“This ego, which is but a ghost without a form of its own, comes into being by taking hold of a form. Keeping hold of the form and enjoying sense-objects, it waxes greatly in strength.If the truth of it be sought, it will run away.”
—Ramana Maharshi, Ulladu Narpadu (Forty Verses On Reality) verse 25
We need to study this teaching carefully. There is no ego in sleep, but only in waking and dreaming. In both these states, the ego manifests by taking hold of a body, saying “I am this body.” That is, there is a perception of the body, and at the same time there arises the thought, “I am this body. That body is taken as the self, or as the abode of the self, and the other bodies and objects that are seen at the same time are taken as not-self. When again sleep comes, both the body and the ego disappear, and with them the world also vanishes. Thus, the ego is simply the ignorance that limits the real Self to a single body out of a multitude of bodies, all of which are its own creation; this world which it creates is thus divided by the ego into two parts, as self and not-self, the former being a very small part, and the latter a very large one. From this arise the twin notions of “I” and “mine,” which are the substance of bondage.
Bondage is the outcome of the limitation of the notion of the self to a single body. Hence, it is evident that but for the ego there can be no bondage. It thus becomes easy to accept the teaching of the Sages, that the real Self is ever-free—never became bound or subject to ignorance—and does not need to be made free. The Sage, having no notion of being other than the real Self in Its utter purity and perfection, is not aware of bondage; he is not even aware of having been bound at any time, because time itself has been transcended by him. Bondage is just a thought like any other thought, though it needs to be said that the thought of bondage has its uses, in that it leads wise people to this inquiry, which leads, through the Quest of the Self, to the realization that there is no bondage. But since bondage is inherent in the ego-sense itself, it will not cease so long as the ego itself survives. Thus, we have the curious result that the ego is itself bondage, as well as the sufferer from it. It follows from this that the ego is forever debarred from the enjoyment of deliverance. How can bondage ever become free? Besides, in that state, only what is utterly real can survive, and the ego is not real. Those that nourish the hope of winning Deliverance without losing individuality are doomed to disappointment. In fact, the blessed regions which they hope to win, and in which they are to retain their individuality, are as unreal as this world.
What has been said about bondage applies also to “ignorance,” because this also is identical with the ego and has no existence apart from the ego.
We need to realize in all its implications the fact that the ego itself is the source of all the evil that besets life. But to most inquirers the ego is dear as life itself, because they think it is themselves and do not want to lose it. They would rather suffer all the ills of life than be happy without it. Questions are framed, assuming the immortality of this nonexistent soul and its survival in Deliverance. These will not arise if the teaching is to be understood.
One such question arises thus. There is the Vedantic teaching, “Thou art That.” Formerly, this teaching was kept secret and imparted only to well-tested disciples; thus, the serious mischief arising from a misunderstanding of the teaching was prevented. But nowadays the sacred lore is accessible to all, and the consequences are far from desirable. For the higher the teaching, the greater are the evils due to its misapplication. Incompetent persons read the books and assume that the ego itself, with all its vices, is infinite, all-powerful, and above the law of right and wrong. And they cannot be set right. Even the better sort of inquirer is puzzled by the teaching, because he has not yet clearly understood the truth that there is no individuality. He takes the sacred text as meaning that the individual soul is God, or whatever else there is that is infinitely great. But he doubts the teaching because, in the sense in which he understands it, it is not only absurd, but blasphemous. And he is right in this; he is certainly far more in the right than those who accept the teaching, but in the wrong sense. The better sort of student has an instinctive sense that something is wrong. He is assailed by doubts and he puts questions to get them cleared.
From Maha Yoga of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, by “Who.” Copyright © 1937-1984 by Sri Ramanasramam. Reprinted by arrangement with Sri Ramanasramam, Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, India.