Michael James - The Real Behind All Experiences
An interview with Michael James by Iain McNay
Iain: Hello and welcome again to Conscious TV. I am Iain McNay, and my guest today Is Michael James. Michael has written a book which is quite a weighty tome, it’s well over five hundred pages. A lot of it is translated from Tamil which is extraordinary for me, because he is obviously an English guy. The book is called ‘Happiness and the Art of Being’’ by Bhagawan Sri Ramana. It’s about an introduction to the philosophy and practice of the spiritual teachings. He is also known as Ramana Marhashi, who many of you will know by that name. Michael has spent a lot of time, is it over twenty years in India based at the Ashram there…
Iain: Got to know the teachings very well, and ended up writing this extraordinary book really, which I must admit I haven’t read every page, but I’ve dipped in and out, and it’s certainly unique. So, Michael we’re going to start with your “story” just to find out more about your background, how you got to India and then we’ll go more into the teaching side. You said to me on the phone when we had a conversation that you always had a really questioning mind. When you were a child you wondered does anything exist outside my bedroom.
Michael: Yes. I had quixotic perhaps ways of thinking even when I was young, I questioned things. When I remember thinking that in my mind I was probably five or six, I don’t remember.
Iain: So, very young
Michael: So, most of the idea were there, but my really deeper questioning began when I was a teenager. I was brought up as a Roman Catholic and at first, I believed everything. I believed in God, everything and all the things I’d been told, and very accepting of the things I’d been taught
Iain: You were in a boarding school
Michael: Yes, I went to a boarding school. The public school I went to was run by Benedictine monks. By the time I was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen I was really beginning to question things more. Kit wasn’t that I didn’t want to believe these things, but I wanted to know why I should believe these things. I wanted a reason to believe it. I was told it was a matter of faith, and faith was a leap in the dark. I thought to myself, well then you can believe anything. If it’s a leap in the dark, why believe Roman Catholicism rather than something else. It didn’t seem reasonable to me, and when I questioned more- and I was questioning very sincerely - I remember one of the monks there telling me I wouldn’t understand these things because I wasn’t religious. I said what do you mean? I’m not religious, he said well, you question too much. Now my view is that seeking truth is beyond religion. Religion has a role to play but I think the spiritual path is really going beyond religion. Religion is very much about belief whereas in my view spirituality is an investigation. Bhagawan calls the path he taught “self- investigation”, so it’s an investigation. Investigation requires us to question everything.
Iain: Where did this come from do you think? Because there you are a teenager, were you parents particularly encouraging you to challenge the status quo?
Michael: Not at all, very much the opposite. They were both brought up as Anglicans. My father was in a prisoner of war camp, he converted as a catholic partly because of his family background. His parents had divorced when he was a teenager and I think that had a big emotional impact on him, he was looking for something solid. I think for him the Catholic church represented tradition, so he did make a change in his life, but he was veering towards something that was out there, an institution, something that had a long history behind it. He was looking for an outside thing. Critical thinking was not anything I was taught either by my parents or at school.
Iain: It’s interesting that at an early age you had this desire to question things, even though then you probably weren’t clear what you were looking for. You saw things weren’t quite right, didn’t add up on the outside, and something was drawing you more on the inside, although the search had to happen to some extent on the outside.
Michael: Yes, certainly. Early on I didn’t know what I was looking for, but knew I was looking for something. In those days I was probably thinking in terms of looking for meaning for life, a purpose to life. Why I was like that? If you want an explanation, the easiest explanation is that this was a resumption of whatever I was doing in previous lives. I was from a family of six children, no two of us are the same. We’ve all got completely different interests, following completely different paths in life but we were brought up in essentially the same environment, and this happens in every family. It’s hard to explain the differences between people without thinking we come to this world with something, some baggage from some previous state that we were in.
Iain: Yes. Anyway, at the age of nineteen you started to have an adventure on the outside over land to India. The thing that intrigued me was that you didn’t just -in those days there weren’t cheap flights – over land was the way to go. You travelled in a hippy bus, Athens, Istanbul, Tehran. You spent two weeks in Iran, and then three weeks in Afghanistan travelling around on your own.
