“The Self itself is God.”
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Words spoken in silence, through silence, as silence.
His pointings and insights have inspired and guided the souls of many beings, pointings that has enabled the full recognition of the timeless Self.
However to be able to tell a story, we need the help of the intricate weaving hands of time. So then lets for a moment immerse ourselves into the life story of Ramana and the nature of his powerful spiritual pointings.
Early Life and Sudden Awakening
Ramana, born Venkataraman Iyer, was born 1879 in South India in the state of what is now known as Tamil Nadu. Right when Ramana entered his teens his father died suddenly in 1892, he and his brother were separated from their mother and ended up in the care of their uncle Subbaiyar instead.
It was during this time he came to read different spiritual books and biographies of saints, which undoubtedly left an impression on young Ramana’s mind. This was also when he came to know more about the sacred mountain of Arunachala, to his surprise he learnt that it was a real place that you could actually go to.
One day at the age of 16 when Ramana was walking home back from school, he was suddenly stricken and overcome with a intense fear of death. He laid himself on the ground and started to mimick the process of dying, for some strange reason.
This was Ramana’s famed awakening experience of complete non-dual understanding of himself and God, or in his own words:
The shock of the fear of death drove my mind inwards and I said to myself mentally, without actually framing the words: ‘Now death has come; what does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies.’ And I at once dramatized the occurrence of death. I lay with my limbs stretched out stiff as though rigor mortis had set in and imitated a corpse so as to give greater reality to the enquiry. I held my breath and kept my lips tightly closed so that no sound could escape, so that neither the word ‘I’ or any other word could be uttered, ‘Well then,’ I said to myself, ‘this body is dead. It will be carried stiff to the burning ground and there burnt and reduced to ashes. But with the death of this body am I dead? Is the body ‘I’? It is silent and inert but I feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of the ‘I’ within me, apart from it. So I am Spirit transcending the body. The body dies but the Spirit that transcends it cannot be touched by death. This means I am the deathless Spirit.
Since that experience his attention was constantly fixed at the source-being, this deathless spirit, in deep fascination.
The Self, Spirit, God, Consciousness… Call it what you will… It doesn’t really matter, as itself has no inherent name. What does matter is that “it” is always available for you to recognize it fully.
It is this unspeakable spirit that we will contemplate on together in this mystic scroll, all the while knowing perfectly well that nothing can truly capture its essence.
Ramana’s Arrival at Arunachala
About 6 weeks after his spontaenous awakening, Ramana increasingly grew tired and eventually completely lost interest in the societal structure and school system surrounding him, which led him, without the consent of his uncle (as he knew that his family would most likely argue against him becoming a sannyasin), to journey to Tiruvannamalai, to the sacred hill of Arunachala.
The place he would remain for the rest of his years.
Ramana’s first years in Arunachala were characterized by solitude and asceticism as he lived in various temples and caves in the vicinity of Arunachala, most notably the Virupaksha cave which he would stay for 17 years.
As time passed Ramana’s presence in Arunachala was established and his light and grace had transformed into a beacon of spiritual wisdom.
This was partly due to the various anecdotes that started popping up here and there mentioning the peculiar presence of an ascetic in Arunachala, and partly due to his disciples, most notably the auto-biographer B. V. Narasimha from whom much of these tidbits on Ramana’s life is derived from.
Moreover as he became established both in India and then world-wide, he and what would become his ashram, Sri Ramanasramam, was frequently visited by spiritual seekers, tourists and other curious individuals from around the world looking for answers they did not necessarily knew the questions to.
Though Ramana preferred privacy and the bliss of solitude, he didn’t turn down eager and earnest spiritual seekers looking for liberation.
So what is it about the Maharshi that is so enticing and inspiring to spiritual seekers?
Well speaking from my own experience and the accounts of others, it is the perfect combination of silence, humility and grace accompanied with the simplicity and directness of his pointings.
The Method Self-Inquiry
Ramana Maharshi’s proposed method of self-inquiry, i.e. looking deep into the nature of the separate self, is indeed one of the most unsparing and effective ways of realizing your true nature.
This true nature, the Self that is without quality and without name.
This true nature that is the ever-present silent space of awareness in which all things appears and dissolve in.
This true nature that is equal to God, this absolute subjective perceiver that is seeing everything, yet itself cannot be seen.
Realizing this deeply in your consciousness is the permanent way to the realization of the Self, this is also called enlightenment.
For the subsidence of mind there is no other means more effective and adequate than Self-enquiry. Even though by other means the mind subsides, that is only apparently so; it will rise again.
