Arthur Osborne’s commentary is in italic.
Questioner: Am I to concentrate on the thought “Who am I?”
Ramana Maharshi: You must concentrate to see where the “I”-thought arises. Instead of looking outward, look inward and see where the “I”-thought arises.
Q: And Bhagavan says that if I see that I shall realize the Self?
RM: There is no such thing as “realizing” the Self. How is one to realize or make real what is [already] real? People realize or regard as real what is unreal, and all they have to do is to give up doing so. When you do that, you will remain as you always are and the Real will be [seen as] Real. It is only to help people give up regarding the unreal as real that all the religions and practices taught by them have come into being.
Q: Whence comes birth?
RM: Whose birth?
Q: The Upanishads say, “He who knows Brahman becomes Brahman.”
RM: It is not a matter of becoming but of Being.
There is no such thing as realizing the Self. Bhagavan often said this in order to remind those who asked, that the Self alone is, now and eternally, and is not something new to be discovered. This paradox is of the essence of nondualism
In answer to a question about the best way to the goal, Bhagavan said:
There is no goal to be reached. There is nothing to be attained. You are the Self. You exist always. Nothing more can be said of the Self than that it exists. Seeing God or the Self is only being the Self, that is yourself. Seeing is Being. You, being the Self, want to know how to attain the Self. It is like a man being at Ramanasramam and asking how many ways there are of going to Ramanasramam and which is the best way for him. All that is required of you is to give up the thought that you are this body and give up all thoughts of external things or the non-Self. As often as the mind goes out towards objects, stop it and fix it in the Self or “I.” That is all the effort required on your part.
Despite this paradox, however, Bhagavan also stressed the necessity of effort, as explained this way:
Ceaseless practice is essential until one attains, without the least effort, that natural and primal state of mind which is free from thought. In other words, until the “I,” “my,” and “mine” are completely eradicated and destroyed.
In order to uphold the viewpoint that there is nothing new to be discovered, Advaita states that it is only a question of removing the screen of ignorance. For example: By removing water-plants, the water that was already there is revealed; or as the dispersing of clouds reveals the blue sky that was already there, but was hidden by them.
Q: How can one know the Self?
RM: The Self always is. There is no knowing it. It is not some new knowledge to be acquired. What is new and not here and now cannot be permanent. The Self always is, but knowledge of it is obstructed and the obstruction is called ignorance. Remove the ignorance and knowledge shines forth. In fact, it is not the Self that has this ignorance or even knowledge. They are only accretions to be cleared away. That is why the Self is said to be beyond knowledge and ignorance. It remains as it naturally is—that is all.
This concentration on the Self, of course, requires intense control of the mind, and many complained that it was not easy.
In the evening a visitor asked Bhagavan how to control the wandering mind. He began by saying that it was a question which particularly troubled him. Bhagavan replied, laughing:
That is nothing particular to you. That is what everybody asks and what is dealt with by all the scriptures, such as the Gita. What other way is there except to draw the mind back every time it strays or turns outwards, as advised in the Gita? Of course, it is not an easy thing to do. It will come only with practice.
The visitor said that the mind strays after what it desires and won’t stay fixed on the object we set before it. When there was this sort of complaint, Bhagavan sometimes answered that Self-enquiry does not set any object before the mind but simply turns it on itself, seeking its source. On this occasion, however, he answered from the point of view of desire or happiness:
Everyone seeks only what brings him happiness. Your mind wanders out after some object or other because you think that happiness comes from it. Find out where all happiness comes from, including that which you regard as coming from sense objects, and you will find that it all comes from the Self alone. Then, you will be able to abide in the Self.
Sometimes people complained of the difficulty in quelling thoughts. Bhagavan brought them round again to Self-enquiry by reminding them that it is the thinker or, in the case of doubt, the doubter whom one must examine. There may be a thousand doubts but one does not doubt the existence of the doubter. Who is he?
All doubts will cease only when the doubter and his source have been found. It is no use endlessly removing doubts. If we clear up one doubt another will arise and there will be no end to them. If the doubter himself is found to be really non-existent, by seeking his source, then all doubts will cease.
Mind-control, of course, means concentration; but by concentration Bhagavan did not mean concentrating on one thought (although he did not always discourage this), but concentrating on the sense of being, the feeling of “I am,” and excluding all thoughts.
Concentration is not thinking of one thing. On the contrary, it is excluding all thoughts, since thought obstructs the sense of one’s true being. All efforts are to be directed simply to removing the veil of ignorance.
Bhagavan does not only tell the questioner to investigate the ‘I’ thought, but to find out where it arises. This connects Self-enquiry with concentration on the heart at the right side and shows still more clearly that it is not a mental process. Indeed, an actual vibration that can be felt physically arises in this center during Self-enquiry.
Concentrating the mind solely on the Self will lead to happiness or bliss. Drawing in the thoughts, restraining them, and preventing them from straying outwards is called detachment (vairagya). Fixing them in the Self is spiritual practice (sadhana). Concentrating on the heart is the same as concentrating on the Self. Heart is another name for Self.
Adapted from The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi, edited by Arthur Osborne. Copyright © 1962 by Sri Ramanasramam, Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, India.