»Spiritual Article Index
The Technique of Self-enquiry
Technique of Self-enquiry, Who Am I, Nan Yar, Teachings of Ramana Bhagavan, Gems from Bhagavan, Theory of Self Enquiry, Practice of Self Enquiry, What is Self-Enquiry, Self Enquiry Articles, Atma Vichara, Self Enquiry Practice, Self Enquiry Meditation, Hi Hindu Spiritual Articles and Videos
The Path of Sri Ramana - Part One, Chapter 8 by Sri Sadhu Om
At the young age of sixteen, when He was not even aware of the fact
‘This is the sadhana
of Self-enquiry that directly
bestows the experience of Brahman’, it so happened one day
without any prior intention, Sri Ramana embarked upon this sadhana! On that
day as if He were about to die, a great fear of death possessed
Him all of a sudden. Because of it, an impulse to scrutinize death also
arose in Him spontaneously. He was not perturbed to see the
fast-approaching death, nor did He feel inclined to inform others about
it! He decided to welcome it calmly and to solve the problem all alone.
He lay down, stretching His limbs like a corpse, and began to
scrutinize death practically, face to face. Since it is of prime
importance for the readers to know the technique
of Self-enquiry performed by Sri Bhagavan the Sadguru, let us
it here in the very words in which he later narrated His experience.
’All right, death has come! What is death? What is it that is
dying? It is this body that is dying; let it die!’ Deciding
closing the lips tightly and remaining without breath or speech like a
corpse, what came to my knowledge as I looked within was:
body is dead. Now it will be taken to the cremation ground and burnt;
it will become ashes. All right, but with the destruction of this body,
am I also destroyed? Am I really this body? Although this body is lying
as a speechless and breathless corpse,
undoubtedly I am existing, untouched by this death! My existence is
shining clearly and unobstructed! So this perishable body is not
‘I’! I am verily the immortal
‘I’ (Self)! Of
all things, I alone am the reality! This body is subject to death; but
I who transcend the body am eternally living!’ Even the death
that came to the body was unable to touch me!' Thus it dawned directly,
and along with it the fear of death that had
come at first also vanished, never to appear again! All this was
experienced in a split second as direct knowledge [pratyaksham] and
not as mere
reasoning thoughts. From that time onwards, the consciousness [chit] of my
transcending the body has ever continued to remain the
same.” – thus Sri Bhagavan narrated.
Although Sri Bhagavan later explained all this to us in so many words,
emphasized the all-important fact: ‘All this took place
second as a direct experience, without the action of mind and
On account of this fear of death, the concentration of Sri Bhagavan was
fixed and deeply immersed in Self-attention in order to find out
‘What is my existence? What is it that dies?’.
Thus it is proved by what Sri Bhagavan Himself did that, as we have
explaining all along, only such a firm fixing of our attention on Self
is ‘Self-enquiry’ [atma-vichara]. He
has confirmed the same idea in the
work ‘Who am I?’, where He says:
"Always keeping the mind (the attention) fixed in the Self (in the
feeling ‘I’) alone is called
Remaining firmly in Self-abidance, without giving even the least room
to the rising of any thought other than the thought of Self (that is,
without giving even the least attention to any second or third person,
but only to Self), is surrendering oneself to God (which alone is
the supreme devotion).
When Sri Bhagavan was asked, ‘What is the means and technique
hold constantly on to the
revealed in His works the technique of Self-enquiry which, as explained
above, He had undertaken in His early age, but in a more detailed
manner as follows:
Self (atman) is that which is self-shining in the form ‘I am
I am’. One should not imagine it to be anything such as this
that (light or sound). Imagining or thinking thus is itself bondage.
Since the Self is the consciousness which is neither light nor
darkness, let It not be imagined as a light of any kind. That thought
itself would be a bondage. The annihilation of the ego (the primal
thought) alone is liberation [mukti].
All the three bodies consisting of the five sheaths are contained in
the feeling ‘I am the body’; therefore if, by the
‘Who is this I’? (that is, by Self-attention), the
identification with (attachment to) the gross body alone is removed,
the identification with the other two bodies will automatically cease
to exist. As it is only by clinging to this that the identifications
subtle and casual bodies live, there is no need to annihilate these
"How to enquire? Can this body, which is
insentient like a log and such things, shine and function as
‘I’? It cannot. The body cannot say
– Ulladhu Narpadhu (Forty verses on Reality), verse
23 by Sri Ramana.
Therefore, discarding the corpse-like body as an
actual corpse and remaining without even uttering the word 'I' vocally
body as a corpse, not uttering the word ‘I’
by mouth, but seeking with the mind diving inwards ‘Whence
this I rise?’ alone is the path of knowledge [jnana
– Ulladhu Narpadhu, verse 29.
--, if keenly observed what that feeling is which now shines as
‘I’, an experience of a sphurana (a new, clear and
fresh knowledge of
one’s existence) alone will be experienced without sound as
‘I-I’ in the heart.
When the mind
reaches the Heart by inquiring within ‘Who am
I?’, he, ‘I’ (the ego) falling down
abashed, the One
(the Reality) appears spontaneously as ‘I-I’ (I am
-- Ulladhu Narpadhu, verse 30.
When sought within
‘What is the place from which it rises as
I?’, ‘I’ (the ego) will die. This is
-- 'Upadesa Undhiyar', verse 19.
‘I’ dies, there and then shines forth
spontaneously the One as ‘I-I’. That alone is the
-- Upadesa Undhiyar, verse 20.
"If without leaving it we just be, the sphurana,
completely annihilating the
feeling of individuality – the ego , ‘I am the
- finally will come to an end just as the camphor flame dies out. This
alone is proclaimed to be liberation by Sages and scriptures.
