188. Michael James – Buddha at the Gas Pump Interview Transcript

Also see https://batgap.com/michael-james/

>>Rick:  Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer and my guest today is Michael James. Welcome Michael. Here is a short bio that Michael sent me, it says: “Between 1976 and 1985 Michael James studied the teachings of Sri Ramana under the clear guidance of one of his foremost disciples Sri Sadhu Om. Together they translated into English all the original Tamil writings of Sri Ramana and also of Guru Vācaka Kōvai…”, excuse my pronunciations, “… (the most profound, comprehensive and reliable collection of the sayings of Sri Ramana recorded in 1255 Tamil verses composed by Sri Muruganar, with an additional 42 verses composed by Sri Ramana), and various works of Sri Sadhu Om, such as Sādhanai Sāram: The Essence of Spiritual Practice. Michael’s principal interest is in the philosophy and practice of self-investigation (ātma-vicāra, ‘self-enquiry’) as taught by Sri Ramana and he has written a detailed book on this subject: Happiness and the Art of Being: [An introduction to the philosophy and practice of the spiritual teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana (Second Edition)].” And it is a beautiful book, it is about 500 pages long. The introduction alone is about 65 pages or something, and so I must confess I haven’t finished it, but I’ve really been enjoying it as far as I’ve gotten; it’s very rich with clarity and meaning in every paragraph. So lay it out for us Michael. The way you start your book when you first begin writing it is that the essential nature of creation is happiness, and in fact the title of your book is: Happiness and the Art of Being. So why is that, and how do we know that?

>>Michael:  Well, it’s not quite the essential nature of creation, it’s the essential nature of the reality. It’s the creation, the manifestation, which actually obstructs the happiness, because our essential nature, we are infinite, as they say in Vedanta philosophy: ‘sat-cit-ānanda’, that is, ‘being, consciousness, and bliss’ – happiness, and that’s, beginningless, endless, undivided, infinite. So that’s our real nature. But we now have somehow gotten ourselves into a situation where we seem to ourself to be a finite being, a body and a mind, that takes that body to be ‘I’, and this is what we take to be ourself. And so, we do experience happiness in little bits and pieces, mixed up with the opposite of happiness, we also experience a fair share of unhappiness or dissatisfaction in one way or other. We can never be fully satisfied, because our nature is infinite, we can’t be satisfied with anything less than infinite happiness. And so long as we experience ourself as a finite body and mind, we cannot experience infinite happiness. So our nature is dissatisfaction, we are always dissatisfied. We seek one thing after another, in material ways. We believe happiness lies in outside objects, that if we have a little better salary or more wealth, or nicer friends, or something — We are always expecting something will happen in our lives which will enhance our happiness; we are always looking for that happiness outside. But actually, according to Bhagavan, Ramana Maharshi, how we experience happiness, how we seem to experience happiness, from external objects and external experiences, it’s not that there is any happiness in those things per se, but when any desire or dissatisfaction arises in our mind, our mind is thereby agitated. And the more the mind is agitated, the more the happiness which is our real nature is clouded over. When a desire is satisfied, temporarily, that agitation subsides and a little bit of the happiness from within, as our real nature, is manifest, so we feel a little bit of pleasure. And then again the dissatisfaction comes, and so we associate the pleasure with external things, which we think have caused that, and so we continue seeking happiness externally. What Bhagavan says is, actually, we’re never going to be satisfied in this way; we’re always going to be dissatisfied. We’ll enjoy a little pleasure here and there, there are so many things which we enjoy pleasure from, but it’s all very finite, very limited, the pleasure. And it is limited in time and it is limited also in the quality of the pleasure…

>>Rick:  Magnitude…degree

>>Michael:  Magnitude, yeah, the degree, exactly. So if we want to experience the infinite happiness that is our real nature, we need to know ourself. And for that the principle means is self-investigation, ‘Who am I?’ (what Bhagavan called ‘Who am I?’). ‘Who am I?’: people sometimes take it to be a question, but it’s not that we verbally or mentally ask ourself ‘Who am I?’; ‘Who am I’ denotes the investigation that has to take place, we have to investigate to find out what this ‘I’ really is.

>>Rick:  Yeah. I heard you use the analogy many times of if someone hands us a book and says, ‘What’s in this book?’, we don’t just sit there saying, ‘What’s in this book? What’s in this book? What’s in this book?’, we open the book and read it, we investigate, experientially, what’s in the book.

>>Michael:  Yeah, exactly.

>>Rick:  Yeah. So, I’m sure we’re going to talk in great length about the nature of ātma-vicāra, but regarding happiness again for a minute, I think most of the people listening to this probably agree intuitively with what you just said, and they’ve read books which have said that. And I suppose, I mean, I’m just curious, as I was thinking about it, I was thinking , ‘Well, how do we know this, that the inner nature of life is happiness and that it’s not to be found in any permanent or substantial way in outer things?’ I mean, we experience that part of it all the time, but how do we know that? I mean, we could take it on scriptural authority, and we can take it on the authority of great teachers like Ramana, like Bhagavan, who told us that. But I think in addition to those two things, people have an intuitive aroma, or intuitive sense that that is true, and maybe they have glimpses of it from time to time, so it’s not just a vague intuition; it’s an experience that they want to culture and make more stable and complete.

>>Michael:  Yeah. Well, generally, I mean, even in our ordinary external experience, we associate peace with happiness. When our life isn’t disturbed, when things are peaceful, calm, we are happy; but then, our own mind rises, and is dissatisfied, and wants something more. But generally, nobody feels that ‘peace is suffering’, until the mind gets involved, and gets bored, and wants something more. But, peace, in itself, is happiness. That is one clue we have. And when our mind is much agitated, we’re usually not very happy, the agitation of the mind…; it is when the mind is calm that we feel more happiness; that is one indication. Another very clear indication: Every day we experience a state in which the mind is not active, namely the state of deep sleep, dreamless sleep, and in that state, we are calm, peaceful, and happy. I don’t think anyone fears to go into sleep thinking they are going to be miserable in sleep. …Okay, we may sometimes get nightmares, but that’s not sleep… >Rick: That’s not sleep.

>>Michael:  That’s a dream, but in sleep itself, I’ve not yet met anyone who has complained that they are miserable in sleep. And the reason for that is, it’s the activity of our mind, which is obscuring the happiness which is our real nature; when the mind subsides in sleep, we experience that happiness.

>>Rick:  Yeah, so we all have these experiential clues then that, you know, that a quieter mind equates with greater happiness.

>>Michael:  Yeah, yeah. But, we cannot actually prove that this is the case until we experience it ourself.

>>Rick:  Right.

>>Michael:  When sages like Buddha or Bhagavan, so many sages have been there, who have said that, who have basically taught us, that infinite happiness is attainable, and, we have to seek it within. To a certain extent we have to take that on faith, because all we’ve ever experienced is finitude; we have never experienced anything as … , according to the sages, actually, we experience it all the time, but now that we mistake ourself to be a finite being, it seems to us we have never experienced anything infinite; so to a certain extent we have to take it on faith. But…

>>Rick:  Yeah, but we can also take it as a scientific theory that we can investigate.

>>Michael:  A hypothesis, exactly.

>>Rick:  A hypothesis.

>>Michael:  We don’t have to blindly believe it, in fact, Bhagavan never recommended anyone believe anything, he used to say, ‘Doubt everything, doubt even the existence of the doubter’ (that is the mind). So in any learning process, a certain amount of trust in those who have gone before us – if we’re learning some scientific subject, we don’t automatically doubt everything that our teachers tell us, we take it on trust: other people have investigated this, they have found this, and we don’t have to blindly believe it. We can take it as part of the learning process, we take it on trust: ‘Okay, this is probably the case, because other people have found that matter is actually composed of atoms’, or whatever…

>>Rick:  But if we want to, we can get the requisite education and we can investigate that for ourselves.

>>Michael:  Yes, we can investigate it ourselves. But the problem with any external knowledge, there’s always a chance that whatever we experience could be an illusion; we can never be sure of anything. In fact, if you want to take doubt to the absolute extreme, we cannot be sure that there is an external world, we cannot be sure there’s anything, except ‘I’ and what ‘I’ am experiencing at this very moment. Even our memories, for instance what I was doing five minutes ago, I’m not experiencing that now, I’m only experiencing a memory of that, and that memory is just a thought, an idea in my mind.

>>Rick:  And even what we’re experiencing now, I mean, we know that we’re only experiencing a sliver of the electromagnetic field and our senses can only give us a little pinpoint of what’s really going on.

>>Michael:  Yeah. So, everything is open to doubt, except ‘I am’. The one thing we cannot reasonably doubt is the fact that we exist. We may not know what we are, but we know that we are, because if we didn’t exist as something we couldn’t be experiencing all this. So, one indubitable experience we have is ‘I am’, everything else is open to doubt.

>>Rick:  Have you ever heard anybody raise any intelligent objections to that assertion?

