one of our imaginations – all forms of duality or relativity cannot be anything other than false or wrong knowledge.
Thus, since our mind is just a phantom that arises from the state of deep sleep, which is our sleep of self-forgetfulness, all the imaginary knowledge of duality or relativity that our mind experiences in waking and in dream arises likewise only from our sleep of self-forgetfulness. Therefore, since the non-dual state of true self-knowledge transcends not only the states of waking and dream but also their underlying state of deep sleep, it is the supreme and absolute state that transcends not only all forms of wrong knowledge, but also the fundamental self-forgetfulness which is the original cause of all wrong knowledge.
Since this absolute state of true knowledge is our natural state of being, it always exists within us as our own real self or essential consciousness, and hence we can experience it only by knowing ourself as we really are. Since we cannot know our real self unless we attend to it, the only means by which we can attain direct experience of true and absolute knowledge is to scrutinise keenly our innermost being or essence.
Though this true knowledge, which is our real self or essential being, is the reality underlying all the three states that we are now accustomed to experiencing, we cannot make the necessary effort to attend to it while we are in sleep. And though we are able to make this effort in dream, whenever we attempt to do so our dream is usually dissolved instantly, because as we discussed earlier most of our dreams are fragile states based upon a feeble sense of attachment to our dream body and to the world that we experience through that body.
Hence in practice it is generally possible for us to succeed in our effort to know our real self only now in this waking state. Therefore in verse 16 of Upadēśa Taṉippākkaḷ Sri Ramana says:
In waking the state of sleep [the true state of ‘wakeful sleep’ or clear self-knowledge] will [naturally] result by [your] subtle investigation [or minute examination], which is [the practice of] constantly scrutinising yourself. Until [such] sleep shines suffusing [and absorbing your entire attention both] in waking [and] in dream, incessantly perform [or practise] that subtle investigation.
The reason why Sri Ramana says here that we should continue the practice of subtle self-investigation until the state of ‘wakeful sleep’ is experienced throughout both waking and dream is that he composed this verse as a summary of verses 957 and 958 of Guru Vācaka Kōvai, in which Sri Muruganar had recorded what he once said to a spiritual aspirant who complained that he was unable to experience the perfect clarity of self-consciousness or ‘wakeful sleep’ in dream:
Do not be disheartened, losing [your] mental fortitude [by] thinking that [wakeful] sleep does not [yet] suffuse [and absorb your entire attention] in [your] dream [states]. If the firmness of [such] sleep is achieved in the present [state of] waking, the suffusion of [such] sleep [will also be experienced] in dream.
Until the state of [such] sleep [is experienced] in waking, do not abandon [your] subtle investigation, which is [the practice of] scrutinising [your essential] self. Therefore, until [such wakeful] sleep shines suffusing [your entire attention] in dream, performing that subtle scrutinising investigation [is] imperative.
Waking and dream are both states in which we experience the appearance of otherness or multiplicity. The ‘wakeful sleep’ that we seek to attain is a state devoid of all such otherness, but is nevertheless a state of perfectly clear self-consciousness. Therefore so long as we experience either otherness or a lack of perfectly clear self-consciousness, we are still caught in the illusion of the three states, waking, dream and deep sleep. Hence we should persist in our practice of subtle self-investigation until we experience a perfect clarity of pure self-consciousness devoid of even the slightest trace of otherness, duality or multiplicity.
Whatever knowledge we may obtain about anything other than ourself is indirect and therefore open to doubt. The only knowledge that is direct is the knowledge or consciousness that we have of ourself as ‘I am’, and hence it alone can be certain and free of all doubt.
Before we know anything else, we first know our own existence as ‘I am’. This knowledge or consciousness of ourself is our primary and essential form of knowledge. Without knowing ‘I am’, we could not know anything else. Our consciousness ‘I am’ can stand alone without any other knowledge, as we experience daily in deep sleep, but no other knowledge can stand without this consciousness ‘I am’.
Whenever this single, undivided and non-dual consciousness ‘I am’ appears to know other things in addition to itself, it does so by seemingly limiting itself as a separate individual consciousness that identifies itself with a body, one among the many objects that it then seems to know. This individual consciousness which thus feels ‘I am this body, a separate person living in this world of manifold objects’ is not our primary and essential form of knowledge, but only a secondary form of knowledge, a distorted form of our original and primary knowledge ‘I am’.
All objective knowledge is known only by this secondary form of knowledge, the separate individual consciousness that we call our ‘mind’. Therefore objective knowledge is not the primary form of knowledge, nor even the secondary form of knowledge, but only a tertiary form of knowledge. This tertiary form of knowledge depends for its seeming existence upon the secondary form of knowledge that we call our ‘mind’, which in turn depends for its seeming existence upon the primary form of knowledge, our fundamental and essential consciousness ‘I am’.
Unlike all other forms of knowledge, this primary form of knowledge, ‘I am’, does not depend upon any other thing, and hence it is the only knowledge that is absolute and unconditional. All other knowledge is merely relative. Since the secondary form of knowledge, our mind, can appear as a separate entity only by knowing the tertiary form of knowledge, the objective thoughts that it forms within itself, each of these two forms of knowledge exist relative only to the other.
