Tom: Is Self-Enquiry really the only way? Let us see! Bold type has been added by myself for emphasis, and my comments are in red as usual. The following is taken from Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, no. 159, and records a conversation that took place on 29th November 1947:
This afternoon, a devotee asked Bhagavan, “Swami, forgaining Realization, is the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ the only way?”
Bhagavan answered him: “Enquiry is not the only way. If one does spiritual practice (sadhana) with name and form, repetition of holy names (japa), or any of these methods with grim determination and perseverance, one becomes THAT. According to the capacity of each individual, one spiritual practice is said to be better than another and several shades and variations of them have been given. Some people are a long way from Tiruvannamalai, some are very near; some are in Tiruvannamalai, while some get into Bhagavan’s hall itself.
For those who come into the hall, it is enough, if they are told as they step in, ‘Here is the Maharshi’, and they realize him immediately. For others they have to be told which route to take, which trains to catch, where to change, which road to turn into. In like manner, the particular path to be taken must be prescribed according to the capacity of the practiser (sadhaka).
These spiritual practices are not for knowing one’s own Self, which is all-pervading, but only for getting rid of the objects of desire. When all these are discarded, one remains as one IS.
That which is always in existence is the Self — all things are born out of the Self. That will be known only when one realizes one’s own Self.
So long as one has not that knowledge, all that is seen in this world appears as real.
Supposing a person sleeps in this hall. In his sleep he dreams of going somewhere, loses his way, wanders from one village to another, from one hill to another, and during that time, and for days together, searches without food or water. He suffers a good deal, enquiries of several people and finally finds the correct place. He reaches it, and feeling that he is stepping into this hall, greatly relieved, he opens his eyes with a startled look. All this will have happened within a short time and it is only after he wakes up that he realizes that he had not been anywhere.
Our present life is also like that. When the eye of knowledge is opened, a person realizes that he remains ever in his own Self.”
The questioner asked further: “Is it true that all spiritual practices, as is said, merge into the path of Self-enquiry?”
It is said that only he who has the assets of the four kinds of spiritual practice is fit for Vedantic enquiry. Of the four categories of practice the first is the knowledge of the Self and the non-Self (atma and anatma). That means a knowledge that the Self is eternal (nitya) and that the world is unreal (mithya).
How to know this is the question. It is possible to know this by enquiry as to ‘Who am I?’ and what is the nature of my self! Usually this procedure is suggested at the beginning of the spiritual practice, but generally it does not carry conviction. So all sorts of other spiritual practices are resorted to and it is only ultimately, as a last resort, that the practiser takes to Self-enquiry.
The alphabet A B C D E, etc., are learnt while young. If it is stated that these letters are the fundamentals for all education and that there is no need to study for B.A. or M.A., will people listen to such advice? It is only after studying and passing these examinations that it will be realized that all that has been studied is contained in those fundamental letters A B C, etc. Are not all the scriptures contained in the elementary thing, the alphabet? That it is so, is only known after learning by heart all the scriptures.
It is the same with every one of these things. There are a number of rivers, some flow straight, some wind and twistzig-zag, but all of them ultimately become merged in the ocean. In the same way, all paths become merged in the path of Self-enquiry, just as all languages become merged in Silence (mouna).
Mouna means continuous speech; it does not mean that it is a vacuum. It is the speech of self ,identifying with the Self. It is Self-luminous. Everything is in the Self. In Tamil Nad a great person composed and sang a song the purport of which is, ‘We are like a screen, and the whole world appears like pictures on it. Silence is full and all-pervading’.
So saying, Bhagavan was once more silent.