Michael: The hippy bus was only as far as Athens, from then on, I was only using local transport. Generally, I would try to go off the on the beaten track because I found that was more interesting.
Iain: And you did things that were wonderful, because you couldn’t do them now in Afghanistan.
Michael: I left a trail of chaos wherever I went. I was in Iran before the revolution, in Afghanistan before the Russians invaded. I was in Kashmir before the troubles in Kashmir started, in Sri Lanka before the trouble in Sri Lanka started. I seemed to have left a trail of chaos wherever I went.
Iain: There is a certain courage in what you did, to go travelling on your own, you don’t speak the language…
Michael: As you say it was very much easier in those days, that part of the world was much more peaceful than it has been since then
Iain: Yes, but I’m interested in this thing that was driving you, not only did you want to find the truth inside, but you were also hungry for adventure on the outside also.
Michael: Yes. In a way it’s part of the same thing, having spent ten years in boarding schools I’d had very little exposure to life, so I was hungry to experience life. It wasn’t just to experience the outside world because in experiencing the outside world we learn about ourselves, but that’s at a very superficial level we are learning about ourselves. I wanted to find my own way in life, I’d say. What drew me to go to India, I knew very little about India, except I had a vague idea many of the world’s religions originated from India, and it’s a country where there have been many great spiritual people. It was a very vague idea, I knew nothing really about Hinduism, Buddhism or anything when I set off, except there was something I was looking for. The limit of my knowledge of Buddhism was the little I’d read of Herman Hess “Siddhartha” and such books, so I had a vague idea about the idea of Maya and such, but I really hadn’t had exposure to these things. I was looking for exposure to these things as my own cultural background didn’t seem to offer me answers that I was looking for so, I was hoping I would find something in some other culture. These were not well- found ideas, these were vague ideas that were driving me I suppose.
Iain: When you got to India, what happened?
Michael: I was travelling around India for nearly eighteen months and during the course of my travels I went to many pilgrimage places, the temples in the Himalayas. I liked to walk in the mountains. I spent quite a lot of time going to many well- known pilgrimage places in the Himalayas which meant I was walking with Sadhus. I was just open to what was available basically.
Iain: When you say walking with Sadhus, what does that mean.
Michael: Well a lot of people in those days… pilgrimage, still meant walking, particularly for Sadhus, people who were leaving a mendicant life. A lot of them couldn’t afford buses, not all the pilgrimage places were accessible by buses. Kedarnath when I went there was a day’s walk beyond the last bus stop. Now I think buses go all the way there. I walked all the way from ?? with Sadhus from Kedarnath to Badrinath, not always the same Sadhus, but I was on that path. In those days many Sadhus used to walk, and I walked along with them and so I was mixing with them.They were all interesting experiences for me, but they weren’t providing me with answers I was looking for. It was feeding my curiosity. Making me more and more curious to find out what was behind all these things. I saw people going into temple worshipping, I didn’t understand what was behind all this. I felt there was more to it than what appeared outwardly, I didn’t really know. At the same time, I was reading books, translation of “The Bhagavad Gita”, Aldous Huxley’s “Perennial Philosophy”, whatever books I could get hold of, I was reading. During the course of my travels when I was in Sri Lanka, I met a couple from Newcastle, and one of them asked me, have you heard of Ramana Maharshi? I said no. She had a book. A biography of Ramana Maharshi by Arthur Osbourne. In that I read about his death experience, that kindled my curiosity. I decided when I go back to India I wanted to go the the ?? Lake which is where Bhagawan lived. I wanted to go there…
Iain: When you say his death experience, what was his death experience?
