people take the appearance of the snake in the rope
to be reality. Acting on their misperceptions they
think up many different ways of killing the snake.
They can never succeed in getting rid of the snake
until they give up the idea that there is a snake
there at all. People who want to kill or control
the mind have the same problem: they imagine that
there is a mind which needs to be controlled and
take drastic steps to beat it into submission. If,
instead, they generated the understanding that
there is no such thing as the mind, all there
problems would come to an end. You must generate
the conviction, "I am the all-pervasive
consciousness in which all bodies and minds in the
world are appearing and disappearing. I am that
consciousness which remains unchanged and
unaffected by these appearances and
disappearances". Stabilise yourself in that
conviction. That is all you need to do.
Bhagavan [Ramana Maharshi] once told a
story about a man who wanted to bury his own shadow
in a deep pit. He dug the pit and stood in such a
position that his shadow was on the bottom of it.
The man then tried to bury it by covering it with
earth. Each time he threw some soil in the hole the
shadow appeared on top of it. Of course, he never
succeeded in burying the shadow. Many people behave
like this when they meditate. They take the mind to
be real, try to fight it and kill it, and always
fail. These fights against the mind are all mental
activities which strengthen the mind instead of
weakening it. If you want to get rid of the mind,
all you have to do is understand that it is "not
me". Cultivate the awareness "I am the immanent
consciousness". When that understanding becomes
firm, the non-existent mind will not trouble
Question: I don't think that repeating "I am
not the mind, I am consciousness" will ever
convince me that I am not the mind. It will just be
another thought going on within the mind. If I
could experience, even for a moment, what it is
like to be without the mind, the conviction would
automatically come. I think that one second of
experiencing consciousness as it really is would be
more convincing that several years of mental
Annamalai Swami: Every time you go to sleep
you have the experience of being without a mind.
You cannot deny that you exist while you are asleep
and you cannot deny that your mind is not
functioning while you are in dreamless sleep. This
daily experience should convince you that it is
possible to continue your existence without a mind.
Of course, you do not have the full experience of
consciousness while you are asleep, but if you
think about what happens during this state you
should come to understand that your existence, the
continuity of your Being, is in no way dependent on
your mind or your identification with it. When the
mind reappears every morning you instantly jump to
the conclusion "This is the real me". If you
reflect on this proposition for some time you will
see how absurd it is. If what you really are only
exists when the mind is present, you have to accept
that you didn't exist while you were asleep. No one
will accept such an absurd conclusion. If you
analyse your alternating states you will discover
that it is your direct experience that you exist
whether you are awake or asleep. You will also
discover that the mind only becomes active while
you are waking or dreaming. From these simple daily
experiences it should be easy to understand that
the mind is something that comes and goes. Your
existence is not wiped out each time the mind
ceases to function. I am not telling you some
philosophical theory; I am telling you something
that you can validate by direct experience in any
twenty-four hour period of your life.
Take these facts, which you can discover by
directly experiencing them, and investigate them a
little more. When the mind appears every morning
don't jump to the usual conclusion, "This is me;
these thoughts are mine." Instead, watch these
thoughts come and go without identifying with them
in any way. If you can resist the impulse to claim
each and every thought as your own, you will come
to a startling conclusion: you will discover that
you are the consciousness in which the thoughts
appear and disappear. You are allowed to run free.
Like the snake which appears in the rope, you will
discover that the mind is only an illusion which
appears through ignorance or misperception.
You want some experience which will convince you
that what I am saying is true. You can have that
experience if you give up your life-long habit of
inventing an "I" which claims all thoughts as
"mine". Be conscious of yourself as consciousness
alone, watch all the thoughts come and go. Come to
the conclusion, by direct experience, that you are
really consciousness itself, not its ephemeral
Clouds come and go in the sky but the appearance
and disappearance of the clouds doesn't affect the
sky. Your real nature is like the sky, like space.
Just remain like the sky and let thought-clouds
come and go. If you cultivate this attitude of
indifference towards the mind, gradually you will
cease to identify yourself with it.
Question: When I began to do sadhana
[spiritual practice] everything went
smoothly at first. There was a lot of peace and
happiness and jnana [true knowledge] seemed
very near. But nowadays there is hardly any peace,
just mental obstacles and hindrances.
