Devotee: How can any enquiry initiated by the ego reveal its own unreality?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: The ego’s phenomenal existence is transcended when you dive into the Source wherefrom arises the aham-vritti [I-concept].
D: But is not the aham-vritti only one of the three forms in which the ego manifests itself? Yoga Vasishtha and other ancient texts describe the ego as having a threefold form.
M: It is so. The ego is described as having three bodies, the gross, the subtle and the causal, but that is only for the purposes of analytical exposition. If the method of enquiry were to depend on the ego’s form, you may take it that any enquiry would become altogether impossible, because the forms the ego may assume are legion. Therefore, for purposes of jnana vichara, you have to proceed on the basis that the ego has but one form, namely that of aham-vritti.
D: But it may prove inadequate for realizing jnana.
M: Self-enquiry by following the clue of aham-vritti is just like the dog tracing its master by his scent. The master may be at some distant, unknown place, but that does not at all stand in the way of the dog tracing him. The master’s scent is an infallible clue for the animal, and nothing else, such as the dress he wears, or his build and stature etc, counts. The dog holds on to that scent undistractedly while searching for him, and finally it succeeds in tracing him.
The teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, Maharshi’s Gospel. Chapter VI ‘AHAM AND AHAM-VRITTI’