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'Self Enquiry' - from The Path of Sri Ramana by Sri Sadhu Om
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from The Path of Sri Ramana - Part One, Chapter 7 by Sri Sadhu Om
“On hearing the expression ‘Self-enquiry’
[atma-vichara], people generally take it to mean either enquiring into
the Self or inquiring about the Self. How to do so?
to inquire into the Self, or who is to inquire about Self?
does enquiry actually mean? Such questions naturally arise,
As soon as we hear the terms
'Brahma-vichara', many of us naturally consider that there is some sort
of effulgence or a formless power within our body and that we are going
to find out what it is, where it is, and how it is. This idea is not
correct, because, Self [atman] does not exist as an object to be known
by us who seek to know it! Since Self shines as the very
of him who tries to know It, Self-enquiry does not mean enquiring into
a second or third person object. It is in order to make us
understand this from the very beginning that Bhagavan Ramana called
Self-enquiry ‘Who am I?’, thus
attention directly to the first person. In this question,
‘Who am I?’, ‘I am’
denotes Self and
‘who’ stands for the enquiry.
Who is it that is to inquire into Self? For whom is
enquiry necessary? Is it for Self? No.
Since the Self
is the ever-attained, ever-pure, ever-free and ever-blissful Whole, it
will not do any enquiry, nor does it need to! All right, then it is
only the ego that needs to do the enquiry. Can this ego know Self? As
said in the previous chapters, this ego is a false appearance, having
no existence of its own. It is a petty infinitesimal feeling of
‘I’, which subsides and loses its form in sleep.
Self become an object that could be known by the ego? No, the ego
cannot know Self! Thus, when it turns out that Self-enquiry is
unnecessary for Self and Self-knowledge is impossible for the ego, the
questions arise: ‘What then is the practical method
doing Self-enquiry? Why is this term ‘Self-enquiry’
in the sastras? Are we not to scrutinize thus and find
Let us do so.
There is a difference between the way in which the term
‘enquiry’ is used by Sri Bhagavan and the way in
sastras use it. The sastras advocate negating the five sheaths, namely
the body, prana (breath), mind, intellect and the darkness of
ignorance, as ‘not I, not I’ [neti, neti]. But who
negate them, and how? If the mind (or the intellect) is to negate them,
it can at best negate only the insentient physical body and the prana,
which are objects seen by it. Beyond this, how can the mind negate
itself, its own form? And when it cannot even negate itself, how can it
negate the other two sheaths, the intellect and the darkness of
ignorance, which are beyond its range of perception?
During the time of enquiry, therefore, what more can the mind do to
remain as the Self except to repeat mentally, ‘I am not this
body, I am not this prana’? From this, it is clear that
‘enquiry’ is not a process of one thing enquiring
another thing. That is why the enquiry ‘Who am I?’
by Sri Bhagavan should be taken to mean Self-attention! (that is,
attention merely to the first person, the feeling
The nature of the mind is to attend always to things other than itself,
that is, to know only second and third persons. If the mind in this way
attends to a thing, it means that it is attending (attaching itself) to
that thing. Attention itself is attachment! Since the mind is to think
about the body and breath –
though with the intention of deciding ‘this is not I, this is
not I’ – such attention is only a means of becoming
attached to them and it cannot be a means of negating them! This is
what is experienced by any true aspirant in his practice. Then what is
the secret hidden in this?
Since, whether we know it or not, Self, which is now wrongly considered
by us to be unknown, is verily our reality, the very nature of
our (the Supreme Self’s) attention itself is Grace
[anugraha]. This means that whatever thing we attend to, witness,
observe or look at, that thing is nourished and will flourish, being
blessed by Grace. Though one now thinks that one is an individual soul,
since one’s power of awareness is in fact nothing but a
reflection of the ‘knowing-power’ [chit-sakti] of
Self, that on which it falls or is fixed is nourished by Grace and
flourishes more and more! Hence, when the power of attention of the
mind is directed more and
more towards second and third person objects, both the strength to
attend to those objects, and the ignorance of the knowledge of the five
senses in the form of thoughts about them – will grow more
more, and will never subside!