>>Michael:  Well, there are philosophers who have… For instance, in Western philosophy, of course everyone has heard of ‘Cogito, ergo sum’, Descartes’ saying, ‘I think, therefore I am’. There are philosophers who have said that they think he is asserting too much; all he can say is ‘there is thinking’. But actually, that is not our experience when we think, we always experience it as ‘I am thinking’. And thinking actually has two sides to it: when we think, we both produce the thought and we experience the thought. Even if we have set aside the producing of a thought and say, ‘Thoughts just come’, we cannot deny the fact that there is something that we call ‘I’, which is experiencing these thoughts.

>>Rick:  And yet, there are plenty of spiritual people running around these days saying, ‘There is no I’, I mean, you just said that is the one thing we can be certain of, but there are a lot of people out there saying, ‘There is no I’.

>>Michael:  Yes, this is often taken to be a fundamental difference between Buddhism and Advaita. Advaita says, ‘I’ is the only reality; Buddhism says, ‘anattā’, ‘anātmā’. But, I think this is very much a confusion in terminology. Because actually, the Sanskrit word ‘anātmā’ (the Pali equivalent of which is ‘anattā’) doesn’t mean ‘no self’, it means ‘not self’.

>>Rick:  What’s the difference?

>>Michael:  If I say, ‘This is not a telephone’, I’m not saying, ‘There’s no telephone’, I’m just saying, I’m pointing to something and saying, ‘This is not ‘something’. One of the sayings of Buddha from the Pali Canon, which is often quoted as the authority for this doctrine of ‘no-self’, or so-called ‘no self’, is he said, ‘All dharmas are anattā’. ‘Dharma’ is a word which has many different meanings in different contexts, but basically, ‘dharma’ comes from a Sanskrit root which means ‘to hold’, so it means ‘holding together’, or ‘what is upheld’. Some people interpret that as, everything that is constructed, everything that is formed or made, is ‘not self’. And there is also a verse in the Pali Canon in which Buddha says, … ‘there is that to which is unborn, uncreated, unchanging, un- …’ – I can’t remember what the whole series is of, but he gives a list of attributes saying that basically, it is infinite, it is unlimited, it is not born; there is such a thing, if there were not, there would be no escape from birth, limitation, and all the other … he then lists all the opposites. So, Buddha hasn’t denied the existence of a reality. And if we are to experience that reality, if that reality is infinite, and we are something that is finite, if we are something that is born, we cannot experience the unborn. So unless that reality is ourself, what we essentially are, it would be impossible for us to experience it. Also, when we consider this idea of ‘no self’, it’s not very clear what it means actually, because, when we say, ‘the self’ of something, there are not two things: a thing and itself; a ‘self’ is what something is. If I say, ‘I, myself’, I’m not talking about two things: an ‘I’ and some possession of mine called ‘self’; ‘I, myself’, ‘self’ is referring to what a thing is in itself. So to say, ‘Something has no self’, is in effect saying, ‘It doesn’t exist’. So if anything exists, it has a self, because it is. Because everything is its own self, if you get what I mean. So I think, this is my understanding, when Buddha said that all dharmas are ‘not self’, are anattā, he is not saying, ‘there is no self’; he is saying, all these … everything manifest, everything cognizable, and even the cognizer, is not the essence, is not what we essentially are. So it is not only actually in Buddhism that it is said ‘there is ‘no self’’, in a sense, it is said like that in Vedanta. In Vedanta it is said, ‘This body, this mind, all these things are not self. These are all unreal. There is no mind, it is an illusion.’ So, there is actually a lot more common ground between Buddhism and Vedanta than is generally recognized. Philosophy in India is very, very ancient. Indian philosophy goes back at least 3,000 years, and probably much before that. And, in India the word for a philosophy is ‘darśana’. Darśana means ‘a view’. So always in any intellectual activity there will be many views. So, Buddhism is one view, Vedanta is another view. And, always in India there was a lot of debate between all these different viewpoints. And, often in the course of debate, people tend to exaggerate differences, in order to try and assert that ‘my way is right’. But according to Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, all argument is useless because we’re not going to achieve anything by just… and ultimately, all differences are mind created. If you want to know the reality, we have to go beyond differences. So, it is true, in a sense, that there is no self, in the sense that what we now take to be ourself is unreal, it is a mere appearance. But underlying this, for every appearance, there has to be some basis: if we see a rope lying on the ground in the half-light, we can mistake it for a snake. The snake is an illusion, but there is some basis for that (the rope). If there wasn’t a basis for something, there couldn’t be an illusion. And the basis for whatever illusion there is, there has to be something that is experiencing that. If there is absolutely no experiencer at all, there could be no illusion. So any illusion points to the existence of an experiencer.

>>Rick:  So what we have established so far then, is that there is an essential self, or an essential nature to the mind or to life, and that it is desirable to find that because it’s a field of infinite happiness. There is some Upanishadic verse which says that, ‘Contact with Brahmin is infinite joy,’ so, that sounds good. {laugh} And so we want to investigate, in whatever way we can, to make that connection, to have that experience, and that is what ātma-vicāra [self-investigation] is all about, as I understand it.

>>Michael:  It is, exactly. Because if it is true that that happiness is what we really are, in order to experience that happiness we have to experience ourself as we really are, and in order to experience ourself as we really are, if we want to know something, the primary tool we have for knowing anything, is our power of attention. When scientists set out to know about far away galaxies, or to know about atoms, or whatever they set out to know about, they may have so many instruments: telescopes for seeing far away things, or microscopes for seeing small things, or even this accelerator that they have in…

>>Rick:  CERN.

>>Michael:  In CERN, exactly. They may have so many instruments, but without attending to that, they cannot get any knowledge from it. So, our power of attention is our basic instrument by which we come to know anything. And to know things outside, we’ve got our basic instruments, our five senses (our eyes, ears, and things); but to know what we are, by using our senses we cannot know ourself…

>>Rick:  Because our self is not some object.

>>Michael:  Yeah, because ourself is that which is experiencing things through the senses. And we cannot use any… there is no instrument by which we can investigate what we are; the only tool we have to know what we are is our power of attention. Now, from the time we wake up in the morning till the time we go to sleep at night, and from the time one dream starts till the end of that dream, what we are doing constantly is attending to things that seem to be other than ourself. Whether they’re really are other than ourself or not, we don’t know, but at least they seem to be. All these objects in the world seem to be different from myself. Even the thoughts that arise in my mind seem to be different from myself. I don’t think ‘I am this thought’…

>>Rick:  No, there is, ‘my thoughts’, therefore there is a ‘me’ and there is a ‘thought’.

>>Michael:  Exactly. So we are constantly attending to things other than ourself. As a background for all these things, whatever else we experience, we also experience ‘I am’, because it’s always: ‘I am experiencing this’. So there is a background of self-awareness underlying all our other experiences, but we tend to overlook that, not pay attention to it, and we attach more importance to other things. Like if we go to a cinema we see a picture projected on the screen, we sit there looking at that screen for two or three hours, but we never actually see the screen. We are seeing the screen but not seeing it, because our attention is not on the screen but on the pictures which are moving on the screen. It’s like that; the self-awareness is always there in the background, but we are constantly overlooking it, because we are more interested, we find more appeal, in the external things, in the things that we are experiencing.

>>Rick:  Yeah, so let me interject a question here now. So, I guess I’ll ask you two or three questions in a row and then you can answer them. One would be: is this because the senses by their very nature, their functioning, are outer-directed? That’s one question. Another question is: doesn’t it seem odd that if the self is infinite joy, we should find ourself so fascinated by everything other than the self? You know, it seems like that’s where our fascination would lie, but it doesn’t. And so we’re like these people who’ve won the lottery and don’t realize it, we’re walking around multimillionaires begging on the street for pennies.

>>Michael:  Yeah, yeah, exactly. Um, well your first question, about the sense, we shouldn’t blame the senses, the senses…

>>Rick:  They’re doing what they do.

>>Michael:  They’re doing what they do; it’s our attention which goes out through the senses. So it is because we, the mind, have so much taste in experiencing these external beautiful sights, sounds, or whatever. And even when we close our eyes, we continue thinking of these things in our mind, so we’ve got so much interest in the external world. That interest cannot be blamed on the senses; it can only be blamed on the mind which has that interest in these things.

>>Rick:  And do we really have to, in a way, do we really have to use the word ‘blame’?, because without our attending to the external world we’d all be sitting in the mud. I mean, we build ourselves homes and all kinds of conveniences.

>>Michael:  Yeah, yeah, okay, I didn’t mean ‘blame’ in a negative way, but if we were to attribute a ‘cause’ to our going outward…

>>Rick:  To our estrangement from the Self, yeah.

>>Michael:  It is our own interest, our own desire, for experiencing these external things.

>>Rick:  Let me interject to another question here to throw into the mix and have you comment on, and that is that, doesn’t it seem that there’s a natural tendency that the mind has, or the attention has, to seek greater happiness? And as you were saying in the very beginning, that attention is kind of misdirected in the sense that it is looking for happiness where ultimately it cannot be found, but nonetheless, if we are sitting here talking and some beautiful music starts all a sudden, our attention will naturally shift to that without effort because it’s charming, it offers greater happiness. So we are constantly following that tendency toward greater happiness, and perhaps that very tendency, which keeps the mind outer-directed, could actually be used to enable it to become inner-directed; if it could just take a corrected turn, it would find increasing charm in the direction of the self.

