Today’s topic is a hard one for the same reason that fish get bored and stop listening when you tell them they’re floating in water.
Everything you’ve ever known has been an experience, just like fish have always been in water.
This topic is not only boring, it’s incomprehensible, because if everything has always been an experience, you’ve got nothing to compare it to and that makes the situation invisible.
By “experience” I mean your observation or witnessing or knowing or feeling or awareness of something that your brain has presented to you: a sight, a sound, a wondering, a memory, a thought, a piece of wishful thinking, a worrisome possibility, the intuition of God, the pain of arthritis, a burst of anger, the sense of a quiet mind, a sudden understanding, the relief of your biopsy coming back negative, love for your pet rabbit, etc. etc. etc.
The mind is a representation machine: it shows us representations of things, and it’s difficult to avoid the feeling or assumption that the representations are the things. It even shows us representations of ourselves, which we call “I”.
It even shows us representations of its own processes: wondering, seeking to experience, questioning, the endless cycle of instigating the next experience.
The Self — yourself — is outside of all that.
Most people know this on some level, but there’s a difference between knowing it and successfully applying it to vichara.
Experiences always include (1) an object, i.e., the representation experienced (it may be a very subtle “thing”; it may be God or a state of mind that you imagine to be enlightenment); and sometimes (2) the sense that I am having the experience. Number (2) is the ego.
You are neither of those things. You are outside experience. You are the knowing (the real knowing, not the pseudo-knower we call the ego) that makes experiences possible.
You are not an experience.
Incidentally, the ego doesn’t depend on belief in a “story.” The idea that the ego results from identification with a “story” is a kindergarten story told to seekers because it keeps the whole enterprise of seeking comfortably within the realm of experience instead of helping you transcend the prison of experience and break into the light.
The ego is (1) a representation of ourselves that our minds show us which includes, very importantly, (2) the representation (the feeling) of the mental activity that keeps the representations going which includes, very importantly, (3) the activity of looking for yourself.
The ego is mainly felt as the endless activity of seeking and obtaining experiences. This is why Ramana says that ego stands only so long as it grasps objects. If a thing is an activity, when the activity stops, the thing ceases to exist.
Why should you care about this?
Chances are good that you’ve heard or read a bazillion times that the Self is not an object. Chances are also good that no matter how many times you hear this, when you go looking for yourself, you inevitably try to find an object. You’re pretty sure this is wrong but you can’t find an alternative.
The reason you can’t find an alternative is that you are looking inside the realm of experience. You can’t help doing that for the same reason a fish can’t recognize that it’s wet: you haven’t yet noticed or recognized something which isn’t an experience.
I shouldn’t say “looking” because that word will probably mislead you. “Looking” pertains to experiences. There is a kind of noticing that can persist when looking stops. That’s what you’re after.
Don’t give up!