Friday, July 22, 2016

Aham and Aham-Vritti / Sri Ramana Maharshi

Aham and Aham-Vritti  /  Ego and ego Vritti*
In fourteen chapters of the Maharshi's Gospel, Sri Ramana Maharshi answers the full range of doubts that could arise in any seeker that aspires to tread this royal path to eternal freedom. These pointed and well articulated questions are said to be primarily the work of Maurice Frydman. The Maharshi had once commented that Maurice did not ask the questions of the Maharshi's Gospel for his own benefit, implying that these recorded dialogues have an inher value of benefit for generations of earnest seekers the world over. The book, which covers relevant topics and explanations not found elsewhere, was first published in 1939, on Sri Ramana's 60th Birth Anniversary.

Bhagavan Ramana did not just resuscitate the ancient path of Self-enquiry, he, from his own experience, expounded on every aspect of it, clarifying and molding it into an undisputable rational formula that any deep thinking mind can easily grasp and follow. In addition to this, he infused it with his grace and his guiding personality to assist those who follow his path and take refuge in him.

One chapter of particular interest in Maharshi's Gospel (Download pdf  here) is Chapter 6 of Book II, titled "Aham and Aham-Vritti" In it, twenty questions are put to the Maharshi in which he says at one point, the mind becomes introverted through enquiry into the source of aham-vritti (the 'I-thought'), the vasanas become extinct, and in the absence of the reflecting medium, the phenomenon of reflection, namely, the mind, also disappears being absorbed into the light of the one Reality, the Heart. This is the sum and substance of all that an aspirant needs to know.

In spite of this unassailable statement, the questioner continues to dissect the process of how an enquiry into the "I-thought", which is inherently unreal, can reveal the Reality. The Master patiently answers him, eloquently covering every point of doubt. Contemplating these sublime answers, imbibing their innate truth and experiencing the Essence is certainly the foremost duty of every devotee of the Master. 

Aham and Aham-Vritti

D. How can any enquiry initiated by the ego reveal its own unreality?

Maharshi. The ego's phenomenal existence is transcended when you dive into the Source wherefrom arises the aham-vritti.

D. But is not the aham-vritti only one of the three forms in which the ego manifests itself? Yoga Vasishtha and other ancient texts describe the ego as having a threefold form.

Maharshi. It is so. The ego is described as having three bodies, the gross, the subtle and the causal, but that is only for the purposes of analytical exposition. If the method of enquiry were to depend on the ego's form, you might take it that any enquiry would become altogether impossible, because the forms the ego may assume are legion. Therefore, for purposes of jnana-vichara, you have to proceed on the basis that the ego has but one form, namely that of aham-vritti.

D. But it may prove inadequate for realizing jnana.

Maharshi. Self-enquiry, by following the clue of aham-vritti is just like the dog tracing its master by his scent. The master may be at some distant, unknown place, but that does not at all stand in the way of the dog tracing him. The master's scent is an infallible clue for the animal, and nothing else, such as the dress he wears or his build and stature, etc., counts. The dog holds on to that scent undistractedly while searching for him, and finally it succeeds in tracing him.

D. The question still remains why the quest for the source of aham-vritti, as distinguished from other vrittis, should be considered the direct means to Self-realization.

Maharshi. The word "aham" is itself very suggestive. The two letters of the word, namely A (A) and H (HA), are the first and the last letters of the Sanskrit alphabet. The suggestion intended to be conveyed by the word is that it comprises all. How? Because aham signifies existence itself.

Although the concept of "I"-ness or "I-am"-ness is by usage known as aham-vritti, it is not really a vritti like the other vrittis of the mind. Because unlike the other vrittis which have no essential interrelation, the aham-vritti is equally and essentially related to each and every vritti of the mind. Without the aham-vritti there can be no other vritti, but the aham-vritti can subsist by itself without depending on any other vritti of the mind. The aham-vritti is therefore fundamentally different from other vrittis.

So then, the search for the source of the aham-vritti is not merely the search for the basis of one of the forms of the ego but for the very Source itself from which arises the "I-am"-ness. In other words, the quest for and the realization of the source of the ego in the form of aham-vritti necessarily implies the transcendence of the ego in every one of its possible forms.

