Question: You say one can realize the Self by a search for it. What is the character of this search?
Ramana Maharshi: You are the mind or think that you are the mind. The mind is nothing but thoughts. Now behind every particular thought there is a general thought, which is the ‘I’, that is yourself. Let us call this ‘I’ the first thought. Stick to this ‘I’ -thought and question it to find out what it is. When this question takes strong hold on you, you cannot think of other thoughts.
Question : When I do this and cling to my self, that is, the `I’-thought, other thoughts come and go, but I say to myself `Who am I ?’ and there is no answer forthcoming. To be in this condition is the practice. Is it so?
Ramana Maharshi : This is a mistake that people often make. What happens when you make a serious quest for the Self is that the `I’-thought disappears and something else from the depths takes hold of you and that is not the `I’ which commenced the quest.
Question : What is this something else?
Ramana Maharshi : That is the real Self, the import of `I’. It is not the ego. It is the Supreme Being itself.
[My comment: This statement is key. The ‘I’ that we take to refer to ourselves is something like a neon sign above the door of a shop. The sign is not the shop – you must enter through the door in order to gain access to the shop. Ramana says we can follow the track of this ‘sign’, the ‘I’, and it will lead us to the Self, our True Nature, the true ‘I’, or “identity”. This True Nature comes from the realm before appearance and non-appearance into appearance, – it ‘manifests’ as the sense of ‘I’, or the ‘I’-thought. From this first and primary thought-form, all other derivative thought-forms are sourced. If we follow the energy trail, or subtle trail of this sense of ‘I’ back to where it originates, we leave the world of temporal appearances and realize our True Nature, the Eternal ‘I’.]
Question : But you have often said that one must reject other thoughts when one begins the quest but the thoughts are endless. If one thought is rejected, another comes and there seems to be no end at all.
Ramana Maharshi : I do not say that you must go on rejecting thoughts. Cling to yourself, that is, to the `I’-thought. When your interest keeps you to that single idea, other thoughts will automatically get rejected and they will vanish.
Question : And so rejection of thoughts is not necessary?
Ramana Maharshi : No. It may be necessary for a time or for some. You fancy that there is no end if one goes on rejecting every thought when it rises. It is not true, there is an end. If you are vigilant and make a stern effort to reject every thought when it rises you will soon find that you are going deeper and deeper into your own inner self. At that level it is not necessary to make an effort to reject thoughts.
Question : Then it is possible to be without effort, without strain.
Ramana Maharshi : Not only that, it is impossible for you to make an effort beyond a certain extent.
Question : I want to be further enlightened. Should I try to make no effort at all?
Ramana Maharshi : Here it is impossible for you to be without effort. When you go deeper, it is impossible for you to make any effort. If the mind becomes introverted through inquiry into the source of aham-vritti, [the mind modification of ‘I am”] the vasanas [latent tendencies, or impregnations of the mind with past impressions] become extinct. The light of the Self falls on the vasanas and produces the phenomenon of reflection we call the mind. Thus, when the vasanas become extinct the mind also disappears, being absorbed into the light of the one reality, the Heart. This is the sum and substance of all that an aspirant needs to know. What is imperatively required of him is an earnest and one-pointed inquiry into the source of the aham-vritti.
Question : How should a beginner start this practice?
Ramana Maharshi : The mind will subside only by means of the inquiry ‘Who am I?’ The thought ‘Who am I?’, destroying all other thoughts, will itself finally be destroyed like the stick used for stirring the funeral pyre. If other thoughts rise one should, without attempting to complete them, inquire ‘To whom did they rise?’ What does it matter however many thoughts rise? At the very moment that each thought rises, if one vigilantly inquires ‘To whom did this rise?’, it will be known ‘To me’. If one then inquires ‘Who am I?’, the mind will turn back to its source [the Self] and the thought which had risen will also subside. By repeatedly practicing thus, the power of the mind to abide in its source increases.
Although tendencies towards sense-objects [vishaya vasanas], which have been recurring down the ages, rise in countless numbers like the waves of the ocean, they will all perish as meditation on one’s nature becomes more and more intense. Without giving room even to the doubting thought, ‘Is it possible to destroy all these tendencies [vasanas] and to remain as Self alone?’, one should persistently cling fast to self-attention.
