John David: With regard to the actual technique, would you say that it is to be aware, from moment to moment, what is going on in the mind?
David Godman: No, it’s nothing to do with being aware of the contents of the mind. It’s a very specific method that aims to find out where the individual sense of ‘I’ arises. Self-enquiry is an active investigation, not a passive witnessing. For example, you may be thinking about what you had for breakfast, or you may be looking at a tree in the garden. In self-enquiry, you don’t simply maintain an awareness of these thoughts, you put your attention on the thinker who has the thought, the perceiver who has the perception. There is an ‘I’ who thinks, an ‘I’ who perceives, and this ‘I’ is also a thought. Bhagavan’s advice was to focus on this inner sense of ‘I’ in order to find out what it really is. In self-enquiry you are trying to find out where this ‘I’ feeling arises, to go back to that place and stay there. It is not simply watching, it’s a kind of active scrutiny in which one is trying to find out how the sense of being an individual person comes into being. You can investigate the nature of this ‘I’ by formally asking yourself, ‘Who am I?’ or ‘Where does this ”I” come from?’ Alternatively, you can try to maintain a continuous awareness of this inner feeling of ‘I’. Either approach would count as self-enquiry. You should not suggest answers to the question, such as ‘I am consciousness’ because any answer you give yourself is conceptual rather than experiential. The only correct answer is a direct experience of the Self.
John David: It’s very clear what you just said, but almost impossible to accomplish. It sounds simple, but I know from my own experience that it’s very hard.
David Godman: It needs practice and commitment. You have to keep at it and not give up. The practice slowly changes the habits of the mind. By doing this practice regularly and continuously, you remove your focus from superficial streams of thoughts and relocate it at the place where thought itself begins to manifest. In that latter place you begin to experience the peace and stillness of the Self, and that gives you the incentive to continue.
Bhagavan had a very appropriate analogy for this process. Imagine that you have a bull, and that you keep it in a stable. If you leave the door open, the bull will wander out, looking for food. It may find food, but a lot of the time it will get into trouble by grazing in cultivated fields. The owners of these fields will beat it with sticks and throw stones at it to chase it away, but it will come back again and again, and suffer repeatedly, because it doesn’t understand the notion of field boundaries. It is just programmed to look for food and to eat it wherever it finds something edible.
The bull is the mind, the stable is the Heart where it arises and to where it returns, and the grazing in the fields represents the mind’s painful addiction to seeking pleasure in outside objects. Bhagavan said that most mind-control techniques forcibly restrain the bull to stop it moving around, but they don’t do anything about the bull’s fundamental desire to wander and get itself into trouble. You can tie up the mind temporarily with japa or breath control, but when these restraints are loosened, the mind just wanders off again, gets involved in more mischief and suffers again. You can tie up a bull, but it won’t like it. You will just end up with an angry, cantankerous bull that will probably be looking for a chance to commit some act of violence on you.
Bhagavan likened self-enquiry to holding a bunch of fresh grass under the bull’s nose. As the bull approaches it, you move away in the direction of the stable door and the bull follows you. You lead it back into the stable, and it voluntarily follows you because it wants the pleasure of eating the grass that you are holding in front of it. Once it is inside the stable, you allow it to eat the abundant grass that is always stored there. The door of the stable is always left open, and the bull is free to leave and roam about at any time. There is no punishment or restraint. The bull will go out repeatedly, because it is the nature of such animals to wander in search of food. And each time they go out, they will be punished for straying into forbidden areas. Every time you notice that your bull has wandered out, tempt it back into its stable with the same technique. Don’t try to beat it into submission, or you may be attacked yourself, and don’t try to solve the problem forcibly by locking it up. Sooner or later even the dimmest of bulls will understand that, since there is a perpetual supply of tasty food in the stable, there is no point wandering around outside, because that always leads to sufferings and punishments. Even though the stable door is always open, the bull will eventually stay inside and enjoy the food that is always there. This is self-enquiry. Whenever you find the mind wandering around in external objects and sense perceptions, take it back to its stable, which is the Heart, the source from which it rises and to which it returns. In that place it can enjoy the peace and bliss of the Self. When it wanders around outside, looking for pleasure and happiness, it just gets into trouble, but when it stays at home in the Heart, it enjoys peace and silence. Eventually, even though the stable door is always open, the mind will choose to stay at home and not wander about. Bhagavan said that the way of restraint was the way of the yogi. Yogis try to achieve restraint by forcing the mind to be still. Self-enquiry gives the mind the option of wandering wherever it wants to, and it achieves its success by gently persuading the mind that it will always be happier staying at home.
John David: In that very moment when you realise there’s plenty of grass at home and therefore no need to go out, would you call that awakening?
David Godman: No, I would just call it understanding.
John David: That’s only understanding? Surely, once you’ve perceived that there are piles of grass at home, why would you want to go out again?
