Here a seeker asks Sri Ramana Maharshi how to find or ‘see’ God. When Ramana gives his usual answer, the seeker objects with a very common objection, let us see. The following dialogue has been recorded in the book Conscious Immortality, page 125:
Questioner: How is God to be seen?
Ramana Maharshi: Within. If the mind is turned inwards, God manifests as the inner consciousness.
Questioner: But isn’t God in all the objects we see around us?
Ramana Maharshi: God is in everything and in the seer. Where can God be seen? He cannot be found outside. He should be felt within. To see the objects, mind is necessary, and to conceive God in them is only a mental operation. But that is not real. The consciousness within, purged of the mind, is felt as God.
We can see that Ramana states that to find God, or see God, one must turn within, away from objects and abide as the Consciousness within, the pure Subject, devoid of objects. The seeker responds with a philosophical argument that seems to make sense to the mind. The seeker’s reasoning is as follows: but if God is everywhere and everything, why must I turn within to find Him?
The problem is that while this seem philosophically correct and so makes sense (to the ego-mind!), it doesn’t work. Ramana Maharshi’s teaching is a practical guide. It actually works! Ramana does not simply say to us ‘All is God…All is Self…All is One’ or something similar and leave it at that. Ramana states that yes, God is All, but he cannot be found outside, only within.
What we see around us is also God, yes, but it is God as Maya, and is therefore unreal and gives rise only to suffering and confusion. Maya/the world may make us feel we are making progress by giving us superficial temporary realisations and insights together with philosophical platitudes and positive feelings, but this is simply ‘Maya’s way of ensnaring us’ and perpetuating the ego and suffering.
It is only when we turn within and attend to what is Real, namely our own very Self, that we then Abide as the Self and the above is seen for oneself. Only when we turn within, away from objects, do the Vedanta teachings come alive. They are transformed from mere concepts to first-hand Reality, and suffering finally comes to an end. Only then is the body-mind identification destroyed. Only then is the infinite divine nature of the Self truly seen. Only then do we truly experience the Ananda or Blissful aspect of the Self.
We see the same teaching given in Ramana’s text ‘Who Am I?’, and knowing the above teaching, namely that we need to turn within, explains what could be seen as a rather strange answer to a question by Ramana:
Question: Is not everything the work of God?
Ramana Maharshi: Without desire, resolve, or effort, the sun rises; and in its mere presence, the sun-stone emits fire, the lotus blooms, water evaporates; people perform their various functions and then rest. Just as in the presence of the magnet the needle moves, it is by virtue of the mere presence of God that the souls governed by the three (cosmic) functions or the fivefold divine activity perform their actions and then rest, in accordance with their respective karmas. God has no resolve; no karma attaches itself to Him. That is like worldly actions not affecting the sun, or like the merits and demerits of the other four elements not affecting all pervading space.
Again, we can see here that Ramana does not simply write ‘yes, all is God, God does all, all is One’, or something similar, but puts forward a different conception of the Self which will orientate our practice as above. He is stating God or the Self is Still, Whole, Unmoving, Unaffected, Self-Shining and Actionless (ie. God or Self does nothing). It is Pure Consciousness, the Subject, the Source of all, and we are to attend to That only. This is how we are to conceive of or think of the Self in order to orientate our practice. This is all beautifully explained in The Path of Sri Ramana.
So, how can we know this is the only way? Try other teachings if you want! You will eventually see they don’t work – despite all the concepts, practices and words your suffering will continue! All other teachings are based upon objects, Maya (ie. they are based upon thoughts, feelings, sensations, body, mind, world, etc): they are therefore based upon that which is transient and temporary and so do not serve to be a good foundation for firm Happiness.
Until you turn within, suffering will continue! Whenever you attend to (ie. attach to) objects, you tacitly strengthen the ego-notion, so turn within, abide as the Self! It is what you truly are, it is the only constant!