Sage SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI
SELF – ENQUIRY
Without the “I”, there is no “you” nor “he”, nor “she”, nor “it”. When the “I” enquires into its
source, the “I” itself subsides, and the second and third person also disappears. Reality, our
own natural state, shines forth.
– Ramana Maharshi
Sage Ramana has given the following precise and clear answer to a query about Self-enquiry by K.Vydianandiyar, a devotee, in the year 1917.
K.V.: Revered Sir, may I know (1) what Atma Vichara is, (2) what benefit one derives from it, and (3) whether the same benefit may not be obtained otherwise, i.e., without such Vichara?
Maharshi: What are you doing now? You are asking questions. That is, you are entering on a Vichara, or enquiry. So Vichara is clear enough to you. But your question is, and you wish to know, about Atma Vichara, i.e., the enquiry about Atma, the Self. The term ‘enquiry’ being clear to you from your own questioning, you wish to know then what Atma, or the Self, is. You are yourself enquiring about the Self, in you, or putting the same idea in the first person, you are asking “What is myself? What is the enquiry about my self?” This is that enquiry, the enquiry now being made. This is just what happens.
Sri Muruganar having composed over 20,000 verses on Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi and his teachings in his masterwork Guru Vachaka Kovai in relation to Self-enquiry states –
- Investigating who perceives this false
External world of sense, bring to an end
The frisking ego’s mischief. Abiding
As supreme awareness in the heart,
This alone is liberation.
- The method of self-enquiry is
To turn the outward-going mind
Back to its source, the Heart, the Self,
And fix it ever there, preventing
The rising of the empty “I”.
- One who has wisely chosen the straight path
Of self-enquiry can never go astray;
For like the bright, clear Sun, the Self
Reveals itself direct to whoso
Turns towards it.
- Forgetfulness of Self is real death.
To overcome the fear of body’s death
We need must constantly remember
The Self. For self-enquiry then,
There is no fixed rule of time or place
(All times and all places are suitable for self-enquiry.)
- No object that in time and space appears
Can have existence independent
Of that supreme and perfect Being.
Hence no time and no place is deemed
Unfit for Self-enquiry.
(Another meaning: nothing in time and space can be deemed an object of meditation in self-enquiry.)
- Every time a thought arises, don’t
At all let it complete itself.
Ask rather: “To whom do all these thoughts
Occur?” Start questing for the Self.
- “To me occurs this thought. Then Who
Am I?” Dive deep into the Self
Enquiring thus. The mind will sink
Into its source, the thought subside.
- Pursuit of the thought “Who am I?”
Destroys all other diverse thoughts and then
It is itself consumed in total silence
As the long pole used to burn a corpse with
Is burnt too in the funeral pyre.
- When the suffering fool turns inward
Enquiring “Who am I?” the radiant
Truth is seen, confusion cleared,
And silence wells up as the bliss of peace.
- Is it not because you are yourself
Awareness that you now perceive
This Universe? If you observe
Awareness steadily, this awareness
Itself as Guru will reveal
- What rises as “I” in the body is mind.
Enquiring where this “I” – thought was
Before its rising in the body, it sinks
Within the heart. Hence from the heart
The mind arises.
In Sri Ramana Gita, the Sage gives the instruction about Self-enquiry.
Karshni, a devotee, enquires:
Q. What is the nature of Self-enquiry? What is its purpose? Is there any greater good obtainable by other means?
Sage Ramana instructs:
- The ‘I’- thought is said to be the sum of all thoughts.
The source of the ‘I’- thought has to be enquired into.
- This is Self-enquiry, and not the study of scriptures. When the source is searched for, the ego gets merged in it.
- When the ego, which is a mere reflection of the Self, totally disappears, what remains is the true Self alone in all its plenitude and perfection.
- The result of Self-enquiry is freedom from all suffering. This is the highest of all fruits. There is nothing higher than this.
In the book, Day by Day with Bhagavan, recorded by Devaraja Mudaliar, Sage Ramana communicates –
‘If we talk of knowing the Self, there must be two selves, one a knowing self, another the self which is known and the process of knowing. The state we call realisation is simply being oneself, not knowing anything or becoming anything. If one has realised, one is that which alone has always been. One cannot describe that state. One can only be that. Of course we loosely talk of Self-realisation for want of a better term. How to real-ise or make real that which alone is real?’
The state we call realisation is simply being one-self, not knowing anything or becoming anything.’