David Godman: The notion of being better off at home belongs to the ‘I’, and that ‘I’ has to go before realisation can happen. Let’s pursue this analogy a little more. What I will say now is not part of Bhagavan’s original analogy, but it does incorporate other parts of his teaching. For realisation, for a true and permanent awakening, the bull has to die. While it is alive, and while the door is still open, there is always the possibility that it will stray. If it dies, though, it can never be tempted outside again. In realisation, the mind is dead. It is not a state in which the mind is simply experiencing the peace of the Self. When the mind goes voluntarily into the Heart and stays there, feeling no urge whatsoever to jump out again, the Self destroys it, and Self alone remains. This is a key part of Bhagavan’s teachings: the Self can only destroy the mind when the mind no longer has any tendency to move outwards. While those outward-moving tendencies are still present, even in a latent form, the mind will always be too strong for the Self to dissolve it completely. This is why Bhagavan’s way works and the forcible-restraint way doesn’t. You can keep the mind restrained for decades, but such a mind will never be consumed by the Self because the desires, the tendencies, the vasanas, are still there. They may not be manifesting, but they are still there.
Ultimately, it is the grace or power of the Self that eliminates the final vestiges of the desire-free mind. The mind cannot eliminate itself, but it can offer itself up as a sacrifice to the Self. Through effort, through enquiry, one can take the mind back to the Self and keep it there in a desire-free state. However, mind can’t do anything more than that. In that final moment it is the power of the Self within that pulls the last remains of the mind back into itself and eliminates it completely.
John David: You say that in realisation the mind is dead. People who are enlightened seem to think, remember, and so on, in the just the same way that ordinary people do. They must have a mind to do this. Perhaps they are not attached to it, but it must still be there otherwise they couldn’t function in the world. Someone who had a dead mind would be a zombie.
David Godman: This is a misconception that many people have because they can’t imagine how anyone can function, take decisions, speak, and so on without a mind. You do all these things with your mind, or at least you think you do, so when you see a sage behaving normally in the world, you automatically assume that he too is coordinating all his activities through an entity called ‘mind’. You think you are a person inhabiting a body, so when you look at a sage you automatically assume that he too is a person functioning through a body. The sage doesn’t see himself that way at all. He knows that the Self alone exists, that a body appears in that Self and performs certain actions. He knows that all the actions and words that arise in this body come from the Self alone. He doesn’t make the mistake of attributing them to an imaginary intermediary entity called ‘mind’. In this mindless state, no one is organising mental information, no one is deciding what to do next. The Self merely prompts the body to do or say whatever needs to be done or said in that moment.
When the mind has gone, leaving only the Self, the one who decides future courses of actions has gone, the performer of actions has gone, the thinker of thoughts has gone, the perceiver of perceptions has gone. Self alone remains, and that Self takes care of all the things that the body needs to say or do. Someone who is in that state always does the most appropriate thing, always says the most appropriate thing, because all the words and all the actions come directly from the Self.
Bhagavan once compared himself to a radio. A voice is coming out of it, saying sensible things that seem to be a product of rational, considered thought, but if you open the radio, there is no one in there thinking and deciding. When you listen to a sage such as Bhagavan, you are not listening to words that come from a mind, you are listening to words that come directly from the Self.
In his written works Bhagavan uses the term manonasa to describe the state of liberation. It means, quite unequivocally, ‘destroyed mind’. The mind, according to Bhagavan, is just a wrong idea, a mistaken belief. It comes into existence when the ‘I’-thought, the sense of individuality, claims ownership of all the thoughts and perceptions that the brain processes. When this happens, you end up with a mind that says, ‘I am happy’ or ‘I have a problem’ or ‘I see that tree over there’. When, through self-enquiry, the mind is dissolved in its source there is an understanding that the mind never really existed, that it was just an erroneous idea that was believed in simply because its true nature and origin were never properly investigated.
Bhagavan sometimes compared the mind to a gatecrasher at a wedding who causes trouble and gets away with it because the bride’s party thinks he is with the bridegroom and vice versa. The mind doesn’t belong to either the Self or the body. It’s just an interloper that causes trouble because we never take the trouble to find out where it has come from. When we make that investigation, mind, like the troublesome wedding guest, just melts away and disappears.
Let me give you a beautiful description of how Bhagavan spoke. It comes from part three of The Power of the Presence. It was written by G. V. Subbaramayya, a devotee who had intimate contact with Bhagavan. It illustrates very well my thesis that the words of a sage come from the Self, not from a mind:
Sri Bhagavan’s manner of speaking was itself unique. His normal state was silence. He spoke so little, casual visitors who only saw him for a short while wondered whether he ever spoke. To put questions to him and to elicit his replies was an art in itself that required an unusual exercise in self-control. A sincere doubt, an earnest question submitted to him never went without an answer, though sometimes his silence itself was the best answer to particular questions. A questioner needed to be able to wait patiently. To have the maximum chance of receiving a good answer, you had to put your question simply and briefly. Then you had to remain quiet and attentive. Sri Bhagavan would take his time and then begin slowly and haltingly to speak. As his speech continued, it would gather momentum. It would be like a drizzle gradually strengthening into a shower. Sometimes it might go on for hours together, holding the audience spellbound. But throughout the talk you had to keep completely still and not butt in with counter remarks. Any interruption from you would break the thread of his discourse and he would at once resume silence. He would never enter into a discussion, nor would he argue with anyone. The fact was, what he spoke was not a view or an opinion but the direct emanation of light from within that manifested as words in order to dispel the darkness of ignorance. The whole purpose of his reply was to make you turn inward, to make you see the light of truth within yourself.
