A young man from Colombo, Ceylon, said to Bhagavan:
J. Krishnamurti teaches the method of effortless and choiceless awareness as distinct from that of deliberate concentration. Would Sri Bhagavan be pleased to explain how best to practise meditation and what form the object of meditation should take?
Ramana Maharshi: Effortless and choiceless awareness is our real nature. If we can attain that state and abide in it, that is all right. But one cannot reach it without effort, the effort of deliberate meditation. All the age-old vasanas (inherent tendencies) turn the mind outwards to external objects. All such thoughts have to be given up and the mind turned inwards and that, for most people, requires effort. Of course, every teacher and every book tells the aspirant to keep quiet, but it is not easy to do so. That is why all this effort is necessary.
Even if we find somebody who has achieved this supreme state of stillness, you may take it that the necessary effort had already been made in a previous life. So effortless and choiceless awareness is attained only after deliberate meditation. That meditation can take whatever form most appeals to you. See what helps you to keep out all other thoughts and adopt that for your meditation.
D.: Is intellectual knowledge enough?
M.: Unless intellectually known, how to practice it? Learn it intellectually first, then do not stop with that. Practise it.
Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 40
Questioner: Is a teacher necessary for instructions?
Ramana Maharshi: Yes, if you want to learn anything new. But here you have to unlearn.
Questioner: Yet a teacher is necessary.
Ramana Maharshi: You have already got what you seek elsewhere. So no teacher is necessary.
Questioner: Is there any use of the man of Realisation for the seeker?
Ramana Maharshi: Yes. He helps you to get rid of your delusion that you are not realised.
Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 434
Questioner: Is an intellectual understanding of the Truth necessary?
Ramana Maharshi: Yes. Otherwise why does not the person realise God or the Self at once, ie. as soon as he is told that God is all or the Self is all? That shows some wavering on his part. He must argue with himself and gradually convince himself of the Truth before his faith becomes firm.
Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 596
Question: Is the study of science, psychology, physiology, etc., helpful for attaining Yoga-liberation or for intuitive understanding of the unity of Reality?
Ramana Maharshi: Very little. Some theoretical knowledge is needed for Yoga and may be found in books, but practical application is what is needed. Personal example and instruction are the most helpful aids. As for intuitive understanding, a person may laboriously convince himself of the truth to be grasped by intuition, of its function and nature, but the actual intuition is more like feeling and requires practical and personal contact. Mere book learning is not of any great use. After Realisation all intellectual loads are useless burdens and are to be thrown overboard.
Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 28
It is those who are not learned that are saved rather than those whose ego has not yet subsided in spite of their learning. The unlearned are saved from the relentless grip of the devil of self-infatuation; they are saved from the malady of a myriad whirling thoughts and words; they are saved from running after wealth. It is from more than one evil that they are saved.
Reality in forty verses – Supplement, verse 36
From ‘Who am I?’
Tom comments: Intellectual understanding has a certain importance – it gives the seeking mind direction and structure. This enables one to peel back the illusion of egotism or Maya, the cause of apparent separation and suffering. Then, theoretical knowledge, once it has fully served its purpose, can be discarded, like the metaphorical thorn used to remove a thorn.
Here is a collection of verses I have taken from Shankara’s Masterpiece Vivekachudamani focusing on the last step in the path to liberation, namely meditation or Nididhyasana, which as we shall see culminates in Samadhi.
In Vivekachudamani, the entire path to Moksha (Liberation), in which suffering is totally removed, is set out for us. Not only is the entire path explained in detail, but repetition of almost every point is made again and again to ensure that the meaning is clearly imparted and cannot be misunderstood. This text has been approved and recommended by all the great Advaita sages over the centuries, including Bhagavn Sri Ramana Maharshi who translated the entire work into Tamil for those around him who could not read the original Sanskrit.
The path starts with the seeker of liberation burdened with suffering approaching a self-realised teacher. The teacher then gives the verbal/conceptual teaching (sravana) and then contemplating upon these teaching (manana) the seeker is led to a direct realisation of truth. At this point we are only half way through the text – why is that? Because, as the traditional scriptures tell us, once the truth has been explained and realised, we then need to meditate.
So Shankara proceeds to explain that meditation upon this truth is required even after it is realised. Why? Because the habitual tendency (vasana) to identify as an individual doer and experiencer keeps on arising, and this seems to make the realisation waver and come and go, which only leads to more suffering. These habitual tendencies needs to be rooted out in order to prevent the realisation from (appearing to) come and go.
I have added headings to break up the text by theme and topic. As usual, my comments are interspersed in italiscised red, and I have added bold type where I thought a particular phrase was of particular interest – I hope you find these additions to be of assistance.
The guru has already given the main conceptual teaching in the first half of the text, introducing the main concepts and giving the seeker a basic realisation of what is being pointed at. Now the guru proceeds with further instruction, as follows:
267. Even after the Truth has been realised, there remains that strong, beginningless, obstinate impression that one is the agent [or doer] and experiencer, which is the cause of one’s transmigration. It has to be carefully removed by living in a state of constant identification with the Supreme Self. Sages call that Liberation which is the attenuation [or annihilation] of Vasanas (impressions) here and now.
The term ‘vasanatanavam’ can also be be translated as annihilation of vasanas and is consistent with Shankara’s declaration that Moksha is the cessation of vasanas.
Here, in a series of earlier verses, the basic technique of meditation is given. We can see we are to meditate upon ourselves as being Brahman, which is eternal, ever-present, timeless, beyond all names and forms, and which is the Source of all. It, being formless, cannot be known by the intellect or sense organs. It is unmoving, unchanging, causeless, non-dual, needs no other support and has no parts or components.
254. That which is beyond caste and creed, family and lineage; devoid of name and form, merit and demerit; transcending space, time and sense-object – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
255. That Supreme Brahman which is beyond the range of all speech, but accessible to the eye of pure illumination; which is pure, the Embodiment of Knowledge, the beginningless entity – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
256. That which is untouched by the sixfold wave; meditated upon by the Yogi’s heart, but not grasped by the sense-organs; which the Buddhi [intellect] cannot know; and which is unimpeachable – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
257. That which is the substratum of the universe with its various subdivisions, which are all creations of delusion; which Itself has no other support; which is distinct from the gross and subtle; which has no parts, and has verily no exemplar – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
258. That which is free from birth, growth, development, waste, disease and death; which is indestructible; which is the cause of the projection, maintenance and dissolution of the universe – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
259. That which is free from differentiation; whose essence is never non-existent; which is unmoved like the ocean without waves; the ever-free; of indivisible Form – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
260. That which, though One only, is the cause of the many; which refutes all other causes, but is Itself without cause; distinct from Maya and its effect, the universe; and independent – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
261. That which is free from duality; which is infinite and indestructible; distinct from the universe and Maya, supreme, eternal; which is undying Bliss; taintless – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
262. That Reality which (though One) appears variously owing to delusion, taking on names and forms, attributes and changes, Itself always unchanged, like gold in its modifications – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
263. That beyond which there is nothing; which shines even above Maya, which again is superior to its effect, the universe; the inmost Self of all, free from differentiation; the Real Self, the Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute; infinite and immutable – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
The basic theory which will be later expanded upon is given here:
275. The desire for Self-realisation is obscured by innumerable desires for things other than the Self. When they have been destroyed by the constant attachment to the Self, the Atman clearly manifests Itself of Its own accord.
276. As the mind becomes gradually established in the Inmost Self, it proportionately gives up the desires for external objects. And when all such desires have been eliminated, there takes place the unobstructed realisation of the Atman.
277. The Yogi’s mind dies, being constantly fixed on his own Self. Thence follows the cessation of desires. Therefore do away with thy superimposition.