Michael: When he was a sixteen year old school boy in ??? as usual, one day he was alone in a room in his house. He was supposed to be studying for his homework or whatever, when suddenly an intense fear of death came upon him. Later when people questioned him about it, he described it in words. But what actually happened was beyond words. For the sake of giving people some idea of what happened, he expressed it in words. How he expressed it was when that intense fear of death came, he understood he had to confront death. He had to find out for himself when that fear came he understood that the body was going to die, but when the body dies, do I also die? There was an incident earlier in his life that had some bearing on this. When he was twelve years old his father had passed away. After his father passed away the body was lying there ready to be taken away for cremation. Everybody was weeping he was just puzzled by the whole thing – why when everyone’s saying father has gone, father’s just lying here. Someone said if it is your father he would be talking, smile at you, responding to you, he is dead. He thought to himself all this time I was taking this body to be my father, but now they say my father has gone, and this body is obviously not my father, then what is the difference between this body lying here, and this body, my own body? After thinking for some time, he understood that the difference is, I now know I am in this body, but the I that was in my father’s body has gone. He came to that understanding at the age of twelve. Obviously, this was a seed that was working in his mind, so when this fear of death came to him what he wanted to find out was when this body dies, I am also going to die?
Iain: Right. I think a lot of us have the same question
Michael: Yes. Generally, when we get a fear of death… if circumstances arise that give us a fear of death, generally how most of us respond, our mind goes outwards. We think of all the things we fear to lose, our friends, our relatives, all the things we hold dear in life. Those are the things we fear to lose, so our mind goes outwards. In Bhagawan’s case it worked the opposite way. Rather than thinking about his mother, his brothers, his sister, his friends and school, and everything, he thought only about, I. When the body dies am I going to die? So, his mind went inwards, and because his mind went inwards trying to find out what is this I, the clear experience of his real nature shone forth thereby consuming the one that had the fear, the ego that had been there previously. Consuming means the absolute annihilation, dissolution, eradication. So, that one moment completely transformed him from being a person to what is actually real. In our view he continued to live as a person another fifty- four years but he made it clear the outward person he seemed to be existed only in the view of others. In his view there is only that infinite space of pure awareness.
Iain: Ok, just to keep the story going, someone leant you a book “Who am I”, one of his books…
Michael: No, when I first read about this death experience, that was in the biography, so I went back to India. I didn’t immediately go back to ??? where the weather was warming up. I went for another summer in the Himalayas, then I came South again. In the September of that year I came to ??? I didn’t know much about his teachings except I’d read about this near- death experience but I was expecting to know more. I was curious because I’d been visiting so many of these ashrams, I’d done personal meditation classes and all these sorts of things. So, I thought I may stay there for a few days find out, maybe get a few books, then go on further with my travels, but when I got there, the first book I read was “Who am I”. Originally it was answers that Bhagawan gave when he was young, twenty or twenty- one years old. Someone called ???? came to him and asked him a series of questions the first question being, Swami, who am I? He asked a series of questions, he noted down the answers because in those days Bhagwan wasn’t talking very much. Sometimes he would talk a few words, but generally he would write them on the sand, on the ground or a slate or piece of paper and he would write on that. He noted down what he had replied. For many years people didn’t know about this except ???? In the early 1920’s, I think about 1923 ??? had written a biography of Bhagawan but in Tamil verse. Some friends of his wanted to publish that as a book as an appendix in that book, a short selection of I think thirteen questions and answers from those dialogues, were published as an appendix. When that was published people were very interested in it, that wanted to know did you ask more questions, did you record more? So, then a bigger book of about thirty- two questions and answers came out, Then, later in about 1926 or 27 Bhagawan himself rewrote it in the form of an essay. This is the earliest form of earliest teachings of Bhagawan and is really the best introduction of Bhagawan’s teachings.
Iain: That impacted you when you read it.
Michael: That did impact me. When I read it struck me, this is what I’ve been looking for all this time, because… in the essay form it’s twenty paragraphs, in the question and answer form, twenty-eight questions and answers. It’s a very small text…
Iain: But what I’m interested in is, when you told me on the phone you read the book, your question disappeared in the form that they were. I’m interested in that, and how that changed your thinking if you like.
