Who am I?

Page 2

Sri Ramana Maharshi

The next section is a continuation of the answer to the previous question: ‘Are there any other means for making the mind quiescent?’

Like breath control, meditation on a form of God, repetition of sacred words and regulation of diet are mere aids for controlling the mind. Through meditation on a form of God and through the repetition of sacred words the mind becomes focused on one point. An elephant’s trunk is always moving around, but when a chain is given to it to hold in its trunk, that elephant will go on its way, holding onto the chain instead of trying to catch other things with it. Similarly, when the mind, which is always wandering, is trained to hold onto any name or form of God, it will only cling to that. Because the mind branches out into innumerable thoughts, each thought becomes very weak. As thoughts subside more and more, one-pointedness [of mind] is gained. A mind that has gained strength in this way will easily succeed in self-enquiry. Of all regulations taking sattvic food in moderate quantities is the best. Through [this], the sattvic quality of the mind gets enhanced and becomes an aid to self-enquiry.

A sattvic diet is one which is vegetarian and which also excludes stimulating substances – such as chillies, tobacco, alcohol – and food that is excessively sour, salty or pungent.

Some Indian systems of thought maintain that the mind is composed of three fluctuating components called gunas:

Since the type of food eaten affects the quality of the mind, non-sattvic foods promote rajas and tamas. The sattvic mind is the most desirable. One of the aims of spiritual practice is to increase the sattvic component at the expense of rajas and tamas.

Question: Is it possible for the vishaya vasanas, which come from beginningless time, to be resolved, and for one to remain as the pure Self?

Although vishaya vasanas, which have been recurring down the ages, rise in countless numbers like the waves of an ocean, they will all perish as meditation on one’s real nature becomes more and more intense. Without giving room even to the doubting thought, ‘Is it possible to destroy all these vasanas and remain as Self alone?’ one should persistently and tightly hold onto meditation on one’s real nature. However great a sinner one may be, one should, instead of lamenting, ‘Oh, I am a sinner! How can I attain liberation?’ completely give up even the thought of being a sinner. One steadfast in meditation on one’s real nature will surely be saved.

Question: How long should enquiry be practised? What is non-attachment?

As long as there are vishaya vasanas in the mind, the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ is necessary. As and when thoughts arise, one should, then and there, annihilate them all through self-enquiry in the very place of their origin. Not giving attention to anything other than oneself is non-attachment or desirelessness; not leaving the Self is jnana [true knowledge]. In truth, these two [non-attachment and desirelessness] are one and the same. Just as a pearl diver, tying a stone to his waist, dives into the sea and takes the pearl lying on the bottom, so everyone, diving deeply within himself in a detached way can obtain the pearl of the Self. If one resorts uninterruptedly to remembrance of one’s real nature until one attains the Self, that alone will be sufficient. As long as there are enemies within the fort, they will continue to come out. If one continues to cut all of them down as and when they emerge, the fort will fall into our hands.

Question: Is it not possible for God or the Guru to effect the release of the soul?

God and Guru are, in truth, not different. Just as the prey that has fallen into the jaws of the tiger cannot escape, so those who have come under the glance of the Guru’s grace will never be forsaken. Nevertheless, one should follow without fail the path shown by the Guru.

Remaining firmly in Self-abidance, without giving the least scope for the rising of any thought other than the thought of the Self, is surrendering oneself to God. However much of a burden we throw on God, He bears it all. Since the one supreme ruling power is performing all activities, why should we, instead of yielding ourselves to it, think, ‘I should not act in this way; I should act in that way’? When we know that the train is carrying all the freight, why should we, who travel in it, suffer by keeping our own small luggage on our heads instead of putting it down and remaining happily at ease?

In the last three sections Bhagavan has used three terms, swarupa dhyanam (meditation on one’s real nature), swarupa smaranai (remembrance of one’s real nature), and atma chintanai (the thought of the Self) to indicate the process by which one becomes aware of the Self. They should not be understood to mean that one should try to focus one’s attention on the Self, for the real Self can never be an object of thought. The benedictory verse of Ulladu Narpadu explains what Bhagavan meant by such terms. It asks the question, ‘How to meditate on that reality which is called the Heart?’ since that reality alone exists, and it answers by saying, ‘To abide in the Heart as it really is, is truly meditating.’ That is to say, one can be the Heart by ‘abiding as it is’, but one cannot experience it as an object of attention.

This interpretation is confirmed by the sentence in the last extract from Who Am I? in which Bhagavan equates atma chintanai (the thought of the Self) with atma nishta (Self-abidance).

In a similar vein Bhagavan remarks later in the essay that ‘always keeping the mind fixed in the Self alone can be called self-enquiry’.

Question: What is happiness?