[The practice of witnessing thoughts and events, which is much
recommended nowadays by lecturers and writers, was never never even in
the least recommended by Sri Bhagavan. Indeed, whenever He was asked
what should be done when thoughts rise (that is, when attention is
diverted toward second and third persons) during sadhana, He always
replied in the same manner as He had done to Sivaprakasam Pillai
in 'Who am I?' where He says, "If other thoughts rise, one should,
without attempting to compete them, enquire 'To whom did they rise?'
What does it matter however many thoughts rise? At the very moment that
each thought rises, if one vigilantly enquires 'To whom did this
rise?', it will be known "To me'. If one then enquires 'Who am I?', the
mind (our power of attention) will turn back (from the thought) to its
source (Self)". Moreover, when He says later in the same work,
"Not attending to what-is-other (that is, to any second or third
person) is non-attachment [vairagya] or desirelessness [nirasa]",
we should clearly understand that attending to (witnessing,
watching, observing or seeing) anything other than Self is itself
attachment, and when we understand thus we will realize how meaningless
and impractical are such instructions as 'Watch all thoughts and events
with detachment' or 'Witness your thoughts, but be not attached to
them', which are taught by the so-called gurus of the present day. ]
Have we not already said that all our thoughts are nothing but
attention paid to second and third person objects?
the more we attend to the mind, the thoughts which are the forms (the
second and third person objects) of the world, the more they will
multiply and be nourished. This is indeed an obstacle. The more our
attention – the glance of Grace - falls on it, the more the
mind’s wavering nature and its ascendancy will increase. That
is why it is impossible for the mind to negate anything by thinking
‘I am not this, I am not this’. On the
other hand, if our (Self's) attention is directed only towards ourself,
our knowledge of existence alone is nourished, and since the mind is
not attended to, it is deprived of its strength, the support of our
‘Without use when left to stay, iron and mischief rust
away’ – in accordance with this Tamil proverb,
since they are not attended to, all the vasana seeds, whose nature is
rise stealthily and mischievously, have to stay quiet, and
they dry up like seeds deprived of water and become too weak to sprout
out into thought-plants. Then, when the fire of Self-knowledge [jnana]
blazes forth, these tendencies [vasanas], like well dried
firewood, become a prey to it.
This alone is how the total destruction of all tendencies
[vasanakshaya] is effected.
If we are told, ‘Abandon the East’, the
practical way of doing so would be to do as if told, ‘Go to
the West’! In the same manner, when we are told,
‘Discard the five sheaths, which are not Self’, the
practical way of discarding the non-Self is to focus our awareness on
ourself, ‘What is this?’ or
‘Who am I?’. Thinking ‘I am not this, not
this’ [neti, neti], is a negative method.
Knowing that this negative method is just as
impractical as saying ‘Drink the medicine without thinking of
a monkey’, Sri Bhagavan has shown us the practical way of
drinking the medicine without thinking of a monkey, by giving us the
clue, ‘Drink the medicine while thinking of an
elephant’, that is, He has reformed the ancient negative
method by giving us the positive method ‘Who am I?’.
the ego is all! Hence the enquiry ‘What is
other words, ‘Who am I, this ego?’)
the true giving up (renunciation) of all,
should you know!’ -- Ulladhu Narpadhu, verse 28
Verily, all (that is, the five sheaths and their
projections – all these worlds) is the ego. So, attending to
the feeling ‘I’, ‘What is it?’
or ‘Who is this I?’, alone is renouncing the five
sheaths, discarding them, eliminating them, or negating them. Thus
Bhagavan Ramana has declared categorically that Self-attention alone is
the correct technique of eliminating the five sheaths!
