Ramana’s Teaching of Self -Enquiry : Who am I ?

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Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi agreed that there are many ways to salvation, but however Ramana Maharshi mainly emphasized on self-enquiry and constantly recommended it. Ramana always used to say self enquiry of “who am I” is the direct path to realization – liberation. Ramana says this is the direct path to enlightenment.

All other methods are practiced while retaining the ego and therefore many doubts arise and the ultimate question “who am I” still remains to be tackled in the end. But in the path of self enquiry the final question is the only one and is raised from the very beginning. This is what Ramana Maharshi often meant by saying that the true teaching is always taught in silence.

Self-enquiry of “who am i” leads directly to self-realization by removing the obstructions which make you think that the self is not already realized. But other ways of trying to realize the self,like meditation and yoga requires an object to meditate on or to do any action. In Self-enquiry “who am i” there is only the subject and no object. This is the main difference between self enquiry and meditation / yoga.

Only in self enquiry of “who am i”, the mind (thoughts) can be destroyed . All the other paths of spirituality can be followed only by the use of the mind. In other paths of spirituality the ego may take different and more subtle forms at different stages but it is never gets destroyed. The attempt to destroy the ego or the mind by methods other than self-enquiry “who am i” is like a thief turning policeman to catch the thief that is himself.

Self enquiry “who am i” alone can reveal the truth that neither the ego nor the mind really exists and enable one to realize the pure, undifferentiated Being of the self or the Absolute. Without destroying the mind one cannot be liberated.

To a question from a devotee asking ‘Who am I?’, Ramana’s replied that ‘Knowledge itself is “I”’. The nature of knowledge is sat-chit-ananda.’The word that is translated as ‘knowledge’ is the Tamil equivalent of ‘jnana’. So the answer to that original question ‘Who am I?’ Jnana is “I” and the nature of jnana is sat-chit-ananda’.The Self is Pure Consciousness. Yet a man identifies himself with the body which is insentient and does not itself say “ I ” am the body’. Someone else says so. The unlimited Self does not say “I am the Body”. Seek this “ I ” and it will vanish like a Phantom(Ghost).

The phantom is the ego or mind or individuality. All the scriptures are based on the rise of this phantom (ego), whose elimination is their purpose. The present state is mere illusion.Its dissolution is the goal in our life and nothing else.Self-enquiry is certainly not an empty formula. The very purpose of Self-enquiry is to focus the entire mind at its source.

To say ‘I am not this’ or ‘I am that’ there must be an ‘I’. This ‘I’ is the ego.After the rising up of this ‘I’ thought, all other thoughts arise. The ‘I’ thought is therefore the root thought. If the root is destroyed then every thought and ego is destroyed. Therefore, seek the root which is the ‘I’ and question yourself ‘Who am I?’ By this self enquiry of “who am i”, you will reach the source and then all these other thoughts will vanish and the pure Self will remain.

That which arises in the physical body as ‘I’ is the mind. If one enquires, ‘In what place in the body does this “I” first arise?’ and it will be known to arise from the hrudayam (right heart). That is the birthplace of the mind. Even if one incessantly thinks “I” – “I”- “I” it will lead to that place. Of all thoughts that arise in the mind, the thought ‘I’ is the first one. After this all other thoughts arise.

Whatever form your enquiry may take, you must finally come to the one ‘I’, the Self. Where is the scope for making the distinctions of ‘you’ and ‘I’ which pertain only to the body? When you turn the mind inwards, seeking the source of your thoughts, where is the ‘you’ and where is the ‘I’? You should seek and be the Self that includes all. The mind will only subside by means of the enquiry ‘Who am I?’
This self enquiry of ‘Who am I?’ will destroy all other thoughts and will itself be finally destroyed like the stick used for stirring the funeral fire.