>>Michael:  Exactly. The more we practice being self-attentive, the more the mind will be drawn to that. Now, when we start off, we are unfamiliar with that, though there’s always that background of self-awareness, we are unfamiliar with keeping our attention just dwelling on that self-awareness, away from all other…

>>Rick:  Yeah, there is a deeply engrained habit to always have the attention outer-directed, and through decades of experience it has been deeply engrained, and so we are kind of on new territory when we try to turn it 180 degrees.

>>Michael:  Yes. And also there is another reason why, many people when they start this practice they, – well, it’s not just when we start, most people complain that it’s difficult, even if they have been at it for many, many years, they still say it is difficult. Because, the mind feeds on objective experiences, on experiencing things other than itself. It’s our attention to other things that sustains the illusion of mind.

>>Rick:  And here the practice you are referring to is ātma-vicāra?

>>Michael:  Yes.

>>Rick:  Yes, self-enquiry.

>>Michael:  When the mind turns its attention towards itself, because it actually … {Inaudible} …to the experience and testimony of Bhagavan, Ramana Maharshi, there is actually no such thing as mind. The mind seems to exist so long as we are attending to other things, but if we turn our attention inwards and try to find out what this mind is, it dissolves and all that remains is ‘I am’. Not the thinking ‘I’ that we’re now experiencing, which is the mind, but just the being ‘I’, the pure ‘I’. So the existence of the mind, the thinking ‘I’, is threatened by turning its attention selfwards. The more it attends to things externally, the more the illusion of its own existence is strengthened. The more it turns its attention towards itself, the more that illusion begins to dissolve. So because the mind… {Sounds: dog barking} … its nature is to, well… We experience ourself as mind (rather than saying ‘the mind’), we experience ourself as mind, and we have a natural instinct, a natural desire, for self-preservation. So, so long as we experience… Because we experience ourself as a body we do everything we can to avoid danger to the body, we don’t walk out in front of the bus, because we want to preserve this body. When we’re hungry we eat, when we’re tired we sleep, we’re doing so many things to preserve this body and try to keep it going for as many years as possible. And so also, just as we try to sustain this body, because we experience this body as ‘I’, we try to sustain this mind because we experience the mind as ‘I’. And when we turn our attention inwards towards ‘I’ alone, we find the mind is beginning to dissolve, and so we instinctively try to struggle for survival, and an easy way for us to survive as mind is to attend to other things. So the natural tendency of the mind is to try and go outwards, to continue feeding on external experiences.

>>Rick:  Okay, let me throw in a question and a comment here. I would say that there’s an even more fundamental natural tendency of the mind, which is to seek … just to seek greater happiness; I mean, you could boil it down to that, and we are accustomed to finding that externally, so therefore, that’s our habit and that’s what the mind tends to try to do. But if greater happiness could actually be shown to the mind, so to speak, in an inward direction, the mind would say, ‘Oh boy! Let’s go for that, it seems greater and that’s what I want, is greater happiness’. Now, I’ve heard you say many times in your writings and your talks that the mind and body are interrelated. Like for instance, there is one talk where you said that if you eat a few garlic cloves or maybe have a cup of coffee, your mind is going to be agitated because you’ve done something to the physiology that is going to cause the mind to change in its functioning.

>>Michael:  Yeah.

>>Rick:  And I would suggest that when you start to practice ātma-vicāra, and you’re the expert on that so don’t let me put words in your mouth, {Laugh} that the mind is kind of settling down, if you will, if I can use that terminology, and that because again the mind and body are interrelated, the body settles down, the physiology settles down accordingly. And when the body settles down, what happens? You know, it starts to purify itself, it starts to purge itself of, we could say, vāsanās, you know, deep impressions. And so when the body has settled down because the mind has settled down, then the vāsanās start to be stirred up, then that is correspondingly going to stir up mental activity again, and so we’re going to start having all these thoughts. And so it is not like either aspect of it is unnatural; both body and mind are following their natural tendencies and it is a kind of, really, a collaborative process through which over time can bring about a total transformation of both.

>>Michael:  Yeah. We can use the analogy of if you’ve got lots of very {Inaudible} …light particles

>>Rick:  Your voice cut out for a second there.

>>Michael:  Oh, sorry.

>>Rick:  Repeat what you just said, ‘If you’ve got lots of …’

>>Michael:  If you’ve got lots of particles floating in water and they are lighter than water, so their natural tendency is to float to the surface. So long as you are stirring the water, they’ll be mixed in the water and they’ll be spread throughout the water. If you allow the water to become calm, they begin to float to the surface. So also, when we begin to experience the calmness by turning our attention towards ‘I’, all the lighter material in our mind, which is our vāsanās, our old desires, which have been there for a long time, they begin to come to the surface.

>>Rick:  Good analogy.

>>Michael:  The more we… What Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi said is we need not – normally, these distract our attention away from self, but all the… whatever distracts our attention, we are experiencing that, and we are there as the experiencer of that, so actually, we can divert our attention. He described it in words, in terms of questioning: ‘To whom is this experience? Who am I?’, and turning our attention back in. He doesn’t mean we actually have to go through a questioning process; what he is trying to draw our attention to is every experience we have, every thought that rises in our mind, every feeling we have, every sight we see; they are there because ‘I am’. So, we are always there, so we can use … if we train our mind properly, we can… nothing becomes a distraction, because everything reminds us of our own existence. So if we cultivate this habit of turning the attention selfwards, I-wards, we will find it keeps on coming back again and again, whatever experience is there, – of course it sounds a bit ideal when I say this, in practice, our mind keeps on getting dragged away towards other things, because we still have very strong vāsanās, but, by practicing this more and more we can weaken those vāsanās, we can weaken the vāsanās to think other things, and we can increase what is sometimes called the ‘sat-vāsanā’ (the liking just to be). So the more we abide in just that state of self-awareness or self-attentiveness, which is a state of just – it’s not an activity, because an activity of the mind, when we think anything or attend to anything external, our attention is moving away from its source, which is ourself, toward something else. But, when we turn our attention towards ourself, it’s not moving anywhere; it’s remaining in its source, remaining where it originates from. So, self-attention is not actually an activity; it is a state of being.

>>Rick:  But it does sound like a practice, I mean it sounds like …

>>Michael:  It is a practice, but it is a practice just being, not a practice of doing.

>>Rick:  I see, so it’s an effortless practice.

>>Michael:  Well, it’s not exactly effortless because … well, it is truly speaking –

>>Rick:  Well, if there is effort then there must be doing.

>>Michael:  Okay, no, no, because truly speaking, it is effortless, because our nature is just being, we don’t need any effort to be. But because we have a strong liking to do (to think, to see, to hear, to… all these things), withdrawing our attention from everything else seems to be… seems to require effort, but it’s not an effort to do, it’s an effort to be. It’s an effort to just be. We don’t need to effort to be, as such, because whether we are doing or not, we always are, but it’s an effort to just be, that is, to be without doing all these other things.

>>Rick:  There’s a verse in the Gita: ‘No effort is lost, and no obstacle exists’.

>>Michael:  Yes, exactly.

>>Rick:  So, it sounds to me like it is a sort of an effortless effort. In fact, there’s a verse in the Vedas someplace that says, ‘Be easy to us with gentle effort’.

>>Michael:  Yes. Exactly, it is a very gentle effort. And that’s another nice clue that Bhagavan gave about practice, he said, if a cow has run away from its stall, if you run after it with a stick, it’s going to just run farther away; but if you come after it with nice green grass, you can slowly tempt it back into its stall; so also, our practice should be like that.

>>Rick:  So what is the green grass in ātma-vicāra? What is it that we’re using, so to speak, to tempt the mind – using the cow analogy – to come back to the self?

>>Michael:  Well, each one of us may find different ways that work well with us. I mean, if we are of a devotional bent of mind, believing that God is that which is existing as ‘I am’, within us as ‘I’, if we really if we firmly believe that God is ‘I’, our love for God will draw our attention constantly back towards ‘I’, because we believe that is the real form of God. Though we may have images of God as Shiva or Jesus or Buddha, or whatever external image we may have of God, that is not the true form of God. Even the name or form of Ramana, which devotees of Ramana are devoted to, that is not what he really is. He himself said, ‘Ramana is that which exists in the heart of every living being as ‘I’.

>>Rick:  Sure, I mean if all he was … go ahead.

>>Michael:  If we begin to associate the name of God, like if we are Krishna-bhaktas, and we love singing the name of Krishna, if we begin to associate Krishna, Krishna says in Gita, ‘I am the self in the heart of every being’, so if we begin to associate Krishna with the ‘I’ within us, whenever we repeat the name ‘Krishna’, instead of our attention going out to an external form of a blue-skinned cow herder playing his flute, our attention will instead turn back towards ‘I’. Because that external form of Krishna is just a temporary manifestation, whereas his permanent form, is as ‘I’.

>>Rick:  So in a way what you are saying … I’m sorry, go ahead.