"Although in the beginning, on account of the tendencies towards
sense-objects [vishaya-vasanas] which have been recurring down the
ages, thoughts rise in
countless numbers like the waves of the ocean, they will all perish as
the aforesaid Self-attention becomes more and more intense. Since even
the doubt ‘Is it possible to destroy all of them and to
Self alone?’ is only a thought, without giving room even to
thought, one should persistently cling fast to Self-attention.
However great a sinner one may be, if, not lamenting ‘Oh, I
sinner! How can I attain salvation?’ but completely giving up
even the thought that one is a sinner, one is steadfast in
Self-attention, one will surely be saved. Therefore
deep within himself with desirelessness [vairagya], can attain the
pearl of Self.
"As long as there are tendencies towards sense-objects in the mind,
(since they will always create some subtle or gross world appearance)
so long the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ is necessary. As
thoughts rise of their own accord, one should annihilate all of them
through enquiry then and there in
their very place of origin.
"What is the means to annihilate them? If other thoughts rise
Self-attention, one should, without attempting to complete them,
enquire ‘To whom did they arise?’. It will then be
‘To me’; immediately, if we observe ‘Who
is this I
that thinks?’, the mind (our power of attention which was
hitherto engaged in thinking of second and third persons) will turn
back to its source (Self). Hence (since no one is there to attend to
them), the other thoughts which had risen will also subside.
"By repeatedly practicing thus, the power of the mind to abide in its
source increases. When the mind thus abides in the Heart,
thought, ‘I’ (‘I am the body’,
‘I’), which is the root of all other thoughts,
having vanished, the ever existing Self
(the being ‘I’)
alone will shine. The place (or state) where even the slightest trace
of the thought ‘I’ (‘I am this, that, the
Brahman and so on’) does not exist, alone is Self. That alone
called Silence [maunam].
"After coming to know that the final decision of all
the scriptures [sastras]
that such destruction of the mind alone is liberation [mukti], to read
scriptures unlimitedly is fruitless. In order to destroy the mind, it
is necessary to enquire who one is; then how, instead of inquiring thus
within oneself, can one know oneself by inquiring in scriptures?
"For Rama to know himself to be Rama, is a mirror necessary? (That is
say, for one to know oneself through Self-attention to be ‘I
am’, are scriptures necessary?) ‘Oneself’
the five sheaths, whereas the scriptures are outside them. Therefore,
how can oneself, who is to be attended to within, setting aside even
the five sheaths, be found in scriptures? Since scripture-enquiry is
futile, one should give it up and take to Self-enquiry." –
says Bhagavan Sri Ramana.
The above several paragraphs were paraphrased from the first chapter of
‘Vichara Sangraham’ and from the whole of
I?’, both by Ramana Maharshi.
By means of an example, let us make clear this technique [sadhana] of fixing
attention only on the Self, which has been described above in the words
of Sri Bhagavan. But from the very outset it must be conceded that,
the nature of Self is unique and beyond comparison, it cannot be
explained fully and accurately by anyone through any example whatsoever.
Though most of the examples which have been given in accordance with
the intellectual development of the people and the different
circumstances of their times may be appropriate to a great extent,
these insentient [jada] examples can never fully explain Self, the
The example of a movie projector often pointed out by Sri Bhagavan and
the following example of a reflected ray of the sun from a mirror are
given solely with the view that they may remove many doubts of the
readers and clarify their understanding. But one should not fall into
the error of stretching the example too far.
A broken piece of mirror is lying on the ground in the
open space in
full sunshine. The sunlight that falls on that piece of mirror is
reflected, and the reflected light enters a nearby dark room and falls
on its inner wall. The ray from the mirror to the inside wall of the
dark room is a reflected ray of the sun. By means of this reflected
ray, a man in the dark room is able to see the objects inside that room.
The reflected light, when seen on the wall, is of the same form or
shape as the piece of mirror (triangular, square or round). But the
direct sunlight (the original light, the source of the reflected ray)
in the open space shines indivisible, single, all-pervading and
unlimited by any specific form or shape.
Self, our existence-consciousness, is similar to the direct sunlight in
the open space. The ego-feeling or mind-knowledge, the ‘I am
body’– consciousness, is similar to the reflected
stretching from the mirror to the inner wall of the room. But since
Self-consciousness is limitless like the vast, all-pervading direct
sunlight, it has no form-adjunct.
Just as the reflected ray takes on the limitations and size of the
piece of mirror, the ego-feeling experiences the size and form of a
body as ‘I’: it has adjuncts. Just as objects in
room are cognized by means of the reflected light, the body and world
are cognized only by means of the mind-knowledge.
Although the world
and the mind rise and set together, it is by
the mind alone that the world shines.
-- Ulladhu Narpadhu, verse 7.
Let us suppose that a man in the dark room wants to
stop observing the
objects in the room, which are seen by means of the reflected light,
and is possessed instead by a longing to see its source,
comes this light?’. If so, he should go to the very spot
the reflected beam strikes the wall, position his eyes and look back
along the beam.
What does he see then? The sun! But what he now sees is not the real
sun; it is only a reflection of it! Furthermore , it will appear to him
as if the sun is lying
at a certain spot on the ground outside the
room! The particular spot where the sun is seen lying outside can even
be pointed out as being so many feet to the right or left of the room
(like saying, ‘Two digits to the right from the center of the
chest is the heart’).
But, does the sun really lie thus on the ground at that spot? No, that
is only the place whence the reflected beam rises! What should he do if
he wants to see the real sun? He must keep his eyes positioned along
the straight line in which the reflected beam comes and, without moving
them to either side of it, follow it towards the reflected sun, which
is then visible to him.
Just as the man in the dark room, deciding to see the source of the
reflected beam which has come into the room, gives up the desire either
to enjoy or to make research about the things there with the help of
that reflected beam, so a man who wants to know the real Light (Self)
must give up all efforts towards enjoying or knowing about the various
worlds, which shine only by means of the mind-light functioning through
the five senses.
