Annamalai Swami 1

Annamalai Swami once said:

In the same way, mind is just a self-inflicted area of darkness in which the light of the Self has been deliberately shut out.

When you see this remark, which is quoted in the wonderful book Annamalai Swami: Final Talks, you have two choices.

1. You can think, “That’s poetry. I’m not supposed to take it literally. He’s just saying in a flowery way that the mind is unspiritual and the Self is spiritual.”

2. Or you can think, “That’s a plain matter-of-fact statement. He means literally, or almost literally, that the mind is an area of darkness from which the light of the Self has been excluded.”

Which choice do you make? Please take as much time as you want to think about it, dear reader.

I think the second choice is correct. The statement is plain and matter-of-fact.

In order to see that it’s a plain, literal statement, you need to have noticed an important fact about your mind.

That fact is this: When you think, you get lost in thoughts and lose consciousness. Most people stay in this lost-in-thoughts state nearly all the time while they are awake. However they don’t realize they are unconscious.

In order to notice that you are usually unconscious, you have to notice a moment when you are conscious. The true state of affairs then becomes evident by contrast. You can probably make yourself conscious for a moment or two by asking yourself, “Am I conscious now?” You can’t just say the words; you have to really wonder and inspect yourself to see whether you’re conscious. If that simple technique doesn’t work, you might try two longer articles I’ve written on the subject here and here.

Once you’ve seen that you’re sometimes conscious and sometimes not, you can practice moving between the two states. I think you will notice almost immediately that when you leave the lost-in-thoughts state and become conscious, it feels like the lights just went on. It’s not light in a visual sense — it doesn’t involve vision — but there is a feeling very much like the one we get when we’re in a dark room and somebody turns the lights on. This is what Annamalai Swami means by “light of the Self.”

“Light of the Self” or “light of consciousness” — they are the same thing — is a metaphor, not a literal term, because it’s not the kind of light we see with our eyes. However, the feeling we get when we notice consciousness is very similar to the feeling we get when we’re in a dark room and somebody presses the light switch. The feeling is so similar that “light of consciousness” is almost a literal statement. This use of the word “light” is like saying that a habanero pepper is “hot.” The pepper’s not hot in the narrow sense of high temperature, but the sensation caused by spicy food is so similar to the feeling caused by heat that we take the statement as an extension or generalization of the meaning of “hot” rather than as a metaphor.

When the light of consciousness appears, we suddenly know that we know. We become conscious that we are conscious. This is why people sometimes call the conscious state “awareness of awareness.” We aren’t necessarily conscious of any particular thing; we simply know that we are conscious. In the same way, when the lights go on in a dark room, there is a sudden feeling that now I can see. This feeling is very similar in both cases. With consciousness, the feeling is a little bit like now I know I’m here or just now I know I am.

As you notice yourself moving between the two states, lost-in-thought and consciousness, you will see that we lose consciousness when we think. The act of thinking — more precisely, the act of letting our attention get absorbed in thought — is what makes us lose consciousness. The act of thinking plunges us into darkness. The mind is the process of thinking, therefore the mind is an “area” of darkness. Of course it’s not really an “area” in an absolutely literal sense (it’s not a piece of geography); it’s an area in the sense that it’s a process that operates intermittently. While it is operating, if we allow it to absorb our attention, the “light” goes away.

You will see this for yourself — see it like a tangible thing — if you notice yourself move from consciousness to lost-in-thought and back. You will feel a state of illumination when you are conscious and you will see that the illumination vanishes when you allow your attention to get absorbed in thought.

This is what Annamalai Swami meant when he said:

In the same way, mind is just a self-inflicted area of darkness in which the light of the Self has been deliberately shut out.

He said “self-inflicted” and “deliberate” because we have the power not to let it happen.

I hope this article strengthens your resolve to use that power.

By the way, I very highly recommend the book from which this quote is taken, Annamalai Swami: Final Talks. It’s packed with excellent practical advice for waking up, and it’s cheap, short, and extremely clearly written. The edition published by AHAM fits easily in a purse or pocket, even a shirt pocket, so you can carry it everywhere and read a sentence or two when you want inspiration in order to do sadhana.

A free PDF of the book can be downloaded here. Normally I wouldn’t publish a link for a PDF that infringes a copyright, but after 17 years the publisher still hasn’t made a digital edition available, and I think this book deserves one.

4 thoughts to “Annamalai Swami 1”

  1. I ordered the Annamalai Swami book on your recommendation, and it did not disappoint. Thank you! It came with a lovely little Ramana bookmark, too, and a nice signed note from the AHAM people. I may consider one of their North Carolina retreats.

    “Place your burden at the feet of the Lord of the Universe, who accomplishes everything. Remain all the time steadfast in the Heart, in the Transcendental Absolute. God knows the past, present and future. He will determine the future for you and accomplish the work. What is to be done will be done, at the proper time. Don’t worry, abide in the Heart and surrender your acts to the Divine.” (says Bookmark Ramana)

    1. I was surprised to see this book mentioned. It is excellent. I used to carry this book with me everywhere and once every few minutes I would read a highlighted part and it would put the “lights on”. It is very cheap on AHAM – buy many and hand them out.

      Also thank you for mentioning this bookmark quote, Beau. I once had a Christian fundamentalist friend of mine see this bookmark on my table, and he was blown away by how “Christian” Ramana sounded. This quote has slowly
      opened him to the idea there is more to spirituality then just Christ.

      1. Yay, Mykola. I had a somewhat similar experience showing that quote to my quite Catholic mother-in-law. 🙂

        Do you feel as though you’ve realized the Self?

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