The death of the mind is known as ‘manonasa’ in Sanskrit and is tantamount to Self-Realisation.
We can see that here the obstacles pointed out are relating to:
(1) the body
(2) the mind (reading scriptures) and
(3) the world (social status and the like):
270. Relinquishing the observance of social formalities, giving up all ideas of trimming up the body, and avoiding too mush engrossment with the Scriptures, do away with the superimposition that has come upon thyself.
271. Owing to the desire to run after society, the passion for too much study of the Scriptures and the desire to keep the body in good trim, people cannot attain to proper Realisation.
Here, in one single verse, is a wonderful and powerful teaching. For more on this teaching and how it can help your spiritual practice see here. In essence, this teaching shows us how we can develop a sattvic or peaceful and intelligent mind, which in turns helps us on our (apparent) path to Moksha.
278. Tamas is destroyed by both Sattva and Rajas, Rajas by Sattva, and Sattva dies when purified. Therefore do way with thy superimposition through the help of Sattva.
Here is an important teaching that tells us not to worry about the body as it will be maintained by Prarabdha Karma (or destiny). ‘Know for certain’, this verse proclaims, that the body will be maintained and do not be afraid to be quiet and patiently engage with your meditation:
279. Knowing for certain that the Prarabdha work will maintain this body, remain quiet and do away with thy superimposition carefully and with patience.
In simple terms the macrocosm refers to the universe-world and the microcosm refers to the body-mind. Both should be renounced:
289. Becoming thyself the self-effulgent Brahman, the substratum of all phenomena – as that Reality give up both the macrocosm and the microcosm, like two filthy receptacles.
The subtle body refers to all subtle phenomena collectively such as thoughts, feelings and other inward phenomena, what we would often call the mind. The gross body refers to the physical body.
290. Transferring the identification now rooted in the body to the Atman, the Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, and discarding the subtle body, be thou ever alone, independent.
291. That in which there is this reflection of the universe, as of a city in a mirror – that Brahman art thou; knowing this thou wilt attain the consummation of thy life.
When the body, mind and world are no longer present, as in deep dreamless sleep, You, as Brahman, still are. Therefore the essence of you is said below to be different from the gross and subtle bodies (ie. body and mind).
294. But the real ‘I” is that which witnesses the ego and the rest. It exists always, even in the state of profound sleep. The Shruti itself says, “It is birthless, eternal”, etc. Therefore the Paramatman is different from the gross and subtle bodies.
Here it is stated that the body (gross body) and ego-mind (subtle body) are both creations of the intellect (Buddhi):
296. Therefore give up the identification with this lump of flesh, the gross body, as well as with the ego or the subtle body, which are both imagined by the Buddhi. Realising thy own Self, which is Knowledge Absolute and not to be denied in the past, present or future, attain to Peace.
The previous verse instructs us to give up (1) the body and (2) the ego-mind
Now characteristics of the body are given in the first half of verse 297 and characteristic of the mind are given in the 2nd half of the same verse:
297. Cease to identify thyself with the family, lineage, name, form and the order of life, which pertain to the body that is like a rotten corpse (to a man of realisation). Similarly, giving up ideas of agency and so forth, which are attributes of the subtle body, be the Essence of Bliss Absolute.
298. Other obstacles are also observed to exist for men, which lead to transmigration. The root of them, for the above reasons, is the first modification of Nescience [or ignorance] called egoism.
299. So long as one has any relation to this wicked ego, there should not be the least talk about Liberation, which is unique.
3 steps are given to liberation in the next verse:
(1) the cessation of egotism, which is the notion ‘I am a body-mind’ (2) the cessation of the mental waves or egoic vasanas that result from egotism – I often think of this as the movement of the ego or the ego in motion, and (3) discerning Brahman and knowing ‘I am That’:
304. Through the complete cessation of egoism, through the stoppage of the diverse mental waves due to it, and through the discrimination of the inner Reality, one realises that Reality as “I am This”.
305. Give up immediately thy identification with egoism, the agent, which is by its nature a modification, is endued with a reflection of the Self, and diverts one from being established in the Self – identifying thyself with which thou hast come by this relative existence, full of the miseries of birth, decay and death, though thou art the Witness, the Essence of Knowledge and Bliss Absolute.
306. But for thy identification with that egoism there can never be any transmigration for thee who art immutable and eternally the same, the Knowledge Absolute, omnipresent, the Bliss Absolute, and of untarnished glory.
308. Checking the activities of egoism etc., and giving up all attachment through the realisation of the Supreme Reality, be free from all duality through the enjoyment of the Bliss of Self, and remain quiet in Brahman, for thou hast attained thy infinite nature.
The cause of downfall on the spiritual path is thinking of sense objects:
310. Overpowering this enemy, egoism, not a moment’s respite should be given to it by thinking on the sense-objects. That is verily the cause of its coming back to life, like water to a citron tree that has almost dried up.
311. He alone who has identified himself with the body is greedy after sense-pleasures. How can one, devoid of the body-idea, be greedy (like him) ? Hence the tendency to think on the sense-objects is verily the cause of the bondage of transmigration, giving rise to an idea of distinction or duality.
Counter-intuitively, the teaching here is that by reducing the effects, the cause is also removed. ie. by reducing egoic actions, egoic desire is reduced. Conversely this teaching states if we engage in egoic actions, egoic desire increases. Therefore cease self-centred actions:
312. When the effects are developed, the seed also is observed to be such, and when the effects are destroyed, the seed also is seen to be destroyed. Therefore one must subdue the effects.
313. Through the increase of desires selfish work increases, and when there is an increase of selfish work, there is an increase of desire also. And man’s transmigration is never at an end.
314. For the sake of breaking the chain of transmigration, the Sannyasin should burn to ashes those two; for thinking of the sense-objects and doing selfish acts lead to an increase of desires.
317. With the cessation of selfish action the brooding on the sense-objects is stopped, which is followed by the destruction of desires. The destruction of desires is Liberation, and this is considered as Liberation-in-life.
Usually the desire for sense objects is greater than the desire for Brahman or Realisation. When this state of affairs reverses, then Brahman-Realisation is easy:
318. When the desire for realising Brahman has a marked manifestation, the egoistic desires readily vanish, as the most intense darkness effectively vanishes before the glow of the rising sun.
319. Darkness and the numerous evils that attend on it are not noticed when the sun rises. Similarly, on the realisation of the Bliss Absolute, there is neither bondage nor the least trace of misery.
A warning repeated again and again to drive the point home:
320. Causing the external and internal universe, which are now perceived, to vanish, and meditating on the Reality, the Bliss Embodied, one should pass one’s time watchfully, if there be any residue of Prarabdha work left.
321. One should never be careless in one’s steadfastness to Brahman. Bhagavan Sanatkumara, who is Brahma’s son, has called inadvertence to be death itself.
322. There is no greater danger for the Jnani than carelessness about his own real nature. From this comes delusion, thence egoism, this is followed by bondage, and then comes misery.
323. Finding even a wise man hankering after the sense-objects, oblivion torments him through the evil propensities of the Buddhi, as a woman does her doting paramour.
324. As sedge, even if removed, does not stay away for a moment, but covers the water again, so Maya or Nescience also covers even a wise man, if he is averse to meditation on the Self.
Another beautiful metaphor here or a ball falling down a staircase to further illustrate the warning of swerving away from Self Abidance:
325. If the mind ever so slightly strays from the Ideal and becomes outgoing, then it goes down and down, just as a play-ball inadvertently dropped on the staircase bounds down from one step to another.
326. The mind that is attached to the sense-objects reflects on their qualities; from mature reflection arises desire, and after desiring a man sets about having that thing.
