In the following excerpt from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Ramana concisely outlines the problem (suffering), its cause (ignorance) and its remedy (self-knowledge). First Ramana says that the fact that one considers oneself to be limited is the essential problem. This arising of the notion of ‘I’ is a notion of limitation, and it is to this limited notion that ‘the world’ appears. It is this limited entity ‘I’ (ego) that then seeks various things, including self-realisation, and so suffers more.I have added bold type for emphasis and my comments are italicised in red:
The fact is that the man considers himself limited and there arises the trouble. The idea is wrong. He can see it for himself. In sleep there was no world, no ego (no limited self), and no trouble. Something wakes up from that happy state and says ‘I’. To that ego the world appears. Being a speck in the world he wants more and gets into trouble. How happy he was before the rising of the ego!
Now Ramana prescribed the remedy, after restating that it is this limited ‘ego’ that is the cause of the ‘trouble’, ie. suffering:
Only the rise of the ego is the cause of the present trouble. Let him trace the ego to its source and he will reach that undifferentiated happy state which is sleepless sleep. The Self remains ever the same, here and now. There is nothing more to be gained. Because the limitations have wrongly been assumed there is the need to transcend them.
To illustrate the point that there is nothing to be gained, that we are already essentially whole, and that the problem is simply one of ignorance or ‘wrong assumptions’, Ramana narrates two traditional stories – ‘the tenth man’ and ‘the woman wearing a necklace’:
It is like the ten ignorant fools who forded a stream and on reaching the other shore counted themselves to be nine only. They grew anxious and grieved over the loss of the unknown tenth man. A wayfarer, on ascertaining the cause of their grief, counted them all and found them to be ten. But each one of them had counted the others leaving himself out. The wayfarer gave each in succession a blow telling them to count the blows. They counted ten and were satisfied. The moral is that the tenth man was not got anew. He was all along there, but ignorance caused grief to all of them.
Again, a woman wore a necklace round her neck but forgot it. She began to search for it and made enquiries. A friend of hers, finding out what she was looking for, pointed out the necklace round the seeker’s neck. She felt it with her hands and was happy. Did she get the necklace anew? Here again ignorance caused grief and knowledge happiness.
Similarly also with the man and the Self. There is nothing to be gained anew. Ignorance of the Self is the cause of the present misery; knowledge of the Self brings about happiness.
Ramana now provides the seeking mind/ego with some elementary logic to underpin his case. If liberation were something to be gained, it could also be lost. How so? Because logically if something can be attained, it can also be lost. Therefore something gained cannot be permanent. Liberation, or ‘salvation’ as it is written below, is permanent only because it is already totally and fully here – already! Ramana continues writing that it only seems that ‘Wisdom’ seems to be attained once the ignorance is removed, but really wisdom was already ‘ever present’:
Moreover, if anything is to be got anew it implies its previous absence. What remained once absent might vanish again. So there would be no permanency in salvation. Salvation is permanent because the Self is here and now and eternal. Thus the man’s efforts are directed towards the removal of ignorance. Wisdom seems to dawn, though it is natural and ever present.
The visitor, while taking leave, saluted the master, and said, “It is said that the victim in the tiger’s mouth is gone for ever.” The reference is to a passage in Who am I? where it is stated that a disciple can never revert to the world after he has once fallen into the field of the Guru’s gracious look as surely as the prey in the tiger’s jaws cannot escape.
Excerpt from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 63
Oh yes! Once we have felt the Guru’s gracious look, once we have felt the Presence of the Maharshi, we are already in the Tiger’s Mouth. We are already in His Clutches. There is no going back! The Self will surely reel us in and chew us (the ego or ignorance) up!