Ramana Maharshi: is intellectual or theoretical understanding required or even useful?

ramana maharshi

D.: Is intellectual knowledge enough?
M.: Unless intellectually known, how to practice it? Learn it intellectually first, then do not stop with that. Practise it.

Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 40

Questioner: Is a teacher necessary for instructions?
Ramana Maharshi: Yes, if you want to learn anything new. But here you have to unlearn.
Questioner: Yet a teacher is necessary.
Ramana Maharshi: You have already got what you seek elsewhere. So no teacher is necessary.
Questioner: Is there any use of the man of Realisation for the seeker?
Ramana Maharshi: Yes. He helps you to get rid of your delusion that you are not realised.

Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 434

Questioner: Is an intellectual understanding of the Truth necessary?
Ramana Maharshi: Yes. Otherwise why does not the person realise God or the Self at once, ie. as soon as he is told that God is all or the Self is all? That shows some wavering on his part. He must argue with himself and gradually convince himself of the Truth before his faith becomes firm.

Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 596

Question: Is the study of science, psychology, physiology, etc., helpful for attaining Yoga-liberation or for intuitive understanding of the unity of Reality?

Ramana Maharshi: Very little. Some theoretical knowledge is needed for Yoga and may be found in books, but practical application is what is needed. Personal example and instruction are the most helpful aids. As for intuitive understanding, a person may laboriously convince himself of the truth to be grasped by intuition, of its function and nature, but the actual intuition is more like feeling and requires practical and personal contact. Mere book learning is not of any great use. After Realisation all intellectual loads are useless burdens and are to be thrown overboard.

Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 28

It is those who are not learned that are saved rather than those whose ego has not yet subsided in spite of their learning. The unlearned are saved from the relentless grip of the devil of self-infatuation; they are saved from the malady of a myriad whirling thoughts and words; they are saved from running after wealth. It is from more than one evil that they are saved.

Reality in forty verses – Supplement, verse 36

‘Eventually, all that one has learnt will have to be forgotten’

From ‘Who am I?’


Tom comments: Intellectual understanding has a certain importance – it gives the seeking mind direction and structure. This enables one to peel back the illusion of egotism or Maya, the cause of apparent separation and suffering. Then, theoretical knowledge, once it has fully served its purpose, can be discarded, like the metaphorical thorn used to remove a thorn.

Science does not lead to truth


Science is a tool

Science is a tool, not a means of truth. And like all tools, they are neither good or bad in themselves, but can be used according to the will of he who wields it. A spanner can be used to help make a hospital bed or it can be used to hit you over the head and put you in hospital bed. Science is no different, but due to its potential power it can be used to vastly improve or destroy the quality of human life on large scales.

Science does not tell us what is true, it is a method of prediction

However one thing it is useful to be clear on is that science does not tell us what is true. Science is a way of predicting what will happen in a given set of circumstances. A scientific theory is a model that explains what we observe. A model is a conceptual construct that is created by the human mind – it says if you do action ‘x’, then result ‘y’ is seen to occur. We call this cause and effect, but even that is an assumption. Perhaps I am being pedantic here, but we don’t really know that ‘x’ causes ‘y’ in any solid way. All we know is that when you do ‘x’, then this leads to ‘y’. This is all cause and effect really means.

If the theory works, it doesn’t mean that it is true, it just means that we can use it as a provisional way of predicting what will happen. This model can be used to predict what will happen in various scenarios. As long as the theory works, we continue to use it. If we find that it doesn’t work in some situations, then we have to re-examine the theory and come up with a better one that will work in those situations.

This has some interesting implications. For example we cannot say that there is such as thing as an electron. We can only say that the conceptual model of an electron is a good way of predicting what will happen in certain circumstances (ie. circumstances involving ‘electrons’). It may be there are no such things as individual electrons, but if the theory works, we can use it nonetheless.

So strictly speaking, when someone says that a theory is true, what they really mean is that the theory works based on what we are currently able to observe and measure. Note that what we can observe/measure is always via our senses, and is limited by our senses and the machines we have constructed to feed into our senses (such as microscopes, rulers, speedometers, x-ray machines, etc).

Science can only disprove, not prove

Another way of saying this is that scientific truth is not really truth as most of us would accept it. It is simply a theory that works. Science can never actually prove something is true. It can only say that a theory is false by disproving it, or that a theory has so far not been proven false. The theories we have not been able to prove as being false are the ones we take to be ‘true’ (provisionally), until they are proven false later on.

Lets embrace science to improve the quality of human life

So, lets use science, and all other tools we have, to improve our lot and raise the quality of our life. And what is the quality of our life? Well this is determined by our experience of life. We can use material resources, science, technology (including medicine) and spirituality to improve our experience of life. Let’s make these tools instruments of love and peace. Therefore, let us become loving and peaceful so this may be done.