D. Conceding that the aham-vritti essentially comprises all the forms of the ego, why should that vritti alone be chosen as the means for Self-enquiry?

Maharshi. Because it is the one irreducible datum of your experience; because seeking its source is the only practicable course you can adopt to realize the Self. The ego is said to have a causal body, but how can you make it the subject of your investigation? When the ego adopts that form, you are immersed in the darkness of sleep.

D. But is not the ego in its subtle and causal forms too intangible to be tackled through the enquiry into the source of aham-vritti conducted while the mind is awake?

Maharshi. No. The enquiry into the source of aham-vritti touches the very existence of the ego. Therefore the subtlety of the ego's form is not a material consideration.

D. While the one aim is to realize the unconditioned, pure Being of the Self, which is in no way dependent on the ego, how can enquiry pertaining to the ego in the form of aham-vritti be of any use?

Maharshi. From the functional point of view, the form of the ego or its activity (whatever you may call it is immaterial, since it is evanescent), has one and only one characteristic. The ego functions as the knot between the Self which is pure Consciousness and the physical body which is inert and insentient. The ego is therefore called the chit-jada granthi. In your investigation into the source of aham-vritti, you take the essential chit aspect of the ego: and for this reason the enquiry must lead to the realization of the pure consciousness of the Self.

D. What is the relation between the pure consciousness realized by the jnani and the "I-am"-ness which is accepted as the primary datum of experience?

Maharshi. The undifferentiated consciousness of pure Being is the heart or hridayam which you really are, as signified by the word itself (hrit + ayam = heart am I). From the heart arises the 'I am'-ness as the primary datum of one's experience. By itself it is suddha-sattva in character. It is in this suddha-sattva svarupa (that is, uncontaminated by rajas and tamas), that the 'I' appears to subsist in the jnani".

D. In the jnani the ego subsists in the sattvic form and therefore it appears as something real. Am I right?

Maharshi. No. The existence of the ego in any form, either in the jnani or ajnani, is itself an appearance. But to the ajnani who is deluded into thinking that the waking state and the world are real, the ego also appears to be real. Since he sees the jnani act like other individuals, he feels constrained to posit some notion of individuality with reference to the jnani also.

D. How then does the aham-vritti function in the jnani?

Maharshi. It does not function in him at all. The jnani's lakshya is the heart itself, because he is one and identical with that undifferentiated, pure consciousness referred to by the Upanishads as the Prajnana. Prajnana is verily Brahman, the Absolute, and there is no Brahman other than Prajnana.

D. How then does ignorance of this one and only Reality unhappily arise in the case of the ajnani?

Maharshi. The ajnani sees only the mind which is a mere reflection of the light of pure Consciousness arising from the heart. Of the heart itself he is ignorant. Why? Because his mind is extroverted and has never sought its Source.

D. What prevents the infinite, undifferentiated light of Consciousness arising from the heart from revealing itself to the ajnani?

Maharshi. Just as water in the pot reflects the enormous sun within the narrow limits of the pot, even so the vasanas or latent tendencies of the mind of the individual, acting as the reflecting medium, catch the all-pervading, infinite light of Consciousness arising from the heart and present in the form of a reflection the phenomenon called the mind. Seeing only this reflection, the ajnani is deluded into the belief that he is a finite being, the jiva.

If the mind becomes introverted through enquiry into the source of aham-vritti, the vasanas become extinct, and in the absence of the reflecting medium the phenomenon of reflection, namely, the mind, also disappears being absorbed into the light of the one Reality, the Heart.

This is the sum and substance of all that an aspirant needs know. What is imperatively required of him is an earnest and one-pointed enquiry into the source of aham-vritti.

D. But any endeavor he may make is limited to the mind in the waking state. How can such enquiry conducted in only one of the three states of the mind destroy the mind itself?

Maharshi. Enquiry into the source of aham-vritti is, no doubt, initiated by the sadhaka in the waking state of the mind. It cannot be said that in him the mind has been destroyed. But the process of Self-enquiry will itself reveal that the alter-nation or transmutation of the three states of the mind, as well as the three states themselves, belongs to the world of phenomena which cannot affect his intense, inward enquiry. Self-enquiry is really possible only through intense introversion of the mind. What is finally realized as a result of such enquiry into the source of aham-vritti, is verily the heart as the undifferentiated light of pure Consciousness, into which the reflected light of the mind is completely absorbed.