Since this is so, with what purpose did the sastras use the term
‘enquiry’ to denote the method neti, neti? By means
of neti, neti can we not formulate intellectually the
test which we have given in paragraph 4 of this book, ‘A
surely not ‘I’ if it is possible for one to
‘I am’ even in the absence of that thing? So long
exists the wrong knowledge ‘I am the body’
the aforesaid five sheaths or three bodies, will not one’s
attention towards the first person automatically be only an attention
towards a sheath or a body – a second person? But
if we use
this test, can we not find out that all such attentions are not the
proper first person attention? Therefore, it is necessary
of all to have an intellectual conviction that these are not
‘I’ in order to practice Self-attention, without
losing our bearings.
It is only the discrimination by which we acquire this
has been termed ‘enquiry’ by the sastras.
then is an aspirant to do after discriminating thus? How can
attention to these five sheaths, even with an intention to eliminate
them, be an attention to Self? Therefore, while practicing
Self-enquiry, instead of taking any one of the five sheaths as the
object of our attention, we should fix our attention only on the
‘I’-consciousness, which exists and shines as
oneself, as the singular, and as a witness to and aloof from these
Instead of being directed towards any second or third person,
our power of attention, which was hitherto called mind or intellect,
thus now directed only towards the first person? Although we
formally refer to it as ‘directed’, in truth it is
the nature of a ‘doing’ [kriya-rupam] in the form
of directing or being
directed; it is of the nature of ‘being’ or
‘existing’ [sat-rupam]. Because the
second and third persons
(including thoughts) are alien or external to us, our attention paid to
them was of the nature of a ‘doing’ [kriya]. But
this very attention, when fixed on the non-alien first person
feeling, ‘I’, loses the nature of
‘paying’ and remains in the form of
‘being’, and therefore it is of the nature of
non-doing [akriya] or inaction [nishkriya]. So long as our power of
attention was dwelling upon second and third persons, it was called
‘the mind’ or ‘the intellect’,
and its attending was called a doing or
an action. Only that which is done by the mind is an
action. But on the other hand, as soon as the attention is
on the first person (or Self), it loses mean names such as mind,
intellect or ego-sense.
Moreover, that attention is no longer even an action, but inaction
the state of ‘being still’ [summa iruttal].
Therefore, the mind, which attends to Self, is no more the mind; it is
the consciousness aspect of Self [atma-chit-rupam]! Likewise, so long
as it attends to the second and third persons (the world), it is not
the consciousness aspect of Self; it is the mind, the
reflected form of consciousness [chit-abhasa-rupam]! Hence, since
Self-attention is not a doing [kriya], it is not an action [karma].
That is, Self alone realizes Self; the ego does not!
The mind which has obtained a burning desire for
Self-attention, which is self-enquiry, is said to be the fully mature
one. Since it is not now inclined to attend to any second or third
person, it can be said that it has reached the pinnacle of
desirelessness [vairagya]. For, do not all sorts of desires and
attachments pertain only to second and third persons? Since this mind,
which has very well understood that (as already seen in earlier
chapters) the consciousness which shines as ‘I’
alone is the source of full and real happiness, now seeks Self because
of its natural craving for happiness, this intense desire to attend to
Self is indeed the highest form of devotion [bhakti].
It is exactly this Self-attention of the mind, which
is thus fully
mature through such devotion and desirelessness that is to be called
the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ taught by Bhagavan Sri
Ramana! Well, will not at least such a mature mind, which has
come to the path of Sri Ramana, willingly agreeing to engage in
Self-attention, realize Self?
No, no, it has started for its doom! Agreeing to commit
it places its neck (through Self-attention) on the scaffold where it is
to be sacrificed! How? Only so long as it was attending to
and third persons did it have the name ‘mind’, but
soon as Self-attention is begun, its name and form (the name as mind
and its form as thoughts) are lost.
So we can no longer say that Self-attention or Self-enquiry is
performed by the mind. Neither is it the mind that attends to
Self, nor is the natural,
spontaneous Self-attention of the consciousness aspect of Self, which
is not the mind, an activity!
“A naked lie then it would be
If any man were to say that he
Realized the Self, diving within
Through proper enquiry set in.
Not for knowing but for death
The good-for-nothing ego’s worth!