He cannot know Self if he is deluded by cognizing and desiring external
objects (like a worldly man) or if he is engaged in investigating them
(like our modern scientists).
This giving up of attention towards external sense-objects is
desirelessness or inward renunciation. The eagerness to see whence the
reflected ray comes into the room corresponds to the eagerness to see
whence the ego-‘I’, the mind-light, rises. This
is love for Self [swatma-bhakti].
Keeping the eyes positioned along the straight line of the beam without
straying away to one side or the other corresponds to the one-pointed
attention fixed unswervingly on the
not the man now moving along the straight line of the reflected beam
from the dark room towards the piece of mirror lying outside? This
moving corresponds to diving within towards the Heart.
“Just as one would dive in order to find something that had
fallen into the water, so one should dive within with a keen
(introverted) mind, controlling breath and speech, and know the
rising-place of the rising ego. Know thus!”
-- Ulladhu Narpadhu, verse 28
Some, taking only the words ‘should dive within controlling
breath and speech’, set out to practice exercises of
breath-control (pranayama). Although it is a fact that the breath stops
in the course of enquiry, for it to be stopped the roundabout way of
breath control (pranayama) is not necessary. When the mind, with a
tremendous longing to find the source which gives it light, turns
inwards, the breath stops automatically!
"Therefore, by the practice of fixing the mind (the attention) in
the Heart (Self), the pure consciousness, both the destruction of
tendencies (vasanas) and the control of the breath are
-- Ulladhu Narpadhu -- Anubandham, verse 24
If the breath of the enquirer is exhaled at the time of his mind thus
giving up knowing external sense-objects [vishayas] and starting to
attend to its
original form of light, Self, it automatically remains outside without
being again drawn in. Likewise, if it is inhaled at that time, it
automatically remains inside without being again exhaled! These are to
be taken as ‘external retention’ and
retention’ respectively. Until there is a rising of a thought
account of non-vigilance [pramada] in Self-attention, this retention
continue in an enquirer quite effortlessly.
By a little scrutiny, will it not be clear to anyone that even in our
everyday life when some startling news is suddenly brought to us or
when we try to recollect a forgotten thing with full concentration, the
breath stops automatically on account of the keenness of mind (the
intensity of concentration) that takes place then? Similarly, the
breath will stop automatically as soon as the mind, with an intense
longing to see its original form of light and with earnest
one-pointedness, begins to turn keenly and remain within. In this state
of retention, no matter how long it continues, the enquirer does not
experience suffocation, that is, the urge to exhale or inhale.
But while practicing pranayama, if the units of time [matras] of the
retention are increased, one does experience suffocation. If the
enquirer’s attention is so intensely fixed on Self that he
not even care to know whether the breath has stopped or not, then his
state of retention is involuntary and without struggle.
There are some aspirants, however, who try to know at that time whether
or not the breath has stopped. This is wrong, since the attention will
be lost and thereby various thoughts will shoot up and the flow of
sadhana will be interrupted. That is why Sri Bhagavan advised,
“Control breath and speech with a keen (introverted)
It would be wise to understand this verse thus, by adding
keen mind’ in all the three places: Control the breath with a
keen mind, dive within with a keen mind, and know the rising place with
a keen mind.
By his very moving along with it, does not
the man who positions his
eyes on the reflected beam reduce its length? Just as the length of the
beam decreases as he advances, so also the mind’s tendency of
expanding shrinks more and more as the aspirant perseveres in sincerely
seeking its source.
“When the attention goes deeper and deeper within along the
(reflected) ray ‘I’, its length decreases more and
and when the ray ‘I’ dies, that which shines as
‘I’ is Jnana .” – Atma Vichara
Patikam, verse 9 by Sri Sadhu Om.
When the man finally reaches very near to the piece of mirror, he can
be said to have reached the very source of the reflected ray. This is
similar to the aspirant diving within and reaching the source (Heart)
whence he had risen. Does not the man now attain a state where the
length of the reflected ray is reduced to nothing – a state
no reflection is possible because he is so close to the mirror?
Similarly, when the aspirant, on account of his diving deeper and
deeper within by an intense effort of Self-attention, is so close to
his source that not even an iota of rising of the ego is possible, he
remains absorbed in the
great dissolution of the ‘I am the
body’-feeling, which he had previously had as a target of
attention. This dissolution is what Sri Bhagavan refers to when He says
“’I’ will die” in Upadesa
Because of his mere search for the source of the reflected ray of the
sun, does not the man now, after leaving the dark room, stand in the
open space in a state of void created by the non-existence of that
reflected ray? This is the state of the aspirant remaining in the
Heart-space in the state of the great void created, through mere
Self-attention, by the non-existence of the
man who has come out of the room into the open space is dazed and
laments, “Alas! The sun that guided me so far (the reflected
is now lost.”
At this moment, a friend of his standing in the open space comes to him
with these words of solace: “Where were you all this time?
you not in the dark room? Where are you now? Are you not in the open
space? When you were in the dark room, that which guided you out was
just one thin ray of light; but here (in this vast open space), are not
the rays of light countless and in an unlimited mass? What you saw
previously was not even the direct sunlight, but only a reflected ray!
But what you are now experiencing is the direct sunlight. When the
place where you are now is nothing but the unlimited space of light,
can a darkness come into existence because of the void created by the
disappearance of the reflected ray? Can its disappearance be a loss? Know that its disappearance
itself is the true light; it is not
Similarly, by the experience of the great void [maha sunya], created by
annihilation of the ego, the aspirant is somewhat taken aback,
“Alas! Even the ‘I’-consciousness (the
ego), which I
was attending to in my sadhana till now as a beacon-light,
is lost! Then is there really no such thing at all as
At that very moment, the Sadguru, who is ever shining as his
Heart, points out to him thus, “Can the destruction of the
which is only an infinitesimal reflected consciousness, be really a
loss? Are you not clearly aware not only of its former existence, but
also of the present great void created by its disappearance? Therefore,
know that you, who know even the void as ‘this is a
alone are the true knowledge; you are not a void!”
