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.
How can I attain realisation? By removing the world and making the mind still.
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.
Breath control, mantra, devotional practice are aids but are not the true practice.
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.
Why make the mind one-pointed?
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.
But thoughts keep on coming. Will thoughts ever end?
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?
What about my worldly problems and other people?
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.
What about desire and hatred?
Both desire and hatred should be eschewed.
Hatred and desire are more agitations of the mind.
How can I stop worrying about worldly affairs?
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.
Is there room for devotion and surrender on this path?
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.
Maybe I should find a guru who will help me? Perhaps I need their grace or transmission?
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.
Which scriptures and books will help me on this path?
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.
Where in the world can I find lasting happiness and fulfillment?
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.
How does a wise one act?
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.
What about Spiritual Knowledge (Jnana) or Wisdom?
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.’