By incessantly pursuing within yourself the inquiry ‘Who am I?’, you will know your true self and thereby attain salvation. – Sri Ramana Maharshi
Ramana Maharshi (1879–1950) is widely acknowledged as one of the outstanding Indian gurus of modern times. He was born as Venkataraman Iyer, in Tiruchuli, South India.
At the age of sixteen, Venkataraman lost his sense of individual selfhood, an awakening which he later recognized as enlightenment. About 6 weeks thereafter he left his home and traveled to the holy mountain Arunachala, at Tiruvannamalai, where he remained for the rest of his life.
His first years were spent in solitude, but his stillness and his appearance as a sanyassin soon attracted devotees. In later years, he responded to questions but always insisted that silence was the purest teaching. His verbal teachings flowed “from his direct knowledge that consciousness was the only existing reality.” In later years, a community grew up around him, where he was available twenty-four hours a day to visitors. Though worshipped by thousands, he never allowed anyone to treat him as special, or receive private gifts. He treated all with equal respect. Since the 1930s, his teachings have also been popularized in the west.
The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi
All beings desire happiness always, happiness without a tinge of sorrow. At the same time, everybody loves himself best. The cause for love is only happiness. So, that happiness must lie in one. Further, that happiness is daily experienced by everyone in sleep, when there is no mind. To attain that natural happiness one must know oneself. For that, Self-Enquiry, ‘Who am I?’ is the chief means.
Existence or Consciousness is the only reality. Consciousness plus waking we call waking. Consciousness plus sleep we call sleep. Consciousness plus dream, we call a dream. Consciousness is the screen on which all the pictures come and go. The screen is real, the pictures are mere shadows on it.
Mind is a wonderful force inherent in the Self.
That which arises in this body as ‘I’ is the mind.
When the subtle mind emerges through the brain and the senses, the gross names and forms are cognized. When it remains in the Heart names and forms disappear… If the mind remains in the Heart, the ‘I’ or the ego which is the source of all thoughts will go, and the Self, the Real, Eternal ‘I’ alone will shine. Where there is not the slightest trace of the ego, there is the Self.
“Who Am I?” – Inquiry
For all thoughts, the source is the ‘I’ thought. The mind will merge only by Self-enquiry ‘Who am I?’ The thought ‘Who am l?’ will destroy all other thoughts and finally kill itself also. If other thoughts arise, without trying to complete them, one must enquire to whom did this thought arise. What does it matter how many thoughts arise? As each thought arises one must be watchful and ask to whom is this thought occurring. The answer will be ‘to me’. If you enquire ‘Who am I?’ the mind will return to its source (or where it issued from). The thought which arose will also submerge. As you practice like this more and more, the power of the mind to remain as its source is increased.
There are two ways of achieving surrender. One is looking into the source of the ‘I’ and merging into that source. The other is feeling ‘I am helpless myself, God alone is all powerful and except throwing myself completely on Him, there is no other means of safety for me’, and thus gradually developing the conviction that God alone. exists and the ego does not count. Both methods lead to the same goal. Complete surrender is another name for jnana or liberation.
The Three States: Waking, Dream and Sleep
There is no difference between the dream and the waking state except that the dream is short and the waking long. Both are the result of the mind. Our real state is beyond the waking, dream and sleep states, called turiya.
Grace and Guru
I have not said that a Guru is not necessary. But a Guru need not always be in human form. First a person thinks that he is an inferior and that there is a superior, all-knowing, all powerful God who controls his own and the world’s destiny and worships him or does Bhakti. When he reaches a certain stage and becomes fit for enlightenment, the same God whom he was worshipping comes as Guru and leads him on. That Guru comes only to tell him ‘That God is within yourself. Dive within and realize’. God, Guru and the Self are the same.
The state we call realization is simply being oneself, not knowing anything or becoming anything. If one has realized, he is that which alone is, and which alone has always been. He cannot describe that state. He can only be That. Of course, we loosely talk of self-realization for want of a better term.
That which ‘Is’ is peace. All that we need do is to keep quiet. Peace is our real nature. We spoil it. What is required is that we cease to spoil it.
In the center of the cavity of the Heart the sole Brahman shines by itself as the atman (Self) in the feeling of ‘I’-‘I’. Reach the Heart by diving within yourself, either with control of breath, or with thought concentrated on the quest of Self. You will thus get fixed in the Self.
Asked ‘How does a grihastha (householder) fare in the scheme of Moksha (liberation)?’ Bhagavan said, ‘Why do you think you are a grihastha? If you go out as sanyasi (ascetic), a similar thought that you are a sanyasi will haunt you. Whether you continue in the household or renounce it and go to the forest, your mind goes with you. The ego is the source of all thought. It creates the body and the world and makes you think you are a grihastha . If you renounce the world it will only substitute the thought sanyasi for grihastha and the environments in the forest for those of the household. But the mental obstacles will still be there. They even increase in the new surroundings. There is no help in change of environment. The obstacle is the mind. It must be got over whether at home or in the forest. If you can do it in the forest, why not at home? Therefore, why change your environment? Your efforts can be made even now – in whatever environment you are now. The environment will never change according to your desire’.
Fate and Freewill
Freewill and destiny are ever existent. Destiny is the result of past action; it concerns the body. Let the body act as may suit it. Why are you concerned about it? Why do you pay attention to it. Freewill and destiny last as long as the body lasts. But jnana transcends both. The Self is beyond knowledge and ignorance. Whatever happens, happens as the result of one’s past actions, of divine will and of other factors.
There are only two ways to conquer destiny or be independent of it. One is to enquire for whom is this destiny and discover that only the ego is bound by destiny and not the Self and that the ego is non-existent.
The other way is to kill the ego by completely surrendering to the Lord, by realizing one’s helplessness and saying all the time, ‘Not I, but Thou oh Lord’ and giving up all sense of ‘I’ and mine, and leaving it to the Lord to do what he likes with you. Complete effacement of the ego is necessary to conquer destiny, whether you achieve this effacement through self-inquiry or bhakti marga (Path).