Michael: Ok. When I first read it I can’t pretend, though it’s a simple text, it’s very deep, so I can’t pretend I understood all of it. The main thing I got from it was, what we need to know, is I. Whatever we may know about other things about God, the world, about science, philosophy, religions, all these things, there all about things other than ourselves. Until we know what we ourselves are, none of the knowledge we have about anything else is entirely reliable. It was very clear to me when I read that what we really need to know, and what I’d unknowingly being seeking all this time, is to find out who am I. The whole of our experience of life is all centred around this I. It’s I who experiences all this, without I, there is nothing. This became very clear to me when I read that book the first time. I can’t remember exactly what I said to you, but if I said my questions dissolved…
Iain: In the form they were
Michael: Yes. I was previously thinking about the meaning of life, the purpose of life, all these things, that was the form in which my questions were framed. The whole focus was shifted and the questions I was asking, became much clearer, because this was the ultimate thing, to find out who am I? So, all my other questions were questions related to that
Iain: Then you made a commitment to that and ended up staying for twenty years.
Michael: I didn’t even feel I’d made a commitment, it just happened. This was what I was looking for, it just caught me. Ever since then, an enduring fascination for me. It’s been the passion that’s been driving my life.
Iain: The passion comes across, I can feel it. A little later you read a book by Sri Sadhu Om which was an interpretation of Bhagawan’s…
Michael: An explanation… after reading who am I, I understood the most important thing was practice. We need to investigate and find out who we are, so practice is all important. What is to be practised, how is it to be practised wasn’t clear to me at that time, so I started reading all the books I could find. A lot of what was written in the books I read, was not convincing to me. I was looking for how actually to put it into practice. Possibly one or two weeks after I read who am I, I came across this book by Sadhu Om, that convinced me. In order to find out who we are, we have to attend to our self.
Iain: We have to attend to our self.
Michael: Attention and observation is the basic tool by which we know about anything. How scientist find out about atoms, about germs, distant planets and everything, the basic tool is – they may have all sorts of sophisticated radio telescopes, and all sorts of sophisticated equipment- but the basic tool that is used is observation. So, when we’re looking outside, we have our five senses, and if the five senses are not adequate, we can develop all this technology. We can have microscopes, telescopes, all these sorts of things, aids helping us to observe. But when we’re looking within the only tool we have to find out who we are, is observation, our own attention. We have to attend to our self to see what we actually are. Now our attention is always going outwards, so we’re always self- aware…
Iain: So, when you say attention it’s like watching out thoughts, our reactions…
Iain: So, explain what you mean by attention
Michael: Attention is a selective use of our awareness. Now we’re aware of many things but we can choose. I can attend to the flowers, to the camera, to you, I can choose what I focus my awareness on. When I say our attention is generally going outward, outwards means away from our self. Not only the seemingly external world, our thoughts, our feeling, all these are outside, according to the definition of outside that Bhagawan gives. The only thing that is inside is our self. The one who is observing all these things. So, there’s subject and object. Attending to any object which includes any thought, any feeling, it’s an outward going attention. We want to turn our attention back to attend only this I.
Iain: For most people there’s hardly a stating point there. In most teaching, you’re watching your thoughts, you’re being aware of your reactions, your being aware of your feelings…
Michael: Many people have difficulty understanding what self- attention is. Generally, when we’re talk about attention we’re attending to an object, something other than our self, to some phenomena but, we are not an object not a phenomenon. We are that which is aware of all these things.
Iain: Yes, I think we understand that
Michael: Self -attentiveness is not an objective attention, it’s something very subtle. Some people even question whether it is even possible to attend to oneself, if one is not an object. How I try to explain it is, we are always self-aware. There is never a moment when we are not self-aware. But though we are always self -aware, we are generally negligently self-aware. Because we are more interested in being aware of something other than our self, we are overlooking the self-awareness. It's there in the background. We can’t be aware of anything without being aware, I am aware of this. So, self-awareness is always there in the background, but we don’t attach much importance to it. We don’t take much…
Iain: It's covered up somehow with all the…
Michael: In a sense it’s covered up, but the main problem is our lack of interest. We are more interested in knowing about other things, in experiencing other things than we are in experiencing just our self. So, we have to slowly wean our interest away from other things. We need to be passionately interested to know what we our self are. In this way our attention is slowly weaned away from other things, back towards our self.