>>Michael:  So whatever form of God we happen to be devoted to, if we’re a Christian or whatever we are, we can apply this same thing, if we really believe that God is that- Christ said in the Bible, ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of heaven’, and ‘the Kingdom of heaven is within’. In fact, he says, if I remember correctly, he said something like, … um… ‘They say to seek it here or there but lo, the kingdom of heaven is within you’. ‘Lo’ is a rather archaic English, but ‘lo’ actually means ‘look’. He is not just asking… He’s not just telling us, ‘The Kingdom of heaven is within you’, He says, ‘Look, see, lo, behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.’ He’s telling us to look within.

>>Rick:  So what you are saying now seems to be a little bit more generous than what I heard you saying in some of your talks, ‘cause there you were kind of saying that anything other than pure ātma-vicāra is a distraction because you are giving your attention to a mantra, or a god, or to a this or to a that. But now you are saying that these things can actually, if I understand you correctly, can actually be triggers to really accomplish what ātma-vicāra is attempting to accomplish.

>>Michael:  Exactly. I mean, this is what we were saying about the green grass for a cow. Some are naturally devoted to some name or form of God, and if they are convinced that the real form of God is ‘I’, they can associate that name of God (Krishna or Ramana or whatever it happens to be) with the feeling of ‘I’ within them, and therefore they can use that as the means to draw their attention back to ‘I’. That is just one possibility. Other people are not so much drawn to the path of devotion, they will find other ways. Maybe some people are more of a philosophical bent of mind, so they want to know the truth, and so it can be more clues on the path of knowledge, of, ‘How do we know that anything is real?’. The only thing which is the basis of all our knowledge is ‘I’; so before trying to know other things, we should first try to know this ‘I’. I mean, there are so many different types of clues which can be given, different clues will appeal to different people. Even to the same person, to each of us, there will be different clues which appeal to us more at one time, other clues appeal to us more at another time. But these are all… they’re the most basic of all things, all of us, whether we are of a scientific bent of mind, philosophical bent of mind, or a devotional bent of mind, whatever bent of mind we are, one thing which we all share in common: we’re all seeking happiness, so that is the most fundamental thing. If we are convinced that happiness lies within, or even if we are not firmly convinced, if we at least think that it’s an idea worth investigating, that, again, is the green grass. I mean, Bhagavan actually doesn’t ask us to believe anything; he says, he gives us some.. he says this is his experience, and he says if you want to know whether this is true or not, you have to find out, you have to experience it yourself. Simply knowing all the philosophy, knowing all these things, we can go on and on reading books, but it’s not going to solve our problems. Our problems can be solved only by the direct experience of what we really are.

>>Rick:  Mm-hm, important point. And it is kind of common these days for people to mistake an intellectual understanding of non-duality for the actual experience of it, but the understanding, even a fairly clear one, can be a far cry from the actual living experience of it.

>>Michael:  Yeah, exactly. So when you say I am an expert on self-enquiry, I don’t claim to be an expert. I’m very ready to admit I’m still a seeker on the path, I’m still experimenting with self-enquiry. And, I don’t think anyone can be said to be an expert in self-enquiry until they have actually experienced the … goal.

>>Rick:  The self.

>>Michael:  The goal, the self, yes.

>>Rick:  Yeah. And I heard you mention that if the experience is really a 100 percent clear, then that’s it, I mean, you’re done.

>>Michael:  That’s it. Just one moment of absolutely clear self-awareness, and the illusion is dissolved forever.

>>Rick:  Yeah. But in the meanwhile, until that 100 percent happens, there can be many glimpses where it’s a fair approximation. I mean, let’s say you’re walking in a fog and you see a tree, and you know it’s a tree and not a horse, or something, but you are seeing a tree but it’s not as clear as it could be.

>>Michael:  Yeah. Even now, there is never a time where we are not experiencing the self, because the self is only ‘I am’. The trouble is, this ‘I am’ is mixed up with so many other things, with body, mind, all these things, so we are trying to separate. One analogy that is often used is that it is like peeling the layers off an onion; we go on peeling, peeling, trying to sift through all these things to get to the very center point, and when we get to the center there is no onion at all, there’s no mind at all, there is only just being (self).

>>Rick:  One thing that I kinda thought when I was listening to some of your talks is that – the way you are presenting it anyway – is you almost made it sound like self-enquiry, if you really want to get serious about it, it would be incompatible with many lifestyles; it would be incompatible with being a stockbroker, or running a big business, or even having five kids, that you have to kind of live almost a reclusive life to devote your adequate attention to it.

>>Michael:  Um, that is not actually, it’s not quite so. I mean, it is not actually incompatible with anything because whatever we are experiencing, whatever we are doing, we always experience ‘I am’, so we can in the midst of any activity be practicing self-enquiry. It is not even necessary to be sitting with eyes closed or anything; we can be holding onto a current of self-awareness even in the midst of other activities.

>>Rick:  So are you practicing self-enquiry right now, as you’re talking to me?

>>Michael:  Um, well, I wouldn’t say I’m practicing. But when we talk about this subject, the mere talking about this subject, is drawing our attention towards ‘I’.

>>Rick:  True, but what if you’re running a car dealership and you have to be selling cars all day long, can you do that and…?

>>Michael:  Well, as I say, I’m not an expert in this. I may be an expert in the theory of it but in the practice of it, I’m no better than anyone else, I don’t claim anything for myself. So, I try, I try, is all I can say. I’m sure there are people who could do that, people who are much more advanced than me in the practice, but my attention gets very easily distracted, I must admit.

>>Rick:  Let me throw one thing in here, and that is that I would assert, from my understanding, that someone like Ramana, to take an ideal example, his maintenance of self-awareness is not accomplished in the least by him having to attend to it, or think about it, or hold on to it; it’s just like breathing…

>>Michael:  It’s what he is.

>>Rick:  Yeah, it couldn’t be dislodged, it’s solid, right?

>>Michael:  Yes, yeah.

>>Rick:  And I would suggest perhaps that to whatever extent we have attained that or established that, its attainment or its establishment is kind of in our bones, so to speak. It’s not going to be lost by not remembering it, it’s not going to be gained by trying to remember it, although we may devote periods of time when we do that, in terms of our 24/7 experience there has to be a sort of integration or stabilization that just really is not dependent on any little tricks we’re going to play with our… yeah.

>>Michael:  Well that’s true. The more we make effort to be self-attentive, the more we familiarize ourselves with that. And so we find, it’s almost without our being aware of it we continue to be aware of it, if you see what I mean. That obviously is a meaningless statement I made.

>>Rick:  No, it makes sense to me.

>>Michael:  I’m just trying to convey, it does somehow continue in the background, in a very tenuous sort of way.

>>Rick:  Yeah, or even not so tenuous; ‘cause it could be quite predominant, you know?

>>Michael:  Yeah, sometimes it’s much stronger than at other times, yes.

>>Rick:  Hm, it’s sort of like learning to ride a bicycle or something. When you’re first learning, you really have to pay attention to it, it’s very wobbly, but after a while it is second nature, you never think about balance, it’s just the way it is.

>>Michael:  Yes, yes. But coming back to your question about certain lifestyles maybe incompatible with this, we can’t say categorically that is so. But I think if you are in a lifestyle, say you’re in finance or something and your whole life is about amassing wealth, that does seem to be a little bit incompatible with this , because in order to go within, we have to give up the external desire, they have to slowly, slowly… I mean, it’s not even that we have to consciously do it, the importance we formerly attached to external things, to having material wealth and things, they become less and less important as we go on. So I think, it’s not that it would be difficult living that lifestyle to practice self-enquiry, it’s rather that, practicing self-enquiry, it would be difficult to live that lifestyle.

>>Rick:  Well, yeah. I mean, obviously certain teachers like Sankara and others established lineages which were primarily taken care of by monks, and over time, you know, the monastic orientation was emphasized. But in the scriptures you find people like Arjuna who is being told to realize the self then fight this battle, or King Janaka who was said to be an enlightened king, who had all kinds of ‘kingly’ responsibilities, and wives, and children, and armies and this stuff that he had to deal with. So it’s not so much that these guys didn’t have desires, but perhaps it was that the desire did not overshadow them or did not cause them to get drawn out into a narrow focus to the exclusion of the self.

>>Michael:  Yeah.

>>Rick:  So maybe it is more of a challenge if you have a demanding lifestyle or, I don’t know, some would say it’s actually more of an opportunity because it enables you to really ground it in the midst of any circumstance.

>>Michael:  Yeah. Bhagavan never attached any importance to … Sometimes people used say to him, ‘Is it necessary to become a sannyāsi, a monk, in order to realize the self?’ He said, ‘Just like marriage comes according to destiny, so also monastic status comes according to destiny’. If that is destined to happen you cannot avoid it. If it is not destined to happen, even if you seek it, you won’t achieve it. In fact, he taught that our external life is shaped by grace. We are given the type of external life, the type of circumstances, that are most conducive to us.

>>Rick:  I love that.

