A friend wrote to me yesterday:
More and more Ramana’s words come to mind, and I say, “Okay, but who or what is having those experiences?” As I go into that, nothing is there, and I find experience just is. How about that?
My friend is finding nothing because he’s looking for an object (mental activity) and the experiencer isn’t an object.
Consider this sentence that he wrote:
Nothing is there, and I find experience just is.
Most certainly something is there! He says so himself in the second half of the sentence! He writes, “I find…” That I is there, the I that is finding.
He himself is there.
When he says the I isn’t there, he means he can’t observe himself in the way that he observes objects.
Well, of course not, because he’s not an object.
But he can observe himself. He can put his attention on himself. I know this is possible because I learned to do it and everyone else can too.
Maybe it’s accurate to say that Ramana’s great discovery was that we can’t get rid of the ego unless we first put our attention on it. It’s the light that kills it. If you think you’ve killed it by falsely convincing yourself it was never there, it will be there forever.
Maybe we can help people avoid this misunderstanding if we describe Ramana’s method like this:
Put your attention on yourself.
Instead of like this:
Find out what you really are.
The first instruction is the practice. The second is the aim and motivation.
I wrote back to my friend:
An awful lot of people say exactly what you just said. I probably used to say the same thing, years ago. Then one day I realized, “Holy shit, it really really really is possible to put my attention on the experiencer, on myself.” It took quite a while to get to that point. That’s when everything Ramana says started to make sense to me.
The reason it seems like there isn’t any experiencer to be found is because people are looking for an object, for something that they are going to know. The experiencer isn’t that sort of thing. The experiencer is found by placing attention on yourself, on that which is looking for the experiencer, and yes, you really can put your attention on it. It’s that which is trying to find out. It’s that which would get the answer if you found one. (Ultimately some of what I wrote in this paragraph may not be exactly true but nonetheless it’s what you have to do to make this work.)
When you look for an answer, you’re looking for an object, for mental activity. You are not an object.
“Looking” at the experiencer (at yourself) is different from looking at anything else. People need to play around with their minds and attention to stumble across how this can be done. If you play around with this enough, I’m sure you’ll find it. A lot of people give up too easily. There are a lot of folks on the Internet saying it’s impossible, and that encourages people to give up.