‘Tis Arunachala alone,
The Self, by which the Self is known!”
--Sri Arunachala Venba, verse 39
The feeling ‘I am’ is the experience
common to one and all. In this, ‘am’ is
consciousness or knowledge. This knowledge is not of anything
external, it is the knowledge of oneself. This is
chit. This consciousness is ‘we’
“We are verily consciousness”, says Sri Bhagavan in
‘The Essence of Instruction’ verse 23. This is our
‘being’ (that is, our true existence).
This is called ‘that which is’ [ulladhu].
Thus in ‘I am’, ‘I’ is
existence [sat] and ‘am’ is consciousness [chit].
When Self, our nature of existence-consciousness [sat chit swarupam],
instead of shinning only as the pure consciousness ‘I
am’, shines mixed with an adjunct [upadhi] as ‘I am
a man, I am Rama, I am so-and-so, I am this or that’, then
this mixed consciousness is the ego.
This mixed consciouness can rise only by catching hold of a name and
form. When we feel ‘I am a man’, I am Rama, I am
sitting, I am lying’, is it not clear that we have mistaken
the body for ‘I’, and that we have assumed
its name and postures as ‘I am this and I am thus’?
The feeling ‘this and thus’ which has now risen
mixed with the pure consciousness ‘I am’ [sat-chit]
is what is called thought. This is the first
The feeling ‘I am a man, I am
so-and-so’ is only a thought. But the consciousness,
‘I am’ is not a thought; it is the very nature of
our ‘being’. The mixed consciousness ‘I
am this or that’ is a thought that rises from our
‘being’. It is only after the rising of this
thought, the mixed consciousness (the first person), that all other
thoughts, which are the knowledge of second and third persons, rise
“Only if the first person exists, will the second
--‘Forty Verses’ verse 14.
This mixed awareness, the first person, is called our
‘rising’ or the rising of the ego.
This is the primal mentation [adi-vritti]! Hence:
“Thinking is a mentation; being is not a
-- ‘Eleven Verses on
Self-enquiry’, verse 1, by Sri Sadhu Om.
The pure existence-consciousness, ‘I
am’ is not a thought; this awareness is our nature
[swarupam]. ‘I am a man’ is not our pure
consciousness; it is only our thought!
To understand thus the difference between our
‘being’ and our ‘rising’ (that
is between existence and thought) first of all, is essential for
aspirants who take to the enquiry ‘Who am I?’
Bhagavan Sri Ramana has advised that Self-enquiry can be done
either in the form ‘Who am I?’ or in the form
‘Whence am I?’. Hearing these
two interrogative sentences, many aspirants have held various opinions
about them up till now and have become confused as to which of them is
to be practiced and how!
Even among those who consider that both are one and the same, many have
only a superficial understanding and have not scrutinized deeply how
they are the same. Some who try to follow the former one,
‘Who am I’? simply begin either vocally or mentally
the parrot-like repetition ‘Who am I?, Who am I?, as if it
were mantra-japa. This is utterly wrong!
Doing japa of ‘Who am I?’ in this manner is just as
bad as meditating upon or doing japa of the mahavakyas such as
‘I am tBrahman’ and so on, thereby spoiling the
very objective for which they were revealed!!
Sri Bhagavan Himself has repeatedly said, “’Who am
I?’ is not meant for repetition [japa]”!
Some others, thinking that they are following the second interrogative
form, ‘Whence am I?’ try to concentrate on the
right side of the chest (where they imagine something as a spiritual
heart), expecting a reply such as ‘I am from here”!
This is in no way better than the ancient method of
meditating upon any one of the six yogic centers in the body!! For, is
not thinking of any place in the body only a second person attention
(an objective attention)?
Before we start to explain the technique of Self-enquiry, is it not of
the utmost importance that all such misconceptions be removed? Let us
see, therefore, how they may be removed.
In Sanskrit, the terms
‘atman’ and ‘aham’
both mean ‘I’. Hence
‘atma-vichara’ (Self-enquiry) means an attention
seeking ‘Who is this I?’.
