Self-enquiry and freedom from sin || On Vivekachudamani (2018)

January 20, 2023 | Acharya Prashant

Questioner (Q): You always mention how qualifications like dispassion and abandonment of action are necessary for enquiry to take place, while Ramana Maharshi says, “Even a great sinner can do enquiry.” How can this be reconciled? Also, you speak about renunciation, but Ramana Maharshi says, “All events in our lives are predetermined and the only freedom we have is to turn inwards.” Please clarify.

Acharya Prashant (AP): I do not know whether I say what you have said I say, so I would limit myself to speaking on what Ramana Maharshi says.

You have said Ramana Maharshi says, “Even a great sinner can do the enquiry.” Let’s go into this. Let’s try to appreciate.

If one is a sinner, why would one want to do the enquiry? Is not the absence of enquiry itself the sin? The absence of enquiry is itself the sin. So, effectively, how you are interpreting this statement is that even the one not wanting to enquire, even the one extremely determined not to enquire, can enquire. Now, how useful is this interpretation of yours?

This is not what Ramana Maharshi is saying. “Even a great sinner can do the enquiry” means that it is possible for you to drop the idea that you cannot break free of your situations. Are you a sinner when you are asleep? When does identification with sin arise in you? When does anything arise in you? It arises in your waking state of consciousness, which means sin and other such identities are thoughts, ideas that you hold about yourself. The idea that you are a sinner arises, and then you get carried away by the idea because the idea that you are a sinner is accompanied by another idea that says that now you are confined, now you are helpless. Together these two say, “I am a sinner, and I am destined to remain the sinner.” Without the second idea, the first idea has no weight; it cannot survive. It will have no life in the future.

The first idea says, “I am a sinner” and the second idea says, “I am destined to remain a sinner, I can’t break free.” So, the second idea prolongs the first idea. Without the second idea, the first idea will just drop. Without the second idea, you will say, “I am a sinner” and the moment an hour passes, you will say, “I was a sinner.” ‘I am a sinner’ will quickly become ‘I was a sinner’. But due to the support provided by the second idea, the first idea becomes prolonged, so you say, “I am a sinner.” And if you are a sinner, then how can enquiry happen? These two can’t go hand in hand, because lack of enquiry itself is the sin. The moment you are enquiring, where is the sin? And as long as you are a sinner, enquiry cannot begin, because sinners are not supposed to enquire, sinners are supposed to just sin. Now, sinners are supposed to sin and here you are saying that sinners are enquiring, so are you saying that enquiry is sin? Of course you are not. A sinner by definition is one who sins; a sinner is not one who enquires.

So, Ramana Maharshi is telling you that all that you think about yourself is nonsense. Drop it, drop it! You are neither a sinner nor a virtuous one. You are not helpless, you are not so weak; you can break free any moment. The Truth in you is waiting to break out. Remaining as you are, you won’t be able to enquire. Enquiry is a dimensional shift. The center from where sins happen is not the same center from where enquiry happens, so how can you remain a sinner and yet enquire?

Enquiry requires courage. To look at your present condition honestly requires that you drop the idea that you are weak and powerless. Otherwise, enquiry won’t even begin. Even before the beginning of enquiry, you will say, “I am not capable enough, I am not qualified enough, because I am just a sinner.” Ramana Maharshi is vesting you with the ultimate authority. Don’t misinterpret him. Don’t think that he is saying that you can continue to be a sinner and yet enquire. He is saying you have it in your power to drop being a sinner any moment.

I will repeat the difference in interpretations. The statement says, “Even a sinner can enquire.” You are probably thinking that remaining a sinner, a sinner can enquire. No, that is impossible. Remaining a sinner, a sinner cannot enquire. But Ramana Maharshi is surely saying that even a sinner can enquire. So, what does he mean? What he actually means is that your sinning can be dropped any moment and, therefore, enquiry can begin any moment. You are powerful. Don’t use the statement to prolong your false sense of victimization or weakness.

Next you are saying, “You speak about renunciation, but Ramana Maharshi says that all events are predetermined and the only freedom we have is to turn inwards.”

Turn inwards and renunciation will happen. Fine, don’t renounce; just turn inwards. Turning inwards is itself the renunciation of the outward. There is no difference between renunciation and turning inwards; these are not two different things. What are you attached to? That which appears outside, right? So what does it take to turn inwards? A renunciation of that which appears outside. These two are the same thing. If you remain besotted to the world that appears outside, how will you turn inside?