327. Hence to the discriminating knower of Brahman there is no worse death than inadvertence with regard to concentration. But the man who is concentrated attains complete success. (Therefore) carefully concentrate thy mind (on Brahman).
Like in verses 310 & 311, thinking of sense-objects is said to be the root of downfall on the spiritual path:
329. Therefore one should give up reflecting on the sense-objects, which is the root of all mischief. He who is completely aloof even while living, is alone aloof after the dissolution of the body. The Yajur-Veda declares that there is fear for one who sees the least bit of distinction.
330. Whenever the wise man sees the least difference in the infinite Brahman, at once that which he sees as different through mistake, becomes a source of terror to him.
The universe is initially stated to be unreal. We are advised not to identify with that which is unreal – ie. do not identify with objects in the universe, ie. do not identify as the body-mind:
331. He who identifies himself with the objective universe which has been denied by hundreds of Shrutis, Smritis and reasonings, experiences misery after misery, like a thief, for he does something forbidden.
332. He who has devoted himself to meditation on the Reality (Brahman) and is free from Nescience, attains to the eternal glory of the Atman. But he who dwells on the unreal (the universe) is destroyed. That this is so is evidenced in the case of one who is not a thief and one who is a thief.
333. The Sannyasin should give up dwelling on the unreal, which causes bondage, and should always fix his thoughts on the Atman as “I myself am This”. For the steadfastness in Brahman through the realisation of one’s identity with It gives rise to bliss and thoroughly removes the misery born of nescience, which one experiences (in the ignorant state).
Here it is stated dwelling on objects increases egoic desire and actions. Instead discern what you are and meditate upon that ceaselessly:
334. The dwelling on external objects will only intensify its fruits, viz. furthering evil propensities, which grow worse and worse. Knowing this through discrimination, one should avoid external objects and constantly apply oneself to meditation on the Atman.
335. When the external world is shut out, the mind is cheerful, and cheerfulness of the mind brings on the vision of the Paramatman. When It is perfectly realised, the chain of birth and death is broken. Hence the shutting out of the external world is the steppingstone to Liberation.
336. Where is the man who being learned, able to discriminate the real from the unreal, believing the Vedas as authority, fixing his gaze on the Atman, the Supreme Reality, and being a seeker after Liberation, will, like a child, consciously have recourse to the unreal (the universe) which will cause his fall ?
Just as you cannot be asleep and awake at the same time, because these are mutually exclusive states of being, similarly one cannot be liberated and also have attachment to or identification with the body:
337. There is no Liberation for one who has attachment to the body etc., and the liberated man has no identification with the body etc. The sleeping man is not awake, nor is the waking man asleep, for these two states are contradictory in nature.
A new theme is introduced here, namely that the universe is Self. How does one realise this? Through Samadhi. First the Self is said to be known in both moving and unmoving things, and then, in verse 339, that the whole universe is the Self:
338. He is free who, knowing through his mind the Self in moving and unmoving objects and observing It as their substratum, gives up all superimpositions and remains as the Absolute and the infinite Self.
339. To realise the whole universe as the Self is the means of getting rid of bondage. There is nothing higher than identifying the universe with the Self. One realises this state by excluding the objective world through steadfastness in the eternal Atman.
340. How is the exclusion of the objective world possible for one who lives identified with the body, whose mind is attached to the perception of external objects, and who performs various acts for that end ? This exclusion should be carefully practised by sages who have renounced all kinds of duties and actions and objects, who are passionately devoted to the eternal Atman, and who wish to possess an undying bliss.
The previous verses boldly state that the entire Universe is nothing but the Self and that this can be realised by ‘exclusion of the objective world’. Here this is equated with Samadhi:
341. To the Sannyasin who has gone through the act of hearing, the Shruti passage, “Calm, self-controlled.” Etc., prescribes Samadhi for realising the identity of the universe with the Self.
The previous verse introduces the notion of Samadhi, which is expanded upon and emphasised below repeatedly in different ways:
342. Even wise men cannot suddenly destroy egoism after it has once become strong, barring those who are perfectly calm through the Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Desires are verily the effect of innumerable births.
353. When the Atman, the One without a second, is realised by means of the Nirvikalpa Samadhi, then the heart’s knot of ignorance is totally destroyed.
354. Such imaginations as “thou”, “I” or “this” take place through the defects of the Buddhi. But when the Paramatman, the Absolute, the One without a second, manifests Itself in Samadhi, all such imaginations are dissolved for the aspirant, through the realisation of the truth of Brahman.
355. The Sannyasin, calm, self-controlled, perfectly retiring from the sense-world, forbearing, and devoting himself to the practice of Samadhi, always reflects on his own self being the Self of the whole universe. Destroying completely by this means the imaginations which are due to the gloom of ignorance, he lives blissfully as Brahman, free from action and the oscillations of the mind.
356. Those alone are free from the bondage of transmigration who, attaining Samadhi, have merged the objective world, the sense-organs, the mind, nay, the very ego, in the Atman, the Knowledge Absolute – and none else, who but dabble in second-hand talks.
357. Through the diversity of the supervening conditions (Upadhis), a man is apt to think of himself as also full of diversity; but with the removal of these he is again his own Self, the immutable. Therefore the wise man should ever devote himself to the practice of Nirvikalpa Samadhi, for the dissolution of the Upadhis.
360. The truth of the Paramatman is extremely subtle, and cannot be reached by the gross outgoing tendency of the mind. It is only accessible to noble souls with perfectly pure minds, by means of Samadhi brought on by an extraordinary fineness of the mental state.
Here mind is purified of all three gunas, even Sattva, and thereby ‘transformed’ into Brahman:
361. As gold purified by thorough heating on the fire gives up its impurities and attains to its own lustre, so the mind, through meditation, gives up its impurities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, and attains to the reality of Brahman.
362. When the mind, thus purified by constant practice, is merged in Brahman, then Samadhi passes on from the Savikalpa to the Nirvikalpa stage, and leads directly to the realisation of the Bliss of Brahman, the One without a second.
363. By this Samadhi are destroyed all desires which are like knots, all work is at an end, and inside and out there takes place everywhere and always the spontaneous manifestation of one’s real nature.
Here the four stages of Vedanta are set out in ascending order, namely
(1) Sravana (hearing the teaching)
(2) Manana (reflecting on the teachings)
(3) Nididhyasana (meditation)
364. Reflection should be considered a hundred times superior to hearing, and meditation a hundred thousand times superior even to reflection, but the Nirvikalpa Samadhi is infinite in its results.
365. By the Nirvikalpa Samadhi the truth of Brahman is clearly and definitely realised, but not otherwise, for then the mind, being unstable by nature, is apt to be mixed up with other perceptions.
366. Hence with the mind calm and the senses controlled always drown the mind in the Supreme Self that is within, and through the realisation of thy identity with that Reality destroy the darkness created by Nescience, which is without beginning.
367. The first steps to Yoga are control of speech, non-receiving of gifts, entertaining of no expectations, freedom from activity, and always living in a retired place.
368. Living in a retired place serves to control the sense-organs, control of the senses helps to control the mind, through control of the mind egoism is destroyed; and this again gives the Yogi an unbroken realisation of the Bliss of Brahman. Therefore the man of reflection should always strive only to control the mind.
374. Know, O wise man, dispassion and discrimination to be like the two wings of a bird in the case of an aspirant. Unless both are there, none can, with the help of either one, reach the creeper of Liberation that grows, as it were, on the top of an edifice.
375. The extremely dispassionate man alone has Samadhi, and the man of Samadhi alone gets steady realisation; the man who has realised the Truth is alone free from bondage, and the free soul only experiences eternal Bliss.