True knowledge is being devoid of knowledge as well as ignorance of
objects. Knowledge of objects is not true knowledge. Since the Self
shines self-luminous, with nothing else for It to know, with nothing
else to know It, the Self is Knowledge. It is not a void. -- Ulladhu
Narpadhu, verse 12.
In an instant as a direct experience of the shining of his own
existence-consciousness by touching (flashing as sphurana) in
Heart as Heart, the aspirant who started the search ‘Whence
I?’ or ‘Who am I?’ now attains the
Self-knowledge, the true knowledge ‘I am that I
is devoid of the limitations of a particular place or time.
Clinging to the consciousness ‘I’ and thereby
greater and greater intensity of concentration upon it, is diving deep
within. Instead of thus diving within, many, thinking that
engaged in Self-enquiry, sit down for hours together simply repeating
mentally or vocally ‘Who am I?’ or
I?’. There are others again who, when they sit for enquiry,
their thoughts and endlessly repeat mentally the following questions
taught by Sri Bhagavan:
“To whom do these thoughts arise? To me; who am
sometimes they even wait for the next thought to come up so that they
can fling these questions at it! Even this is futile! Did we sit to
thus hold a court of enquiry, calling one thought after another! Is
this the sadhana of diving within? Therefore, we should not
remain watching ‘What is the next thought?’.
Merely to keep on questioning in this manner is not Self-attention.
Concerning those who thus merely float on the surface of thought-waves,
keeping their mind on these questions instead of diving within by
attending to the existence-consciousness with a keen mind, thereby
controlling mind, breath and all the activities of the body and senses,
Sri Bhagavan says:
"Compare him who asks himself ‘Who am I?’ and
which place am I?’, though he himself exists all the while as
the Self, to a drunken man who prattles ‘Who am I?’
‘Where am I?’ – Five Verses on the Self,
and further, He asks:
How to attain that state wherein ‘I’ does not rise
that state of egolessness (the great void or maha sunya) –
unless (instead of
floating like this) we seek the place whence ‘I’
unless we attain that (egolessness), how to abide in the state of Self,
where ‘We are That’ [soham]? --Ulladhu Narpadhu,
Therefore, all that we are to practice is to be still [summa iruppadu]
remembrance of the feeling ‘I’. It is only when
there is a
slackness of vigilance during Self-attention that thoughts, which are
an indication of it, will rise.
In other words, if thoughts rise it means that our Self-attention is
lost. It is only as a contrivance to win back Self-attention from
thought-attention that Sri Bhagavan advised us to ask ‘To
these thoughts appear?’. Since the answer ‘To
only a dative form of ‘I’, it will easily remind us
nominative form, the feeling ‘I’.
However, if we question ‘Who thinks these
the nominative form, the feeling ‘I’ , is obtained
answer, will not Self-attention which has been unnoticed, be regained
directly? This regaining of Self-attention is actually being Self (that
is, remaining or abiding as Self)! Such ‘being’
the correct sadhana; sadhana
is not doing, but
Some complain, ‘When the very rising of the ego from sleep is
surreptitious as to elude our notice, how can we see whence it rises?
It seems to be impossible!”
That is true because the mind’s effort of attention is absent
sleep, since the mind itself is not at all there! As ordinary people
are not acquainted with the knowledge of their
only with the knowledge of their ‘doing’ (that is,
knowledge of their making efforts), for such people it is impossible to
know from sleep the rising of the ego from there.
Since the effort considered by them as necessary is absent in sleep, it
is no wonder that they are unable to commence the enquiry from sleep
itself! But, since the whole of the waking state is a mere sportive
play of the ego and since the effort of the mind here is under the
experience of everyone, at least in the waking state one can turn and
attend to the pseudo ‘I’ shining in the form
"Turning inwards, daily see yourself with an introverted look and It
(the Reality) will be known’ -- thus did you tell
me, O my
-- The Marital Garland of Letters, verse 44 by Sri Ramana.
The enquiry begins only during the leisure hours of the waking state
when one sits for practice. Just as a thing comes to our memory when
its name is thought of, does not the first person feeling come to
everyone’s memory as soon as the name (pronoun)
is thought of?
Although this first person feeling is only the ego, the pseudo
‘I’ consciousness, it does not matter. Having our attention
withdrawn from second and third persons and clinging to the first
person – that alone is sadhana.
As soon as the
attention turns towards the first person feeling, not only do other
thoughts disappear, but also the first thought, the rising and
expanding pseudo ‘I’ consciousness, itself begins
When the mind, the ego, which wanders outside knowing only other
objects (second and third persons) begins to attend to its own nature,
all other objects will disappear and, by experiencing its true nature
(Self), the pseudo ‘I’ will also die. –
of Guru’s sayings, verse 193
Another translation of that same verse: “If the mind turned
outward and distracted, starts observing its own being, Alienation
ends, the vestige ego, merges in the light of true Awareness shining in
the heart.” – verse 193
“If the fickle mind turns towards the first person, the first
person (the ego) will become non-existent and That which really exists
will then shine forth.” - Eleven Verses on Self-enquiry,
by Sadhu Om.
This is the great revelation made by Bhagavan Sri Ramana and bestowed
by Him as
a priceless boon upon the world of spiritual aspirants in order to
bring Vedanta easily under practical experience.
Just as a rubber ball gains greater and greater momentum while bouncing
down the staircase, the more the concentration in clinging to the first
person consciousness is intensified, the faster is the contraction of
the first thought (the ego), till finally it merges in its source.