Since it is known only by our mind, and thus depends for its seeming existence upon our mind, objective knowledge has no reality of its own but borrows its seeming reality from our mind. Objective knowledge can therefore be no more real than our mind that knows it. Is this mind, the individual consciousness that feels ‘I am this body, a separate person who knows a world full of objects’, real? No, it is not, because it is, as we have seen above, merely an imaginary and distorted form of our true and original consciousness ‘I am’.
Though both our mind and all the objective knowledge known by it appear to be real, the reality of each is relative only to the other. Whatever is real only relatively is not really real at all, because in order to be truly real, a thing must be absolutely and unconditionally real. Only that which is absolutely and unconditionally real is real at all times, in all states and under all conditions, whereas that which is relatively real appears to be real only at certain times, in certain states and under certain conditions. Whatever thus appears to be real only at certain times, in certain states and under certain conditions, is merely an appearance, and hence it is only seemingly real.
Therefore, the only knowledge that can surely be considered as real or true knowledge is our direct, unconfused, clear and certain knowledge of our own essential consciousness ‘I am’. Until and unless we attain such clear and certain knowledge, any other knowledge that we may attain will be uncertain and open to doubt.
Only when we attain true knowledge of our consciousness ‘I am’ will we be in a position to judge the truth and validity of all our other knowledge. Thus the belief that objective research can lead to true knowledge – a belief that is implicit in and central to the philosophy upon which all modern science is based – is philosophically unsound, and is based more upon wishful thinking than upon any deep or honest philosophical analysis.
All objective knowledge is known by us indirectly through the imperfect media of our mind and five senses, whereas consciousness is known by us directly as our own self. Therefore, if we seek true, clear and immediate knowledge, rather than attempting to elaborate our knowledge of objective phenomena by turning our attention outwards through our mind and five senses, we should attempt to refine our knowledge of consciousness by directing our attention selfwards, towards the essential consciousness that we always experience directly as ‘I am’.
Though the philosophy and science of consciousness or true self-knowledge that we discuss in this book may seem to refute or deny the truth of all normal forms of human knowledge, it does not in fact deny the relative truth of any other philosophy, science or religion. It merely places them in a correct perspective. In the grand scheme of things, everything has its relative place, and this philosophy of self-knowledge enables us to understand the relative place of everything in a correct perspective.
The truth is that the ‘grand scheme of things’ and everything that has a place in it are all known only by our mind, and thus are ultimately only our thoughts. Since we cannot know anything except in our own mind, we have no adequate reason to suppose that anything exists outside of our mind. Even the idea that things exist independent of our mind, and are therefore more than just our thoughts, is itself merely a thought or imagination. What the philosophy and science of consciousness refutes or calls into question, therefore, is not merely any particular thought, idea or belief that our mind may have about anything, but is ultimately the reality of our mind itself.
All dualistic systems of philosophy, science and religious belief are dealing with the truth – but not with the absolute truth. The truth or truths with which they are dealing are only some relative forms of truth, and because they are relative, the truths of one such system may appear to clash with those of another. However, the conflict between all the countless forms of relative truth can be reconciled when each is seen in its correct perspective, which is possible only from the standpoint of the absolute truth of non-dual self-knowledge – the fundamental consciousness ‘I am’, which is the impartial substratum and reality on which or in which all things appear and disappear.
Though the objective knowledge that we acquire by means of philosophy and science may appear to be true and valid knowledge from the relative standpoint of our mind, from the absolute standpoint of our real consciousness ‘I am’ it is not true knowledge. Whatever knowledge the human mind may acquire through philosophy, science, religion or any other means can only be relative knowledge, and not absolute or true knowledge.
Our mind is an instrument that can know only duality, relativity or limitations, and not that which is beyond all duality, relativity and limitations. However, the limit of our knowledge does not stop with our mind. Beyond our mind, or rather behind, beneath and underlying our mind, there is a deeper consciousness – our fundamental and essential self-consciousness, ‘I am’. This essential self-consciousness or non-dual knowledge of our own mere being is itself the absolute knowledge – knowledge which is absolutely, unconditionally, independently and infinitely true, pure, clear and certain.
In this book we have been examining in detail the philosophy of self-knowledge, and showing how it calls upon us to question all our most basic assumptions about ourself and the world, and how it offers us a rational view of reality that is fresh and entirely different to the one that most of us are familiar with. However, this philosophy will be of little use to us if we do not understand that it is not only a philosophy but also a science – a science that requires of us a steadfast commitment to practical research.
As a philosophy it is insufficient in itself, and will remain merely a body of thoughts, ideas or beliefs like any other philosophy, unless and until we make it a direct experience by practising its empirical method of self-investigation. Any benefit that we may gain by studying and reflecting upon this philosophy will be of little real value to us unless we also attempt to put it into practice by repeatedly turning our attention back to our mere consciousness of being whenever we notice that it has slipped away to think of other things.
The true knowledge that we all seek to attain is not a body of thoughts, ideas or theories, or anything else that could be grasped by our mind, but is the state of conscious non-dual experience of being, in which the absolute reality, our own essential consciousness ‘I am’, knows only itself. Therefore, unless and until we actually turn our attention away from all thoughts and objects towards our own fundamental consciousness ‘I am’, we can never attain direct, certain and true knowledge of the absolute reality that underlies and contains – but nevertheless transcends – all relativity.