Iain: So, when you first started doing this was it difficult, or was it something you connected with, and you just felt…
Michael: As time goes on the understanding becomes subtler and more refined. The whole process of self- investigation… now our self -awareness is mixed up with the awareness of other things. I am aware of myself, that I am this body. I am Michael, but this is not what I actually am. This body is in a waking state, in dream this body is not there, I experience some other body of myself. I can’t be any body. Even the mind I seem to be, the mind is there in waking, the mind is there in dream. But in sleep the mind is not there, but I a still there. I’m still aware that I’m in a state that I’m not aware of anything.
Iain: But in sleep surely the mind is processing because we get the drams, surely that’s…
Michael: When I talk about sleep I talk about dreamless sleep. Take it in three stages, waking, dream and sleep.
Michael: In sleep there is a state in which we’re not aware of anything, but we’re aware of being aware of a state in which we’re not. We can clearly distinguish between waking, dream and sleep. We’re aware that there are three distinct states. We’re aware when we wake up in the morning sometimes… if we dose off during the day, we’re aware that we actually didn’t go to sleep, we were just dreaming for a while. We ‘re aware that sometimes when we wake up from sleep we weren’t dreaming anything, we were in a state, without any dream, any phenomena at all… generally people think of sleep as a state of non-awareness, unconsciousness, but that is because we are not aware of anything in sleep. But we are aware of being in that state in which we are not aware of anything. So, there is a deeper level of awareness in sleep. According Bhagawan that is the real awareness. The awareness that we experience in waking and dream, underlying it is this basic awareness. Superimposed on that awareness is awareness of phenomena. Awareness of phenomena according to Bhagawan is not real is not real awareness. That is a superficial appearance. It is something that comes, and it goes. The real awareness is the pure awareness which is not awareness of anything. A term I use is, transitive awareness and intransitive awareness. Transitive awareness is awareness of anything, but in order to be aware of something we must be aware. But in order to be aware it is not necessary to be aware of something. In sleep we are aware, but we are not aware of anything. So, the fundamental awareness is just pure awareness, not awareness of anything. Transitive awareness is something superimposed on that, in waking and dreaming. That is the nature of the mind. That is the nature of the ego, to be transitively aware. Our real nature is just to be aware.
Iain: When you talk to me now is there a feeling of pure awareness?
Michael: It’s always there in the background. I don’t experience it in its purity now because I am aware of other things. Because I’ve been following this practice for a long time I am able to distinguish… if I could distinguish it perfectly then that would be the end of the story…
Iain: We’ll talk about that in a minute but go on.
Michael: As we go deeper into the practice the distinction between pure awareness and the awareness that we call mind or ego – the awareness of things- that distinction becomes clearer as we go deeper. It has to become clearer because we are trying to separate this pure awareness from this superimposed transitive awareness. Intransitive awareness is our real nature, we are trying to separate it from transitive awareness. In other words, we are trying to be aware of our self alone. We are trying to isolate our self. Now we’re aware of so many things including our self, we want to isolate this awareness from the awareness of so many other things. That is why this is a very subtle and deep part.
Iain: I’m trying to find practicalities here. People who are watching and they feel a draw, like you felt a draw when you read the first book. It seems from what you said that when you talk to me there is less awareness of pure awareness. Of course, it’s still there but you’re engaging with me and the outside world. So, presumably when one sits quietly and mediates and reflects, that’s the sort of starting point to start to feel for yourself the pure awareness.
