Some say that self-enquiry eventually culminates in surrender, and others say the opposite. Which is true? By the way, Self-Enquiry can also be referred to the path of Jnana (Knowledge or Wisdom) and Self-Surrender is also known as the path of Bhakti (love or devotion).
Ramana Maharshi has sometimes said it one way, and other times another, and other times said they are the same path. Again, which of these is true?
Let us see definitively what Sri Ramana says about this (surrender = Bhakti; Self-enquiry = jnana) in Guru Vachaka Kovai:
722. When scanned, bhakti supreme and jnana Shine as in their essence one. Saying that one of them is but A means to the other is only due To understanding neither.
723. Even those who know may sometimes seem To honour this saying and so prefer One or the other of these paths. This is in order to prevent Some seeker half-way on one path From giving it up and choosing the other.
724. When one adopting self-enquiry Reaches the journey’s end and gains Samadhi’s bliss, it is solely due To the grace of God, one’s inmost Self, Life of one’s life.
725. Unless the Self, the God within, By power of grace pulls in the mind, Who has the strength through his own effort To stop the rogue mind’s outward drift And merge it in the Heart and so Gain peace?
728 To tell the truth, God’s grace supreme And the keen quest “Who am I?”, Which means abidance in the Heart, Will work together as mutual aids And bring one to the state of oneness With the Self supreme.
729 This maya world-dream will not end Unless the Self within speaks out. The enquiry, “Who is the dreamer Of this dream?” is prayer addressed To Him to speak and wake us up.
730. It is said that meditation On one’s own being [Tom: ie. Self-enquiry] is supreme Devotion to all-transcending God, Because, though spoken of as two, They are in substance one.
731. The way of knowledge and the way of love Are interwoven close. Don’t tear Asunder these inseparables. But practise both together holding In the heart the two as one.
Meditation on the Self Is devotion to the Lord Supreme, since He abides as this, Our very Self. – SRI BHAGAVAN 13
Question: Hi Tom, it is often said that the Self is the Witness, meaning that which sees or perceives all objects. In other places it is said the Self is everything. I’m not sure what to make of this. Can you give me some clarity please?
Tom: Hi, yes, this can cause lots of confusion for many. Even many Vedanta teachers do not really understand this point. As ever, Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi points us to the true vedanta, the truly liberating way, in his teachings.
In truth the Self is not a witness at all, but as long as we think we are a body-mind entity, and as long as we see a world outside of or apart from ourself, the Self is indicated or pointed out as being the Subject or the Witness.
When in Self-Enquiry (the path of Knowledge) we turn our attention away from the objects, which means the various gross and suble phenomena that are perceived, and towards the Subject or Self (‘Witness’), eventually the ego-mind which takes itself to be a body-mind entity dissolves or dies and all that is left is the Subject-Witness-Self. This Self can no longer truly be said to be either a Subject (for there are no objects present), nor can it be said to be a Witness, as there is nothing to witness. It is All, it is the Sole Reality, ‘One without a second’, as it is often described as being in the Upanishads.
Q. Why then is the Self said to be a witness at all?
Tom: it is only to point out where to direct your attention towards. That apparent Subject, the I AM is what we truly are and all there truly is. All else is illusion, maya. The problem is that we think that we are the body-mind, which is actually a part of maya. Only through Self-Knowledge can we realise what we truly are, and to that end the Self is pointed out as being a Witness or being the Subject. Why? So we can turn towards it and thereby realise our/the Self.
Q. Why then is the Self said to be everything?
Tom: When we are under the spell of illusion, meaning when we take ourself to be a body-mind entity living in an apparently external world, we can say that everything is the Self, that all comes from the Self, and the Self pervades all. What can be apart from the Self? Nothing! However, at this point, we are still under the spell of illusion or maya or ignorance (all are synonyms). When, through self-enquiry, we discover the Reality, our Self, as it truly is, there is no Maya/ignorance/illusion at all and we realise there never was ever any illusion/ignorance at any point in time ever (actually we also realise there was never any time either, which is simply a part of the illusion). This is the Self. This is self-realisation.
There is actually no realisation of anything in self-realisation, for realisation implies a mind that realises something, and neither the ‘mind’ nor ‘something’ are in the self, both being aspects of Maya (illusion). There is only the Self.
Q. So does the Self pervade everything, all objects?
Tom: Why worry about objects, maya? The ego-mind is always concerned about maya. Discover the Self and find out! You will no longer be interested in maya (ie. there is/will be no maya in realisation). To discover the self, consider all objects to be maya and turn your attention lovingly towards the Subject, the I AM, what you actually are
Renouncing this phenomenal world Which seems to, but does not, exist We gain (the great ones say) the Self, The Awareness shining all unseen.