>>Michael:  We may think that if we go and sit in a cave and spend 12 hours a day meditating, that will be very conducive to our realizing the self, but it may not be so, because we may be sitting in that cave thinking so many other things. Whereas we may be in a worldly situation, we may have a wife and children, and be living in poverty and having to work so many hours a day, but that very circumstance may be giving us even stronger yearning to go beyond all these limitations and to experience the happiness that is within.

>>Rick:  That’s beautiful, I love that.

>>Michael:  We can’t say. For each one of us, and again, this is something we have to take on trust, because there is no way I can prove this, I cannot give any logical argument to say that this is so, but on the testimony of Bhagavan, and I think quite a few other sages have also said this: Whatever we are given to experience in our outward life is what is most favorable for us at that particular stage of our life.

>>Rick:  It also points to the notion that God is omnipresent and merciful and that there is a sort of an evolutionary tendency in creation, you know, because if life were just really dead matter with no intelligence inherent in it, then everything is capricious and arbitrary and things just you know, ‘S%@# happens, as the bumper sticker says. But if it is all divine and permeated with the divine, then how could not every little instance be in our best interest?

>>Michael:  Yeah, if we talk all these things to someone who believes that, as many people do nowadays, that physical matter is the only a reality, and that even mind and consciousnesses can be explained in physical terms, what we’re talking is gibberish.

>>Rick:  Right, right.

>>Michael:  But, I think there are very strong reasons for doubting such a view, that everything can be explained in physical terms. I mean, I’ve read a lot of philosophical arguments of that type, and I find it singularly unconvincing; I think there are much stronger arguments to say that consciousness is the basis of all things.

>>Rick:  I agree, and I think that those who espouse the materialistic perspective could actually be offered the hypothesis, as you said earlier, that that is not the case, and then given systematic procedures whereby they could investigate whether they’re right or wrong. Chances are they are not going to be so open-minded as to do that; but they, as well as anybody else, could experience that consciousness is fundamental, that the divine is governing the universe, and so on.

>>Michael:  Yeah. The spiritual path is basically, it is a scientific investigation.

>>Rick:  Very much so.

>>Michael:  We have got a hypothesis; the hypothesis is that ‘we are infinite happiness’. Now we are testing that to find out whether it’s true or not. It’s exactly the same as what the scientists are doing; they set themselves hypotheses and they test it.

>>Rick:  Yeah, and earlier on you were mentioning the Large Hadron Collider and various scientific instruments. Well, we’ve got a scientific instrument that is actually much more sophisticated than any of those, you know? This is it: the human nervous system. Even a single cell of the human nervous system is more fantastic than the Large Hadron Collider.

>>Michael:  Yeah, exactly, exactly.

>>Rick:  Yeah, use that instrument. One thing I found kind of interesting in what I heard you saying in one of your talks is that, you know, there’s a certain notion in spiritual circles these days sometimes, that you should ‘give up the search’ and that there is something kind of wrong or elementary in being a seeker, and people say, ‘Oh, when I was a seeker, blah, blah, blah.’ But, you kind of alluded to various saints and sages who were ardent seekers even though they were very well along on the path and they had not given up the search by any means; they were just not satisfied with anything less than the totality.

>>Michael:  Yeah. We shouldn’t give up the search until we have given up the searcher, in other words, so long as we exist as a finite entity. Everyone is searching, even the ant when it picks up a little piece of sugar and carries it; it is searching for happiness. Every person, even the drunk or the drug addict, everyone is searching for happiness in one way or another. The debaucher is searching for happiness, everyone is searching for happiness. We are all seekers and seeking is our very nature. Until we attain the infinite happiness that we really are, we cannot actually give up seeking.

>>Rick:  So why do you think that someone who was already really kind of highly enlightened, such as Anandamayi Ma or Ammachi or one of these great sages would still have this fervent, vehement kind of seeking energy even though they are well-along the path?

>>Michael:  I think we can explain it in various ways. One is, they could be, not consciously, but they could be um …

>>Rick:  Setting an example?

>>Michael:  Setting an example is one thing, another thing is, if they are really in that state, they are not the body and mind that we see them to be. But that body and mind, before they attained that state, had developed tendencies of devotion and of yearning and of seeking; those continue in the body and mind even after the person who was there, has been dissolved in self. Ramana Maharshi sang hymns in praise of Arunachala, praying for jñāna long after he had attained it, but that tendency just continues, that devotional tendency, which is probably there from many, many lives.

>>Rick:  There is a quote from Sankara, he said, ‘The intellect imagines duality for the sake of devotion.’

>>Michael:  Yes.

>>Rick:  So Ramana set up this sort of dualistic relationship with Arunachala for the sake of devotion.

>>Michael:  Yeah, but even while doing so, if you read the meaning of the verses, the duality and non-duality is interwoven. Because he keeps on … I mean in so many verses he’s referring to Arunachala as ‘the self’. And one of the verses is: “‘திரும்பி அகம் தனை தினம் அகக்கண் காண்; “‘tirumbi aham taṉai diṉam aha-k-kaṇkāṇ; தெரியும்’ என்றனை என் அருணாசலா” ṭeriyum’ eṉḏṟaṉai eṉ aruṇācalā” “Oh Arunachala, you taught me: turning daily within, see the ‘I’ with the inner eye” (the I, that is, the capital ‘I’ with the inner eye).

>>Rick:  Yeah.

>>Michael:  So I mean the duality and non-duality is all woven together there. And in the very first verse he says: “Oh Arunachala, you root out ego of those who meditate on you in the heart as Arunachala.” That, ‘in the heart’, it has two meanings in Tamil: ‘who meditate upon Arunachala as ‘I’’, it can also mean.

>>Rick:  When he mentions Arunachala like that, is he actually really referring to the mountain in South India, or is he referring to Lord Shiva, or is he referring to pure consciousness or, you know, … why all this fuss about the mountain? {laugh}

>>Michael:  Both, he is referring to both. Because we now take ourself to be a physical body, we have a form and so long as we have a form we cannot conceive God except as a form. We can know theoretically, God is formless, but in order to have a … a relationship with him as a person, we conceive him as a person, as a form. So in that sense, worshipping a hill, a mountain (as the form of God), is in a way a very abstract form. Instead of worshipping God in a human form, it’s in a very abstract form. So there it is a very solid, material thing, to take a mountain as God is a very abstract idea. But if you read his verses, in almost any of the verses, you can read two meanings into it: you can either read the meaning that Arunachala is literally the physical hill, also that Arunachala is ‘I’. And in so many places he’s saying- I mean he literally says, ‘Arunachala is ‘I’.

>>Rick:  So is it with a lot of Ramana’s teachings that you can tune into them on many levels,

>>Michael:  On many levels.

>>Rick:  …according to your ability, the very same sentence or passage could mean one thing or another?

>>Michael:  It’s not only…. There are times when we … I mean, for each seeker, there are … our mind isn’t in a constant state, we’re not constantly of one… sometimes we’re more emotional, sometimes we’re more rational. So, there are times when that type of dualistic devotion may be helpful to us. We shouldn’t get too caught up in that because, we should be remembering that all the dualistic devotion ultimately has to come back to ‘I’, and that ‘I’ is the real form of God. So, … yeah, it is to suit different people at different stages of development, but it’s also to suit one individual within the different states of mind that we go through during the course of our life.

>>Rick:  Right. Okay. So just to reiterate what you just said basically is: on the one hand there could be a number of different paths or – and now we’re broadening it out aside from just Ramana’s teaching, you know: karma yōga, bhakti yōga, jñāna yōga, even physical haṭha jñāna, prāṇāyāma; all these different things have their significance, according to your makeup, your nature, what you need at any given time. But also even… and so you could you know in the world there are so many thousands of people in this and that and the other thing, but then also a single individual might go through stages or phases at which each one of these things becomes relevant at one time and perhaps irrelevant at another.

>>Michael:  Yes, exactly. Or not even… It’s not only that we go through stages in our life, even within the course of –

>>Rick:  A day.

>>Michael:  A day, yeah, we can be in different states of mind.

>>Rick:  Sure. Just like at one point you feel like eating, another point you feel like exercising, another point you feel like sleeping, so same with spiritual practices or … yeah, okay.

>>Michael:  But now you’ve brought up about other practices, just one thing I’d like to clarify here, many people reading books of ‘Talks with Ramana Maharshi’, and those types of books (conversation), they think, ‘Oh, he approved all spiritual paths’; That is true in a sense, but he didn’t just say all paths are equal, he said ultimately… He said, any path other than… any type of spiritual practice we do other than self-enquiry is a doing, it’s an action, it’s a karma. Only when the attention is turned towards ‘I’, does all action cease and we remain in a state of being. Any other type of spiritual effort we make in the form of a spiritual practice is a karma (is an action)’. And he very clearly said that, ‘action cannot lead directly to the goal’, because the self, its nature, is actionless; it is free of all action. So any action we do, whether it’s bhakti yōga, raja yōga, karma yōga, any of these things, they all involve action, and any action, it can purify the mind, and by purifying the mind it leads us to the real path, it shows what the real path is. And when I say, ‘real path’, I mean the ultimate path.

>>Rick:  I think Sankara said something similar. He said, ‘not all people are qualified for this highest teaching’, but so, all these other things have their value in so far as they can purify’.