Michael: Yes, but it’s not only that. As you say, it’s there at all times. There are two aspects of the practice you could say. One aspect it sometimes when the mind has no need to be going outwards… some people find it useful to sit down with eyes closed or lie down, it doesn’t really matter, posture of a body doesn’t matter. There are times when there are no compelling need for our mind to go outwards towards anything else, when can then go deeper to that pure awareness. But even in the midst of activities, even now when we’re talking I am aware that I am, so that self- awareness is always there. The deeper we go into a practice the more even in the midst of other activities – sometimes it’s described as a tenuous current of self- awareness – but no words can adequately describe it. It shines more prominently in our awareness than if we are totally negligent. So, even now when we are talking, it’s beneficial, that’s one of the reasons why I love to talk about this subject and love to write about this subject because it keeps my mind dwelling on that. My mind is partially going outwards in this subject we are talking about. What it this subject we are talking about? Its I, self- awareness. Talking about these things, writing about these things, reading and hearing about these things, it all helps if we are using it properly to keep our attention on self-awareness, at least to a partial extent. Ultimately, now we are aware of our self as a person- I am aware of myself, I am Michael, I am aware of this body- that is a mixed self- awareness. That is not pure self-awareness. It’s an awareness mixed with adjuncts- adjunct this body is an awareness that appears in this waking state, in dream, some other body appears. In both states I experience it is as I. This cannot be what I actually am because I am there whether this body is there or not. So, also with the mind and thoughts, whether the mind is there as in waking and dream or absent as in sleep, I am there. The aim of self- investigation is we’re trying to isolate this self-awareness, this I, from everything else. We ‘re trying to isolate this pure self-awareness. For example, if scientists are researching a herb which is supposed to have some medicinal properties, they try to isolate what is the active ingredient. In order to study anything in any kind of scientific experiment you have to try and move as many variables as possible so, you have to try and isolate so that you know if any change takes place, you’re aware of where the influences are that are making the changes take place. This is how science works. To study anything you have to isolate it, study it in isolation. The same takes place when we ‘re trying to investigate our self, to isolate our self-awareness from the awareness of all other things. It is only by doing so that we can be aware of our self as we actually are. Now, we are aware of our self, this person has a body and a mind. As this person I am aware of many things. The ego is essentially what the mind is, sometimes we use the mind to describe the totality of all thoughts and feelings. We also use mind to refer to that which is aware of all these things. So, it’s in that sense I’m using the word mind or ego…
Iain: This is the observer part of the mind
Michael: Yes, the subject, the witness, whatever we call it. I’ll use the term ego because the is the term that Bhagawan most often uses. The nature of the ego is to be aware of things other than itself. So long, as we are aware of anything other than our self we are experiencing our self as ego. In order to be aware of our self as we actually are, because our real nature is pure awareness, not awareness of anything, just pure awareness, we need to isolate our self from all these adjuncts, all awareness of everything else. When we separate our self from awareness of everything else and experience awareness in complete isolation then we will be aware of our real nature. The ego is nothing but a wrong awareness of our self…
Iain: What happens we you really experience that isolation?
Michael: Nothing happens. All happening ceases. Happening exists in whose view? What is the first happening? The first happening is our rising as an ego.
Iain: My experience is I can very quiet at times especially if I meditate for a long time as I do sometimes. I can get to the stage where I can watch the thoughts arising but it’s quite rare that I’ll go more than a few seconds without a thought arising. So, I’m just trying to get a feel for what…
Michael: Even those few moments when you think you’re there without thoughts arising, the you who is aware of that state is the ego which is itself a thought.
Iain: The awareness comes afterwards. It’s not… I’m trying to make it as practical as I can for people. There’s that stage when no thoughts are arising, it’s not as if I’m thinking there are no thoughts arising, that’s thinking, but afterwards – I don’t know what time passes – there’s an awareness that comes which is a thought – thought awareness- that actually nothing seems to have happened. I wasn’t necessarily asleep. I’m just trying to get a feel ….
