The Process Of Obscuration Of Nondual Consciousness “I Am” According to Sri Ramana

We do well to listen to Michael James again as he discusses a seminal passage from Sri Ramana Bhagavan’s Nan Yar? (“Who am I?”). The following is an excerpt from from Michael James’ Happiness and the Art of Being: An Introduction to the Philosophy and Practice of the Spiritual Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana (2012; second edition)


Any world that we may perceive is nothing but a series of mental images or thoughts that we form in our mind by our power of imagination. Since the world is therefore nothing but our own thoughts, and since the root of all our thoughts is our primary thought ‘I am this body’, the appearance of the world, which includes the appearance of the body that we mistake to be ourself, obscures our true knowledge of ourself – our non-dual consciousness of our own essential being, ‘I am’. This process of obscuration is explained clearly by Sri Ramana in the fourth paragraph of Nāṉ Yār?:

That which is called ‘mind’ is an atiśaya śakti [an extraordinary or wonderful power] that exists in ātma-svarūpa [our essential self]. It projects all thoughts [or causes all thoughts to appear]. When [we] see [what remains] having removed [relinquished, discarded, dispelled, erased or destroyed] all [our] thoughts, [we will discover that] solitarily [separate from or independent of thoughts] there is no such thing as ‘mind’; therefore thought alone is the svarūpa [the ‘own form’ or basic nature] of [our] mind. Having removed [all our] thoughts, [we will discover that] there is no such thing as ‘world’ [existing separately or independently] as other [than our thoughts]. In sleep there are no thoughts, [and consequently] there is also no world; in waking and dream there are thoughts, [and consequently] there is also a world. Just as a spider spins out [a] thread from within itself and again draws [it back] into itself, so [our] mind projects [this or some other] world from within itself and again dissolves [it back] into itself. When [our] mind comes out from ātma-svarūpa [our essential self], the world appears. Therefore when the world appears, svarūpa [our ‘own form’ or essential self] does not appear [as it really is, that is, as the absolute and infinite non-dual consciousness of just being]; when svarūpa appears (shines) [as it really is], the world does not appear. If [we] go on investigating the nature of [our] mind, ‘tāṉ’ alone will finally appear as [the one underlying reality that we now mistake to be our] mind. That which is [here] called ‘tāṉ’ [a Tamil reflexive pronoun meaning ‘oneself’ or ‘ourself’] is only ātma-svarūpa [our own essential self]. [Our] mind stands only by always following [conforming or attaching itself to] a gross object [a physical body]; solitarily it does not stand. [Our] mind alone is spoken of as sūkṣma śarīra [our ‘subtle body’, that is, the subtle form or seed of all the imaginary physical bodies that our mind creates and mistakes to be itself] and as jīva [our ‘soul’ or individual self].

The world that we imagine we perceive outside ourself is in fact nothing but our own thoughts, a series of mental images that our mind projects from within itself, and experiences within itself. It is therefore a creation and projection of our own mind, just like the world that we experience in a dream.