>>Michael:  Exactly.

>>Rick:  You know, there’s that verse in the Gita that says, ‘Because one can perform it, one’s own dharma, though lesser in merit, is better than the dharma of another.’

>>Michael:  Exactly. So I mean all these things they’re … Ramana Maharshi approved all spiritual paths in the sense that some are suited for some people, some are suited for others. And he –

>>Rick:  Right. Did he feel that anybody and his brother could just sit down and do ātma-vicāra, or did he feel like certain people really need to undergo some purification before they could really do it successfully?

>>Michael:  He said anyone could do it, if they want to do it; but, there are some people who are just not – some people are just not drawn to this path.

>>Rick:  Right. Could one be drawn and yet find oneself incapable of doing it successfully and therefore have to do other things to become more capable, or if you’re drawn, you can do it?

>>Michael:  Some people feel that, but I think that is actually not quite correct that. Because, I think, even if we… it’s very difficult to measure our success; we may find that whenever we try to attend to self, we keep on getting distracted, but the very effort to try, the mere trying is itself a step on the path. Every time we try, we are improving our ability to do it. So I think that, it would not be correct to say, that it’s impossible for anyone, because every person is aware of ‘I’. Any person can dwell at least for a few moments on that mere feeling, ‘I’.

>>Rick:  Sure. You’ve probably heard the term ‘neuroplasticity’, that when we do something, the brain actually changes as a result, so every little bit is changing the brain by degrees.

>>Michael:  Yes.

>>Rick:  And I would imagine that if neurophysiology really had it figured out in terms of what to measure in higher states of consciousness and enlightenment and so on, and if they hooked up Ramana Maharshi to an EEG machine they would see something remarkable, they would see something a little bit quite different than the average person, in terms of the way his brain was actually functioning.

>>Michael:  Maybe, maybe. I don’t know that, because outwardly, he lived a life just like anyone else, I mean, there are no outward signs of what his inward experience was. So um… Okay, there were indications…

>>Rick:  In a way there were, yeah

>>Michael:  In a way, yeah, but um –

>>Rick:  I mean, he stood out as being kind of a different person.

>>Michael:  Yeah, that’s true. But coming back to what we were saying about other paths, there are some instances that happened that illustrate what his attitude towards other paths were. For instance, one story I heard, someone complained to him, ‘Bhagavan, this path of self-enquiry you teach is very difficult, can I do meditation instead?’ And he said, ‘Yes, okay’. And when that person went away, other people asked, ‘Bhagavan, why did you tell him it’s okay to do meditation, because you tell us that self-enquiry is the only way?’ And Bhagavan said: “He says it’s very difficult, he says he can’t do it, what’s the use of me telling him, ‘No, you must do it’, because he obviously doesn’t want to do it? So he asked if he can do meditation, I say, ‘Yes, you can do meditation.’ Next week he may come back here, and he may say, ‘Oh this meditation is very difficult, can I do japa?’ And I will have to say, ‘Yes, you do japa.’ And then later he’ll come back and again, and he’ll say, ‘This japa is very difficult, can I do pūjā?’ (‘pūjā’ means worship; external, physical worship). ‘So, I’ll also say yes to that. I can’t force people to do what they don’t want to do. But if people come to me and ask me, ‘I don’t know what to do, what can I do?’, I will tell them to do this because this is all I know, this is all I’ve ever done’, he said.

>>Rick:  So he is teaching from his experience.

>>Michael:  He is teaching from his experience.

>>Rick:  Now let’s talk a little bit more about self-enquiry. I mean I’ve heard of people doing self-enquiry, doing what you say not to do, which is sitting there saying, ‘Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?’ like a mantra or something, and that’s not what he meant by it, obviously. But the actual subtle mechanics of what’s taking place when a person is doing self-enquiry, it almost seems like at the very outset there is a dichotomy set up: there’s this observer, who is observing the ‘I’, but then again, the ‘I’ is the observer, so … what’s going on?

>>Michael:  Well… Yeah, particularly in the early stages, it’s easy to think of it in terms of one ‘I’ attending to another ‘I’-

>>Rick:  Yeah, because the self is not an ‘I’, it’s not an object like any other object that you could look at, because you are that which is looking.

>>Michael:  But actually, to find out what really self-… Another term that Bhagavan often used, an English equivalent of a Tamil term that he used is ‘self-attentiveness’, or ‘self-attention’, which is basically what self-enquiry is, it’s basically, we’re just turning our attention towards ‘I’ in order to know what it is. Oh, sorry, my mind … I was starting off to say something and …

>>Rick:  So you’re saying, self-attention, so, let’s say I’m sitting down to practice self-enquiry and I’m just sort of like allowing my attention to be with the presence which I know myself to be, and perhaps in doing that I withdraw more and more from the senses, from mental activity, and that presence shines more and more brightly. Is that a fair description of it?

>>Michael:  That’s a fair description, but,…. Yes, that is one way of describing it. What I was going to say is, the word vicāra is often translated as ‘enquiry’, ‘self-enquiry’, but I personally prefer the word ‘self-investigation’; because it is enquiry, but it’s enquiry in the sense of investigation, rather than enquiring in the sense of questioning.

>>Rick:  Investigation has more of an experiential connotation whereas enquiry has more of an intellectual connotation.

>>Michael:  Yes, that’s what I feel. So, I personally … {Inaudible} … the meaning of vicāra as it’s used by Ramana, and he often uses it as a verb also (there is a verbal form of it). So we can’t say to ‘enquire something’, we ‘investigate ‘I’’, we don’t ‘enquire ‘I’’, we can enquire ‘about’ ‘I’ – It’s sort of a roundabout way of putting it. So if we… The word vicāra means investigation, and I think there is a lot of significance in choice of that word, because in a sense, it tis an investigation, it’s a path of discovery. And if someone asks, ‘What is self-attention?’, we can give clues, but ultimately each one of us has to find out for ourself, and when ultimately, we do find out what is self-attention, when we find out what is pure self-attention, that itself is the goal; that is self-knowledge.

>>Rick:  So, what would you recommend to somebody –

>>Michael:  In a way, our practice is, um… we are learning the practice as we practice it, if you get what I mean. The more we investigate, the more we understand what the practice is, but not understand it in a verbal way but understanding it experientially.

>>Rick:  Experiential.

>>Michael:  And sometimes when Bhagavan was asked by people how to practice self-enquiry, he used to say, ‘Do you need to be shown the way inside your own house?’. The way is subjective not objective, so it cannot be taught by one … it cannot be shown by one person to another. You have to go in and discover it yourself.

>>Rick:  And so you would just, if someone came to you and said, ‘Okay, well, I’m sold, how do I do it?’ You would just say, ‘Sit down, close your eyes, and just find out for yourself’.

>>Michael:  Find out for yourself. Try to – I mean, there are so many clues that can be given, but we have to put those clues into practice, and as we put them into practice, we ourself find out what, how, our ability to do that, our ability to focus our attention on our mere being, on our mere ‘I’, gets refined as we practice more and more. We discover more and more about it as we go along.

>>Rick:  It’s almost, again, like learning to ride a bicycle. You can’t, like, explain in so many words how to balance; you just have to get on it and try to experience it.

>>Michael:  Yes, exactly.

>>Rick:  Interesting.

>>Michael:  We are all learners on the path.

>>Rick:  Yeah. So when you give talks and, I mean, I haven’t read your whole book, but there’s probably no chapter in the book, or is there, in which you actually say, ‘Okay, here’s what you do: step one, step two, step three’?

>>Michael:  No, because there is only step one, which is to turn your attention to ‘I’. It’s a big book as you have seen, 500 pages, and in a sense that’s all unnecessary; it can all be said in one or two words. But it is… What I’m doing in that book is, um, is seeing the same subject from so many different perspectives, as Bhagavan has done in his teachings, but in his teachings it’s much more in seed form. I have just expanded those seeds according to my own limited understanding, and little bit of practice that I’ve done. And I put there how I understand it. And some people find it useful, some people have told me, ‘Oh no it’s a terrible book, you are so intellectual’. So, I mean, it’s not for everyone. But for people who are of, I suppose, people who are of a similar bent of mind, a sort of enquiring bent of mind, and possible more philosophical bent of mind, it does appeal to some people, it doesn’t appeal to other people, so –

>>Rick:  Well, I’m enjoying it.

>>Michael:  It’s there for those who want it …

>>Rick:  Yeah. I wouldn’t consider myself an intellectual or anything, but I think it’s very clearly written. And there’s a lot of knowledge in each little paragraph, so you could even just read a page before going to bed, or something, and it will last you two years at that rate! {laugh}

>>Michael:  And, I think if you open almost any page of the book, you will find that I’m dinning in the same message there: we just have to practice, practise, practise. We can understand it from so many different perspectives, but this understanding is useless if we don’t actually try to experience it.

>>Rick:  Just for fun, let’s use your chapter titles as springboards for little discussions, and spend another half-an-hour or so going through certain points. So for instance, and I think we’ve already covered this so let’s not spend 20 minutes on each one, because we won’t get through them, but in a nutshell: Chapter 1, What Is Happiness? And I’m sure you will answer this with reference to Ramana.