That which now merges thus is only the adjunct
[upadhi], the feeling ‘so
and so’ which, at the moment of waking, came and mixed with
pure existence-consciousness, which was shinning in sleep as
am’, to constitute the form of the ego, ‘I am
so-and-so’, ‘I am this’ or ‘I
That is, what has come and mixed now slips away. All that an aspirant
can experience in the beginning of his practice is only the slipping
away (subsidence) of the ego. Since the aspirant tracks down the ego
from the waking state, where it is in full play, in the beginning it is
possible for him to cognize only its removal. But to cognize its rising
(how it rises and holds on to ‘I am’) from sleep
more difficult for him at this stage.
When Self-attention is started from the waking consciousness
am so-and-so’, since it is only the adjunct, the feeling
‘so-and-so’, that slips away (because it is merely
non-existent, and unreal thing (the unreal dies and the Reality alone
survives), the aspirant even now (when ’so-and-so’
dropped off) feels no loss to the consciousness ‘I
which he had experienced in the waking state.
Now he attains a state which is similar to the sleep he has experienced
every day and which is devoid of all and everything (because,
‘The ego is verily all – sarvam, since the whole
is nothing but thoughts, is an expansion of the ego). But a great
difference is now experienced by him between the sleep that, without
his knowledge, has been coming and overwhelming him all these days due
to the complete exhaustion of mind and body, and this sleep which is
now voluntarily brought on and experienced by him with the full
consciousness of the waking state. How?
is consciousness, this is not sleep, and because
there is the absence of thoughts, it is not the waking state; it is
therefore the existence-consciousness, the unbroken nature of the
Auspicious One who destroys illusion. Without leaving it, abide in it
with great love.”
-– From the Essence of Spiritual Practice
by Sri Sadhu Om
Whenever the aspirant during the time of sadhana becomes
extroverted from this voluntarily brought-about sleep-like state, he
feels absolutely certain, ‘I was not sleeping, but was all
while fully conscious of myself’.
Though his real aspect (existence-consciousness) is ever knowing
without the least doubt its own existence in sleep as ‘I
am’, whenever he becomes extroverted from everyday sleep,
he (the mind) did not even once have the experience of continuing to
know ‘I am’ from the waking state, he can only say
slept, I did not know myself at that time’.
The truth is this: since the state of his Self-existence, devoid of the
adjunct ‘so-and-so’, is traced out and caught hold
the voluntarily brought about sleep with the full consciousness
continuing from the waking state, the knowledge that the pure
existence-consciousness knows itself as ‘I am’ is
this sleep state. That is why the aspirant now says ‘I did
throughout, I did not sleep!’.
Prior to his sadhana,
since he was throughout the waking
state identifying as ‘I’ the mind, which is the
form of the
adjunct ‘so-and-so’, after waking up from the
daily sleep, where the mind did not exist, this mind (the man) says
‘I did not exist in sleep!’. That is all!
Those who experience many times this removal of the ego through
practice, since they have an acquaintance with the experience of their
pure existence-consciousness as ‘I am’ even after
removal of the ego, can minutely cognize, even at the moment of just
waking up from sleep, how the adjunct ‘so-and-so’
mixes. Those who do not have such strength of practice cannot cognize,
from sleep itself, the ego at its place of rising.
The only thing that is easy for them is to find the ego’s
of setting (which is also its place of rising) through the effort
started from the waking state. In either case, the end and the
achievement will be the same. When the attention is focused deeper and
deeper within towards the feeling ‘I am’ and when
thereby shrinks more and more into nothingness, our power of attention
becomes subtler than the subtlest atom and thereby grows sharper and
Hence, the strength of abidance [nishtha-bala] will now be achieved to
between two states, that is, in a state after the end of sleep and
before waking up, in other words, before being possessed by the first
thought. Through this strength, the skill will now be gained by the
aspirant to find out the adjunct ‘so and so’, which
and mixes, to be a mere second person (that is, although it has
hitherto been appearing as if it were the first person, it will now be
clearly seen to be his mere shadow, non-Self, the primal sheath, a
thing alien to him).
This is what Janaka, the royal Sage, meant when he said “I
found out the thief (the time of his coming – the time and
of the ego’s rising) who has been ruining me all along; I
inflict the right punishment upon him”.
Since the ego, which was acting till now as if it were the first
person, is found to be a second person alien to us, the right
punishment is to destroy it at its very place of rising (just as the
reflected ray is destroyed at its place of rising) by clinging
steadfastly to the real first person (the real import of the word
‘I’), existence-consciousness, through the method
regaining Self-attention taught by Bhagavan Sri Ramana (‘To
whom? To me;
who am I?’).
you practice more and more abiding in this
existence-consciousness (that is, remaining in the state between sleep
and waking), the ordinary sleep which had previously been taking
possession of you will melt away, and the waking which was full of
sense-knowledge [vishayas] will not creep in again. Therefore
untiringly abide in it.”
-- Sadhanai Saram by
Sri Sadhu Om
By greater and more steadfast practice of abiding in this
existence-consciousness, we will experience that this state seems to
come often and take possession of us of its own accord whenever we are
free from our daily work. But, since this state of
is in fact nothing but ‘we’, it is wrong to think
a state comes and takes possession of us! While at work, we attend to
other things; after that work is over and before we attend to some
other second or third person, we naturally abide in our real state,
Though this happens to one and all every day, it is only to those who
have the experience of Self-consciousness through the aforesaid
practice that the state of Self-abidance will be clearly discerned
after leaving one second person thought and before catching another one
(that is, between two thoughts).