Annamalai Swami: Whenever obstacles come on
the path, think of them as "not me". Cultivate the
attitude that the real you is beyond the reach of
all troubles and obstacles. There are no obstacles
for the Self. If you can remember that you always
are the Self, obstacles will be of no
One of the alvars [a group of Vaishnavite
saints] once remarked that if one is not doing
any spiritual practice one is not aware of any mind
problems. He said that it is only when one starts
to do meditation that one becomes aware of the
different ways that the mind causes us trouble.
This is very true. But one should not worry about
any of the obstacles or fear them. One should
merely regard them as being not me. They can only
cause you trouble while you think that they are
The obstructing vasanas may look like a large
mountain which obstructs your progress. Don't be
intimidated by the size. It is not a mountain of
rock, it is a mountain of camphor. If you light one
corner of it with the flame of discriminative
attention, it will all burn to nothing.
Stand back from the mountain of problems, refuse to
acknowledge that they are yours, and they will
dissolve and disappear before your eyes.
Don't be deluded by your thoughts and vasanas. They
are always trying to trick you into believing that
you are a real person, that the world is real, and
that all your problems are real. Don't fight them;
just ignore them. Don't accept delivery of all the
wrong ideas that keep coming to you. Establish
yourself in the conviction that you are the Self
and that nothing can stick to you or affect you.
Once you have that conviction you will find that
you automatically ignore the habits of the mind.
When the rejection of mental activities becomes
continuous and automatic, you will begin to have
the experience of the Self.
If you see two strangers quarrelling in the
distance you do not give much attention to them
because you know that the dispute is none of your
business. Treat the contents of your mind in the
same way. Instead of filling your mind with
thoughts and then organising fights between them,
pay no attention to the mind at all. Rest quietly
in the feeling of "I am", which is consciousness,
and cultivate the attitude that all thoughts, all
perceptions are "not me". When you have learned to
regard your mind as a distant stranger, you will
not pay any attention to all the obstacles it keeps
inventing for you.
Mental problems feed on the attention that you give
them. The more you worry about them, the stronger
they become. If you ignore them, they lose their
power and finally vanish.
Question: I am always thinking and believing
that there is only the Self but somehow there is
still a feeling that I want or need something
Annamalai Swami: Who is it that wants? If
you can find the answer to that question there will
be no one to want anything.
Question: Children are born without egos. As
they begin to grow up, how do their egos arise and
cover the Self?
Annamalai Swami: As young children may
appear to have no egos but its ego and all the
latent vasanas that go with it are there in seed
form. As the child's body grows bigger, the ego
also grows bigger. The ego is produced by the power
of maya [illusion], which is one of the
shaktis [powers] of the Self.
Question: How does maya operate? How does it
originate? Since nothing exists except the Self,
how does the Self manage to conceal Its own nature
Annamalai Swami: The Self, which is Infinite
power and the Source of all power, is indivisible.
Yet within this indivisible Self there are five
shaktis or powers, with varying functions, which
operate simultaneously. The five shaktis are
creation, preservation, destruction, veiling
[maya shakti] and Grace. The fifth shakti,
Grace, counteracts and removes the fourth shakti,
which is maya.
When maya is totally inactive, that is, when the
identity with the body and the mind has been
dropped, there is an awareness of consciousness, of
Being. When one is established in that state there
is no body, no mind and no world. These three
things are just ideas which are brought into an
apparent existence when maya is present and
When maya is active, the sole effective way to
dissolve it is the path shown by Bhagavan: one must
do Self-enquiry and discriminate between what is
real and what is unreal. It is the power of maya
which makes us believe in the reality of things
which have no reality outside our imagination. If
you ask, "What are these imaginary things?" the
answer is, "Everything that is not the formless
Self". The Self alone is real; everything else is a
figment of our imagination.