And what does it mean to turn inside? To look at the looker. The looker is what you call as the inside, right? You just look at the look. That which is available to be looked at through the eyes—that’s what you look at. You never look at the looking process itself; you don’t look at the eyes and you don’t even wonder what lies behind the eyes. You won’t wonder because you are just too mesmerized, occupied with the stuff that the eyes are looking at. If one is enamored with lovely, fascinating or dreadful objects in front of the eyes, then will one have the space and the freedom to turn inwards and look at eyes? A tiger is roaring in front of you, and you are shivering. Would you be able to then ask, “Who is looking at the tiger?” You will not be able to look at the eyes because the eyes are too busy looking at the tiger.

So, looking inwards itself means renunciation; it means now you are not taking the tiger too seriously. And that’s what renunciation is: to not take stuff too seriously, to not take it seriously enough even to drop it.

A little insect was sitting on my arm the other night. What is renunciation? To not even brush it away—that’s renunciation. You would say, “But it is present on your body. How have you renounced it?” That exactly is renunciation: one is not bothered about it and one, therefore, has renounced it. So, apparently the thing is attached to my body, but really there is no relation between me and the insect.

Renunciation does not mean the horrid things that you probably imagine. Renunciation does not mean that you will throw all your stuff down from the top of a hill. Renunciation does not mean that you have to give away your clothes, your slippers, and your bed. Renunciation simply means: stuff is stuff and Self is Self, and the two are not to be conflated. Stuff is stuff and Self is Self—that’s renunciation. Renunciation does not mean that you have to give away your favorite vanilla ice cream to your neighbor. Don’t be so terrified. You can keep your ice cream.

Q: You just gave an example about the insect that was sitting on you. In spite of that insect sitting on you, you were aware and still, you renounced. But what if the insect sits on someone who is asleep? What is the difference then? Because you also said that when one goes to sleep then one is not a sinner, because all troubles are only in the waking state of consciousness.

AP: The sleeping state is in itself a renunciation of the troubled waking consciousness. Now you don’t need to renounce any further; you have already renounced the troubled waking consciousness, that’s what you call as sleep. And that’s why sleep gives you so much relaxation: because you have renounced the troubled and waking consciousness. Therefore, after sleeping, now you don’t need to renounce the objects of consciousness, because the waking consciousness itself has been renounced. If I renounce this house, do I have to renounce the little things kept in it? When the very waking state of consciousness has been renounced, now do I also need to additionally renounce the little things of consciousness?

In your waking state, there are so many things that come and go. Now you have to see how much importance do they deserve. Don’t give disproportionate importance to stuff.

Q: Meditation also talks about raising the level of consciousness, and even Osho has spoken a lot about consciousness. So, how is that related to real peace?

AP: What is consciousness? That which goes around in your head is consciousness. Simple. That which you keep experiencing, that which you keep thinking of, that which comes and goes, rises and falls, that which is remembered and forgotten—all that is consciousness. In other words, the ocean of the mind with all its waves and depths is consciousness. So, you remembered somebody—this is an act in consciousness. You forgot somebody—that too is an act in consciousness. You think, you analyze, you visualize, you imagine—all that is consciousness. Now, tell me, what is meant by a lowly consciousness and a high consciousness? What is meant by pure and impure consciousness?

Consciousness always has two—which two? The observer and the object. And who is the observer? The one that you take yourself to be. So, consciousness always has two; our consciousness is always dualistic. In all your thoughts, you are present, are you not? You are the thinker. Consciousness always has two, and out of these two, you are always the subject, the second one is the object, right?

Now, of these two, which one is central? The subject. Why? Because the object changes according to the subject. So, suppose in the consciousness of the five of you, this curtain is present. Apparently the same object is present in the consciousness of five people, but not all five will be perceiving it the same way—why? Because the subjects are different.

So, consciousness is two—the subject and the object—you are the subject, and the object too depends on the subject. So, fundamentally the quality of consciousness is the quality of the subject. We are trying to discover what is pure or high consciousness.