Why has it been said (in the above two verses of ‘Sadhana
Saram’) that one ought to make effort repeatedly to
be in that state (our existence-consciousness) and ought to abide in it
with more and more love? Because, until all the
tendencies [vasanas] which drive one out of it are
completely exhausted, this state will seem to come and go. Hence the
need for continued effort and love to abide in Self.
When, through this practice our state of existence-consciousness is
experienced always as inescapably natural, then there will be no harm
even if waking dream and sleep pass across.
For those who are well
established in the unending Self-consciousness, which pervades and
transcends all these three so-called states (waking, dream and sleep),
there is but one state, the Whole, the All, and that alone is real!
This state, which is devoid even of the feeling ‘I am making
effort’, is your natural state of being! Be!!"
-- Sadhanai Saram by Sri Sadhu Om.
Just as the man came out into the open space from the dark room by
steadfastly holding on to and moving along the reflected ray, so the
enquirer reaches the open space of Heart, coming out of the prison, the
attachment to the body through the nerves [nadis], by assiduously
holding on to
the feeling ‘I am’. Let us now see how this process
takes place in the body of an advanced enquirer.
Just on waking up from sleep, a consciousness ‘I’
like a flash of lightening from the Heart to the brain. From the brain
it then spreads throughout the body along the nerves. This
I-consciousness is like electrical energy. Its impetus or voltage is
the force of attachment with which it identifies a body as
‘I’. This consciousness, which spreads with such a
tremendous impetus and speed all over the body as
remains pure, having no adjunct [upadhi] attached to it, till it
brain from the Heart.
Since its force of attachment is so great that the time taken by it to
shoot up from the Heart to the brain is extremely short, one millionth
of a second so to speak, ordinary people are unable to cognize it in
its pure condition, devoid of any adjunct. This pure condition of the
rising ‘I’-consciousness is what was pointed out by
Sri Bhagavan when He said:
In the space
between two states or two thoughts, the pure ego (the pure
condition or true nature of the ego) is experienced.
Gospel, Book One, chapter five, entitled ‘Self and
For this ‘I’-consciousness that spreads from the
brain at a
tremendous speed throughout the body, the nerves [nadis] are the
lines, like wires for electrical power. (How many they are is
immaterial here). The mixing of the pure consciousness ‘I
am’, after reaching the brain, with an adjunct as
this, I am so-and-so, I am the body’ is what is called
bondage [bandham] or
the knot [granthi].
This knot has two forms: the knot of bondage to the nerves and the knot
of attachment. The connection of this power, the
‘I’-consciousness, with the gross nervous system is
‘the knot of bondage to the nerves’, and its
with the causal body, whose form is the latent tendencies, is called
‘the knot of attachment’. The knot of bondage to
pertains to the breath, while the knot of attachment pertains to the
"Mind and breath, which have thought and action as their respective
functions, are like two diverging branches of the trunk of a tree, but
their root (the activating power) is one."
-– The Essence of
Instruction, verse 12 by Bhagavan Sri Ramana.
Since the source of the mind and the breath is one (the Heart), when
the knot of attachment is severed by the annihilation of the mind
through Self-enquiry, the knot of bondage to the nerves - is also
severed. In raja yoga, after removing the knot of bondage to the nerves
by means of breath-control, if the mind which is thus controlled is
made to enter the Heart from the brain [sahasrara], since it reaches
then the knot of attachment is also severed.
"When the mind which has been subdued by breath-control is led (to the
Heart) through the only path (the path of knowing Self), its form will
-– The Essence of Instruction, verse 14 by Sri Ramana.
However, since the knot of attachment is the basic
one, until and
unless the destruction of attachment is effected by knowing Self, even
when the knot of bondage to the nerves is temporarily removed in sleep,
swoon, death or by the use of anesthetics, the knot of attachment
remains unaffected in the form of tendencies-habits-predispositions,
which constitute the causal body, and hence rebirths are inescapable.
This is why Sri Bhagavan insists that one reaching
kashta-nirvikalpa-samadhi through raja yoga should not stop there
(since it is only a temporary absorption of the mind), but that the
mind so absorbed should be led to the Heart in order to attain
sahaja-nirvikalpa-samadhi, which is the destruction of the mind and the
destruction of the attachment to the body.
In the body of such a Self-realized One [sahaja jnani], the coursing of
‘I’-consciousness along the nerves, even after the
destruction of the knot of attachment, is like the water on a lotus
leaf or like a burnt rope, and thus it cannot cause bondage. Therefore
the destruction of the knot of attachment is anyway indispensable for
the attainment of the natural state, the state of the destruction of
The nerves are gross, but the consciousness-power that courses through
them is subtle. The connection of the ‘I-consciousness with
nerves is similar to that of the electrical power with the wires, that
is, it is so unstable that it can be disconnected or connected in a
second. Is it not an experience common to one and all that this
connection is daily broken in sleep and effected in the waking state?
When this connection is effected, body-consciousness rises, and when it
is broken, body-consciousness is lost.
Here it is to be remembered what has already been stated, namely that
body-consciousness and world-consciousness are one and the same. So,
like our clothes and ornaments, which are daily removed and put on,
this knot is alien to us, a transitory and false entity hanging loosely
on us! This is what Sri Bhagavan referred to when He said:
“We can detach our self from what we are not”!
Disconnecting the knot in such a way that it will never again come into
being is called by many names such as ‘the cutting of the
knot’ [granthi-bheda], ‘the destruction of the
mind’ [mano-nasa], and so on.
‘In such a way that it will never again come into
means this: by attending to it (the ego) through the enquiry
‘Does it in truth exist at present?’ in order to
whether it had ever really come into being, there takes place the dawn
of knowledge [jnana], the real waking, where it is clearly and firmly
that no such knot has ever come into being, that no such ego has ever
risen, that ‘that which exists’ alone ever exists,
that which was existing as ‘I am’ is ever existing
The attainment of this knowledge (Self-knowledge or atma-jnana), the
the knot or bondage is at all times non-existent and has never risen,
is the permanent disconnecting of the knot. Let us explain this with a
“Alas! I am imprisoned! I have been caught within this
room! How to free myself?” - thus was a man complaining and
sobbing, standing in a corner where the ends of two walls joined.