>>Michael:  Yeah. Well, I mean that’s really how we started off today’s conversation. And the reason why I started the book with that chapter is, in one of the most important works of Ramana, is a small essay called, Who Am I?, which was originally questions and answers asked by a devotee called Sivaprakasam Pillai. And later Sivaprakasam Pillai published it as a small book and then Bhagavan himself rewrote it as an essay. And when he rewrote it as an essay he added one paragraph at the beginning, which wasn’t part of the original questions and answers, in which he says … I’ll just read it, the meaning of it, to you: “Since all living beings desire to be always happy and devoid of misery, since in everyone the greatest love is only for oneself, and since happiness alone is the cause of love, in order to attain that happiness, which is one’s own true nature, that is experienced daily in dreamless sleep, which is devoid of the mind, knowing oneself is necessary. For that, jñāna-vicāra (that is, investigation of consciousness, we can say ‘jñāna-vicāra’) ‘who am I’ alone is the principle means.” So he added this paragraph in order to start the subject from the point of happiness, because that’s one thing which, as I was saying earlier, whether people… whether one is of a devotional bent of mind, or a scientific bent of mind, or philosophical bent of mind, or whatever bent of mind one is; we are all seeking happiness. So this is a sort of a good starting point, suitable for everyone.

>>Rick:  Okay.

>>Michael:  So in the same spirit I started the book with that chapter, ‘What Is Happiness?’. And a lot of the ideas that I wrote in that chapter is, in a way, it’s an expansion of… there is another book called The Path of Sri Ramana. It was originally written in Tamil, but the English translation is, The Path of Sri Ramana, by Sadhu Om. And he starts in the same way. Actually, the first two or three chapters of his book are about happiness.

>>Rick:  It’s a good place to start.

>>Michael:  So, in a way, what I’ve written in that chapter is an expansion of a lot of the ideas which are in seed form in his book, which in turn are an expansion of what is in seed form in this first paragraph.

>>Rick:  Okay, so the second chapter is: ‘Who Am I?’ We have talked about this quite a bit already and obviously, the average person, if you ask them that question, they say, ‘Well, I’m Rick Archer and I live in Iowa and I do this job, and I have this wife and this house and these dogs, and all this stuff’, but that has nothing to do with who you are. So, is it possible to actually answer the question ‘Who Am I?’ in so many words?

>>Michael:  No, it’s not possible. But what it is possible to do, is to say what we are not. So basically, that chapter, maybe it would have been more appropriate to say, What Am I Not?, as the title of that chapter, because it’s basically explaining why we cannot be either the body or the mind. I can say in a nutshell what it is: we experience three states, generally people think of sleep as a state of unconsciousness, but actually sleep is not a state of unconsciousness; it’s a state in which we are not conscious of the mind or body or world; but we are conscious of our being. If it was a state of absolute unconsciousness, we wouldn’t be aware of sleep at all. Like when a film is projected on a cinema screen, there are so many frames per second, -25 or 30 frames, whatever the speed is- and between those each frame, there is a gap, but we are not able to grasp that gap, so we see a constantly moving thing, because our eye isn’t grasping that. If we were not able to grasp a gap between waking and dream, or between one waking state and another, or between one dream and another; we would be aware of only two states: waking and dream, but we are clearly aware that there is another state; it’s not just the two states we’re in, we’re also in another state. And when we wake up from sleep we can often say, ‘Oh I didn’t have any dreams, I was sleeping very peacefully’. So, we are aware that we were in a state. So we couldn’t have been aware that we were in some state devoid of dream, devoid of any thought or anything, if we were not experiencing that state. So even sleep is a state of consciousness, but not a state of consciousness of anything but just consciousness of ‘just being’, consciousness of ‘I’.

>>Rick:  And incidentally, when the consciousness really wakes up to itself, in terms of enlightenment, or if we want to use that word, then it shines brightly, so to speak, throughout the night, throughout sleep; it’s not blotted out by the dullness of sleep as it is for most people. So someone like Ramana, I’m sure that pure awareness was maintained clearly 24 hours a day.

>>Michael:  Yeah, well, in a sense yes. That’s from our perspective, but from his perspective, there was no 24 hours, no day, no state –

>>Michael:  I mean, these states, in our experience, these are… There is the basis, which is consciousness, and in that consciousness these states pass by (waking passes, dream passes, sleep passes), they’re alternating states, but they are all experienced by the basic consciousness they’re in. So, why I say that, because it is quite important to understand that deep sleep is not the state of absolute unconsciousness that we often imagine it to be and is often spoken of. So if we accept that sleep is a state that we actually experience and we couldn’t experience if we weren’t conscious there, that’s the basis of the argument. There is a simple principle in philosophy, a principle of identity, that if two things are identical, whatever is true of one must be true of the other. So if we are able to experience ourself without experiencing the body, we cannot be the body. So, we experience this present body in only one of our three states, in dream we experience another body. In dream we may experience having an accident, losing an arm –

>>Rick:  Flying through the air, whatever.

>>Michael:  Yeah, yeah, so many things. So, it is not the same body, that body in dream is a mental projection. So also, according to Bhagavan, even this waking body is a mental projection, the whole of this world is just another dream. But whether people are ready to accept that doesn’t really matter, the point is we’re able to experience a state where we’re experiencing ourself, we are experiencing our ‘I’; but we’re not experiencing this body. Therefore, this body and ‘I’ cannot be the same thing; they are two separate things, because we’re able to experience ‘I’ in the absence of this body, or, in the absence of any awareness of this body. So also we cannot be the dream body because we experience that only in dream; we don’t experience it in waking or in sleep. So, what is common to waking and dream, is the mind, it’s the same mind, though it experiences different bodies as ‘I’ in each state, it is the same mind that experiences waking and experiences dream. But this mind, as we now experience it, as a thinking entity, is absent in sleep. So since we can experience ourself (our being) in the absence of the mind; we cannot be this mind either. So that, in a nutshell, is what I say in that chapter, but I elaborate upon it a lot more and I give more arguments about why sleep is a state of consciousness. But, that’s the essence of it.

>>Rick:  Very systematic. I have a question, but it might come up in one of these other chapters as we go through them, and so let me just ask it anyway so I don’t forget. And that is, I heard you often say that the world is a sort of a projection of the mind or creation of the mind, or something like that.

>>Michael:  Yes.

>>Rick:  But obviously it would have to be the creation or projection of a more universal mind and let me tell you what I mean. We were speaking about dreaming, for instance, you know, seven billion people in the world, let’s say, and they all dream every night but none of them know what the other has dreamed, it’s sort of in their own little world, but when they wake up, they could all wake up and they could all look up and see the moon. So, there is some kind of objective reality to the moon that’s not … and if some of them die, as people do every day, or are born, it doesn’t mean the moon is somehow dying or being born. There is a kind of objective reality which has a consistency that doesn’t seem to … that is kind of broader or independent of pure individual subjectivity.

>>Michael:  Okay, well … We now take this world to be as it appears to be, because we now experience ourself as a body, which is part of this world. So as real as this body is, so real must the world be. The body cannot be real in the absence of the world being real; both are of the same level of reality.

>>Rick:  So you’re saying, if the world isn’t real then he body isn’t real, is that what you’re saying?

>>Michael:  Exactly, exactly. And so, we now experience this body as ‘I’, because we experience this body as ‘I’, we experience the body as real. And because we experience this body as real, we cannot but feel the world is real, that it tis as it appears to be. That is how it seems to us to be, that the world is there as an external world, a concrete world, and in that world there are many people. So those people seem to us to be like us, to have minds, to see the same moon that we see, to have similar experiences to the experiences we have. But, in dream, we also see a world with many people in it. And if we were having this discussion in a dream, if you called me on Skype tonight in your dream and we had this discussion, we would be saying the same thing. You’ll be saying to me, ‘See, in this world there are seven billion of us and we all see the same moon, so does that not show that this world is not the projection of my individual mind, but it’s a projection of some universal mind?’ We can apply … You can make exactly the same argument in dream. And to you in dream, it will seem as convincing as it seems now in waking. So how can we be sure that this waking state is not just another dream, that all these people are not…? It doesn’t seem so, it will always seem to us when we are in dream, the dream seems real, only when we wake up, are we firmly convinced, ‘Oh, that was just my imagination, those people didn’t really exist there’.

>>Rick:  Well I agree. I mean Sankara referred to the world or the waking state as ‘the long dream’ or, ‘ignorance is the long dream’. And so you know, in the sense that anything in this apparently real world, such as this glass, can be, if you looked closely enough, as a physicist let’s say, can be reduced down to pure nothingness or pure potentiality without any physicality to it whatsoever, yeah, it’s a dream. But what I’m saying is that it is strange, I mean, there’s this point that … bring 10 people in this room and they all see a glass, have 10 people go to sleep in this room and they are not seeing the same things in each other’s dreams. There seems to be some sort of …. And another point, let me just throw this in, if I am the creator of the world through my ignorance or whatever, through my projection, I am one heck of a creator because even one little cell in my fingertip is this marvel of intelligence and complexity and fantastic thing, you know, I couldn’t possibly create a house fly {Laugh} or what to speak of an entire planet or galaxy or anything else! So there seems to be a much large intelligence of which from which the whole universe is projected or expressed, and we’re just little pinpoints of, we’re just little aspects of that projection and that’s what we are, but we mistake ourself to only be this, … the hand mistakes itself to just be the fingertips or something; the individuality is gained at the loss of universality.