Sri Ramana Maharshi, Guru Vachaka Kovai, Verse 835
Q. Why in some places does it say objects are not-Self and in other places it says objects are Self?
Tom: Contrary to what many think it is the lower teachings that say all is Self, to convince the seeker that there is only the Self. The higher teachings say that objects are not-Self, ie. maya or illusion, thus encouraging the sincere seeker to turn away from objects towards the Subject, whose true nature is Eternal Love and Bliss. The Eternal and Blissful nature of the Self is seemingly lost due to pre-occupation with the dream-like maya. Therefore the only way out is to attend to the Eternal and discover what you truly are!
Note that in both cases, whether you consider objects to be the Self or non-Self, that is a conceptual position for the mind. And liberation has nothing to do with the mind, the mind itself being ignorance.
Q. Don’t the scriptures state that the mind leads the way to liberation? Isn’t the way to liberation through knowledge, as isn’t knowledge to do with the mind?
Tom: It is true that some scriptures say that through the mind we can reach liberation. That means that it is the mind that hears the teachings (sravana), reflects upon them (manana), and then this naturally leads to meditation upon the Self (Self Enquiry or Nididhyasana) which in turn leads to manonasa (destruction of mind, or destruction of ignorance) which is the same as liberation (Mukti or Moksha), which is also the same as Jnana (knowledge) or Atma Jnana (Self-knowledge).
In Self knowledge, there is only the Self. There is no mental knowledge in Jnana at all, Jnana or Knolwedge just being another name for the Self. See here for more on this:
Q. So in that case does that mean that all we have to do for realisation is to remain as the witness, watching phenomena as they come and go?
Tom: No, that is not correct at all. Whilst remaining as the witness is a lovely teaching in many ways that can be a wonderful practice for some people at some points on their journey, merely remaining a witness is (1) not liberating and (2) is also not possible for most, as the mind keeps on getting drawn back into thoughts of body, mind or world. Merely remaining as the witness to objective phenomena as they come and go is merely attending to maya, as all objective phenomena are maya, and so the ego-illusion and suffering continue. For realisation, we must attend to the Subject-Self, the I Am, until the ego-mind (which is duality) is no more, ie. until self-realisation, ie. until be discover what we truly are.
If you refrain from looking at this Or that or any other object Then by that overpowering look Into absolute Being you become Yourself the boundless space of pure Awareness which alone is Real Being.
Sri Ramana Maharshi, Guru Vachaka Kovai, Verse 647
Question: What is it that discovers the Self?
Tom: There is no entity that discovers the Self. It is only the Self that ‘discovers’ the Self. It is the total absolute removal or total absense of ignorance. It is merely the Self being the Self, One without and second (maya), no more, no less.
The following is taken from the wonderful text Sadhanai Saram (The Essence of Spiritual Practice) written by Sri Sadhu Om, a direct devotee of Sri Ramana’s. This text not only gives us the essence of Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teaching, but also directs us to the true Vedanta teachings. The notes are written by Sri Sadhu Om himself. You can download the full text as a PDF using the above link.
Devotion and Knowledge – Bhakti and Jnana
To the extent to which love for God arises in one’s heart, to that extent will one acquire knowledge about Him. And to the extent to which one knows the nature of God, to that extent will the mind gain steadfast love for Him. Thus, knowledge (jnana) will be increased by devotion (bhakti), and devotion (bhakti) will be increased by knowledge (jnana).
By means of our love for God, He will give us more knowledge of Him, and by means of our knowledge of Him, He will give us more love for Him. Therefore, of these two paths, bhakti and jnana, follow that one for which you first gain a liking, because that one path will lead you to follow the other one into the heart.
In the life of an aspirant who is seeking liberation, bhakti and jnana will be experienced as inseparable, like the two sides of one sheet of paper. Hence, each one is equal to the other. They are not two different things, for the true nature of both of them is one and the same; know that bhakti and jnana are merely two names for that one thing.(Garland of Guru’s Sayings (Guru Vachaka Kovai) verses 722, 731)
The state of abiding firmly in Self-alone is wisdom (jnana). Would it be possible to abide thus in Self if one did not have love for Self? Love for Self-alone is bhakti; abiding firmly in Self on account of that love alone is jnana. What difference is there between these two? Discriminate and know this truth. (Maharshi’s Gospel p.24)
If there did not exist the power of gravity, which attracts and pulls everything towards the earth, would anything remain stable on earth? On scrutiny, devotion (bhakti) is found to be similar to the gravitational power of attraction, while the state of wisdom (jnana) is found to be similar to the state of objects remaining stable on earth as a result of that attraction. If either one of these two, the power of attraction or bhakti and the state of abidance or jnana, were absent, the other one would not exist.