376. For the man of self-control I do not find any better instrument of happiness than dispassion, and if that is coupled with a highly pure realisation of the Self, it conduces to the suzerainty of absolute Independence; and since this is the gateway to the damsel of everlasting liberation, therefore for thy welfare, be dispassionate both internally and externally, and always fix thy mind on the eternal Self.
377. Sever thy craving for the sense-objects, which are like poison, for it is the very image of death, and giving up thy pride of caste, family and order of life, fling actions to a distance. Give up thy identification with such unreal things as the body, and fix thy mind on the Atman. For thou art really the Witness, Brahman, unshackled by the mind, the One without a second, and Supreme.
378. Fixing the mind firmly on the Ideal, Brahman, and restraining the external organs in their respective centres; with the body held steady and taking no thought for its maintenance; attaining identity with Brahman and being one with It – always drink joyfully of the Bliss of Brahman in thy own Self, without a break. What is the use of other things which are entirely hollow ?
379. Giving up the thought of the non-Self which is evil and productive of misery, think of the Self, the Bliss Absolute, which conduces to Liberation.
380. Here shines eternally the Atman, the Self-effulgent Witness of everything, which has the Buddhi for Its seat. Making this Atman which is distinct from the unreal, the goal, meditate on It as thy own Self, excluding all other thought.
381. Reflecting on this Atman continuously and without any foreign thought intervening, one must distinctly realise It to be one’s real Self.
382. Strengthening one’s identification with This, and giving up that with egoism and the rest, one must live without any concern for them, as if they were trifling things, like a cracked jar or the like.
383. Fixing the purified mind in the Self, the Witness, the Knowledge Absolute, and slowly making it still, one must then realise one’s own infinite Self.
384. One should behold the Atman, the Indivisible and Infinite, free from all limiting adjuncts such as the body, organs, Pranas, Manas and egoism, which are creations of one’s own ignorance – like the infinite sky.
385. The sky, divested of the hundreds of limiting adjuncts such as a jar, a pitcher, a receptacle for grains or a needle, is one, and not diverse; exactly in a similar way the pure Brahman, when divested of egoism etc., is verily One.
386. The limiting adjuncts from Brahma down to a clump of grass are all wholly unreal. Therefore one should realise one’s own Infinite Self as the only Principle.
387. That in which something is imagined to exist through error, is, when rightly discriminated, that thing itself, and not distinct from it. When the error is gone, the reality about the snake falsely perceived becomes the rope. Similarly the universe is in reality the Atman.
388. The Self is Brahma, the Self is Vishnu, the Self is Indra, the Self is Shiva; the Self is all this universe. Nothing exists except the Self.
389. The Self is within, and the Self is without; the Self is before and the Self is behind; the Self is in the south, and the Self is in the north; the Self likewise is above as also below.
390. As the wave, the foam, the whirlpool, the bubble, etc., are all in essence but water, similarly the Chit (Knowledge Absolute) is all this, from the body up to egoism. Everything is verily the Chit, homogeneous and pure.
391. All this universe known through speech and mind is nothing but Brahman; there is nothing besides Brahman, which exists beyond the utmost range of the Prakriti. Are the pitcher, jug, jar, etc., known to be distinct from the clay of which they are composed ? It is the deluded man who talks of “thou” and “I”, as an effect of the wine of Maya.
397. By the elimination of all apparent existences superimposed on the soul, the supreme Brahman, Infinite, the One without a second and beyond action, remains as Itself.
398. When the mind-functions are merged in the Paramatman, the Brahman, the Absolute, none of this phenomenal world is seen, whence it is reduced to mere talk.
400. In the One Entity devoid of the concepts of seer, seeing and seen – which is changeless, formless and Absolute – whence can there be any diversity ?
401. In the One Entity which is changeless, formless and Absolute, and which is perfectly all-pervading and motionless like the ocean after the dissolution of the universe, whence can there be any diversity ?
402. Where the root of delusion is dissolved like darkness in light – in the supreme Reality, the One without a second, the Absolute – whence can there be any diversity?
The state of Brahman-realisation in which there is no body mind or world is likened to that of deep dreamless sleep:
403. How can the talk of diversity apply to the Supreme Reality which is one and homogeneous? Who has ever observed diversity in the unmixed bliss of the state of profound sleep?
404. Even before the realisation of the highest Truth, the universe does not exist in the Absolute Brahman, the Essence of Existence. In none of the three states of time is the snake ever observed in the rope, nor a drop of water in the mirage.
405. The Shrutis themselves declare that this dualistic universe is but a delusion from the standpoint of Absolute Truth. This is also experienced in the state of dreamless sleep.
406. That which is superimposed upon something else is observed by the wise to be identical with the substratum, as in the case of the rope appearing as the snake. The apparent difference depends solely on error.
407. This apparent universe has its root in the mind, and never persists after the mind is annihilated. Therefore dissolve the mind by concentrating it on the Supreme Self, which is thy inmost Essence.
As before, the teachings are repeated again and again to impress their meaning to the seeker and to ensure there is no room for doubt or misunderstanding the teaching:
408. The wise man realises in his heart, through Samadhi, the Infinite Brahman, which is something of the nature of eternal Knowledge and absolute Bliss, which has no exemplar, which transcends all limitations, is ever free and without activity, and which is like the limitless sky, indivisible and absolute.
409. The wise man realises in his heart, through Samadhi, the Infinite Brahman, which is devoid of the ideas of cause and effect, which is the Reality beyond all imaginations, homogeneous, matchless, beyond the range of proofs, established by the pronouncements of the Vedas, and ever familiar to us as the sense of the ego.
410. The wise man realises in his heart, through Samadhi, the Infinite Brahman, which is undecaying and immortal, the positive Entity which precludes all negations, which resembles the placid ocean and is without a name, in which there are neither merits nor demerits, and which is eternal, pacified and One.
411. With the mind restrained in Samadhi, behold in thy self the Atman, of infinite glory, cut off thy bondage strengthened by the impressions of previous births, and carefully attain the consummation of thy birth as a human being.
412. Meditate on the Atman, which resides in thee, which is devoid of all limiting adjuncts, the Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, the One without a second, and thou shalt no more come under the round of births and deaths.
This is a warning against false teachings that state that after realisation we now have to come back and inhabit the body in some way or integrate our self back into the world – these false teachings are one of the many ways the ego tries to perpetuate itself. As always in this text, the same point is repeated in different ways to drive the point home. Let us see:
413. After the body has once been cast off to a distance like a corpse, the sage never more attaches himself to it, though it is visible as an appearance, like the shadow of a man, owing to the experience of the effects of past deeds.
414. Realising the Atman, the eternal, pure Knowledge and Bliss, throw far away this limitation of a body, which is inert and filthy by nature. Then remember it no more, for something that has been vomited excites but disgust when called in memory.
415. Burning all this, with its very root, in the fire of Brahman, the Eternal and Absolute Self, the truly wise man thereafter remains alone, as the Atman, the eternal, pure Knowledge and Bliss.
416. The knower of Truth does no more care whether this body, spun out by the threads of Prarabdha work, falls or remains – like the garland on a cow – for his mind-functions are at rest in the Brahman, the Essence of Bliss.
417. Realising the Atman, the Infinite Bliss, as his very Self, with what object, or for whom, should the knower of Truth cherish the body.
418. The Yogi who has attained perfection and is liberated-in-life gets this as result – he enjoys eternal Bliss in his mind, internally as well as externally.
419. The result of dispassion is knowledge, that of Knowledge is withdrawal from sense-pleasures, which leads to the experience of the Bliss of the Self, whence follows Peace.