>>Michael:  Yes. Okay. Um, leave that aside for a moment, let us think about dream: in dream- We know now we’re in the waking state, we know that what we dreamt last night was just our mental projection. But while we were dreaming, certain experiences were happening, some of them may have been pleasant experiences, some of them were not, may have been unpleasant experiences, but we couldn’t just at will change those. We couldn’t suddenly change the world just by wanting to; it seems that we are constrained within that world that we are experiencing in dream. One difference that appears to be there, from our waking perspective between dream and waking, is that dream is often a very fluid state, we are one minute in one place talking to one person and the next minute we’re talking to the same person, but they’ve become someone else and the place has become something else. There is sort of … um, there’s a… it’s a more fluid, it’s more –

>>Rick:  Malleable.

>>Michael:  – malleable state. But that is not so in all dreams. In some dreams, some dreams are remarkably – even after waking up, we say, ‘Oh, that dream seemed, it seemed so real’, that it somehow seemed more consistent than the other dreams. That’s our view from the waking state. But, this difference between waking and dream, there’s, I think it’s actually in one of the … Bhagavan translated some of Sankara’s works from Sanskrit into Tamil, and one of those works was a small work called ‘Dṛg-Dṛśya-Vivēka’’, (The Discrimination Between the Seer and the Seen), and in that, Sankara gives one explanation why dream appears less substantial than waking; that is, in waking we are more strongly attached to our… to this body, so that makes the state seem more consistent. To the extent to which we are strongly attached to a body in dream, to that extent does that dream state resemble waking; and to the extent that it is a very fleeting, tenuous, attachment we have to that body, to that extent does the dream keep on changing scenes. So that’s one explanation for that. But let us say that in a dream, a dream which appears very much like this waking state, as some dreams do, that things seem consistent, we are not able, in such a state, in such a dream, to have change things at will. If I see a red brick house there, I can’t suddenly decide, ‘Oh, I want it to be a stone house instead’. It will continue to be a red brick house even though I think to myself, ‘I would like it to be a stone house’. Just like in waking state we can’t change the projection at will, in dream we also can’t change it at will. That is because, in dream we are not experiencing ourself as the one who has projected the dream. Because we experience ourself in dream as a body within that dream, though we have projected that dream, we do not experience ourself as the projector, but as one of the people within that projection. The one who has actually projected that, is the person who is sleeping, not the person who is in — it tis the same ‘I’, but because as soon as we project that world we then identify ourself as a body within that world, and then we get caught up in that world, and we are bound by the world as it is, we can’t just change it at will. {Sounds: Cross talk} Similarly, in the waking state we now feel, I can’t suddenly decide, ‘Oh, Paris is in America, New York is in India’, it just doesn’t work like that.

>>Rick:  Yeah, things have a certain rigidity or solidity.

>>Michael:  It has a certain rigidity. That is because, I am part of this projection in waking, it is my own projection, but I am now not experiencing myself as the projector, I am experiencing myself as one of the projections (this body). So…

>>Rick:  And even if you were experiencing yourself as the projector, you couldn’t make Paris be in New York or something. I mean, Ramana, you know, the world was as it…,

>>Michael:  No. Who is the projector of this world? It’s God, well, we may say. But what is God? God is only our own self, but he is one layer – Just like one layer below the dreaming person, is the sleeping person who has projected the dream; one layer below this, there is someone else who projected this world, that is what we call God.

>>Rick:  That’s kind of what I was getting at, because when you say that the world is a projection of … when there is any kind of implication that the world is a projection of the individuality it’s problematic, because obviously, there are certain… there is certain stability or structure to the world which seems independent of individualities. But if the world is a projection of God, it’s not a problem, you know? That would account for the stability and the regularity, the reliability of the laws of nature and so on.

>>Michael:  But the God who has projected this world, is not anything other than ourself.

>>Rick:  Right. Agreed.

>>Michael:  In a sense we can say that our sleeping self is God as the creator, but in Hindu mythology the creating function of God is actually considered as the … it is the function of God that is least revered. Of the three…

>>Rick:  Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva?

>>Michael:  – Shiva, yes. It’s Brahma who has created this world, but nobody worships Brahma, in no temple is Brahma worshipped, because he is a sleeping fellow who’s projected this world.

>>Rick:  Ha. Yeah.

>>Michael:  That is why though this world, actually we are the one who has projected this world, we have projected it, and within this world that we’ve projected, we’ve projected a body, which we now experience as ourself, so we now experience ourself not as the one who created this world but as a creature within this world.

>>Rick:  So awakening, or enlightenment, really means waking up to the realization that, ‘I am that from which the whole universe arises’, or ‘appears to arise’, when in fact it actually doesn’t.

>>Michael:  No –

>>Rick:  It’s not like the individual gets enlightened.

>>Michael:  It’s even further than that.

>>Rick:  Okay.

>>Michael:  Not only the individual gets dissolved in the clear light of self-awareness, even the projector, even Brahma, gets dissolved. In fact, all gods get dissolved and only being remains.

>>Rick:  And yet, the apparent individual still engages in the apparent world, Ramana liked to read the newspaper and listen to the radio, probably he was following the events of World War II, you know, maybe that concerned him, and so on. So there’s sort of still a participation in the play even though one realizes the ultimate insubstantiality of it all.

>>Michael:  He said, ‘All this is in whose view?’ He said, ‘I don’t say I have a body or mind; it is you who say I have got a body or mind. It is in your view that I am this body and mind. But my experience is I’m not this body or mind, in fact there is no body or mind in my experience; I just am.’

>>Rick:  Mm-hm. But the apparent body or mind…

>>Michael:  The apparent body.

>>Rick:  Had its apparent interests and personality traits, and so on and so forth.

>>Michael:  Exactly, yeah.

>>Rick:  Yeah. Okay. Good, well you and I could go round and round all day, I’m sure, with this.

>>Rick:  But maybe we shouldn’t… P.T. Barnum, as you may know was a great American showman, said, ‘Always leave ‘em wanting more.’ {Laugh} So perhaps we should wrap it up and leave them wanting more?

>>Michael:  We’ve gone through, I think, two chapters of the book.

>>Rick:  Yeah, they can buy the book and they can read the rest of it! {Laughs}

>>Michael:  Exactly, right.

>>Rick:  Okay, good. So this has been a joy Michael. Let me make a few concluding remarks. Thanks for this conversation. It’s getting dark there, I can see. And your smoke-detector needs a battery by the way – that little beep that happens every now and then.

>>Michael:  Yeah, okay, okay, right {laugh}.

>>Rick:  It’s funny, this friend and I were teaching meditation in Detroit, living in this little house, and every morning at four in the morning this beep would start, and the reason is that batteries get weaker as they get colder. So at four in the morning the beep would start. We would get out of bed and start crawling around on our hands and knees, ‘Where is this beep coming from?!’ And finally, we realized it was the smoke detector, it needed a battery!

>>Michael:  Okay, right. {Laughs}

>>Rick:  Anyway, thanks for this conversation, thanks for your beautiful book. I think it is a keeper, its’ the kind of book people could get and just read in little bite-sized pieces over time, and, it is really a beautiful work; and very clear. And if you want to familiarize yourself more with Ramana Maharshi, it would be a good one to read. And I think even the very instructions you gave, or the very point you made, that self-enquiry doesn’t mean walkin’ around all day saying, ‘Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?’, hearing that might save some people from the trouble of doing that.

>>Michael:  Yeah.

>>Rick:  Yeah. So great. Those who would like to find out about or get in touch with Michael, or read his book, or listen to some of his YouTube videos and all those things, all those links to those things will be on his page in www.batgap.com, as is the case with all the interviews I do. And this is an ongoing series, so there are about 180, almost 190, other interviews archived there, which are listed both alphabetically and chronologically. So feel free to explore and check out other ones if you wish. You can sign up for an email newsletter to be notified every time a new interview is posted. There is a discussion group that springs up around each interview, which sometimes gets pretty lively, so there will be one exclusive to Michael’s interview. And there’s also a general discussion area for people who just want to chit-chat and post YouTube videos about their favorite songs or whatever. There is a ‘Donation’ button which I appreciate people clicking, if they’re able; it enables me to devote as much time to this as I actually do. And there is a link in every interview to an audio podcast, in case you don’t like to just sit in front of your computer and watch things, but you would like to have it on your iPod and listen while you drive or whatever. You can subscribe in iTunes to the audio podcast. So thank you very much those who were listening and watching, and thank you very much Michael, and we will see you all next week. Next week it will be Thomas Hübl, who is a German teacher of spirituality. I have just started listening to his talks and he sounds like a very interesting guy. So we will see you next week. Thanks.

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