Samskaras And Thoughts: On Ramana Maharshi’s Fresh Approach

Yesterday, I sought to show that there is an especially close relationship between samskaras and Ultimate Reality. I’d like to expand on those reflections here. To do so, I return to Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi.

A disciple, who is also a busy householder, is asking Maharshi about the role that meditation plays in realizing one’s true nature. “No separate meditation is necessary?,” he asks.

Maharshi replies, “Meditation is your true nature now” (p. 279). For adept meditators, this bit, so far, is old hat: meditation is not what you do; it’s what you are. The crux, for me, comes later when he offers, “Other thoughts arise more forcibly when you attempt meditation” (p. 279, my emphasis).

Oh, and the text just here states that “[t]here was a chorus of questions by a few others” (p. 279). No doubt!

So, Maharshi continues, “Yes, all kinds of thoughts arise in meditation. It is but right. What lies hidden in you is brought out. Unless they rise up how can they be destroyed? They therefore rise up spontaneously in order to be extinguished in due course, thus to strengthen the mind” (p. 279, my emphasis).

There’s a lot here to unpack! To begin with, let’s recount what we often hear about thoughts during meditation:

–Note them (a labeling exercise) and then let go of them.

–Be mindful of them and let go of them. Return to (e.g.) the breath, the mantra, the count, etc.

–Allow them to arise, but remain uninvolved, unconcerned.

–See where thoughts come from and where they go off to.

–Ask, “What do these thoughts arise from?”

–Use the koan or huatou like a vajra sword.

And so on. All of these are, in their place, good cues, but can we, in this context, start to see how much more profound Maharshi’s remarks are?

1. Let’s be a bit anthropomorphic and say that Universal Consciousness is “sending” us exactly these thoughts as a blessing. It is precisely these thoughts that need to be witnessed right now.

2. These thoughts are very often samskaras. Accordingly, to be sent just these is to be in a position to see them off. (“What lies hidden in you is brought out.”)

3. Buddhism emphasizes that “delusions are endless” (until one gets to the root of all delusions). Sometimes that first part can be colored by quiet despair. “Endless, you say?” Geez, what’s the point then? Return to Maharshi’s remarks now: let us say that there is a kind of “order” to the arising of thoughts as well as a “mission” or an “agenda.” The more this order and mission are ascertained, the clearer it becomes that seeing them off is one perspicuous way that personal consciousness becomes more transparent with Universal Consciousness. Full transparency is identity.

In short, samskaras, by this analysis and by virtue of the sustained practice that Maharshi tacitly proposes, become ready pointers to Universal Consciousness. You might say that Maharshi has adroitly “defanged” suffering for those willing to heed his words.