420. If there is an absence of the succeeding stages, the preceding ones are futile. (When the series is perfect) the cessation of the objective world, extreme satisfaction, and matchless bliss follow as a matter of course.
In the next few verses of the text, which I have not included here in this post, Shankara again goes on to stress dispassion, cessation of desire for sensual pleasure in sense-objects as well as talk about several other topics including the characteristic of one who is liberated in this life, whether or not the liberated one is subject to karma (they are not), whether or not the liberated one is the body-mind (they are not), the ultimate non-existence of ignorance or liberation (both are mental concepts for the intellect), and the nature of Brahman and Non-duality, etc.
This culminates in a declaration of liberation from the once-seeker who has listened to the teachings from the mouth of his/her guru and a sense of overwhelming gratitude to the guru and teachings.
Since this post is geared towards meditation, I will include a few further verses from Shankara, just to remind us again of the method above and to leave us in no doubt:
473. Through the Samadhi in which the mind has been perfectly stilled, visualise the Truth of the Self with the eye of clear realisation. If the meaning of the (Scriptural) words heard from the Guru is perfectly and indubitably discerned, then it can lead to no more doubt.
524. Dualistic conceptions in the Atman, the Infinite Knowledge, the Absolute, are like imagining castles in the air. Therefore, always identifying thyself with the Bliss Absolute, the One without a second, and thereby attaining Supreme Peace, remain quiet.
525. To the sage who has realised Brahman, the mind, which is the cause of unreal fancies, becomes perfectly tranquil. This verily is his state of quietude, in which, identified with Brahman, he has constant enjoyment of the Bliss Absolute, the One without a second.
526. To the man who has realised his own nature, and drinks the undiluted Bliss of the Self, there is nothing more exhilarating than the quietude that comes of a state of desirelessness.
Q: Would you say it’s a choice to pretend I am not Brahman ie. to believe I am the body mind?
Tom: This question is being asked from the ‘I am the body-mind’ point of view. In truth you are Brahman, you have always/will always be Brahman, there is only Brahman, there is no ignorance. The mind may ‘choose’ to identify as Brahman or as the body-mind, but you are not the mind either way.
Q: Does anything stop me from ending all egoic tendencies right now?
Tom: Egoic tendencies are based upon the ‘I am the body-mind notion’
Q. Would you say ignorance is a moment to moment choice?
Tom: Ignorance is not real, so there is no moment to moment choice – only from the point of view of the mind is there this choice – which is an illusory/ignorant point of view ie. to say ignorance is a moment to moment choice is to identify with the body-mind.
We need a ‘double teaching’ as we suffer from a ‘double ignorance’. We could say the teaching has two wings to it, one for each aspect of ignorance. Let me explain: you could say ignorance has 2 steps:
Ignorance step (1) – Structural Ignorance: identifying as this or that. This creates a false notion of self, also known as ego or the jiva. This is also known as a limiting belief or identifying as being a limited entity. The most common form this identification takes is the thought-concept ‘I am the body-mind’. ie. we take the body-mind to be our primary identity. This limited identity is the ego or jiva.
Ignorance step (2) – Functional Ignorance: that ego/jiva, sensing it is limited, vulnerable and incomplete, then seeks pleasure and security in the world of objects. This seeking tendency eventually becomes ingrained and habitual and these habitual egoic tendencies are known as vasanas in Sanskrit.
In Step (1) we create the structure or form of the ego, namely ‘I am the body-mind’. Step (2) represents the movement or function of the ego in which the body-mind entity then goes on to seek security, pleasure, as so on, and is also afraid of death, misfortune, ill health, etc, and so suffers.
So we have described the ego’s form (1) and function (2), or its structure (1) and movement (2).
Each of these aspects of ignorance usually have to be tackled and resolved, so there are two aspects or ‘wings’ of the teaching. Most teachings that one comes across usually focuses only on one of these two wings. This is because on a practical level it is more difficult to teach both together, and many are unaware of how these two aspects of the teaching fit together. But when we do bring both together, the teachings tends to be much more potent in actually pointing the way directly to Moksha/liberation.
So, what are the two aspects of the teaching? Structural ignorance (1) is rectified by insight or knowledge teachings, and functional ignorance (2) is resolved by purification teachings.
Insight teachings basically point out the belief ‘I am a body-mind’ is a false limiting belief. When seen, the illusion of separation and doership naturally fall away. Insight is also known as knowledge, gnosis or realisation
So why do we need the purification teachings then? Well, for most, due to the strong habitual tendencies to identify as a body-mind, the ‘I am the body-mind’ concept keeps on arising and egotism is continued. Without a spiritual practice to remove this habitual ignorance the egotism usually quickly returns and with it suffering also returns.
Insight teachings include negating teachings such as ‘You are not the body-mind’ and ‘You are not the doer’. Sometimes they take on affirming forms such as ‘You are That’ or ‘You are Brahman’ or ‘You are Pure Consciousness’, etc.
In order for insight teachings to work, usually the mind needs to be relatively calm so that there is enough mental space for the insight to arise through an in-seeing into the nature of every-day experience. Therefore it can be useful to practice calming or purification practices prior to insight.
Insight teachings by themselves, which tend to be spoken or written teachings or ‘pointers’, can be very freeing but usually do not lead to full realisation/liberation unless the egoic vasanas/tendencies are already very much diminished. Usually, whilst insight is present all is apparently well, but then though daily life the egoic vasanas rear their head and wreak havoc. This leads to flip-flopping in which one alternately seems to ‘get it’ then ‘lose it’. For most, without purification, the insight remains fairly superficial on the level of the mind. I regularly come across many seekers in this predicament, where suffering continues and the approach is predominantly intellectual. What is required is purification, usually devotion, surrender, mantra and prayer – all the things that the stereotypical ‘western rational mind’ is often repelled by.
I have spoken and written about this more extensively elsewhere (eg. here and here) but these are essentially practices that calm the mind and reduce seeking, agitation, addiction and other egoic tendencies. From a more traditional perspective the cardinal purification teachings are devotion, prayer, gratitude, mantra recitation, meditation, hatha yoga and other things such as mindfulness practice and adopting a health diet and lifestyle. Simpler forms of purification are simply to relax, be still, accept whatever happens, surrender practices, etc, etc.
Now one could argue that these are essentially dualistic practices (which they are) and they rely on a sense of doership (which they do, at least initially). These are both worthy points and I address them here: Are spiritual teachings prescriptions or descriptions? Sudden vs. gradual teachings
Purification teachings enhance the ability of insight and also allow insight to deepen and be more stable. Therefore traditionally devotion, mantra recitation, yoga and meditation are all considered to be essential foundational practices to purify the mind and enhance the ability of Self-Realisation to occur. Similarly, purification is usually limited without insight. ie. unless the belief ‘I am the body-mind’ is removed, purification will not be as effective. This is because it is this limiting ‘I and the body-mind’ belief that gives rise to the sense of incompleteness and vulnerability that fuels these egoic tendencies.
Like insight-only teachings, purification-only teachings, which tend to be practices, can be very freeing of themselves. Unless the sense of being a limited entity (ie. structural ignorance) is already very weak, purification alone tends not to lead to liberation. This is because the limiting notion ‘I am the body’ goes unchecked and perpetuates itself.
I have written an article on how these teachings function in several Buddhist schools here: Buddhism: How enlightenment happens
In Vedanta, these two aspects of ignorance are known as the two Shaktis (energies or powers) of Maya:
1. Avarana Shakti – also known as Avriti Shakti, this is the veiling energy of Maya which prevents us from knowing ourselves as limitless Brahman. We therefore adopt a limited notion, namely ‘I am the body-mind’. Avarana Shakti keeps us from discovering our true nature and shedding this wrong knowledge or ignorance. It is related to Tamoguna. You can see that this is another way of talking about what I call Structural Ignorance above, but in a slightly different way.
