Ramana Maharishi: Yoga of Self-enquiry

We have discussed so far the teachings of “preservative evolutionist” in Yoga. We may now move on to what we may call as “innovators” in Yoga. Let us begin with the silent sage of Thiruvannamalai, Ramana Maharishi.

The path of the sage of Thiruvannamalai is essentially the path of knowledge. But the path of self-enquiry is a more direct approach to the Yoga of knowledge than the elaborate intellectual and analytical approach of the traditional path of knowledge.

The traditional path of knowledge proceeds through an elaborate process: listening to the scriptural injunction; contemplating on its meaning, initially through logic and reasoning and in later stages in deep meditation; and finally realizing the supreme knowledge of the identity of the individual self with the universal and transcendental Self in a deep meditative trance. And the meditative process relies heavily on the discriminative faculty of the intellect to separate the Spirit from the mind, life and body. But Ramana Maharshi’s path of knowledge bypasses or cuts short all these processes of the traditional Yoga, and strikes at the target with a simpler and more direct approach. In this path of self-enquiry, the seeker asking persistently “Who Am I”, tries to trace the very source of the I-sense or I-feeling in him. As the seeker persists in this line of enquiry, at the end of the quest he will find that the personal sense of I-ness disappearing in the impersonal, and existential BEness of the transcendental Self. As Ramana Maharishi explain the psychological basis of the path:

“Of all the thoughts that arise in the mind the ‘I’ thought is the first. It is only after the rise of this that the other thoughts arise. It is after the appearance of the first personal pronoun that the second and third personal pronouns appear; without the first personal pronoun there will not be the second and third”.

In the path of self-enquiry, the seeker catches hold of this I-thought or I-sense as the thread to enter deep into the very source of this ‘I’. In the following passage Ramana Maharshi explains with a lucid clarity the method or “technique” of self-enquiry:

“When other thoughts arise, one should not pursue them, but should inquire ‘To whom did they arise! It does not matter how many thought arise. As each thought arise, one should enquire with diligence. ‘To whom this thought arise?’ The answer that would emerge would be ‘To me’. There upon if one inquires ‘Who am I’ the mind will go back to its source: and the thought that arose will become quiescent, with repeated practice in this manner, the mind will develop the skill to stay in its source. When the mind that is subtle goes out through the brain and the sense-organs, the gross names and forms appear; when it stays in the heart, the names and forms disappear. Not letting the mind go out but retaining in the Heart is what is called “inwardness” (antar-mukha). Letting the mind to go out of the Heart is known as “externalization” (bahir-mukha). Thus when the mind stays in the heart, the I which is the source of all thought will go and the Self which exists will shine”.

Thus there are three stages in this Path of self-enquiry. In the first stage the seeker begins with the enquiry, ‘Who Am I?’ and whenever a thought or feeling arises — whatever its nature may be, good or bad, ugly or beautiful, noble or ignoble – he asks “to whom did they arise.” As he persists with this process of enquiry, the central thought “Who Am I” begins to dominate, subdue and finally eliminates all other thoughts. At this stage, the mind becomes quiescent but with a single thought ‘Who Am I’. And in the final stage of enquiry, even this seeking thought ‘Who Am I’ along with the ego of the seeker disappears in the transcendent Self. As Ramana Maharshi describes this stage:

“The thought ‘Who Am I’ will destroy all other thoughts and like the stick used for stirring the burning pyre, it itself will get destroyed. Then there will arise Self-realisation.”

to be continued…

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