What is called happiness is merely the nature of the Self. Happiness and the Self are not different. The happiness of the Self alone exists; that alone is real. There is no happiness at all in even a single one of the [many] things in the world. We believe that we derive happiness from them on account of aviveka [a lack of discrimination, an inability to ascertain what is correct]. When the mind is externalised, it experiences misery. The truth is, whenever our thoughts [that is, our desires] get fulfilled, the mind turns back to its source and experiences Self-happiness alone. In this way the mind wanders without rest, emerging and abandoning the Self and [later] returning within. The shade under a tree is very pleasant. Away from it the sun’s heat is scorching. A person who is wandering around outside reaches the shade and is cooled. After a while he goes out again, but unable to bear the scorching heat, returns to the tree. In this way he is engaged in going from the shade into the hot sunshine and in coming back from the hot sunshine into the shade. A person who acts like this is an aviveki [someone who lacks discrimination], for a discriminating person would never leave the shade. By analogy, the mind of a jnani never leaves Brahman, whereas the mind of someone who has not realised the Self is such that it suffers by wandering in the world before turning back to Brahman for a while to enjoy happiness. What is called ‘the world’ is only thoughts. When the world disappears, that is, when there are no thoughts, the mind experiences bliss; when the world appears, it experiences suffering.

Question: Is not everything the work of God?

In the mere presence of the sun, which rises without desire, intention or effort, the magnifying glass emits hot light, the lotus blossoms and people begin, perform and cease their work. In front of a magnet a needle moves. Likewise, through the mere influence of the presence of God, who has no sankalpa [intention to accomplish anything], souls, who are governed by the three or five divine functions, perform and cease their activities in accordance with their respective karmas. Even so, He [God] is not someone who has sankalpa, nor will a single act ever touch him. This [untouchability] can be compared to the actions of the world not touching the sun, or to the good and bad qualities of the elements [earth, water, fire and air] not affecting the immanent space.

Sankalpa means ‘resolve’, ‘will’, or ‘intention’. God has no personal sankalpa. That is to say, He does not decide or even think about what he should do. Though mature devotees ‘bloom’ on account of his presence, it is not because He has decided to bestow His grace on these fortunate few. His presence is available to all, but only the mature convert it into realisation.

The three divine functions are creation, sustenance and destruction. The five divine functions are these three plus veiling and grace. According to many Hindu scriptures, God creates, preserves and eventually destroys the world. While it exists, He hides His true nature from the people in it through the veiling power of maya, illusion, while simultaneously emanating grace so that mature devotees can lift the veils of illusion and become aware of Him as He really is.

Question: For those who long for release, is it useful to read books?

It is said in all the scriptures that to attain liberation one should make the mind subside. After realising that mind control is the ultimate injunction of the scriptures, it is pointless to read scriptures endlessly. In order to know the mind, it is necessary to know who one is. How [can one know who one is] by researching instead in the scriptures? One should know oneself through one’s own eye of knowledge. For [a man called] Rama to know himself to be Rama, is a mirror necessary? One’s self exists within the five sheaths, whereas the scriptures are outside them. This self is the one to be enquired into. Therefore, researching in the scriptures, ignoring even the five sheaths, is futile. Enquiring ‘Who am I that am in bondage?’ and knowing one’s real nature is alone liberation.

In self-enquiry one is enquiring into the nature and origin of the individual self, not the all-pervasive Atman. When Self appears in capitals, it denotes Atman, the real Self. When self it appears in lower case, it refers to the individual.

The five sheaths or kosas envelop and contain the individual self. They are:

Sheaths two, three and four comprise the subtle body (sukshma sarira) while the fifth sheath, called the causal body, corresponds to the state of the individual self during sleep.

The individual ‘I’ functions through the five sheaths. Practitioners of the neti-neti ‘(not this, not this’) type of sadhana reject their association with the five sheaths in the way described in the second paragraph of Who Am I? The idea behind this practice is that if one rejects all thoughts, feelings and sensations as ‘not I’, the real ‘I’ will eventually shine in a form that is unlimited by or to the sheaths.

Keeping the mind fixed in the Self at all times is called self-enquiry, whereas thinking oneself to be Brahman, which is sat-chit-ananda [being-consciousness-bliss], is meditation. Eventually, all that one has learnt will have to be forgotten.