It may rather be called ‘I-attention’,
‘Self-abidance’. The aconsciousness
‘I’ thus pointed out here is the first person
feeling. But as we have already said, it is to be understood that the
consciousness mixed with adjuncts as ‘I am this’ or
‘I am that’ is the ego [ahankara] or the individual
soul, whereas the unalloyed awareness, devoid of adjuncts and shining
alone as ‘I-I’ (or ‘I am that I
am’) is Self [atman], the Absolute [brahman] or God [iswara].
Does it not amount to saying then that the first person consciousness,
‘I’, can be either ego or Self? Since all people
generally take the ego-feeling (‘I am the body’) to
be ‘I’, the ego is also given the name
‘self’ [atman] and is called ‘individual
self’ [jivatma] by some sastras even now. It is only for this
reason that even the attention to the ego, ‘What is
it?’ or ‘Who is it?’, is also named by
the scriptures as ‘Self-enquiry’ [atma-vichara].
Is it not clear, however, that Self, the existence-consciousness,
neither needs to do any enquiry nor can be subjected to any enquiry?
It is just in order to rectify this defect that Bhagavan Ramana named
it ‘Who am I?’ rather than using the ancient term
‘Self-enquiry’! The ego, the feeling of
‘I’ generally taken by people to be the first
person consciousness, is not the real first person awareness; Self
alone is the real first person awareness.
The ego-feeling, which is merely a shadow of it, is a
false first person awareness. When one enquires into this ego, what it
is or who it is, it disappears because it is really non-existent, and
the enquirer, having nothing more to do, is established in Self as Self.
Because it rises, springing up from Self, the false first person
awareness mentioned above has to have a place and a time of rising.
Therefore, the question ‘Whence am I?’ means only
‘Whence (from where) does the ego rise?’.
A place of rising can only be for the ego. But for the Self, since It
has no rising or setting, there can be no particular place or time.
“When scrutinized, we -- the ever-known
existing Thing – alone are; then where is time and where is
space? If we are (mistaken to be) the body, we shall be involved in
time and space; but are we the body? Since we are the One, now, then
and ever, that One in space, here there and everywhere, we –
the timeless and spaceless Self alone are!”
– ‘Forty Verses’ verse 16
-thus says Sri Ramana. Therefore, enquiring
‘Whence am I?’ is enquiring ‘Whence is
the ego?’. Only to the rising of the ego, which is
conditioned by time and space, will the question ‘Whence am
I?’ be applicable.
The meaning, which Sri Bhagavan expects us to understand from the term
‘Whence’ or ‘From where?’ is
‘From what?’. When taken in this sense,
instead of a place or time coming forth as a reply, Self-existence,
‘we’, the Thing [vastu], alone is experienced as
If, on the other hand, we anticipate a place as an answer to the
question ‘Whence?’, a place, conditioned by time
and space, will be experienced within the body ‘two digits to
the right from the center of the chest’ (as said in
‘Forty Verses’ verse 18).
Yet this experience is not the ultimate or absolute one. For, Sri
Bhagavan has positively asserted that Heart [hridyam] is verily
Self-consciousness, which is timeless, spaceless, formless, and
“He who thinks that Self (or Heart) is
within the insentient body,
while in fact the body is in the Self, is like one who thinks that the
which supports the cinema picture, is contained within the
– ‘Five verses on the Self’, verse 3
Finding a place in the body as the rising-point of the ego in reply to
the question ‘Whence?’ is not the objective of Sri
Bhagavan’s teachings; nor is it the fruit to be gained by
Self-enquiry. Sri Bhagavan has declared clearly the objective of His
teachings and the fruit to be gained by seeking the rising-place of the
ego as follows:
“When sought within ‘What is the place
from which it rises as I?’, ‘I’ (the ego)
will die! This is Self-enquiry [jnana-vichara].”