An aspirant who practices Self-inquiry, which is the path of jnana, denies his own individuality by knowing, “I, this insignificant ego, am not the doer of any action”; while a devotee denies his own individuality by knowing, “God alone is the doer of all actions.” Thus, since an aspirant who follows either of these two paths refrains from assuming the sense of doership, understand that these two paths are not different even during the time of practice, and follow either of them.
We should not allow our minds to become bewildered and confused by trying to deliberate and decide, “Which of these two, the practice of bhakti or the practice of jnana is the best means for attaining liberation?” For whichever path a liking arises in the heart of a person, for that person that path alone is the best.
According to the strength of habit continuing from former lives, in this life the mind will acquire a liking either for the path of devotion or the direct and unfailing path of Self-inquiry, and will feel that particular path to be the best and most suited to itself. Therefore, follow at least one of these two paths to its very end.
Inquiry Becoming Easy Due to Devotion
When, having wept and wept with intense yearning for a long time, unceasingly thinking of and adoring the Gracious Feet (of the Lord), the mind which rises (as “I am so-and-so”) dissolves and becomes pure, the blemishless Self-inquiry (jnanatmavichara) will become firmly settled (in the heart) and the experience of Self (swarupa-anubhava) will of its own accord arise very easily indeed. – Sri Muruganar
Note: from Sri Ramana Jnana Bodham v.1286
O, you who say, “We have never seen you closing your eyes and practicing Self-abidance (nishtha); tell us, how did you attain the state of inner silence (mauna)?” Understanding the above verse, know the secret of (how to attain the true experience of) God, who is not seen even though one waits closing one’s eyes (for a long time in expectation of seeing His true vision).
Note: the previous verse is the answer to the above question
The following is taken from Sadhana Saram, a wonderful text that explains the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi written by Sri Sadhu Om, a direct devotee of Sri Ramana’s:
48. The Manner of the Dawn of Knowledge (Janodaya Vidham)
268. Death happens in a split second. Awakening from sleep happens in a split second. Similarly, the destruction of the delusion of individuality happens in just a split second. True knowledge is not something that can be gained and then lost. If a person feels that true knowledge is coming and going, he is still only in the state of practice (or abhyasa). It cannot be said that such a person has attained true Self-knowledge.
The perfect awakening into the state of Self-knowledge happens in just a split second. That state is not attained gradually over a long period of time. All the sadhanas that are practiced over a period of many years are meant only for attaining blemishless maturity.
Listen to an apt illustration. After people have placed gunpowder in the iron barrel of a temple-cannon, after they have added broken pieces of brick, after they have packed it tight with a ramrod, after they have placed a wick in contact with the powder, and after they have plastered the open end of the barrel with clay, as soon as the charge is ignited it will explode in a split second with a blast that sounds like thunder.
Similarly, after one has learnt the truth about the real Self through hearing and reading, after one has practiced sadhana for a long time, after one has wept and prayed with heart-melting devotion, and after one has thereby attained purity of mind, the knowledge of the reality will instantaneously shine forth in a split second as “I am I”. As soon as the dawn of Self-knowledge thus takes place, due to the clear shining of the reality of this state, which is an empty space devoid of objective knowledge, will be spontaneously realized to be the state of true knowledge, which is our beginningless real nature.
The following verses are teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi taken from Sri Ramana Gita, Chapter 1 ‘The Importance of Upasana’. Let us start at verse 12:
The seeker of knowledge does not achieve his end merely by a study of the scriptures. Without upasana [meditation] there cannot be attainment for him; this is definite.
Tom: But what is this Upasana? The next verse explains:
Experiencing the natural state, during spiritual practice, is called upasana and when that state becomes firm and permanent that itself is called jnana [knowledge].
Tom: But what is this Natural State? Again, the next verse explains
When discarding sense-objects, one abides in one’s own true nature as a flame of jnana, this state of being is termed sahaja sthiti [the natural state].
Tom: so we can see here that the teaching is to discard sense-objects, and abide in one’s own nature. This is called Jnana or Sahaja Sthiti. Remaining in this state is the principle sadhana (spiritual practice) – this is Upasana (meditation) and this leads to liberation, not just mere study of the scriptures.
All the Spiritual Knowledge you ever need is already within you (it actually is you). What is this Spiritual Knowledge? It is knowledge of what you truly are, namely Pure Ever-Blissful Ever-Full Eternal Formless Spirit.
You already fully know this
You already know this. You have always eternally known this. This knowledge has always been within you, intuitively, meaning non-verbally ie. NOT knowledge in the mind and NOT knowledge known by a person. It is innate inborn knowledge that cannot be lost, ever, and does not need to be gained ever.