One can distinguish different levels of experience in the practice of self-enquiry. In the beginning one attempts to eliminate all transient thoughts by concentrating on or looking for the primal ‘I'-thought. This corresponds to the stage Bhagavan described earlier in the essay when one cuts down all the enemies, the thoughts, as they emerge from the fortress of the mind. If one achieves success in this for any length of time, the ‘I’-thought, deprived of new thoughts to attach itself to, begins to subside, and one then moves to a deeper level of experience. The ‘I’-thought descends into the Heart and remains there temporarily until the residual vasanas cause it to rise again. It is this second stage that Bhagavan refers to when he says that ‘keeping the mind fixed in the Self alone can be called self-enquiry’. Most practitioners of self-enquiry will readily admit that this rarely happens to them, but nevertheless, according to Bhagavan’s teachings, fixing the mind in the Self should be regarded as an intermediate goal on the path to full realisation.

It is interesting to note that Bhagavan restricts the term ‘self-enquiry’ to this phase of the practice. This unusual definition was more or less repeated in an answer he gave to Kapali Sastri:

Q: If I go on rejecting thoughts, can I call it vichara [self-enquiry]?

A: It may be a stepping stone. But real vichara begins when you cling to yourself and are already off the mental movements, the thought waves.[8]

The following optimistic answers by Bhagavan, on keeping the mind in the Heart, may provide encouragement to those practitioners who often feel that such experiences may never come their way:

Q: How long can the mind stay or be kept in the Heart?

A: The period extends by practice.

Q: What will happen at the end of that period?

A: The mind returns to the present normal state. Unity in the Heart is replaced by a variety of perceived phenomena. This is called the outgoing mind. The Heart-going mind is called the resting mind.

When one daily practises more and more in this manner, the mind will become extremely pure due to the removal of its defects and the practice will become so easy that the purified mind will plunge into the Heart as soon as the enquiry is commenced.[9]

Bhagavan noted that ‘thinking oneself to be Brahman… is meditation’, not enquiry. Traditional advaitic sadhana follows the path of negation and affirmation. In the negative approach, one continuously rejects all thoughts, feelings and sensations as ‘not I’. On the affirmative route one attempts to cultivate the attitude ‘I am Brahman’ or ‘I am the Self’. Bhagavan called this latter approach, and all other techniques in which one concentrates on an idea or a form, ‘meditation’, and regarded all such methods as being indirect and inferior to self-enquiry.

Q: Is not affirmation of God more effective than the quest ‘Who am I?’ Affirmation is positive, whereas the other is negation. Moreover, it indicates separateness.

A: So long as you seek to know how to realise, this advice is given to find your Self. Your seeking the method denotes your separateness.

Q: Is it not better to say ‘I am the Supreme Being’ than ask ‘Who am I?’

A: Who affirms? There must be one to do it. Find that one.

Q: Is not meditation better than investigation?

A: Meditation implies mental imagery, whereas investigation is for the reality. The former is objective, whereas the latter is subjective.

Q: There must be a scientific approach to this subject.

A: To eschew unreality and seek the reality is scientific.[10]

Question: Is it necessary for one who longs for release to enquire into the nature of the tattvas?

Just as it is futile to examine the garbage that has to be collectively thrown away, so it is fruitless for one who is to know himself to count the numbers and scrutinise the properties of the tattvas that are veiling the Self, instead of collectively throwing them all away.

Indian philosophers have split the phenomenal world up into many different entities or categories which are called tattvas. Different schools of thought have different lists of tattvas, some being inordinately long and complicated. Bhagavan encouraged his devotees to disregard all such classifications on the grounds that, since the appearance of the world is itself an illusion, examining its component parts one by one is an exercise in futility.

Question: Is there no difference between waking and dream?

One should consider the universe to be like a dream. Except that waking is long and dreams are short, there is no difference [between the two states]. To the extent to which all the events which happen while one is awake appear to be real, to that same extent even the events that happen in dreams appear at that time to be real. In dreams, the mind assumes another body. In both the dream and the waking [states] thoughts and names-and-forms come into existence simultaneously.

The final two paragraphs of the essay are taken from an answer to a question that has already been given:

Question: Is it possible for the vishaya vasanas, which come from beginningless time, to be resolved, and for one to remain as the pure Self?

There are not two minds, one good and another evil. the mind is only one. it is only the vasanas that are either auspicious or inauspicious. When the mind is under the influence of auspicious tendencies, it is called a good mind, and when it is under the influence of inauspicious tendencies, a bad mind. However evil people may appear, one should not hate them. Likes and dislikes are both to be disliked. One should not allow the mind to dwell much on worldly matters. As far as possible, one should not interfere in the affairs of others. All that one gives to others, one gives only to oneself. If this truth is known, who indeed will not give to others? If the individual self rises, all will rise.

If the individual self subsides, all will subside. To the extent that we behave with humility, to that extent will good result. If one can continuously control the mind, one can live anywhere.


8. Sad Darshana Bhashya, 1975 ed., p. ix. [BACK]

9. Be As You Are, p. 66. [BACK]

10. Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no 338. [BACK]