– ‘Upadesa Undhiyar’, verse 19
Therefore, the result, which is aimed at when seeking the rising-place
of the ego, is the annihilation of that ego and not an experience of a
place in the body. It is only in reply to the immature people who
– not able to have even an intellectual understanding about
the nature of Self, which shines alone as the one, non-dual
Thing, unlimited by (indeed absolutely unconnected with) time and
space, unlimited even in the form: ‘Brahman is everywhere,
Brahman is at all times, Brahman is everything’ -- always
raise the question, ‘Where is the seat for the Self in the
body?”, that the sastras and sometimes even Sri
Bhagavan had to say:
“...two digits to the right (from the centre of the chest) is
the heart”. Hence this heart-place [hridaya-stanam] is not
the ultimate or absolute Reality.
The reader may here refer to ‘Maharshi’s
Gospel’, Book II, chapter IV,
‘The Heart is the Self’ (8th edition 1969, pages 68
to 72; 9th edition, 1979, pages 72 to 76).
Thus attending to oneself in the form ‘Whence am
I?’ is enquiring into the ego, the ‘rising
I’, but while enquiring ‘Who am I?, there are some
aspirants who take the feeling ‘I’ to be their
‘being’ (existence) and not their ‘rising
If it is taken thus, that is attention to the Self. It is just to
understand clearly the difference between these two forms of enquiry
that the difference between our ‘rising’ and our
‘being’ has been explained earlier in this chapter.
Just as the correct meaning of the term ‘meditation upon
Brahman’ used by the sastras up till now is explained by Sri
Bhagavan in the last two lines of the first benedictory verse of
‘Ulladhu Narpadhu’ to be ‘abiding in the
Heart as it is’ (that is to say, abiding as Self is the
correct way of meditating upon it), so also, the correct meaning of the
term ‘Self-enquiry’ is here rightly explained to be
‘turning Selfwards’ (or attending to Self.)
In either of these two kinds of enquiry
(‘Who am I? or ‘Whence am I?’), since the
attention of the aspirant is focused only on himself, nothing other
than Self, which is the true import of the word
‘I’, will be finally experienced. Therefore, the
ultimate result of both the enquiries, ‘Whence am
I?’ and ‘Who am I?’, is the same!
How? He who seeks ‘Whence am I?’ is
following the ego, the form of which is ‘I am
so-and-so’, and while doing so, the adjunct
‘so-and-so’, having no real existence, dies on the
way, and thus he remains established in Self, the surviving
On the other hand, he who seeks ‘Who am I?’ drowns
effortlessly in his real natural ‘being’ (Self),
which ever shines as ‘I
am that I am.’
Therefore, whether done in the form ‘Whence am I?’,
or ‘Who am I?’, what is absolutely essential is
that Self-attention should be pursued to the very end.
Moreover, it is not necessary for sincere aspirants even to name
beforehand the feeling ‘I’ either as ego or as
Self. For, are there two persons in the aspirant, the ego and Self?
This is said because, since every one of us has the experience
‘I am one only and not two’, we should not give
room to an imaginary dual feeling – one
‘I’ seeking for another ‘I’
– by differentiating ego and Self as ‘lower
self’ and ‘higher self’.
“...Are there two selves, one to be an object known by the
other? For, the true experience of all is ‘I am
-- ‘Ulladhu Narpadhu,’ verse 33 - asks Sri Ramana.
Thus it is sufficient if we cling to the feeling
‘I’ uninterruptedly till the very end. Such
attention to the feeling ‘I’, the common daily
experience of everyone, is what is meant by Self-attention. For those
who accept as their basic knowledge the ‘I am the
body’ – consciousness [jiva bhava], being unable to
doubt its (the ego’s) existence, it is suitable to take to
Self-attention (that is, to do Self-enquiry) in the form
‘Whence am I?’.
On the other hand, for those who, instead of assuming that they have an
individuality [jiva bhava] such as ‘I am so-and-so’
or ‘I am this’, attend thus,
‘What is this feeling which shines as I am?’ it is
suitable to be fixed in Self-attention in the form ‘Who am
What is important to be sure of during practice [sadhana] is that our
attention is turned only towards ‘I’, the first
person singular feeling.”