Primarily, the Sage rejects the notion of two separate selves, one trying to become something, and another something to attain. In this first statement in the phrase ‘simply being one – self ‘ we have the strong implication that the state we call Realisation is in fact already there; our unborn natural state. From our own experience at this very moment now, we have a strong feeling of existence, being here and now. From the place through which we are looking out, we know we are conscious, and that this consciousness is streaming from our inner depths making our senses function; and as natural awareness, this consciousness is striking the whole panorama of objects, hearing all the sounds which are happening, including my own voice. This is simple when we are focused in the ‘I Am-ness’ of the here and now because it is not confused by any intellectual conceptualism trying to work it all out; for we are always living from Consciousness at any moment. If we let go of the thinking associative mind, then we are in the immediacy of pure Consciousness.
This recognition of simple ‘being here now’, existing, confirmed by a sensation of ‘I Am-ness’ is the natural state, that which alone is pure, without the intrusion of conceptual thought which clouds this direct perception of what is.
If this is our natural state, which we never completely lose even in our worst moments of identification of thoughts and their consequent feelings, then in this state we are as the Sage says, simply being one – self. We do not know anything at that moment, because conceptual thought has not taken us away, and we do not have to become anything because that is where we have always been, are now, and always will be naturally, until we spoil it. Our problem is that we lose this recognition very easily because of numerous identifications with thoughts, feelings, the sense of the body and I am the doer; and a major erroneous conclusion we have reached is a grossly mistaken concept – the idea that we are yet to realise the Self and haven’t reached that state.
If one rests in the state of – consciousness, awareness, being here now, ‘I Am-ness’, existence – one sees and feels that one is free. Everything like body, thoughts, feelings, objects become external to this awareness. Everything is happening in me, to witness impartially. I am free if I remember to return to this recognition. I have Self-enquiry to help me return at any moment. I am merely lost in the illusion of identification. So, we say, that the root of the problem is a series of self-supporting false beliefs which the practice of Self-enquiry progressively weakens.
Concluding this discussion on Self-enquiry with the following verses from the book Guru VachakaKovai
- Barring fruitful self-enquiry
There is, for real mind-control,
No other sadhana whatsoever.
The mind may seem to be controlled
By other methods. But after a while
It will spring up again.
- Can the poor restless mind behold
The still, bright Being of the Self?
Unless the ego-sense, the knot
Binding matter and awareness, snaps,
The Truth is unattainable.
- Is it only when gold ornaments
Are melted into a shapeless mass
That they become gold? Are they not gold
Even when the forms are there? Know clearly
That world, jiva and God, the three
Mind-shaped entities, are made up
Of the one sole Being-Awareness.
- Apart from the non-dual Self,
The Whole, all other things dependent,
Both that and this, that constitute
The empirical world, lack even the slightest
Trace of Being. They are all mere
Phenomena or appearances
Conceived in it. This is the sole,
The final Truth.
- Because the sages say that It
Abides as one though It appears
As many, because from Time’s beginning
All beings are only that sole Being,
Union with that Awareness true,
This alone is moksha. (liberation)
- When the seeker tries to realise
The non-duality of the Self,
Fumbles and fails again, again,
And finally his efforts stop
It is then, just then, that in his heart
Shines the Self as true Awareness.
- Whether the world perceived is real
Or else conceptual and unreal,
You, the Knower, are there, are you not,
As Awareness present. Such Being
As pure Awareness is the Self.
- Awareness is not a quality of the Self.
The Self is without qualities.
Awareness is not an action of the Self.
The Self does nothing.
The Self, our Being, IS Awareness.
- The gods whom earnestly we worship
Appear and disappear by turns.
The natural Awareness which abides
Ever unchanging, clear and certain,
Is the real god supreme.
- Knowing that all things we point to
As this and that are mental concepts,
The Truth that shines in perfect stillness
Deep within us all, the real, mighty
Being-Awareness is the Self.
- The bliss supreme of Self-awareness.
Constant remembering and abiding
As that within the heart amounts
To plenitude of life.
- As sense-misled the ignorant man
Perceives the world as a collection
Of various objects, so the sage
Whose knot is cut asunder sees
Only the ground, the one Awareness,
Present and shining everywhere.
(The knot is the illusive nexus between Awareness
and matter, Self and body)
- When one is still and does not think
‘Does it exist or does it not?’
Then That which without form or name
Shines for ever as ‘I am’, That,
That Awareness, That alone
Is real Being.