As long as there are tendencies towards sense-objects in the mind [being distracted by the phenomenal world], the inquiry ‘Who am I ?’ is necessary. As and when thoughts rise, one should annihilate all of them through inquiry then and there in their very place of origin. Not attending to what-is-other [anya] is non-attachment [vairagya] or desirelessness [nirasa]. Not leaving Self is knowledge [jnana]. In truth, these two [desirelessness and knowledge] 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 at the bottom, so everyone, diving deep within himself with non-attachment, can attain the pearl of Self. If one resorts uninterruptedly to remembrance of one’s real nature [swarupasmarana] until one attains Self, that alone will be sufficient.
Inquiring ‘Who am I that is in bondage?’ and knowing one’s real nature [swarupa] alone is liberation. Always keeping the mind fixed in Self alone is called ‘self-inquiry’, whereas meditation [dhyana] is thinking oneself to be the absolute [Brahman], which is existence-consciousness-bliss [sat-chit-ananda].
Question : The yogis say that one must renounce this world and go off into secluded jungles if one wishes to find the truth.
Ramana Maharshi : The life of action need not be renounced. If you meditate for an hour or two every day you can then carry on with your duties. If you meditate in the right manner then the current of mind induced will continue to flow even in the midst of your work. It is as though there were two ways of expressing the same idea; the same line which you take in meditation will be expressed in your activities.
Question : What will be the result of doing that?
Ramana Maharshi : As you go on you will find that your attitude towards people, events and objects gradually changes. Your actions will tend to follow your meditations of their own accord.
Question : Then you do not agree with the yogis?
Ramana Maharshi : A man should surrender the personal selfishness which binds him to this world. Giving up the false self is the true renunciation.
Question : How is it possible to become selfless while leading a life of worldly activity?
Ramana Maharshi : There is no conflict between work and wisdom.
Question : Do you mean that one can continue all the old activities in one’s profession, for instance, and at the same time get enlightenment ?
Ramana Maharshi : Why not ? But in that case one will not think that it is the old personality which is doing the work, because one’s consciousness will gradually become transferred until it is centered in that which is beyond the little self.
Question : If a person is engaged in work, there will be little time left for him to meditate.
Ramana Maharshi : Setting apart time for meditation is only for the merest spiritual novices. A man who is advancing will begin to enjoy the deeper beatitude whether he is at work or not. While his hands are in society, he keeps his head cool in solitude.
Question : Then you do not teach the way of yoga?
Ramana Maharshi : The yogi tries to drive his mind to the goal, as a cowherd drives a bull with a stick, but on this path the seeker coaxes the bull by holding out a handful of grass.
Question : How is that done?
Ramana Maharshi : You have to ask yourself the Question ‘Who am I ?’ This investigation will lead in the end to the discovery of something within you which is behind the mind. Solve that great problem and you will solve all other problems.
Question : Why is concentration ineffective?
Ramana Maharshi : To ask the mind to kill the mind is like making the thief the policeman. He will go with you and pretend to catch the thief, but nothing will be gained. So you must turn inward and see from where the mind rises and then it will cease to exist.
Question : In turning the mind inwards, are we not still employing the mind?
Ramana Maharshi : Of course we are employing the mind. It is well known and admitted that only with the help of the mind can the mind be killed. But instead of setting about saying there is a mind, and I want to kill it, you begin to seek the source of the mind, and you find the mind does not exist at all. The mind, turned outwards, results in thoughts and objects. Turned inwards, it becomes itself the Self.
Question : How can I tell if I am making progress with my inquiry?
Ramana Maharshi : The degree of the absence of thoughts is the measure of your progress towards Self-realization. But Self-realization itself does not admit of progress, it is ever the same. The Self remains always in realization. The obstacles are thoughts. Progress is measured by the degree of removal of the obstacles to understanding that the Self is always realized. So thoughts must be checked by seeking to whom they arise. So you go to their source, where they do not arise.
Question : Doubts are always arising. Hence my Question.
Ramana Maharshi : A doubt arises and is cleared. Another arises and that is cleared, making way for yet another; and so it goes on. So there is no possibility of clearing away all doubts. See to whom the doubts arise. Go to their source and abide in it. Then they cease to arise. That is how doubts are to be cleared.