How is it done?
When you earnestly ask yourself the question “Who Am I?”, and from that follow the question wherever it may lead you.
When you consistently and honestly seek the very source of your thoughts and the mind itself, most importantly what Ramana called the I-thought, then my friend, this is called self-inquiry.
Self-inquiry can’t merely be done through “robotic” and “automatic” repetition, like say a mantra that you lull yourself and your monkey-mind to sleep with, rather self-inquiry is an alert perpetual reminder and/or exercise to trace back the sense of separate self to its source.
What is the source?
Simple.. It is the space of awareness which contains every experience you have.
Moreover self-inquiry is only truly successful when the seeker of truth approaches the method with an open, inquisitive and earnest/urgent attitude.
That being said, the ultimate goal of self-inquiry is to unravel the unreality of the one that is doing the inquiry.
As Mooji, the disciple of Papaji who was in turn a disciple of Ramana, so eloquently puts it: the inquiry will end the inquirer.
In other words when the unreality of the separate self is revealed, what stands remaining is the unchallengeable reality of your own true, ever-present self.
This is truly the most direct path I’ve ever come across when it comes to genuine spiritual understanding “gnosis”.
If you still don’t know how to go about the self-inquiry, you can simply begin by being aware of the sense of this subtle feeling of being a separate self, perceive its movements and discrepancies as its moving around in your spacious consciousness.
This “process” which always seems to be claiming ownership to what ever appears in the consciousness.
That “apparent entity” which always attaches itself to every thought and feeling by saying, “my feeling” and “my thoughts”. Simply watch it, with a neutral, but not indifferent, attitude.
See what its made of.
Is this energy who you really are? Or could you be something much more subtle than that.
Experience and contemplate for yourself.
As Ramana said:
If one watches whence the notion of ‘I’ springs, the mind will get absorbed into that.
When you keep aligning your attention with this “direct experience”, you will eventually profoundly realize that neither the body nor the “idea/identity” which you have taken yourself to be is who truly you are.
When Papaji, his disciple met Maharshi in the 1940s, he earnestly asked Maharshi if he could make him see God, and this is what Maharshi replied:
I cannot show you God or enable you to see God because God is not an object that can be seen. God is the subject. He is the seer. Don’t concern yourself with objects that can be seen. Find out who the seer is… You alone are God.
What does this mean?
In essence this means that you can never attain to “spirit” by maintaining a worldview based in duality and separation.
That which sees, is the seeing.
And that which is aware, is the awareness.
They cannot be separated.
God is simply the ultimate seer.
And your essential nature alone is God.
Ramana made this clear as sky.
Do you see yourself as you are?
You cannot see yourself outside of yourself, you cannot see God outside of God, which also means that the ego and the separate self can never become free from it self or attain to the Godself.
Rather the separate self has to dissolve in the gaze of this primordial direct seeing.
This essential seeing that is unborn and undying.
This is corroborated by one of the greatest Christian mystics in history, namely Meister Eckhart, where he in one of his sermons in the 12-13th century proclaimed:
As God can only be seen by His own light, so He can only be loved by His own love.
The conclusion is that there is no conclusion.
The Self can never be “concluded” and left aside or moved on with. The Self can only be lived through as you are, perpetually.
The Dao, Buddhahood and the Self is one and the same essential nature.
This is indeed something that you will notice as we dive deep into the world of the mystics, namely that they always point to the same essential spiritual reality of existence, although their unique use of language differs, their spiritual message is one and the same.
Whether its Ramana or Meister Eckhart or Rumi or Hui-neng or Lao Tzu, doesn’t really matter. What matters is you recognizing this within yourself, and therein you being one with the Source-being.
That being said, Ramana passed away in 1950, though in reality he was unborn and therefore undying as any wise individual would humbly attest to.
According to contemporaries when Ramana passed there was a prominent falling star that lighted up the night-sky.
Whether this is true or not doesn’t really matter for our purposes.
What does matter however is that the light he shone upon the world and still is shining, this light is undying and eternal.
This ever present light which is present in you, through you, as you.
Daniel Seeker is a wandering dervish and lifelong student of the past, present and future. He realized that he was made of immaculate and timeless consciousness when meditating in his hermit cave on the island of Gotland. His writings are mostly a reflection of that realizaton. Daniel currently studies history, philosophy, egyptology and western esotericism at Uppsala Universitet. He’s also currently writing his B.A. thesis in history which explores how Buddhist and Hindu texts were first properly translated and introduced to the western world in the late 18th and 19th century.