The Practice of Self Inquiry – “Who Am I?”

Ramana Maharshi said, “Look, it’s all very simple, everybody,” and then for 40 or 45 years all he did was go around telling everyone how simple it was. He said that all you keep doing is self inquiry, Vichara Atma – “Who am I?” You keep saying this, “Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?”

Here is an exercise you can go through:

You sit down quietly and you say, “Who am I?” and then the way I do it is I put the “I,” the thought of the “I” right in the middle of my head, right here, and I say, “I am not this body.” Then I experience my body as object to the “I” in the middle of my head. I see it. I feel it. I sense it as an object. Then I say, “I am not my five organs of action,” and then I experience my arms as objects, my legs as objects, my tongue as an object, my anal sphincter as object, and my genitals as objects. Each of them are experienced as “that” and here “I” am in the middle of my head. Then I say, “I am not my senses.”

Now, you have been in a room where there is a clock ticking and you start to read something, and you get so turned on by what you’re reading, you don’t hear the clock tick. Everybody is in that situation, and when you finish reading, then the clock is ticking again. Now actually, all the time you were there, the clock was ticking, your ear was hearing the clock tick, but you weren’t attending to your ear hearing the clock tick. It was involuntary. In other words, there is a place between the three and the two. There’s a place between your attention and your ear hearing the clock tick, so what you do is you don’t turn off, but you observe your hearing, like when I’m talking, watch your ear hearing me talk. Watch your eyes seeing, watch your nose smelling; note your mouth tasting; note your skin feeling. Do it all from a place right in the middle, the “I” thought. Then “I” am not my five internal organs, and you go through digestion, erection, excretion, respiration, perspiration, and circulation, and then you’re ready for the clincher, the exquisite one. You got all that? You’re finished with your body; now where are you? You’re in the middle of this “I” thought, in the middle of the head that you own, and you say, “I am not this thought.”

So then it becomes “Well, where am I?”… “I am here; I am here.” Any thought you can think of, you’re not that one.

If you can do that, and it takes quite a while, I mean really, a long time, you come to a place where you go behind your senses, and behind your thinking mind. When you are able to do that, you go through a doorway and you enter into what in Zen is called Satori, in Hindu is called Samadhi, and the beginning of what is known as Satchitananda. When you have gone through these stages within that, you come to a place where you are synonymous with that very fine energy, that is an identity with consciousness. Now you’ve got to understand that the identity, that energy, that very, very, fine energy, is an identity with consciousness – that the universe is consciousness; it is not self-consciousness, but it is consciousness.


-Ram Dass




7 thoughts on “The Practice of Self Inquiry – “Who Am I?””

  1. I would love to do this as a listening meditation so I don’t have to keep referring back to these notes. Is there one somewhere? Thanks!

    • Okay after rereading my comment, there is one more thing I’d say to try to be aware of, and that is that me saying “progress” also isn’t really the BEST way of thinking about it, at least once you get to a certain point of understanding.
      Sure on one hand, you can say that you make “progress” by approximating the % of your life experience that is fully “in awareness” rather than looking through the “ego goggles”, but in the deepest truth, there is no “progress” toward “enlightenment”. You can one moment be in the absolute awareness, enlightened state, and then a few minutes later receive a call informing you of your partner breaking up with you and then be fully back in the mind’s grip. But then you could also, immediately after recognizing the mind’s activity, return to your awareness just as you were moments before, because the awareness is always here regardless of if your attention is centered on it. So in other words, the “enlightened state” is always beneath whatever imagined problems you’re having, and is always accessible.

      There are endless sorts of “double meanings”, metaphors, etc. about this, like with the idea of “progress” where it’s not REALLY the case, but also is a way of speaking about it, so thats just again something to be aware of, and why even though two “teachers” may be speaking about the exact same thing, and both be genuine “teachers” who know exactly what they are talking about, one can seem like they are speaking gibberish to you and the other can make perfect sense. Just depends on the wording that your specific mind happens to understand better.

      Sorry for the very long comments!

  2. There are many places you can “learn” more about this. I use quotes because I’m not sure that “learn” is really the best of thinking about it, but that’s not too important- anyway if you truly want to dive into this, and I seriously recommend you do, I would lookup “Mooji self inquiry”. It’s a very long video but optimally you would not need to continue researching this after watching it, because you will understand the “goal” fully. (And again there are many places to learn about this, but that was where I personally first dove into this many years ago and I still believe that it was a very good resource)
    And even if you do need to continue researching and getting different ways of thinking about it from different “teachers”, just know that at some point down the line, you should put away all the books/notes/videos and just focus on putting what you’ve “learned” fully into practice.

    Also while I’m already writing, to you and anyone who stumbles upon this page in the future and isnt already aware of this, I’d also say to be ready, once you get a real grasp on this, for the mind to come at your harder than ever before. Understanding self inquiry is sort of a double edged sword, because once you’re really familiarize with the mind’s activities/how to not take it so seriously, it then can be very easy to beat yourself up for the times that you actually do, again, fall into its games, like “wow I thought I understood this already, Ive had so many moments of pure awareness/true ‘enlightenment’, but here I am again getting wrapped up in my ego. Am I fooling myself in believing that I made any ‘progress’?”. Just understand that you will need to be ready to forgive yourself for any mistakes along the way. If you subconsciously hold yourself to any “standard”, just know that that is again the mind doing its natural attempts at self-sabotage- so just accept that you had a “stumble” and continue your observing, recognizing that the mind is still trying to trick you into following its games.
    I could probably write nine more paragraphs on ways to think about it/things to be ready for, but everything I could say has already been said elsewhere. Good luck!


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