What then is time? Time, says Ramana, is something which rises when ego rises. This would be clear if one examines the meaning of the ‘daily wonder’ of sleep and waking. In sleep time stops. Does it not? What happens in sleep is a matter of recollection on waking and not one’s current awareness. During sleep when the ego is not one’s current state of awareness, the movement of thought as present, past and future, too comes to a grinding halt. It starts all over again on waking, on the rising of the ‘I’ thought. So if we have to tackle time, if we have to master it, quite obviously we have to learn to consciously stop mental movements; we have to learn to keep attention fixed on the present. Why? Unless the thought waves stop, unless one is able to stay with the present moment, no enquiry about the rising ego is possible. The search for the eternal, for the ever existent feeling of ‘I-I’ would be possible only in a situation when we shift attention from time, which keeps changing, to the changeless substratum.
This brings us back to that infallible weapon of Ramana, self-enquiry. Here we have his assurance that time is immaterial for Self-Knowledge. Why? In self-enquiry the focus of attention is the individual and not his parasitic thoughts. The movement of thought away from the focus of attention, the individual, would be quickly detected. It functions like pesticide, for the “poisonous weed of conceptual thought” is tackled as it sprouts. The thoughts wither away because attention is not on them. When the individual attention is withdrawn from thoughts it can be focused steadily on the feeling of ‘I-I’. The Self-attention, this staying with the ‘true Self’, is the experiencing of the natural state. Experience of the joy of that state is direct and immediate.
One should however stay with the experience, knowing it to be one of the natural state and not move away from it. All that is needed is to remain still. Not to do anything wrongly thinking that something further needs to be done, is the wisdom needed at this crucial stage. When one has tasted this atmosphere of happiness, self-enquiry needs no pushing and cajoling. Interest in it would be automatic. All that is needed would be the steadying of the experience which happens by practice. The way has become the goal for they were never really apart.
A.R.Natarajan Founder President, Ramana Maharshi Centre for Learning, Bangalore