It is not helpful to enquire why there is maya and
how it operates. If you are in a boat which is
leaking, you don't waste time asking whether the
hole was made by an Italian, a Frenchman or an
Indian. You just plug the leak. Don't worry about
where maya comes from. Put all your energy into
escaping from its effect. If you try to investigate
the origin of maya with your mind you are doomed to
fail because any answer you come up with will be a
maya answer. If you want to understand how maya
operates and originates you should establish
yourself in the Self, the one place where you can
be free of it, and then watch how it takes you over
each time you fail to keep your attention
Question: You say that maya is one of the
shaktis. What exactly do you mean by shakti?
Annamalai Swami: Shakti is energy or power.
It is a name for the dynamic aspect of the Self.
Shakti and shanti [peace] are two aspects
of the same consciousness. If you want to separate
them at all, you can say that shanti is the
unmanifest aspect of the Self while shakti is the
manifest. But really they are not separate. A flame
has two properties: light and heat. The two cannot
Shanti and shakti are like the sea and its waves.
Shanti, the unmanifest aspect, is the vast unmoving
body of water. The waves that appear and move on
the surface are shakti. Shanti is motionless, vast
and all-encompassing, whereas waves are active.
Bhagavan used to say that after realisation the
jivanmukta [liberated one] experiences
shanti within and is established permanently in
that shanti. In that state of realisation he sees
that all activities are caused by shakti. After
realisation one is aware that there is no
individual people doing anything. Instead there is
an awareness that all activities are the shakti of
the one Self. The jnani, who is fully established
in the shanti, is always aware that shakti is not
separate from him. In that awareness everything is
his Self and all actions are his. Alternatively, it
is equally correct to say that he never does
anything. This is one of the paradoxes of the
The universe is controlled by the one shakti,
sometimes called Parameshwara shakti [the power
of the Supreme Lord]. This moves and orders all
things. Natural laws, such as the laws that keep
the planets in their orbits, are all manifestations
of this shakti.
Question: You say that everything is the
Self, even maya. If this is so, why can't I see the
Self clearly? Why is it hidden from me?
Annamalai Swami: Because you are looking in
the wrong direction. You have the idea that the
Self is something that you see or experience. This
is not so. The Self is the awareness or the
consciousness in which the seeing and the
experiencing take place.
Even if you don't see the Self, the Self is still
there. Bhagavan sometimes remarked humorously:
"People just open a newspaper and glance through
it. Then they say, "I have seen the paper". But
really they haven't seen the paper, they have only
seen the letters and pictures that are on it. There
can be no words or pictures without the paper, but
people always forget the paper while they are
reading the words."
Bhagavan would then use this analogy to show that
while people see the names and forms that appear on
the screen of consciousness, the ignore the screen
itself. With this kind of partial vision it is easy
to come to the conclusion that all forms are
unconnected with each other and separate from the
person who sees them. If people were to be aware of
the consciousness instead of the forms that appear
in it, they would realise that all forms are just
appearances which manifest within the one
That consciousness is the Self that you are looking
for. You can be that consciousness but you can
never see it because it is not something that is
separate from you.
Question: You talk a lot about vasanas.
Could you please tell me exactly what they are and
how they function?
Annamalai Swami: Vasanas are habits of the
mind. They are the mistaken identifications and the
repeated thought patterns that occur again and
again. It is the vasanas which cover up the
experience of the Self. Vasanas arise, catch your
attention, and pull you outwards towards the world
rather than inwards towards the Self. This happens
so often and so continuously that the mind never
gets a chance to rest or to understand its real
Cocks like to claw the ground. It is a perpetual
habit with them. Even if they are standing on bare
rock they still try to scratch the ground.
Vasanas function in much the same the way. They are
habits and patterns of thought that appear again
and again even if they are not wanted. Most of our
ideas and thoughts are incorrect. When they rise
habitually as vasanas they brainwash us into
thinking that they are true. The fundamental
vasanas such as "I am the body" or "I am the mind"
have appeared in us so many times that we
automatically accept that they are true. Even our
desire to transcend our vasanas is a vasana. When
we think "I must meditate" or "I must make an
effort" we are just organising a fight between two
different vasanas. You can only escape the habits
of the mind by abiding in consciousness as
consciousness. Be who you are. Just be still.
Ignore all the vasanas that rise in the mind and
instead fix your attention in the Self.
Question: Bhagavan often told devotees to
"Be still". Did he mean "Be mentally still"?
