"Only if you reject all the other paths can you discover your own path" ~ UG Krishnamurti
We all seem to be the victims of conditioned cultural conformity. What amazes us is that none of the gurus who troop through Tiru and around the globe have anything new or authentic to say. Most of them robotically recite the Advaitic mantra of "Who am I?" as if it's some kind of coded Illuminati club membership. New wannabes like Saraswathi Ma blindly repeat the same formula with only the added frisson of her posh upper class accent to stir the loins. What happened? How did we all become so dumbed down? ... And if we were truly asking who we are, wouldn't we be examining some of these ridiculous spiritual assumptions and holding them up to the light of day?
Self-enquiry is all these people have to offer. Mooji is a prime example - without it he's just an empty locker. Mooji offers nothing more than the spiritual palliatives and Hindu aphorisms found in any pulp spiritual publication. He's a one-trick pony and he has to have an ancient technique to legitimate his authority. In fact it seems that everyone in the satsang game is using Ramana's investigation of his death experience as some kind of moral fig leaf with which to clothe their nakedness (or is it just plain vacancy?) But Ramana was a total one-off: his case was unique and highly nuanced. While our contemporary clowns are prescribing self-enquiry as a cure-all for every situation, he only taught ātma-vichāra in specific cases and in a host of different ways, according to the needs of his questioner. By virtue of his realisation, Ramana had the intuitive capacity to meet his audience where they were and seamlessly respond to them. He often upheld Hindu tradition simply for the sake of his cultural audience - and he was also contradictory and enigmatic. Just as often as he spoke of self-enquiry, Ramana could also be found endorsing the value of meditation, prayer, mantra and devotion. And for many, Ramana's highest teaching was Silence.
Ramana's own realisation was spontaneous and did not even come about as a result of self-enquiry - unless we interpret the term more broadly, like Michael James, as a process of discovery involving "self-attention" and "self-investigation." Self-enquiry as we now know it, is Ramana's development of the teaching given in the Yoga Vasistha by the sage Valmiki to Rama. Here it is the cure for "the long lasting disease of samsara" and "the fire which burns up the seeds of the evil tree that is the mind." But whereas Valmiki only vaguely describes "Who am I?" as "enquiry into the Self" and asking "to whom does this samsara belong?" - Ramana gave a multitude of specific explanations of its practice. Many attach themselves to this description: "At the very moment that thought arises, if one vigilantly enquires 'To whom did this rise?', it will be known 'To me.' If one then enquires 'Who am I?' the mind will turn back to its source [the Self] and the thought which has risen will also subside." Others maintain that Ramana's self-enquiry is better summed up by the spiritual instruction, "summa iru." This contains the injunction to "remain still" and simply "be as you are."
The great irony of the "Who am I?" gang is that none of them is really asking the question - they are just using it as a badge of their own "specialness" and spiritual attainment. The likes of Saraswathi Ma, Mooji and Devaji have all extracted self-enquiry out of its deeply Indian context and are mechanically employing it as a one-size-fits-all solution. Their self-enquiry is a soulless pseudo-version of what Ramana only sometimes recommended - mindlessly repeated in infinitely meaningless variations. In their greed for gurudom, they have placed self-enquiry at the centre of Ramana's teaching and projected the Self as an external object to be acquired by a single definitive means. It's a magic bullet for the masses, which diverts attention away from the sham guru at the centre of the story. And, by focusing on self-enquiry and handing it out as a tool to their accolytes, they can then act out the "fantasy Ramana" of their imaginations. Effectively they promote their own idealized version of the past - which never existed - so that they can proclaim themselves the standard-bearers of a phantom lineage that they have created.
Thus we see Mooji and Devaji promoting the image that their followers are quietly and organically forming an ashram around them, just like Ramana. This is a religious phenomenon eerily similar to that outlined in Thomas à Kempis' Imitation of Christ, which Saint Augustine prescribed as a remedy for the sins of Adam. Derived from the Pauline Epistles, the idea was to follow an example of Jesus' life in order to be like him. Inspired by Saint Francis of Assisi, some Christian accolytes would pursue a path of poverty and preaching. Others, including à Kempis himself, adopted an interior life and withdrew from the world. It's a reality insert: a fantasy image of a religious figure - constructed for others to copy - so that they can claim that person's virtues and spiritual attainment for themselves. Just as the Christians have conjured up a "fantasy Jesus," the Advaitins are now mass-producing a "fantasy Ramana who taught self-enquiry" as their guru blueprint. But if you really think the Ramana Ashram of the 20s and 30s was some idyllic enclave of pious introspection and "Who am I?"-ing, then we invite you to check out David Godman's Living by the Words of Bhagavan. This is the biography of Annamalai Swami and there you will find a colourful cast of late colonial era eccentrics involved in all kinds of back stabbing and intrigue. The story of Perumal Swami for example is classic theatre with a pantomime villain par excellence!
"Who am I?" spirituality is simulated enlightenment sold as an authentic attainment. Instead of investigating the "I" as a human being, it is investigating the "I" as a robot. This is a cynical cyborg reality - devoid of a beating heart - ruthlessly delivered on to equally droid-like followers. All of the pretenders to the Advaitic throne are engaged in a vigorous form of religious autoeroticism using self-enquiry as the magic button. By creating a false image, they have created a false god. Every religion has a cult of the image around its founding father, which becomes a template for mind control, because it's a subset of reality cut off from the mainframe. As Sarah Oliver comments on our Facebook page: It's the cultic overlay. Sophie [Saraswathi Ma] is still in there but her true authenticity is hijacked by the programming ... "whatever transformed her" is called a convergence experience and every single religion manufactures this experience ... She is just spewing mind control. She is telling you how it works, i.e. dissociating, cutting out the emotional intelligence of the human being ... She is telling you how she keeps herself in the trance ...
The killer point here is that the awakening and enlightenment offered by these gurus are finite states of dissociation divorced from the body. Fully embodied existence is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, not some promise of a permanent beatific state. As we see it, most people only want happiness. They are not prepared to accept suffering - and you can't have one without the other. When we can't get past pain, we seek perfection externally, which is then mirrored back to us in the intoxicating philosophies and experiences of Oneness, Supreme Self, bliss and love without end. But these are outward projections in a spiritual universe of what has not been thoroughly physically integrated. There is no need for the spiritual drag show of non-duality: only for a profound acceptance of duality. And when we embrace duality, we go past ultimate states and re-enter the pure visceral excitement of life ... Awakening and enlightenment are not the end of the road. They are illusions and do not truly exist.
It's at this point we see that gurus and followers alike are participating in an ancient and collective delusion. What is so deeply dishonest here is that all the "Who am I?" teachers - Gangaji, Madhukar, Mooji, Isaac Shapiro, Devaji and Saraswathi Ma - are not giving us enlightenment at all, but a contrived formula for what is someone else's dead, personal experience. It dismisses the fact that each of us has our own unique journey, which cannot be preprogrammed and repackaged for consumption. However persuasive you find another's path, in the end you have to drop it and walk your own. This is where teachings and teachers fall away. All the rules of the game are broken: there was only ever your own experience, which fits no other paradigm.
So in this hall of mirrors, who are you? Man or machine? Do you wish to be encoded and chipped, regurgitating a brand of mass-produced spirituality? Or do you want to stand up and claim your humanity whatever the price? We refer you back to the 60s' cult series, The Prisoner and its legendary battlecry: I am not a number, I am a free man!