Groping on the two walls in front of him with his two hands, he was
lamenting: “No doorway is available, nor even any kind of
for me to escape through! How can I get out?”
Another man, a friend of his who was standing at a distance in the
open, heard the lamenting, turned in that direction and noticed the
state of his friend. There were only two walls in that open space. They
were closing only two sides, one end of each of them meeting the other.
The friend in the open quickly realized that the man, who was standing
facing only the two walls in front of him, had concluded, due to the
wrong notion that there was a third wall behind him, that he was
imprisoned within a three-walled room.
So he asked, ‘Why are you lamenting, groping on the
“I am searching for a way through which to escape from the
of this triangular room, but I don’t find any way
replied the man.
The friend: “Well, why don’t you search for a way
out on the third wall behind you!”
The man (turning and looking): “Ah, here there is no
Let me run through this way.” (So saying, he started to run
The friend: “What! Why do you run away? Is it necessary for
to do so? If you do not run away, will you remain in prison?”
The man: “Oho! yes, yes,! I was not at all imprisoned! How
have been imprisoned when there was no wall behind me? It was merely my
own delusion that I was imprisoned. I was never imprisoned, nor am I
now released! So I do not even need to run away from near these walls
where I am now! The defect of my not looking behind was the reason for
my so-called bondage; and the turning of my attention behind is really
the spiritual practice for my so-called liberation! In reality, I am
ever remaining as I am, without any imprisonment or release!”
Thus knowing the truth, he remained quiet.
The two walls in the story signify the second and third persons. The
first person is the third wall said to be behind the man. There is no
way at all to liberation by means of second and third person attention.
Only by the first person attention ‘Who am I?’ will
right knowledge be gained that the ego, the first person, is ever
non-existent, and only when the first person is thus annihilated will
the truth be realized that bondage and liberation are false.
"So long as one thinks like a madman ‘I am a bound
thoughts of bondage and liberation will last. When looking into oneself
‘Who is this bound one?’, the eternally free and
ever-shining Self alone will (be found to) exist. Thus, where the
thought of bondage no longer stands, can the thought of liberation
-- Forty verses, verse 39.
(In the grammar of most languages, including Sanskrit, the first
person, ‘I’, the second person,
‘you’, and the
third person, ‘he, she, it and so on’, are each
as a person. But in Tamil grammar these three are termed respectively
as the first place, second place and third place. Classifying them thus
as places is a very helpful clue for aspirants. How? Is not the sole
aim of sincere aspirants on the path to Reality to transcend illusion
and to reach the Absolute, the Supreme Self? How then to cross or
Time and place are the two foremost conceptions projected by illusion.
Not even a single thought can be formed which is not bound up with
illusion in the form of these two conceptions, time and place. Every
thought must involve a past and future time (because each thought is
formed in a moment of time, and each moment of time is merely a change
from past to future) and must also involve an attention to a second or
On the other hand, if one tries to form a thought of either the present
time or the first person (that is, if one attends to either of these),
all thoughts will cease – because the present out of the
times and the first person out of the three places are the
root-conceptions, and the important characteristic of these two
root-conceptions is that they will disappear, losing their existence,
if they are sought for by being attended to.
Thus, when this primal time (the present) and primal place (the first
person) lose their existence, even their source, illusion (maya which
means ‘that which does not exist’), itself
it has no true existence of its own. This is the state transcending
illusion and hence the ever-existing, one, whole and unlimited Self
alone then shines!)
Just as we have explained the three walls as representing the three
places, the first, second and third persons, we can also explain them
as representing the three times, the present, past and future. Even
though the attention to the present – avoiding all thoughts
past and future – in order to know what is the truth of the
present, all thoughts will subside and the
will vanish. How?
That which happened one moment before now is considered by us to be
past, and that which will happen one moment from now is considered to
be future. Therefore without paying attention to any time even one
moment before or after this, if we try to know what that one moment is
that exists now, then even one millionth of the so-called present
moment will be found to be either past or future.
If even such subtlest past and future moments are also not attended to
and if we try to know what is in-between these two, the past and
future, we will find that nothing can be found as an exact present.
Thus the conception of present time will disappear, being non-existent,
and the Self-existence, which transcends time and place, alone will
"The past and future can exist only with reference to the present,
is daily experienced; they too, while occurring, were and will be the
present. Therefore, (among the three times) the present alone exists.
Trying to know the past and future without knowing the truth of the
present (i.e. its non-existence) is like trying to count without
(knowing the value of the unit) one!"
-- Forty Verses, verse 15.
"When scrutinized, we – the ever-known existing Thing
alone are; then where is time and where is place? If we are (mistaken
to be) the body, we shall be involved in time and place. 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
– alone are!"
-- Forty Verses, verse 16.
Hence, attending to the first place (the first person) among the three
places or attending to the present time among the three times, is the
only path to liberation. Even this, the path of Sri Ramana, is not
really for the removal of bondage or the attainment of liberation! The
path of Sri Ramana is paved solely for the purpose of our ever abiding
in our eternal state of pure bliss, by giving up even the thought of
liberation through the dawn of the right knowledge that we have never
been in bondage.
"Only the first place or the present time, is advised to be attended
If you keenly do so, you will enjoy the bliss of Self having completed
all yogas and having achieved the supreme accomplishment. Know and
feast on it!"
-- From The Essence of Spiritual Practice by Sri Sadhu Om.
