Ramana Maharshi: was the Buddha self-realised?

lying buddha.jpeg

Over the years I have heard some people say things such as ‘the Buddha was enlightened, but he was not self-realised’ or ‘the Buddha only had an insight into no-self, but he never discovered the Self’. Both of these imply somehow that the Self-Realisation of the Upanishads is somehow of higher status and fundamentally different to the Nirvana of the Buddha, and that the Buddha was not truly enlightened.

I have noticed that usually this view is put forwards either by academics who have analysed various texts but not fully embraced the traditions, or by religious teachers who teach that their way is the best or only way and tend to be attached to their methodology over and above others.

I remember that when I first came across this view I was quite shocked, as it always seemed obvious to me that both Buddhist and Vedic traditions were pointing at the same things in different ways. In fact all the great self-realised masters I had come across also said the same. Impurities naturally, and perhaps inevitably, creep into traditions as without a genuine realisation, the ego co-opts the teachings and slowly slowly dogma and beliefs form. Therefore teachings naturally reinvent themselves in each culture and age, and we can clearly see this if we study the history of the development of both Vedanta and Buddhism. In fact, there has been so much cross-fertilisation between these two traditions, with each tradition borrowing from the  others at some point, it is sometimes difficult to tell them apart!

The key thing for me is to realise that there exist various different methods by which the Supreme is approached. And, of course, some say there are no methods (you could say this is the method of directly pointing out what is already fully here). When the method has served its purpose, then why cling to the method? The main issue is for ignorance to be removed, and the various teachings serve various ways of doing this:

There is nothing to realise. There is nothing new to gain…On the other hand a man must lose his ignorance. That is all.

Ramana Maharshi, Talks 104

By the way, in the above quote, I assume that by ‘man’, he means any human. Here is what Ramana said about the Buddha and Self-Realisation:

Ramana Maharshi, according to verse 568 of the Sri Ramana Paravidyopanishad, states that the Buddha’s Nirvana is the same as the Self-Realisation that Ramana speaks of:

568. Guru [Ramana] has said that the state of nirvana that was taught by Buddha to be the state in which samsara and suffering are ended is the same as remaining in the supreme state, having discarded all the sheaths.

He reaffirms this in the following verses:

345. The sage Buddha taught this truth; also the great teacher Sankara taught the same; our own Guru [Ramana] also tells us the same; and this is also the essence of the Vedanta.

284. The Buddhas call that the state of right awareness. In it there is neither knowledge nor ignorance. That is the highest state, in which there is nothing, whether sentient or insentient, other than the Self.

So, there you have it: according to Ramana Maharshi, Nirvana = Self-Realization. Here is another quote of Ramana on Buddha taken from the book Maharshi’s Gospel:

Question: Buddha is said to have ignored questions about God.
Ramana Maharshi: Yes, and because of this he has been called an agnostic or nihilist. In fact Buddha was concerned with guiding the seeker to realise Bliss here and now, rather than with academic discussions about God and so forth.

So that’s Ramana’s view. What do you think?

Here is a more in depth post that looks at this: Self-enquiry and Buddhism/ the Jhanas and Ramana Maharshi 




lying buddha.jpeg

7 thoughts on “Ramana Maharshi: was the Buddha self-realised?

  1. I truly believe that both are the same : Nirvana and Self Realization
    I beleive it to be so because there is one truth only.
    Call it as you may by different names.
    Thank you for asking this question .
    It makes one become less questioning about what really matters.


  2. Greetings Tom. I was introduced to advaita by my younger brother about two years ago. My intellectual thirst finally ended because the teachings of advaita resonate with those of Sufism, Taoism and Christian mysticism. The message is the same. The goal is the same. There is only the ultimate reality and we chose to call it by different names but the truth is one


    1. The Perennial Philosophy is a pleasant sentiment, but it is hard to sustain in light of the Pali Canon. In those texts, the Buddha repeatedly teaches that all consciousness is fabricated and not-self. In addition, he states that all other teachers are still clinging to the notion of ‘self’ in one way or another:

      “There are some contemplatives & brahmins who, though claiming doctrines that comprehend all types of clinging, don’t rightly describe the comprehension of all types of clinging. They describe the comprehension of sensuality clinging, view clinging, and habit-&-practice clinging, but not the comprehension of doctrine-of-self clinging.” – MN 12

      “Any kind of consciousness whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near must, with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: ‘This is not mine, this is not I, this is not my self.'” -SN 22.59

      These are just two of many examples which directly contradict Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teachings. The Buddha was utterly unique in his approach, and it is questionable to equate him with the various mystics who claim to have discovered the ‘true self’. According to the Dhammapada, even Nibbana (ultimate reality) is not-self.


  3. I accidentally posted my original comment as a reply to another comment, and can’t delete it. Oh well.

    Anyways, here is another example I thought of:

    “Monks, a Tathāgata – an Arahant, a fully self-enlightened one – understands Nibbāna as Nibbāna. Having understood Nibbāna as Nibbāna, he does not conceive of Nibbāna, does not conceive in terms of Nibbāna, does not conceive from a basis of Nibbāna, does not conceive of Nibbāna as ‘me’, and does not delight in Nibbāna.” -MN 1

    This is quite categorically different from how Sri Ramana regards the ‘Self’.


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