2. Vikshepa Shakti – this is the projecting power of Maya. Once Avarana Shakti has veiled our true identity as Limitless Brahman and we (seemingly) take on the limited identity of the body-mind, the Vikshepa Shakti projects forth a body, mind and world in which the limited body-mind (ie. ego or jiva) can roam, seek, fear and suffer. It is related to Rajoguna. I hope you can see how this notion is related to what I call Functional Ignorance above.
In Shankara’s Vivekachudamani (see here for a summary by Ramana Maharshi), a full teaching is given that explains the above shakti’s: in the first portion of the text the knowledge teachings are explained and in the latter portion the focus is on meditation or nididhyasana. I also talk about this more here: False Enlightenment.
If you look closely, these two aspects of ignorance are deeply related and are not separate at all. Most seekers will tend towards either knowledge or purification in the first instance, and only when some headway is gained on that particular aspect of the teaching will they intuitively be drawn to the other less-explored aspect of the teaching
Essentially, follow your heart – it will guide you. You will know, if you listen to that ‘voiceless voice’ within what teaching is right for you right now. Perhaps you need to listen to a teacher or read more. Perhaps you need to practice devotion or surrender. Perhaps both. If you remain truly open in both heart and mind and do not overly cling to fixed conceptual views, your Heart will lead you home and attract/bring into your experience exactly what you need.
That said, as a general rule, I encourage regular attendance to Satsang or a similar meeting in which these teachings are repeatedly given. The mind is resistant and egotism/ignorance is deeply ingrained in most, and so regular contact with a teacher you resonate with is usually very important. This alone can save many months or years of erroneously seeking in the wrong direction. In just a few conversations with seekers I have often been able to quickly point them in the right direction in a matter of minutes after having had a real-time interaction with them, although obviously this is not always the case. Please see my meetings page if you are interested in attended an Online Meeting or In-Person meeting with myself.
Devotional practices and mantra recitation can both be extremely powerful. I often call them spiritual bulldozers as they are able to plough their way through years and years of egoic vasanas with relative ease compared to insight style teachings in many cases. My experience is that many with a Western scientific mindset (which in many ways is my own background) do not readily resonate with these practices, especially if they have had negative experiences of organised religion. However, there are ways these practices can be explained to allow even fairly atheist seekers benefit from these teachings.
Lastly meditation and stillness are also usually essential for the teachings to penetrate the deeper layers of the body-mind and root out egotism/ignorance at a deep energetic non-verbal level.
One trick I have noticed the ego-mind does is that is tries to avoid the above by use of clever reasoning. Whilst sometimes this logic is reasonable and sound, in most cases it is the ego trying to perpetuate itself and claim knowledge and experience for itself.
Sometimes the mind will say ‘I do not need to attend Satsang as I know everything that will be said’. I met someone for a 1 to 1 just recently who had heard and read all the teachings multiple times and was growing weary of it all. They felt there was no point to asking further questions, but on some level knew that there was something missing. Through a direct interaction we were quickly able to see where the sticking points were. This was only possible as the seeker in question was open to this possibility and maintained contact and dialogue with me even though their mind was saying ‘I know all this already’. The seeker was also open to their heart which guided them, in their case, to arrange a 1 to 1 with me.
In summary, listen to your heart with an open mind. The True Guru is Within. For most, having a teacher is essential. Consider listening to knowledge teachings (eg. attending satsang), and undertaking devotional practices, mantra recitation and silence/ meditation.
I have taken and arranged the following quotes from Ramana Maharshi’s two works Who Am I? (Nan Yar?) and Self Enquiry (Vichara Sangraham) with a focus on Self Enquiry and how to actually put the method into practice.
In order to do this, we will also look at some of the underpinning theory and also some practical points as to how this can be put into practice in daily life. Bold type and headings have been added by myself
Ramana Maharshi: As all living beings desire to be happy always, without misery, as in the case of everyone there is observed supreme love for one’s self, and as happiness alone is the cause for love, in order to gain that happiness which is one’s nature and which is experienced in the state of deep sleep where there is no mind, one should know one’s self. For that, the path of knowledge, the inquiry of the form ‘Who am I?’, is the principal means.
Disciple: Master! What is the means to gain the state of eternal bliss, ever devoid of misery?
Ramana Maharshi: Apart from the statement in the Veda that wherever there is body there is misery, this is also the direct experience of all people; therefore, one should enquire into one’s true nature which is ever bodiless, and one should remain as such. This is the means to gaining that state.
Disciple: What is meant by saying that one should enquire into one’s true nature and understand it?
Ramana Maharshi: Experiences such as “I went; I came; I was; I did” come naturally to everyone. From these experiences, does it not appear that the consciousness ‘I’ is the subject of those various acts? Enquiry into the true nature of that consciousness, and remaining as oneself is the way to understand, through enquiry, one’s true nature
Disciple: How is one to enquire: ‘Who am I?’
Ramana Maharshi: Actions such as ‘going’ and ‘coming’ belong only to the body. And so, when one says “I went, I came”, it amounts to saying that the body is ‘I’.
But, can the body be said to be the consciousness ‘I’, since the body was not before it was born, is made up of the five elements, is non-existent in the state of deep sleep, and becomes a corpse when dead? Can this body which is inert like a log of wood be said to shine as ‘I-I’? Therefore, the ‘I’ consciousness which at first arises in respect of the body is referred to variously as self-conceit (tarbodham), egoity (ahankara), nescience (avidya), maya, impurity (mala), and individual soul (jiva) .
Can we remain without enquiring into this? Is it not for our redemption through enquiry that all the scriptures declare that the destruction of ‘self-conceit’ is release (mukti)?
Disciple. Who am I ?
Ramana Maharshi: The gross body which is composed of the seven humours (dhatus), I am not; the five cognitive sense organs, viz. the senses of hearing, touch, sight, taste, and smell, which apprehend their respective objects, viz. sound, touch, colour, taste, and odour, I am not; the five cognitive senseorgans, viz. the organs of speech, locomotion, grasping, excretion, and procreation, which have as their respective functions speaking, moving, grasping, excreting, and enjoying, I am not; the five vital airs, prana, etc., which perform respectively the five functions of in-breathing, etc., I am not; even the mind which thinks, I am not; the nescience too, which is endowed only with the residual impressions of objects, and in which there are no objects and no functioning’s, I am not.
Disciple. If I am none of these, then who am I?
Ramana Maharshi: After negating all of the above-mentioned as ‘not this’, ‘not this’, that Awareness which alone remains – that I am
Disciple: What is the nature of the Self?
Ramana Maharshi: What exists in truth is the Self alone. The world, the individual soul, and God are appearances in it. like silver in mother-of-pearl, these three appear at the same time, and disappear at the same time. The Self is that where there is absolutely no ‘I’ thought. That is called ‘Silence’ The Self itself is the world; the Self itself is ‘I’; the Self itself is God; all is Siva, the Self.
Disciple: Is it not possible for God and the Guru to effect the release of a soul?
Ramana Maharshi: God and the Guru will only show the way to release; they will not by themselves take the soul to the state of release.
Disciple: Is it any use reading books for those who long for release?
Ramana Maharshi: All the texts say that in order to gain release one should render the mind quiescent; therefore their conclusive teaching is that the mind should be rendered quiescent; once this has been understood there is no need for endless reading.
In order to quieten the mind one has only to inquire within oneself what one’s Self is; how could this search be done in books? One should know one’s Self with one’s own eye of wisdom. The Self is within the five sheaths; but books are outside them. Since the Self has to be inquired into by discarding the five sheaths, it is futile to search for it in books. There will come a time when one will have to forget all that one has learned.
