Ramana Maharshi: some gems from Who Am I? (Nan Yar) | Be still | Silence

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.

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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.’

Om Tat Sat

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LOVE & SURRENDER

Never underestimate the importance of surrender or letting go of the ‘me’. It is the same as meditation or being still. It is something that is the natural result of insight into non-duality/no separation and is not something you have to necessarily do, although it may start off that way. It takes us to Love, total and ordinary Love. ❤

We could say that if you are doing surrender in order to become enlightened then that is more ‘me’ or egotism. It is totally fine to do this btw. However surrender naturally results when this ‘me’ and the control me neurotically tries to exert is seen/felt/realised to be totally unnecessary and therefore the ‘me’ is non-conceptually/non-verbally realised to be a waste of energy.

Many staunch non-dualists do not advocate surrender, as who or what is there to do the surrendering? I totally agree!

And yet never underestimate the value of surrender!

😂😂

When the heart is open, even slightly, it is easy to sense those teachers whose hearts are not fully open, whose hearts remain resistant to the naturally purifying effect of love, whose minds cling on to the ‘me’, and in whom the me energy (ie. egoic vasanas) continues despite their words saying otherwise.

❤🙏❤

Q. Don’t you think surrender is the best way, as it is the essence of the 4 yogas?

Q. Don’t you think surrender is the best way, as it is the essence of the 4 yogas?

Tom: It depends. It’s true that surrender is essential for most, and it becomes more prevalent, especially as spiritually matures. Surrender is a wonderful way. But surrender itself ends in stillness of mind.

However some cannot surrender, and need to do karma yoga first. Others need to do hatha yoga and meditation. Others are more intellectually inclined and do viveka, or discrimination between the changing and unchanging, as per Jnana yoga.

The best yoga is the one you actually do.

“NOBODY HERE, I FEEL AMAZING!!”

Sometimes, when the firm understanding of no-self first comes upon you, it can unleash a vast reservoir of energy, especially if this understanding has dawned in a non-traditional context ie. without preparation of the body-mind.

That energy comes into and animates the body-mind, and energises it.

Sometimes negative, destructive, addictive and hedonistic habitual tendencies (vasanas) can be enhanced due to that injection of energy. We may feel negative or even euphoric, depending on the pre-existing conditioning.

Beware of this. Here the teachings on dispassion (vairagya) become more important than the insight (into no-self) teachings which have already begun to hit home.

Remember not to get involved or get carried away by such thoughts, desires, feelings and behaviours. Do not indulge in this (ego-) energy. The old ignorant habitual tendencies are still at play even though insight (into no-self) is here, and the suffering and potential destructiveness caused by them still has not been eradicated.

Instead continue to take up and press on with your sadhana: relax, remain calm, be still, allow all to come and go, be unattached, be as you are, until all the vasanas have gone. Then the sadhana will also go.

(please note, the title of this post is meant to be ironic!)

Give up everything

Robert Adams Advaita

The following is by Robert Adams:

What happens is this. As you keep giving up all the reactions to life. As you begin to surrender everything to the one Self. The one Self which is the absolute reality, the pure awareness takes over.

And will do whatever you have to do, even better than you can do it yourself. This power that knows the way will take you over completely. And it will speak for you. Do everything for you that you have to do and yet you will feel that you are not the doer.

Yet everything will be done perfectly.

Many people are afraid to give up their senses. For they believe that they will turn into a vegetable. But this is not true. You will always function. You will always do what you came to this earth to do. And you will even do it better than you ever can imagine.

So do not concern yourself about these things. Simply go within, surrender everything to the Self.

Give up everything.

Does Karma really exist?

Robert Adams Advaita

The following is by Robert Adams:

Does Karma really exist? I know that you can say, “No it doesn’t.” But as long as you believe that you are a body and mind, as long as you feel the world to be real, you cannot fool yourself. Do not lie to yourself. If the world perturbs you, if people bother you, if things annoy you, if you are reacting to conditions this means that you believe you are a body going through these experiences. And as long as you are going through experiences you are in karma. You are experiencing the karma that put you here as a body. It is only  when you have realized the self that there is no karma.

Therefore do not go around telling people that there is no karma, it will give them license to do anything they like. Feeling there is no retribution, there is no effect for their deeds. This is not true as long as you believe you are a body. For there are laws of the universe that respond to your actions. Karma means action. And as long as you believe you are the actor you will have to experience the results of the karma.

So in this particular life you are experiencing the results of not only the karma of this experience but of previous lives. Previous lives also come into effect whenever you believe you are the body.

There are only two ways to destroy the karma.

One is to inquire, “To whom the karma comes? Who is experiencing this karma?”

And the other way is to surrender completely to God. Totally surrender your life to God. God is within you as you. You therefore surrender everything to the self. Thy will be done. You begin to see that as long as you have God to surrender to, you need not worry, you need not fear. Everything will be alright.

Ramana Maharshi: offer yourself to God and become God. This will surely result in self-liberation.

Ramana smiling

Those who have poured their minds, as a food offering to Sivam, into the surging and radiant sacrificial fire which is the discipline of true knowledge [mey jnana tavam], will truly become Siva-swarupa. Having reached this conclusion, the proper course is to worship courageously in this way and merge with the formless Sivam.

Ramana Maharshi
Guru Vachaka Kovai
Verse 353

Tom’s comments:

I chose this verse to write about because not only does it prescribe a sure footed way to the absolute, but also because I love the poetic imagery of ‘pouring your mind’ into the mouth of God in order to merge with Him. For me this ‘pouring’ invokes a sense of surrender which is effortless and complete, a total giving over of yourself to Him. And then we realise all is Him all always was Him, and what we called ‘me’ or ‘I’ was also Him.

When we merge with Him, we do not really ‘merge’ with Him, as that implies two entities becoming one. What happens is that the illusion of individuality and separation dissolves away and the reality that always was is seen for what it is.

The imagery of the verse also conjures up a sacrificial fire which envelopes and burns away the ignorance of separation, and it is this sacrifice of ego that is the real form of ‘courageous worship’. This worship is the same as ‘the discipline of true knowledge’.

The next verse drives the essential point home further:

Amongst those who have not realised that the individual-consciousness is fake, let not any of them doubt unnecessarily what state will be attained if the individual-consciousness is abandoned completely. Just as someone who lets go of a branch of a tree to which he had been clinging will automatically fall onto the ground with a thud, he who has abandoned individual-consciousness will not fail to reach the state of Self, the true consciousness

Ramana Maharshi
Guru Vachaka Kovai
Verse 354

Om shanti shanti shanti

Q. I find I am unable to practice genuine acceptance in my life. Lots of resistance keeps on coming up. Can you help?

Tom: Practicing acceptance is a powerful teaching, but ultimately if you think this is about accepting or not-resisting, then you are identified with the body-mind entity, as it is the mind that accepts or resists.

See this: acceptance and resistance are both objects that appear spontaneously to you. There is no need to change anything, no need to accept or reject, no need to imagine there is a separate doer-self there.

What is, is. Simple.