John David: Can we go back to the analogy of the bull that has to be enticed back into its stable? It seems the bull, which represents the mind, has to die. When the mind dies, can this be considered to be a full awakening? Is there a difference between awakening and enlightenment? Obviously, we’re just using words, but are there two different states?
David Godman: Self is always the same. Self being aware of the Self is always the same. Different levels of experiences belong to the mind, not the Self. Mind can be temporarily suspended, having been replaced by what appears to be a direct experience of the Self. Nevertheless, this is not the sahaja state, the permanent natural state in which the mind can never rise again. These temporary states are very subtle experiences of the mind. The bliss and peace of the Self are being experienced, being mediated through an ‘I’ that has not yet been fully eliminated.
For example, I experience being in this room. I mediate it through my senses, through my knowledge, my memory. When the ‘I’ goes back into the Heart and remains still without rising, there, in that state, it experiences the emanations of the Self; the quietness, the peace, the bliss. This is still an experience, and as such, it is not enlightenment. It’s not the full awareness of the Self. That full awareness is only there when there is no ‘I’ that mediates it. The experiences of the Self that happen when the ‘I’ is still existing may be regarded as a ‘preview of forthcoming attractions’, like the trailers for next week’s movie, but they are not the final, irreversible state. They come and they go, and when they go, mind returns with all its usual, annoying vigour.
John David: How does one progress from these temporary experiences to a permanent one? Is keeping still enough, or is grace required?
David Godman: I would like to bring in Lakshmana Swamy again at this point. I mentioned him earlier as being an example of someone who realised the Self in Bhagavan’s presence through the practice of self-enquiry. So, we are dealing with an expert here; someone who knows what he is talking about. Lakshmana Swamy is quite clear on this point. He says that devotees can, by their own effort, reach what he calls ‘the effortless thought-free state’. That’s as far as you can go by yourself. In that state there are no more thoughts, desires or memories rising up. They are not being suppressed; they simply don’t rise up any more to grab your attention. Lakshmana Swamy says that if you reach that state through your own intense efforts and then go and sit in the presence of a realised being, the power of the Self will make the residual ‘I’ go back to its source where it will die and never rise again. This is the complete and full realisation. This is the role of the Guru, who is identical with the Self within: to pull the desire-free mind into the Heart and destroy it completely. As I mentioned before, this won’t happen if the desires and tendencies of the mind are still latent. They all have to go before this final act of execution can be achieved. The disciple himself has to remove all the unwanted lumber from his mental attic, and he also needs to be in a state in which there is no desire to put anything more into it. The Guru cannot do this work for him; he has to do it himself. When this has been accomplished, the power of the Self within, the inner Guru, will complete the work.
John David: We’ve both had this common experience of living around Papaji, and we have both heard him say to people, ‘You’ve got it!’ Was he referring to that first temporary state or the second, final irrevocable state?
David Godman: I would say almost invariably the first. His particular knack, his talent, his skill was to completely pull the mental chair out from underneath you. He would somehow, instantaneously, disentangle you from the superstructure, the infrastructure of the mind, and you would fall – plop! – right into the Self. You would then immediately think, ‘This is great! This is wonderful! I’m enlightened!’
He had this astonishing talent, this power of being able to rub your nose in the reality of the Self. It was completely spontaneous because most of the time he wasn’t even aware that he was doing it. Somehow, in his presence people lost this sense of functioning through the individual ‘I’. When this happened you would be completely immersed in the feeling, the knowledge of being the Self. However, it wouldn’t stick for the reasons I have already given. If you haven’t cleared out all the lumber from your mental attic, these experiences will be temporary. Sooner or later the mind will reassert itself and this apparent experience of the Self will fade away. It might last ten days, ten weeks, ten months or even years, but then it goes away and just leaves a memory.
John David: Does that mean that this second final state is very, very, very rare?
David Godman: In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna says, ‘Out of every thousand people one is really serious, and out of every thousand serious people only one knows me as I really am’. That’s one in a million, and I think that’s a very generous estimate. Personally, I think it’s far fewer than that.
John David: This bring us to the subject of your recent series of books [The Power of the Presence series]. In these books you have chosen people who were close to Bhagavan. Presumably, you chose people who you feel have reached that final state.