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
Enquiry is the way
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
How to perform Self-Enquiry – The Theory
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.
How to perform Self-Enquiry – The Method
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.
But thoughts still arise…
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.
Can we do enquiry in daily life in the world?
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!