Sri Ramana Maharshi



Questions 31 - 40

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D: How is one to think of the Self?

M: The Self is self-luminous without darkness and light, and is the reality which is self-manifest. Therefore, one should not think of it as this or as that. The very thought of thinking will end in bondage. The purport of meditation on the Self is to make the mind take the form of the Self. In the middle of the heart-cave the pure Brahman is directly manifest as the Self in the form "I-I". Can there be greater ignorance than to think of it in manifold ways, without knowing it as aforementioned?


D: It was stated that Brahman is manifest as the Self in the form "I-I", in the heart. To facilitate an understanding of this statement, can it be still further explained?

M: Is it not within the experience of all that during deep sleep, swoon, etc., there is no knowledge whatsoever, i.e. neither self-knowledge nor other-knowledge? Afterwards, when there is experience of the form "I have woken up from sleep" or "I have recovered from swoon"—is that not a mode of specific knowledge that has arisen from the aforementioned distinctionless state? This specific knowledge is called vijnana. [a]

This vijnana becomes manifest only as pertaining to either the Self or the not-self, and not by itself. When it pertains to the Self, it is called true knowledge, knowledge in the form of that mental mode whose object is the Self, or knowledge which has for its content the impartite (Self); and when it relates to the not-self, it is called ignorance. The state of this vijnana, when it pertains to the Self and is manifest as of the form of the Self, is said to be the "I"-manifestation. This manifestation cannot take place as apart from the Real (i.e. the Self). It is this manifestation that serves as the mark for the direct experience of the Real. Yet, this by itself cannot constitute the state of being the Real. That, depending on which this manifestation takes place is the basic reality which is also called prajnana. The Vedantic text "prajnanam brahma" teaches the same truth.

Know this as the purport of the scripture also. The Self which is self-luminous and the witness of everything manifests itself as residing in the vijnanakosa (sheath of the intellect). By the mental mode which is impartite, seize this Self as your goal and enjoy it as the Self.


D: What is that which is called the inner worship or worship of the attributeless?

M: In texts such as the Ribhu-gita, the worship of the attributeless has been elaborately explained (as a separate discipline). Yet, all disciplines such as sacrifice, charity, austerity, observance of vows, japa, yoga, and puja, are, in effect, modes of meditation of the form "I am Brahman". So, in all the modes of disciplines, one should see to it that one does not stray away from the thought "I am Brahman". This is the purport of the worship of the attributeless.


D: What are the eight limbs of Knowledge (jnana-ashtanga)?
[Also see the eight limbs of Yoga, question 27.]

M: The eight limbs are those which have been already mentioned, viz., yama, niyama, etc. but differently defined.

Of these -

(1) Yama:- This is controlling the aggregate of sense-organs, realizing the defects that are present in the world consisting of the body, etc.

(2) Niyama:- This is maintaining a stream of mental modes that relate to the Self, and rejecting the contrary modes. In other words, it means love that arises uninterruptedly for the supreme Self.

(3) Asana:- [posture] That with the help of which, constant meditation on Brahman is made possible with ease, is asana.

(4) Pranayama:-  Rechaka (exhalation) is removing the two unreal aspects of name and form from the objects constituting the world, the body etc., puraka (inhalation) is grasping the three real aspects, existence, consciousness and bliss, which are constant in those objects, and kumbhaka is retaining those aspects thus grasped.

(5) Pratyahara:- This is preventing name and form which have been removed from re-entering the mind.

(6) Dharana:- This is making the mind stay in the heart, without straying outward, and realizing that one is the Self itself, which is existence-consciousness-bliss.

(7) Dhyana:- This is meditation of the form "I am only pure consciousness." That is, after leaving aside the body which consists of five sheaths, one enquires "Who am I?", and as a result of that, one stays as "I" which shines as the Self.

(8) Samadhi:- When the "I"-manifestation also ceases, there is (subtle) direct experience. This is samadhi.

For the pranayama, etc., detailed here, the disciplines such as asana, etc., mentioned in connection with yoga, are not necessary. The limbs of knowledge may be practised at all places and at all times. Of yoga and knowledge, one may follow whichever is pleasing to one, or both, according to circumstances. The great teachers say that forgetfulness is the root of all evil, and is death for those who seek release; [10] so one should rest the mind in one's Self and should never forget the Self : this is the aim. If the mind is controlled, all else can be controlled. The distinction between yoga with eight limbs and knowledge with eight limbs has been set forth elaborately in the sacred texts; so only the substance of this teaching has been given here.


D: Is it possible to practise at the same time the pranayama belonging to yoga and the pranayama pertaining to knowledge?

M: So long as the mind has not been made to rest in the heart, either through absolute retention (kevala-kumbhaka) or through enquiry, [then] rechaka, puraka, etc., are needed. Hence, the pranayama of yoga is to be practised during training, and the other pranayama may be practised always. Thus, both may be practised. It is enough if the yogic pranayama is practised until skill is gained in absolute retention.


D: Why should the path to release be differently taught? Will it not create confusion in the minds of aspirants?

M: Several paths are taught in the Vedas to suit the different grades of qualified aspirants. Yet, since release is but the destruction of mind, all efforts have for their aim the control of mind. Although the modes of meditation may appear to be different from one another, in the end all of them become one. There is no need to doubt this. One may adopt that path which suits the maturity of one's mind.