Michael: That is a state when you’re getting close to that isolation but it’s not complete isolation because according to Bhagawan… Bhagawan used thought in the sense of mental phenomena. According to him all thoughts are mental phenomena. According to him the whole world is nothing but thoughts, nothing but ideas. It’s like being in a dream. In a dream we see a world full of so many people, we interact with people…
Iain: So, we’re creating. The whole time we’re creating. I’m creating you, you’re creating me. We both create the studio is that what you’re saying?
Michael: The observer, the one who is aware of all this is creating all this. If you say I and you, as if there are two of us in your awareness you are creating. In your awareness, Michael is an object. Michael is something other than you. You assume Michael is aware, that is your assumption. Supposing you were dreaming and having this conversation, you would assume that the Michael you are talking to, is aware, but when you wake up, you realise the Michael you were talking to is just your own mental projection.
Iain: Yes, I have a feel for that, I’m just trying to get it clearer
Michael: That’s why I’m saying this to clarify because according to Bhagawan there is only one ego. Who is that one ego? The one that sees all this.
Iain: Yes, you mentioned this to me on the phone. I’m just trying to get clear in terms of the creation process, not creation in the evolution of man, creation in this point in time. So, what you’re saying is it’s not pure awareness creating, you’re saying it’s the group ego, the consensus ego.
Michael: How a dream is created. You’re asleep, suddenly you rise as an ego, as an ego you project a body which you experience as yourself, and through the five senses of that body you project a world. In a dream all that is entirely your own projection. The projection of who? Of the dreamer. The dreamer is the one who is aware of the dream. The one who is aware of the dream is himself a creation. Bhagawan made it very clear, what is the first cause for everything? It’s the ego. In one verse in ??? when the ego comes into existence, everything comes into existence. If the ego doesn’t exist, everything doesn’t exist. The ego itself is everything, therefore investigating what it is, is giving up everything because if you investigate it, it disappears. It has no substantial reality.
Iain: But the one who is investigating it, doesn’t disappear?
Michael: Yes. It’s the ego that investigates itself. When the ego investigates itself, it disappears. What remains is pure awareness which only is real, which alone, always exists.
Iain: Again, when we talked about this on the phone, you talked about a 180- degree shift and when that happens, you’re gone.
Michael: yes. That 180 degree is another way of saying isolating the self- awareness. So long as we are facing outwards there is self-awareness as a background, and awareness of other things. If we try to turn our attention back towards our self, the awareness of other things recedes into the background, we become more clearly aware of our self. When we turn the full 180 degrees we are facing our self alone.
Iain: So, the ego’s blown up, it’s gone.
Michael: Everything is removed. The ego is a false self- awareness that seems to exist only so long as we’re aware of anything else. Bhagawan describes it as a phantom. A phantom seems to exist if you’re looking elsewhere. Supposing you’re walking through a dense forest at night, some moonlight coming through the trees, you see shadows here and there. You’re afraid because it’s dark you think there are ghosts everywhere, But, if you look keenly at any of those phantoms, those ghosts, it’s not there. There is no substance. So, the ego is a phantom that seems to exist so long as we look elsewhere. But if we look at the phantom itself, it’s nowhere to be found.
Iain: The games up.
Michael: Yes, the game’s up
Iain: What happens then, nothing (laughing)?
Michael: Nothing happens then. The first happening is the rising of the ego. Our appearance as I am this. I am this body. The ego doesn’t exist without experiencing I am this body. The body is its projection. The body doesn’t exist independent of the ego. The ego takes itself to be this body and seeing all this multiplicity so, when the ego investigates itself and dissolves back into its source, what remains is pure self-awareness which is always there.
Michael: Nowadays there are many people who read Bhagawan’s teachings and practice Bhagawan’ teachings and even start teaching in their own way based on their understanding of Bhagawan’s teachings, but actually Bhagawan’s teachings are far deeper than most people appreciate. There are many people who take what they have experienced, what they have understood to be the final thing but when we listen to them talking the awareness they are talking about is awareness of many things. That awareness is ego. Awareness that is aware of anything other than itself is ego. The real awareness, true awareness… Bhagawan has clearly distinguished between these two. There are several verses where he’s talking about the difference between the awareness that is aware of things and the real awareness that is aware of nothing but itself.