D. For the jnani, then, there is no distinction between the three states of mind?

Maharshi. How can there be, when the mind itself is dissolved and lost in the light of Consciousness?

For the jnani all the three states are equally unreal. But the ajnani is unable to comprehend this, because for him the standard of reality is the waking state, whereas for the jnani the standard of Reality is Reality itself. This Reality of pure Consciousness is eternal by its nature and therefore subsists equally during what you call waking, dreaming and sleep. To him who is one with that Reality, there is neither the mind nor its three states, and therefore, neither introversion nor extroversion.

His is the ever-waking state, because he is awake to the eternal Self; his is the ever dreaming state, because to him the world is no better than a repeatedly presented phenomenon of dream; his is the ever-sleeping state, because he is at all times without the "body-am-I" consciousness.

D. Should I then consider Sri Bhagavan as talking to me in a waking-dreaming-sleeping state?

Maharshi. Because your conscious experience is now limited to the duration of the extroversion of the mind, you call the present moment the waking state, whereas all the while your mind has been asleep to the Self, and therefore you are now really fast asleep.

D. To me sleep is a mere blankness.

Maharshi. That is so, because your waking state is a mere effervescence of the restless mind.

D. What I mean by blankness is that I am hardly aware of anything in my sleep; it is for me the same as non- existence.

Maharshi. But you did exist during sleep.

D. If I did, I was not aware of it.

Maharshi. You do not mean to say in all seriousness you ceased to exist during your sleep! (Laughing). If you went to sleep as Mr. X, did you get up from it as Mr. Y?

D. I know my identity, perhaps, by an act of memory.

Maharshi. Granting that, how is it possible unless there is a continuity of awareness?

D. But I was unaware of that awareness.

Maharshi. No. Who says you are unaware in sleep? It is your mind. But there was no mind in your sleep? Of what value is the testimony of the mind about your existence or experience during sleep? Seeking the testimony of the mind to disprove your existence or awareness during sleep is just like calling your son's evidence to disprove your birth!

Do you remember, I told you once previously that existence and awareness are not two different things but one and the same? Well, if for any reason you feel constrained to admit the fact that you existed in sleep be sure you were also aware of that existence.

What you were really unaware of in sleep is your bodily existence. You are confounding this bodily awareness with the true Awareness of the Self which is eternal. Prajnana, which is the Source of "I-am"-ness, ever subsists unaffected by the three transitory states of the mind, thus enabling you to retain your identity unimpaired.

Prajnana is also beyond the three states, because it can subsist without them and in spite of them. It is that Reality that you should seek during your so-called waking state by tracing the aham-vritti to its Source. Intense practice in this enquiry will reveal that the mind and its three states are unreal and that you are the eternal, infinite consciousness of pure Being, the Self or the Heart. 



Vritti* : Vritti means a whirl-pool. Vrittis are modifications of the mind. It is a wave of thought that arises in the Antahkarana (the fourfold inner instrument/ manas, chitta, buddhi, Ahamkara). ~ Swami Sivananda

The vritti is not referred only to thought but aslo to emotion. feeling and imagination, because all these are modifications of the mind.
Thus when Ramana Maharshi is referred to Aham-vritti this doesn't reffer only to the thought I' but also to the emotional part of I'. The ego is not functioning only when we think the thought I' but almost continuosly creating the sense of I-ness which we identify with the body.

Thus when we perceive we have the sense I' perceive', I' see', I' hear', I' taste' etc.. When thoughts arise in the mind we sense I' think, when emotions, feelings or sensations arise I' feel', when the body acts I' do' etc.

The ego is almost always present in us as a strong sense that we are the body, the perceiver, the enjoyer and the feeler of the various experiences. In self-enquiry we must introvert our mind and our attention in order to trace this strong sense of I-ness to its source. How to do this?  Ramana Maharshi gives his own way, Nisargadatta suggests his own way which is to stay aware of the I am. Each one must do the enquiry based on their instructions but what is most important is to find finally his own way to apply it.