If you look within, take the time to really feel, then perhaps you will intuit that you have always known that you are infinite, formless and divine, beyond time and space.
Intuitively you have always known that you are not merely flesh and bone, you are not this mere body and mind.
You do not need any new knowledge or understanding in the mind for this path.
So, what’s the problem?
Well, in truth there is no problem, and there never has been, and never will be (no problems are real, and time such as past and future are also not actually real)…and you already intuitively and deeply know that there is no problem…but…
…But so long as you believe the limiting ideas thrown out by the mind – and all the mind’s ideas are limiting – then you will consider yourself to be limited. You will consider yourself to have name and form, you will consider yourself to be flesh and blood, and to be subject to birth, disease, suffering and death. You will consider the world to be real and you will consider problems to be real.
In Truth you are Spirit Divine, Eternal, Lumonious, Blissfull, devoid of time, space, individuality, devoid of one iota of suffering, devoid of one iota of multiplicity or duality, ever whole, pure, pristine Beauty and Love.
This ‘knowledge’ is not in the mind – no body or mind is required for this ‘knowledge
As I said, you know this already – ‘in your heart’ – meaning intuitively this is known, ie. this is not known and can never be known with the mind or with concepts/thoughts, but it is always known in your Heart or Being.
Your True Nature always knows itself to be Divine, fully. This knowledge does not require and body or mind, both of which, together with the world, are non-existent and unreal.
In truth there is no you and me. There is only ONE, THAT. And ‘we’ are THAT ONE.
The only ‘issue’ (not that there really is any issue) is that we take on wrong concepts, believing ourselves to be a body-mind entity living in a world when actually these are all false and non-existent In Truth.
All ‘we have to do’ to realise this is lose the wrong concepts, lose the wrong beliefs, which means to stop attending to them, to stop paying attention to the body + mind + world, especially our thoughts and concepts. All we have to do is have faith in our own innate unborn non-mental non-conceptual knowledge of what we are, and attend to and nurture that intuitive-faith-knowingness-self.
Then, as ignorance slips away, all will eventually be seen to be One and Yourself, Shining as Pure Consciousness, initially with Objects Present (Savikalpa, with forms or with objects) and then in its pure Divine Form devoid of objective phenomena (Nirvikalpa, without form or without objects).
This is Self-Knowledge devoid of a shred ignorance, this is what already IS, this is what you already are, this is what is already and eternally intuitively known ‘in the heart’, meaning never with the mind.
The Self always fully knows itself to be Divine and Full, without words, without a body and without a mind – ignorance never really ever was.
If anything is needed, all we have to do is to nurture and attend to this intuitive self-knowledge. It is the guru, it will teach us, it will reveal itself to us.
Therefore the teaching is simply: KNOW THYSELF or BE THYSELF or ATTEND TO THYSELF or HAVE FAITH IN AND NURTURE YOUR OWN INNATE INTUITIVE KNOWING/KNOWLEDGE
Ignore body/mind/world and see/intuit only consciousness-beingness-love-bliss. Attend to your beingness-knowingness, which is Self-Knowledge. Nurture, stoke and tend to this intuitive knowing – it will grow and consume everything. This is what you truly are.
In Self-Knowledge, neither the knower, the knowing, or the known remain. If any of these three remain, that is ego, that is duality, that is suffering.
So how can this even be called ‘knowledge’? Know that the word ‘knowledge’ is just used to signify that thoughtless non-dual intuition of Reality that is Self.
It, the Self, is indescribable, so various words and phrases, all insufficient, are used, such as ‘knowledge’, ‘know thyself’, ‘be thyself’, etc, etc. None of these are quite right, but these words and phrases can convey something nonetheless, for you ‘know’ this already. You already fully know yourself, so these words can seemingly awaken you to that which you already know.
To know the Self is just to, having severed the identity with body-mind-name-form-ego, it is just to BE the Self, that which you ARE.
Self-knowledge is an inherent quality of the Self. Self and Self-Knowledge are one and the same. The Self always fully knows itself. You always fully know what you are. Not that the ego or mind knows – that is maya – but the Self, that which you are, always knows itself non-conceptually, without words, without any mediation by the body or mind.
This can never be known by the mind-ego. That is why even brain-damage will not remove self-realisation – because self-realisation is not related to the body-mind! Realisation ‘takes’ one ‘beyond body-mind-world! If it didn’t, it would itself be temporary, and liberation is neither temporary nor is it affected by time!
The Self is Self-Knowledge. But because there is no other that the Self, it cannot be said to be knowledge really, for there is no knower/knowing/known!