Iain: We’re going to have to draw to a close, we’ve only three or four minutes left.
Michael: If this distinction is clearly understood. If we are aware of anything other than our self, that is ego. This is one of the key principles of Bhagawan’s teaching, and it’s also one of the most radical things, which is not appreciated by most people even though they may be reading the practice of his teachings for so many years. Real awareness is only pure self-awareness. As long as there is the slightest awareness of anything other than our self, of any phenomena of any kind, that is ego.
Iain: Ok. What I wanted to slip in here going back to your story, I know we’ve gone way beyond story. I wanted to recognise your incredible dedication because you lived in India for twenty years, you learnt Tamil, so you could translate the teachings. When you were working with Sadhu Om he was writing things on a slate. His English was bad, and your Tamil at that stage fairly embryonic and somehow you formed this relationship with him. You worked with him for eight and a half years. He was a primary proponent of Bhagawan’s teachings. You’ve really dedicated your life to this, haven’t you?
Iain: On the level of form you’ve really dedicated your life to this. It’s extra ordinary dedication.
Michael: It caught me. I can’t claim any credit for myself. It’s just like a moth, when it flies around a flame. It just can’t leave the flame, it’s fascinated by the flame. For me Bhagawan’s teachings are so fascinating, it just caught me, and I can’t escape. I don’t yet have the courage to go close to be consumed…
Iain: That is an interesting point. I’m going to slip this in now. When you say you don’t have the courage to go closer to that flame, what does that mean practically?
Michael: Practically I still have desires and attachments. I still have interest in being aware of phenomena.
Iain: The outside
Michael: Yes. So long as there is the slightest desire to be aware of phenomena, we have not surrendered our self completely. Because the self we have surrendered, that’s the ego is that which is aware of phenomena. In order to free our self from ego, we have to free our self from all this taste in phenomena, this interest in phenomena. This liking of being aware of phenomena is the very nature of ego. We can wean our mind away from interest in external things to a certain extent but ultimately, we have to cut at the root, the ego. The ego is the false self-awareness, I am this.
Iain: Is that our decision or almost the grace of God in one way when that happens?
Michael: It’s very difficult to distinguish between. God is not something outside.
Iain: I understand that.
Michael: The Grace of God is the love our real nature has for itself, that we as our real nature have for our self. So, it’s our own love for our real nature which is drawing us into this path. Often in devotional literature… Bhagawan’s written hymns on Arunacha in which he is expressing in seemingly dualistic language, he’s praying to Arunacha for grace. But you can see the dualistic expression and the underlying non- dualistic experience are beautifully woven into those verses. Because ultimately even the Guru who appears outside, even Bhagawan, is nothing but are own self. Because we are minded gong outwards our real nature has appeared outside in the form of Bhagawan to tell us turn within.
Michael: So, it’s all grace. The grace is not something coming from heaven or something, ultimately grace is our own love to be happy. We all love to be happy that is what is driving us.
Iain:That is the title of your book, “Happiness and the Art of Being”. We haven’t talked about happiness itself, but we have talked about the bigger subject which includes happiness.
Iain: I’m going to stop you there as the clock tells us we need to take a break. Thank you very much. It’s not an easy sometimes to understand the teaching, there’s a lot of depth there…
Michael: I’ve been trying to understand these teachings for forty years and still find my understanding is getting deeper, deeper and deeper. The more we practice the more clarity comes and the deeper… we can’t express it in words. I’m well aware of an ever deepening clarity.
Iain: Ever deepening, and you’re in pretty deep. I’m going to show your book again “Happiness and the Art of Being”. Introduction to the philosophy and practice of the spiritual teachings of Bhagawan Sri Ramana” by Michael James. It’s not an afternoon read, it’s a long, long holiday read. Michael, thank you very much, it’s really been fascinating. Thank you for watching Conscious TV and I hope we see you again soon. Goodbye.
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