Because truth is exceedingly subtle and serene
the bliss of the Self can manifest only
in a mind rendered subtle and steady
by assiduous meditation.
– Ramana Maharshi

In dealing with the teachings of Sage Ramana Maharshi, one occasionally comes across pieces of advice which seem to contradict each other. To recognise the real meaning of such apparent inconsistencies one has to keep in mind one main principle of the sage; he never discouraged the visitor in his own spiritual endeavour, whatever the outer form may be. As he knew that the sincere seeker after Truth is always guided from within, and that his inclinations to particular practices not only indicate the degree of his spiritual maturity, but at the same time, in most cases, are also the means best suited for the person concerned. He never advised a questioner to drop whatever practice he had followed up to that point; he only showed, if necessary, how to make it more effective.

When he stressed again and again the superiority of investigation or Self-enquiry compared with all other methods, he was not motivated by a kind of bigotry, but did it because there is a very important reason behind it which is rocklike and insurmountable; all other methods of spiritual practice have to keep the personal ‘I’ to be practised, Self-enquiry which is the investigation into this ‘I’, is the best possible method to remove it.

According to Sage Ramana Self-enquiry is the only direct method; others are meant for those who cannot take to the investigation of the Self. This path is the highest of all and is suited only for advanced aspirants. Those who follow other paths will not be ripe for this until they are advanced on their own paths. Thus it is really by grace, whether guru (spiritual guide) or Self-awareness, that they are brought to this highest path. Of course, they may have practised the other paths in previous existences and thus may have been born ripe for this one; others try different methods and after progressing finally turn to Self-enquiry. But the last stages of all paths are the same; which pertains to surrender of the personal ‘I’.

Meditation means many things to many individuals and ranges from quiet brooding on a concept or an ideal to the beatitude of the highest spiritual contemplation. But in the method of spiritual practice propounded by Sage Ramana it strictly means, whatever the method, the attempt is to still the thinking faculty, the perpetually-surging waves of the mind, in order that the calm ocean of pure awareness, from which they rise and on which they move, may be experienced.

Disciple:  What is the difference between meditation (dhyana) and investigation (vichara)? 

Maharshi: Both amount to the same. Those unfit for investigation must practise meditation. In meditation the aspirant forgetting himself meditates `I am Brahman’ or `I am Siva’ and by this method holds on to Brahman (the Absolute) or Siva. This will ultimately end with the residual awareness of Brahman (the Absolute)  or Siva as being. He will then realize that this is pure being, that is, the Self. He who engages in investigation starts by holding on to himself, and by asking himself `Who am I?’ the Self becomes clear to him. Mentally imagining oneself to be the supreme reality, which shines as existence-consciousness-bliss, is meditation. Fixing the mind in the Self so that the unreal seed of delusion will die is enquiry. Whoever meditates upon the Self in whatever bhava (mental image) attains it only in that image. Those peaceful ones who remain quiet without any such bhava attain the noble and unqualified state of kaivalya, the formless state of the Self.

Sage Ramana has delved deep on these topics to respond to the queries of spiritual aspirants. In the following PDF document some conversations with the Sage in relation to spiritual practice, meditation and Self-enquiry as recorded by Sri S S Cohen and in other resources are reproduced.