Therefore, making the corpse-body remain as a corpse, and not even uttering the word ‘I’, one should enquire keenly thus: ‘Now, what is it that rises as ‘I’’. Then, there would shine in the Heart a kind of wordless illumination of the form ‘I’ ‘I’. That is, there would shine of its own accord the pure consciousness which is unlimited and one, the limited and the many thoughts having disappeared. If one remains quiescent without abandoning that (experience), the egoity, the individual sense, of the form ‘I am the body’ will be totally destroyed, and at the end the final thought, viz. the ‘I’-form also will be quenched like the fire that burns camphor [ie. without leaving any sediment]. The great sages and scriptures declare that this alone is release.
Disciple: How will the mind become quiescent?
Ramana Maharshi: By the inquiry ‘Who am I?’. The thought ‘who am I?’ will destroy all other thoughts, and like the stick used for stirring the burning pyre, it will itself in the end get destroyed. Then, there will arise Self-realization.
Disciple What is the means for constantly holding on to the thought ‘Who am I?’
Ramana Maharshi: When other thoughts arise, one should not pursue them, but should inquire: ‘To whom do they arise?’ It does not matter how many thoughts arise. As each thought arises, one should inquire with diligence, ‘To whom has this thought arisen?’. The answer that would emerge would be ‘To me’. Thereupon if one inquires ‘Who am I?’, the mind will go back to its source; and the thought that arose will become quiescent.
With repeated practice in this manner, the mind will develop the skill to stay in its source.
When the mind that is subtle goes out through the brain and the sense-organs, the gross names and forms appear; when it stays in the heart, the names and forms disappear. Not letting the mind go out, but retaining it in the Heart is what is called ‘inwardness’ (antarmukha). Letting the mind go out of the Heart is known as ‘externalisation’ (bahir-mukha).
Thus, when the mind stays in the Heart, the ‘I’ which is the source of all thoughts will go, and the Self which ever exists will shine.
Whatever one does, one should do without the egoity ‘I’. If one acts in that way, all will appear as of the nature of Siva (God).
Even if one thinks constantly ‘I’ ‘I’, one will be led to that place.
The mind should not be allowed to wander towards worldly objects and what concerns other people.
The world should be considered like a dream.
Disciple: How long should inquiry be practised?
Ramana Maharshi: As long as there are impressions of objects in the mind, so long the inquiry ‘Who am I?’ is required.
As thoughts arise they should be destroyed then and there in the very place of their origin, through inquiry.
If one resorts to contemplation of the Self unintermittently, until the Self is gained, that alone would do. As long as there are enemies within the fortress, they will continue to sally forth; if they are destroyed as they emerge, the fortress will fall into our hands.
Disciple: When one enquires into the root of ‘self conceit’ which is of the form ‘I’, all sorts of different thoughts without number seem to rise; and not any separate ‘I’ thought.
Ramana Maharshi: …Whatever thoughts arise as obstacles to one’s sadhana (spiritual discipline) – the mind should not be allowed to go in their direction, but should be made to rest in one’s self which is the Atman; one should remain as witness to whatever happens, adopting the attitude ‘Let whatever strange things happen, happen; let us see!’ This should be one’s practice. In other words, one should not identify oneself with appearances; one should never relinquish one’s self.
This is the proper means for destruction of the mind (manonasa) which is of the nature of seeing the body as self, and which is the cause of all the aforesaid obstacles.
This method which easily destroys egoity deserves to be called devotion (bhakti), meditation (dhyana), concentration (yoga), and knowledge (jnana).
Disciple: The residual impressions (thoughts) of objects appear wending like the waves of an ocean. When will all of them get destroyed?
Ramana Maharshi: As the meditation on the Self rises higher and higher, the thoughts will get destroyed.
Disciple: Is it possible for the residual impressions of objects that come from beginningless time, as it were, to be resolved, and for one to remain as the pure Self?
Ramana Maharshi: Without yielding to the doubt “Is it possible, or not?”, one should persistently hold on to the meditation on the Self. Even if one be a great sinner, one should not worry and weep “O! I am a sinner, how can I be saved?”; one should completely renounce the thought “I am a sinner”; and concentrate keenly on meditation on the Self; then, one would surely succeed.
Disciple: Are there no other means for making the mind quiescent?
Ramana Maharshi: Other than inquiry, there are no adequate means. If through other means it is sought to control the mind, the mind will appear to be controlled, but will again go forth. Through the control of breath also, the mind will become quiescent; but it will be quiescent only so long as the breath remains controlled, and when the breath resumes the mind also will again start moving and will wander as impelled by residual impressions.
Disciple: Is the aforesaid Self-experience possible, even in the state of empirical existence, for the mind which has to perform functions in accordance with its prarabdha (the past karma which has begun to fructify)?
Ramana Maharshi: A Brahmin may play various parts in a drama; yet the thought that he is a Brahmin does not leave his mind. Similarly, when one is engaged in various empirical acts there should be the firm conviction “I am the Self”, without allowing the false idea “I am the body, etc.” to rise.
If the mind should stray away from its state, then immediately one should enquire, “Oh! Oh! We are not the body etc.! Who are we?” and thus one should reinstate the mind in that (pure) state. The enquiry ‘Who am I?’ is the principal means to the removal of all misery and the attainment of the supreme bliss. When in this manner the mind becomes quiescent in its own state, Self-experience arises of its own accord, without any hindrance. Thereafter sensory pleasures and pains will not affect the mind. All (phenomena) will appear then, without attachment, like a dream. Never forgetting one’s plenary Self-experience is real bhakti (devotion), yoga (mind-control), jnana (knowledge) and all other austerities. Thus say the sages.
Disciple: When there is activity in regard to works, we are neither the agents of those works nor their enjoyers. The activity is of the three instruments (i.e., the mind, speech, and body). Could we remain (unattached) thinking thus?
Ramana Maharshi: After the mind has been made to stay in the Self which is its Deity, and has been rendered indifferent to empirical matters because it does not stray away from the Self, how can the mind think as mentioned above? Do not such thoughts constitute bondage? When such thoughts arise due to residual impressions (vasanas), one should restrain the mind from flowing that way, endeavour to retain it in the Self-state, and make it turn indifferent to empirical matters. One should not give room in the mind for such thoughts as: “Is this good? Or, is that good? Can this be done? Or, can that be done?” One should be vigilant even before such thoughts arise and make the mind stay in its native state. If any little room is given, such a (disturbed) mind will do harm to us while posing as our friend; like the foe appearing to be a friend, it will topple us down.
Is it not because one forgets one’s Self that such thoughts arise and cause more and more evil? While it is true that to think through discrimination, “I do not do anything; all actions are performed by the instruments”, is a means to prevent the mind from flowing along thought vasanas, does it not also follow that only if the mind flows along thought vasanas that it must be restrained through discrimination as stated before?
Can the mind that remains in the Self-state think as ‘I’ and as ‘I behave empirically thus and thus’? In all manner of ways possible one should endeavour gradually not to forget one’s (true) Self that is God. If that is accomplished, all will be accomplished. The mind should not be directed to any other matter. Even though one may perform, like a mad person, the actions that are the result of prarabdha-karma, one should retain the mind in the Self-state without letting the thought ‘I do’ arise. Have not countless bhaktas (devotees) performed their numerous empirical functions with an attitude of indifference?
Is there any way of adoring the Supreme which is all,
except by abiding firmly as that!
Here are some quotes I have arranged by theme from Ramana Maharshi’s masterpiece Who Am I? (Nan Yar? in Tamil) It is a short text and should ideally be read in full. You can find a version on this website here which is truer to the original Ramana himself wrote and where I have also introduced the text more fully, and you can find another version from Ramanashramam here, from where the quotes below were taken.