If other thoughts arise, one should, without attempting to complete them, enquire, ‘To whom did the thoughts occur?’.At the moment that each thought rises, if one vigilantly enquires ‘To whom did this appear?’ it will be known ‘To me’. If you then enquire ‘Who am I?’ the mind will turn back to its source and the thought that had arisen will also subside. By repeatedly practicing in this way, the mind will increasingly acquire the power to abide at its source.

To say ‘I am not this’ or ‘I am that’ there must be an ‘I’. This ‘I’ is the ego.After the rising up of this ‘I’ thought, all other thoughts arise. The ‘I’ thought is therefore the root thought. If the root is destroyed then every thought and ego is destroyed. Therefore, seek the root which is the ‘I’ and question yourself ‘Who am I?’ By this self enquiry you will reach the source and then all these other thoughts will vanish and the pure Self will remain.

That which arises in the physical body as ‘I’ is the mind. If one enquires, ‘In what place in the body does this “I” first arise?’ and it will be known to arise from the hrudayam (right heart). That is the birthplace of the mind. Even if one incessantly thinks “I” – “I”- “I” it will lead to that place. Of all thoughts that arise in the mind, the thought ‘I’ is the first one. After this all other thoughts arise.

Whatever form your enquiry may take, you must finally come to the one ‘I’, the Self. Where is the scope for making the distinctions of ‘you’ and ‘I’ which pertain only to the body? When you turn the mind inwards, seeking the source of your thoughts, where is the ‘you’ and where is the ‘I’? You should seek and be the Self that includes all. The mind will only subside by means of the enquiry ‘Who am I?’


This self enquiry of ‘Who am I?’ will destroy all other thoughts and will itself be finally destroyed like the stick used for stirring the funeral fire.

If other thoughts arise, one should, without attempting to complete them, enquire, ‘To whom did the thoughts occur?’.At the moment that each thought rises, if one vigilantly enquires ‘To whom did this appear?’ it will be known ‘To me’. If you then enquire ‘Who am I?’ the mind will turn back to its source and the thought that had arisen will also subside. By repeatedly practicing in this way, the mind will increasingly acquire the power to abide at its source.

When the mind merges with the heart and abides in the Heart in this way, the ‘I’, the root of all thoughts disappear and now the ever-existing Self alone will shine. The state where not even the slightest trace of the thought ‘I’ remains is one’s true nature. This is true silence and being still.

Bhagavan always said ‘There is no goal to be reached. There is nothing to be attained. You are the Self. You exist always. 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.

Continuous practice and effort is essential until one attains that natural and primal state of mind which is free from thoughts and hence for that state can be achieved only if the “ I ”, “MY” and “Mine” are completely eradicated and destroyed.

Who am I ? is a self enquiry that leads us to find the source of the ego or the “I” thought. You must not work the mind with other thoughts such as “ I ” am not the body. Seeking the source of the “ I ” serves as a means of getting rid of all other thoughts.

You should not allow any scope for other thoughts such as you mention but should keep the attention fixed on finding the source of the “ I ” by asking “who am I” and when any other thought arises ask and enquire “ For whom does these thoughts arise for ?”. And if the answer is ‘To me”,then you then resume the self enquiry – “Who am I” ‘What is this ‘I’ and from where are these thoughts arising from ? what is it’s source – Where is the source ?

When the mind unceasingly investigates its own nature it transpires that there is no such thing as the mind. This is the direct path for all. The mind is merely thoughts. Of all thoughts the ‘I’ is the root. Therefore, the mind is only the thought ‘I’. When does this thought ‘I’ arise? Seek for it within yourself and it will vanish. This is the pursuit of Wisdom. When the ‘I’ vanishes there is only Infinite.

If the ego is everything then everything is also ego. If the ego is not, nothing else is. Indeed the ego is all. Therefore the self enquiry as to what this ego is will leads us inward into the heart, and to the source where the ‘I’ originates from, and finally liberates us from Maya ( illusion ) and show us the absolute Self.

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