The control of prana which is yoga, and the control of mind which is jnana [11] – these are the two principal means for the destruction of mind. To some, the former may appear easy, and to others the latter. Yet, jnana is like subduing a turbulent bull by coaxing it with green grass, while yoga is like controlling through the use of force.

Thus the wise ones say: of the three grades of qualified aspirants, the highest reach the goal by making the mind firm in the Self through determining the nature of the real by Vedantic enquiry and by looking upon one's self and all things as of the nature of the real; the mediocre by making the mind stay in the heart through kevala-kumbhaka and meditating for a long time on the real, and the lowest grade, by gaining that state in a gradual manner through breath-control, etc.

The mind should be made to rest in the heart till the destruction of the "I"-thought which is of the form of ignorance, residing in the heart. This itself is jnana; this alone is dhyana also. The rest are a mere digression of words, digression of the texts. Thus the scriptures proclaim. Therefore, if one gains the skill of retaining the mind in one's Self through some means or other, one need not worry about other matters.

The great teachers also have taught that the devotee is greater than the yogins [12] and that the means to release is devotion, which is of the nature of reflection on one's own Self. [13]

Thus, it is the path of realizing Brahman that is variously called Dahara-vidya, Brahma-vidya, Atma-vidya, etc. What more can be said than this? One should understand the rest by inference. The Scriptures teach in different modes. After analysing all those modes the great ones declare this to be the shortest and the best means.


D: By practising the disciplines taught above, one may get rid of the obstacles that are in the mind, viz. ignorance, doubt, error, etc., and thereby attain quiescence of mind. Yet, there is one last doubt. After the mind has been resolved in the heart, there is only consciousness shining as the plenary reality. When thus the mind has assumed the form of the Self, who is there to enquire? Such enquiry would result in self-worship. It would be like the story of the shepherd searching for the sheep that was all the time on his shoulders!

M: The jiva [individual soul] itself is Shiva; Shiva Himself is the jiva. It is true that the jiva is no other than Shiva. When the grain is hidden inside the husk, it is called paddy; when it is de-husked, it is called rice. Similarly, so long as one is bound by karma one remains a jiva; when the bond of ignorance is broken, one shines as Shiva, the Deity. Thus declares a scriptural text.

Accordingly, the jiva which is mind is in reality the pure Self; but, forgetting this truth, it imagines itself to be an individual soul and gets bound in the shape of mind. So its search for the Self, which is itself, is like the search for the sheep by the shepherd. But still, the jiva which has forgotten its self will not become the Self through mere mediate knowledge. By the impediment caused by the residual impressions gathered in previous births, the jiva forgets again and again its identity with the Self, and gets deceived, identifying itself with the body, etc.

Will a person become a high officer by merely looking at him? Is it not by steady effort in that direction that he could become a highly placed officer? Similarly, the jiva, which is in bondage through mental identification with the body, etc., should put forth effort in the form of reflection on the Self, in a gradual and sustained manner; and when thus the mind gets destroyed, the jiva would become the Self. [14]

The reflection on the Self which is thus practised constantly will destroy the mind, and thereafter will destroy itself like the stick that is used to kindle the cinders burning a corpse. It is this state that is called release.


D: If the jiva is by nature identical with the Self, what is it that prevents the jiva from realizing its true nature?

M: It is forgetfulness of the jiva's true nature; this is known as the power of veiling.


D: If it is true that the jiva has forgotten itself, how does the "I"-experience arise for all?

M: The veil does not completely hide the jiva; it only hides the Self-nature of "I" and projects the "I am the body" notion; but it does not hide the Self's existence which is "I", and which is real and eternal. [15]


D: What are the characteristics of the jivan-mukta (the liberated in life) and the videha-mukta (the liberated at death)?

M: "I am not the body; I am Brahman which is manifest as the Self. In me who am the plenary Reality the world consisting of bodies etc., are mere appearance, like the blue of the sky." [16] He who has realized the truth thus is a jivan-mukta.

Yet so long as his mind has not been resolved, there may arise some misery for him because of relation to objects on account of prarabdha (karma which has begun to fructify and whose result is the present body), and as the movement of mind has not ceased there will not be also the experience of bliss.

The experience of Self is possible only for the mind that has become subtle and unmoving as a result of prolonged meditation. He who is thus endowed with a mind that has become subtle, and who has the experience of the Self is called a jivan-mukta. It is the state of jivan-mukti that is referred to as the attributeless Brahman and as the Turiya.

When even the subtle mind gets resolved, and experience of self ceases, and when one is immersed in the ocean of bliss and has become one with it without any differentiated existence, one is called a videha-mukta. It is the state of videha-mukti that is referred to as the transcendent attributeless Brahman and as the transcendent Turiya. This is the final goal. Because of the grades in misery and happiness, the released ones, the jivan-muktas and videha-muktas, may be spoken of as belonging to four categories – Brahmavid, vara, variyan, and varishtha. But these distinctions are from the standpoint of the others who look at them; in reality, however, there are no distinctions in release gained through jnana.


May the Feet of Ramana, the Master, who is the great Shiva Himself and is also in human form, flourish for ever!


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