Throughout you can see that the emphasis is on stilling the mind to bring about Self-Realisation. The method for doing this is Self-Enquiry. See if you can see all the different ways that Ramana points to making the mind still in each of his answers. The Bold Type Headings are my own additions and my comments are in italicised red.
Q. When will the realization of the Self be gained?
A. When the world which is what-is-seen has been removed, there will be realization of the Self which is the seer.
Q. Will there not be realization of the Self even while the world is there?
A. There will not be.
Q. When will the world which is the object seen be removed?
A. When the mind, which is the cause of all cognition’s and of all actions, becomes quiescent, the world will disappear.
Ramana is stating that realisation appears when the mind is still. Many people avoid these kinds of teachings which advocate turning away from the world, and give various seemingly logical reasons for this philosophical stance (note that it is a philosophical stance for the most part, based on logical reasoning, belief and a certain ideology), but for most people, without prolonged stillness of mind, egotism finds a way to perpetuate itself and suffering, separation and ignorance also continue.
Like the practice of breath-control, meditation on the forms of God, repetition of mantras, restriction on food, etc., are but aids for rendering the mind quiescent.
Through meditation on the forms of God and through repetition of mantras, the mind becomes one-pointed.
Just as when a chain is given to an elephant to hold in its trunk it will go along grasping the chain and nothing else, so also when the mind is occupied with a name or form it will grasp that alone.
When the mind expands in the form of countless thoughts, each thought becomes weak; but as thoughts get resolved the mind becomes one-pointed and strong; for such a mind Self-inquiry will become easy.
Note that here Ramana defines a strong and weak mind: a strong mind is one that is one-pointed, a weak mind is one that is not one-pointed, ie. a scattered mind. It is a strong one-pointed mind that can undergo self-enquiry effectively for most. Therefore the practices above such as breath control, devotion and mantra practice can form a spiritual foundation for those who are not able to effectively perform self-enquiry straight away.
Q. The residual impressions (thoughts) of objects appear unending like the waves of an ocean. When will all of them get destroyed?
A. As the meditation on the Self rises higher and higher, the thoughts will get destroyed.
Q. Is it possible for the residual impressions of objects that come from beginningless time, as it were, to be resolved, and for one to remain as the pure Self?
A. Without yielding to the doubt “Is it possible, or not?”, one should persistently hold on to the meditation on the Self. Even if one be a great sinner, one should not worry and weep “O! I am a sinner, how can I be saved?”; one should completely renounce the thought “I am a sinner”; and concentrate keenly on meditation on the Self; then, one would surely succeed.
To worry about whether or not thoughts can end is itself a thought and so is moving away from stillness of mind. See how tricky the mind is?
The mind should not be allowed to wander towards worldly objects and what concerns other people.
However bad other people may be, one should bear no hatred for them.
Again, the above teachings are all about the mind becoming still.
Both desire and hatred should be eschewed.
Hatred and desire are more agitations of the mind.
Whatever burdens are thrown on God, He bears them. Since the supreme power of God makes all things move, why should we, without submitting ourselves to it, constantly worry ourselves with thoughts as to what should be done and how, and what should not be done and how not? We know that the train carries all loads, so after getting on it why should we carry our small luggage on our head to our discomfort, instead of putting it down in the train and feeling at ease?
One solution for an agitated mind is to have faith in the Supreme God, for the mind that trusts and has faith in God naturally becomes still. This is made clearer in the next quote.
He who gives himself up to the Self that is God is the most excellent devotee. Giving one’s self up to God means remaining constantly in the Self without giving room for the rise of any thoughts other than that of the Self.
ie. be still. If you do have thoughts, they should only be about the Self, meaning the mind is strong and one-pointed, as referenced in an earlier quote above.
God and the Guru will only show the way to release; they will not by themselves take the soul to the state of release.
Each one should by his own effort pursue the path shown by God or Guru and gain release.
The Guru only tells you to be still. Seeking a Guru is entering more delusion/illusion/ignorance and merely perpetuates ignorance and mental agitation/movement. See how skilfully Ramana steers us away from this mistake? This same teaching is also given at the start of Shankara’s Vivekachudamani.
All the texts say that in order to gain release one should render the mind quiescent; therefore their conclusive teaching is that the mind should be rendered quiescent; once this has been understood there is no need for endless reading.
There is no happiness in any object of the world. We imagine through our ignorance that we derive happiness from objects. When the mind goes out, it experiences misery. In truth, when its desires are fulfilled, it returns to its own place and enjoys the happiness that is the Self.
Seeking happiness in the world or in objects is more mental agitation. Ceasing to do this is making the mind still. This is elaborated upon and emphasised in the next two quotes.
Under the tree the shade is pleasant; out in the open the heat is scorching. A person who has been going about in the sun feels cool when he reaches the shade. Someone who keeps on going from the shade into the sun and then back into the shade is a fool. A wise man stays permanently in the shade. Similarly, the mind of the one who knows the truth does not leave Brahman. The mind of the ignorant, on the contrary, revolves in the world, feeling miserable, and for a little time returns to Brahman to experience happiness. In fact, what is called the world is only thought. When the world disappears, i.e. when there is no thought, the mind experiences happiness; and when the world appears, it goes through misery.
Q. What is wisdom-insight (jnana-drsti)?
A. Remaining quiet is what is called wisdom-insight.
Q. What is the relation between desirelessness and wisdom?
A. Desirelessness is wisdom. The two are not different; they are the same. Desirelessness is refraining from turning the mind towards any object. Wisdom means the appearance of no object.
Gratitude to Sri Ramana for his teachings that skilfully and in numerous ways tell us to still the mind. Bhagavan Ramana writes:
‘All the texts say that in order to gain release one should render the mind quiescent; therefore their conclusive teaching is that the mind should be rendered quiescent; once this has been understood there is no need for endless reading.’
If you are not able to take up self-enquiry and still the mind, take up the auxiliary practices at once and devote yourself fully to them. Bhagavan Ramana writes:
‘Through meditation on the forms of God and through repetition of mantras, the mind becomes one-pointed…the mind becomes one-pointed and strong; for such a mind Self-inquiry will become easy.’
So devote yourself to God, devote yourself to Sri Ramana, chant the mantra with unceasing and unending devotion, and then go deep deep into stillness wielding the question ‘Who am I?’ as your weapon of choice, eventually letting go of this weapon too, drowning in Effulgent Grace in the formless form of Realisation. Bhagavan Ramana writes:
‘By the inquiry ‘Who am I?’. The thought ‘who am I?’ will destroy all other thoughts, and like the stick used for stirring the burning pyre, it will itself in the end get destroyed. Then, there will arise Self-realization.’
The search to end suffering, to gain spiritual knowledge, to attain true spiritual experience and to end confusion is all due to believing you are the body-mind.
The belief ‘I am the body-mind’ is the ignorance that causes all the trouble. This belief is also known as egotism, maya, illusion, duality, separation and samsara. It is a fiction.
In essence you are not the body-mind.
You are in essence That which is Infinite, Eternal, beyond words and speech and concepts.
This is known intuitively already. It is not more conceptual knowledge for the body-mind which is just more ignorance.The words are indicators and are not meant to be more beliefs for the body-mind.
You are That which was before the body-mind was born and will be when the body-mind has gone. You are That which is in deep dreamless sleep. Again this is already intuitively known without thought or words.
There is therefore nothing to seek, nothing to know, nothing to attain, no experience required.
🕉 You are That! 🕉
🕉 Tat Tvam Asi! 🕉
🕉 Be what you are! 🕉