Annamalai Swami: Bhagavan's famous
instruction "summa iru" [be still] is often
misunderstood. It does not mean that you should be
physically still; it means that you should always
abide in the Self. If there is too much physical
stillness, tamoguna [a state of mental
torpor] arises and predominates. In that state
you will feel very sleepy and mentally dull.
Rajoguna [a state of excessive mental
activity], on the other hand, produces emotions
and a mind which is restless. In sattva guna [a
state of mental quietness and clarity] there is
stillness and harmony. If mental activity is
necessary while one is in sattva guna it takes
place. But for the rest of the time there is
stillness. When tamoguna and rajoguna predominate,
the Self cannot be felt. If sattva guna
predominates one experiences peace, bliss, clarity
and an absence of wandering thoughts. That is the
stillness that Bhagavan was prescribing.
Question: Bhagavan, in Talks with Ramana
Maharshi, speaks of bhoga vasanas [vasanas
which are for enjoyment] and bandha vasanas
[vasanas which produce bondage]. He says
that for the jnani there are bhoga vasanas but no
bandha vasanas. Would Swamiji please clarify the
Annamalai Swami: Nothing can cause bondage
for the jnani because his mind is dead. In the
absence of a mind he knows himself only as
consciousness. Because the mind is dead, he is no
longer able to identify himself with the body. But
even though he knows that he is not the body, it is
a fact that the body is still alive. That body will
continue to live, and the jnani will continue to be
aware of it, until its own karma [destined
action] is exhausted. Because the jnani is
still aware of the body, he will also be aware of
the thoughts and vasanas that arise in that body.
None of these vasanas has the power to cause
bondage for him because he never identifies with
them, but they do have the power to make the body
behave in certain ways. The body of the jnani
enjoys and experiences these vasanas although the
jnani himself is not affected by them. That is why
it is sometimes said that for the jnani there are
bhoga vasanas but no bandha vasanas.
The bhoga vasanas differ from jnani to jnani. Some
jnanis may accumulate wealth, some may sit in
silence; some may study the Shastras
[Scriptures] while others may remain
illiterate; some may get married ands raise
families, but others may become celibate monks. It
is the bhoga vasanas which determine the kind of
lifestyle a jnani will lead. The jnani is aware of
the consequences of all these vasanas without ever
identifying with them. Because of this he never
falls back into samsara [worldly illusion]
The vasanas arise because of the habits and
practices of previous lifetimes. That is why they
differ from jnani to jnani. When vasanas rise in
ordinary people who still identify with the body
and the mind, they cause likes and dislikes. Some
vasanas are embraced wholeheartedly while others
are rejected as being undesirable. These likes and
dislikes generate desires and fears which in turn
produce more karma. While you are still making
judgements about what is good and what is bad, you
are identifying with the mind and making new karma
for yourself. When new karma has been created like
this, it means you have to take another birth to
The jnani's body carries out all the acts which are
destined for it. But because the jnani makes no
judgement about what is good or bad, and because he
has no likes or dislikes, he is not creating any
new karma for himself. Because he knows that he is
not the body, he can witness all its activities
without getting involved in them in any way.
There will be no rebirth for the jnani because once
the mind has been destroyed there is no possibility
of any new karma being created.
Question: So whatever happens to us in life
only happens because of our past likes and
Annamalai Swami: Yes.
Question: How can one learn not to react
when vasanas arise in the mind? Is there anything
special that we should be looking out for?
Annamalai Swami: You must learn to recognise
them when they arise. That is the only way. If you
can catch them early enough and frequently enough
they will not cause you trouble. If you want to pay
attention to a special area of danger, watch how
the five senses operate. It is the nature of the
mind to seek stimulation through the five senses.
The mind catches hold of sense impressions and
processes them in such a way that they produce long
chains of uncontrolled thoughts. Learn to watch how
your senses behave. Learn to watch how the mind
reacts to sense impressions. If you can stop the
mind from reacting to sense impressions you can
eliminate a large number of your vasanas.
Bhagavan never like or disliked anything. If we
have likes or dislikes, if we hate or love someone
or something, some bondage will arise in the mind.
Jnanis never like or dislike anything. That is why
they are free of all bondage.