Let us now again take up our original point. When the
attention of an
aspirant is turned towards second and third persons, the
‘I’-consciousness spreads from the brain all over
through the nerves in the form of the power of spreading; but when the
same attention is focused on the first person, since it is used in an
opposite direction, the ‘I’-consciousness , instead
functioning in the form of the power of spreading, takes the form of
the power of Self-attention (that is, the power of
is transformed into the power of ‘being’). This is
called ‘the churning of the nerves.
By the churning thus taking place in the nerves, the
‘I’-consciousness scattered throughout the nerves
back, withdraws and collects in the brain, the starting point of its
spreading, and from there it reaches, drowns and is established in the
Heart, the pure consciousness, the source of its rising.
In raja-yoga, the ‘I’-consciousness pervading all
nerves is forcibly pushed back to the starting point of its spreading
by the power generated through the pressure of breath-retention. But
this is a violent method. The following is what Sri Ramana used to say:
Forcibly pushing back the ‘I’-consciousness by
breath-retention, as is done in raja yoga, is a violent method, like
chasing a run-away cow, beating it, catching hold of it, dragging it
forcibly to the shed and finally tying it there. On the other hand,
bringing back the ‘I’-consciousness to its source
enquiry is a gentle and peaceful method, like tempting the cow by
showing it a handful of green grass, cajoling and fondling it, making
it follow us of its own accord to the shed and finally tying it there.
This is a safe and pleasant path. To bear the churning of the nerves
effected through the method of breath-retention in raja yoga, the body
must be young and strong. If such a churning is made to happen in a
body which is weak or old, since the body does not have the strength to
bear it, many troubles may occur such as nervous disorders, physical
diseases, insanity and so on. But there is no room for any such dangers
if the churning is made to take place through enquiry.
"To say, ‘By holding the attention on Self, the
by practicing abiding in It, he became insane’, is just like
saying ‘By drinking the nectar of immortality, he
– From the Garland of Guru’s Sayings, 745
by Sri Muruganar.
In the path of enquiry, withdrawal from the nerves takes place without
any strain and as peacefully as the incoming of sleep. The rule found
in some scriptures that the goal should be reached before the age of
thirty is therefore applicable only in the path of raja yoga, and not
in enquiry, the path of Sri Ramana!
The channel through which the ‘I’-consciousness,
risen from the Heart and has spread all over the body and is
experienced while it is being withdrawn is called the sushumna nadi
(nerve). Not taking into consideration the legs and arms, since they
are only subsidiary limbs, the channel through which the
‘I’-consciousness is experienced in the trunk of
from the base of the spine (muladhara) to the top of the head
(sahasrara) is alone the sushumna.
While the ‘I’-consciousness is withdrawing through
sushumna, and aspirant may have experiences of the places of the six
yogi centers (shadchakras) on the way, or even without having them may
reach the Heart directly. While traveling in a train to Delhi, it is
not necessary that a man should see the stations and scenes on the way.
Can he not reach Delhi unmindful of them, sleeping Happily?
However, due to the past devotional tendencies towards the different
names and forms of God, which are bound by time and place, some
aspirants may have experiences of the six yogi centers and of divine
visions, sounds and so on therein. But for those who do not have such
obstacles in the form of tendencies, the journey will be pleasant and
without any distinguishing feature.
In the former case, these experiences are due to non-vigilance in
Self-attention, for they are nothing but a second person attention
taking place there! This itself betrays that the attention to Self is
lost! For those tremendously earnest aspirants who do not at all give
room to non-vigilance in Self-attention, these objective experiences
will never occur!
The following replies of Sri Ramakrishna are worth being noted in this
context: When Swami Vivekananda reported to Him “All say that
they have had visions, but I have not seen any!” the Guru
“That is good!” On another occasion, when Swami
reported that some occult powers such as clairvoyance seemed to have
been gained by him in the course of his spiritual practice, his Guru
warned him “Stop your spiritual practice for some time. Let
leave you!” It is therefore clear from this that such
can be had only by those who delay by often stopping on the way on
account of their Self-attention being obstructed by lack of vigilance.
Even though the ‘I’-consciousness while being
courses only along the sushumna nadi, on account of its extreme
brilliance it illumines the five sense organs, which are near the
sushumna, and hence the above-mentioned experiences happen. How?
When the light of ‘I’-consciousness stationed in
sushumna illumines the eye, the organ of sight, there will be visions
of Gods and many celestial worlds; when it illumines the ear, the organ
of hearing, celestial sounds will be heard such as the playing of
divine instruments, the ringing of divine bells, sacred sounds and so
on; when it illumines the organ of smell, delightful divine fragrances
will be smelt; when it illumines the organ of taste, delicious
celestial nectar will be tasted; and when it illumines the organ of
touch, a feeling of extreme pleasure will permeate the entire body or a
feeling of floating in an ocean of pleasantness will be experienced.
There is no wonder that these experiences appear to be clearer and of
greater reality than the sense-experiences in the ordinary waking
state, because the experience of the senses, are functioning by the
impure ‘I-‘-consciousness scattered all over the
whereas these experiences of celestial worlds are gained through the
subtle five senses, which are functioning by the pure, focused
‘I’-consciousness. Yet all these are only qualified
experiences and not the unqualified Self-experience.
Since the mind is now very subtle and brilliant because it is withdrawn
from all the other nerves into the sushumna, and since it is extremely
pure because it is free from worldly desires, it is now able to project
through the subtle five senses only the past auspicious
tendencies [vasanas] as described above. However, just
because of these visions and the like, one should not conclude that the
mind has been transformed into Self (atman). Even now there has not
been destruction of the mind. Being still alive with auspicious
tendencies, it creates and perceives subtler and more lustrous second
and third person objects, and finds enjoyment in them.
So this is not at all the unqualified experience of true knowledge,
which is the destruction of the tendencies-habits-predispositions.
Whatever appears and is experienced