So, the quality of the consciousness is the quality of the ‘I’, the subject that you are, right? Now, this ‘I’ could either be the images about ‘I’ that one carries—it could be a manufactured ‘I’, a cultured ‘I’, a cultivated ‘I’, a social ‘I’, a biological ‘I’, a historical ‘I’, an influenced ‘I’—or it could be somebody else. Who that ‘I’ is decides the quality of consciousness. If your ‘I’ has been manufactured over time, if your ‘I‘ is the result of a thousand influences and therefore a thousand contaminations, then your ‘I’ will be called an impure ‘I’. A lot of things have become mixed in the ‘I’, so the ‘I’ is now fit to be called impure. So many things have become identified with ‘I’, one with ‘I’, conflated with the ‘I’, that the real ‘I’ is nowhere to be seen.

That is an impure consciousness. The thinker does not know who is thinking, and therefore thought itself is hazy and confused; that’s impure consciousness. The looker does not know who is looking, and therefore whatever he looks at is blurred. He does not get to know what the world really is; he just keeps projecting the world. And remember, the tendency to project increases as the contamination increases. The more contaminated your mind, your consciousness is, the more you will be prone to project. You understand ‘projection’? Not seeing what is, rather visualizing it, imagining it, projecting it.

Now, what does meditation have to do with the elevation of consciousness? An impure consciousness results in a lot of restlessness. Impurity of consciousness, identification of ‘I’ with a thousand things, and restlessness—these go hand in hand. Why does the ‘I’ become restless when the ‘I’ is impure? It’s easy to understand. If the ‘I’ is composed of influences from the world, then the ‘I’ remains insecure, because ‘I’ is the fundamental unit, ‘I’ is who you are. And you want to exist, existence is your nature; you don’t want to just disappear. But you, the ‘I’, is coming from the world, and the world is always rising, falling, appearing, disappearing, so now you sense a danger. What is the danger? That you too will disappear along with the world.

Please understand. If the ‘I’ is not independent, then the ‘I’ is threatened. If the ‘I’ is independent, nothing in the world can harm it, defeat it, or vanish it. But if, let’s say, your ‘I’ depends on this wall—‘I’ depends on the wall, that’s impure consciousness, ‘I’ dependent on something—and you see that the wall is being harmed, what happens to the ‘I’? The ‘I’ feels as if it is being harmed; every blow to the wall is a blow to the ‘I’. And so the ‘I’ becomes restless.

So, impure consciousness and restlessness go together. Conversely, peace and pure consciousness go together. The more peaceful you are, the more centered you are in yourself and the less dependent you are. Peace and freedom are therefore synonymous. Do you get this? Dependence on something is restlessness. Is that clear? Dependence on something is restlessness because that thing is a worldly thing and nothing in the world has permanence. So, dependence leads to restlessness, and therefore peace and independence go together. Dependence is restlessness, so independence is rest, which is peace.

Now, if a process of meditation is giving you a glimpse of peace, restfulness, then it is also giving you independence, freedom, because we said peace and independence go together. The moment you are peaceful, you are also independent, and to be independent is to be in an elevated state of consciousness.

Q: How to stay detached from everything and stay unshaken in any situation caused by any individual?

AP: You need to probe the relationship between you and the world, you and all individuals, you and any particular individual. That relationship needs to be investigated. If you are dependent on someone, you will not be able to remain unshaken. You cannot ask for both. You cannot ask for comforts that come with dependency and peace that comes with independence. You have to decide, what is it that you really love? That love is the central thing.

This morning itself I read, “Yoga kuyoga, gyan agyanu, jahan nahi Rama prem pradhanu (Without love for Rama, union is disunion and knowledge is ignorance).” Without love, yoga is kuyoga and jñāna is ajñāna. You have to decide what is it that you really love. Without love for freedom, all your meditation exercises will just remain antics and acrobatics; you are jumping around and shouting and this and that. It is love that turns an activity of meditation into meditativeness, love.

If you don’t have love for the real thing, then keep trying your yoga. It’s not going to work; it’s only going to sink you further. And if you don’t have love for the real thing, then keep filling yourself with knowledge, keep reading as many books as possible, keep listening to sermons; you aren’t reaching anywhere.

Is your being full of love? That’s the question to ask. Are you prepared to leave, sacrifice everything for love? That’s what you must answer.


Acharya Prashant

One could call him the best contemporary representative of Advait Vedanta. Or one could simply call him a teacher beyond any tradition. Equally, one can see an abundance of compassion, love and reverence in his being. But the most appropriate way to know him would be through his work. Know More