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Who Am I - Nan Yar?
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Dr. T. M. P. MAHADEVAN
from the original Tamil
V. S. RAMANAN
PRESIDENT, BOARD OF TRUSTEES
TIRUVANNAMALAI, S. INDIA
"Who am I?" is the title given to a set of questions and answers
bearing on Self-enquiry. The questions were put to Bhagavan Sri Ramana
Maharshi by one Sri M. Sivaprakasam Pillai about the year 1902. Sri
Pillai, a graduate in Philosophy, was at the time employed in the
Revenue Department of the South Arcot Collectorate. During his visit to
Tiruvannamalai in 1902 on official work, he went to Virupaksha Cave on
Arunachala Hill and met the Master there. He sought from him spiritual
guidance, and solicited answers to questions relating to Self-enquiry.
As Bhagavan was not talking then, not because of any vow he had taken,
but because he did not have the inclination to talk, he answered the
questions put to him by gestures, and when these were not understood,
by writing. As recollected and recorded by Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai,
there were fourteen questions with answers to them given by Bhagavan.
This record was first published by Sri Pillai in 1923, along with a
couple of poems composed by himself relating how Bhagavan's grace
operated in his case by dispelling his doubts and by saving him from a
crisis in life. 'Who am I?' has been published several times
subsequently. We find thirty questions and answers in some editions and
twenty-eight in others. There is also another published version in
which the questions are not given, and the teachings are rearranged in
the form of an essay. The extant English translation is of this essay.
The present rendering is of the text in the form of twenty-eight
questions and answers.
Along with Vicharasangraham (Self-Enquiry), Nan Yar (Who am I?)
constitutes the first set of instructions in the Master's own words.
These two are the only prosepieces among Bhagavan's Works. They clearly
set forth the central teaching that the direct path to liberation is
Self-enquiry. The particular mode in which the enquiry is to be made is
lucidly set forth in Nan Yar. The mind consists of thoughts. The 'I'
thought is the first to arise in the mind. When the enquiry ' Who am
I?' is persistently pursued, all other thoughts get destroyed, and
finally the 'I' thought itself vanishes leaving the supreme non-dual
Self alone. The false identification of the Self with the phenomena of
non-self such as the body and mind thus ends, and there is
illumination, Sakshatkara. The process of enquiry of course, is not an
easy one. As one enquires 'Who am I?', other thoughts will arise; but
as these arise, one should not yield to them by following them , on the
contrary, one should ask 'To whom do they arise ?' In order to do this,
one has to be extremely vigilant. Through constant enquiry one should
make the mind stay in its source, without allowing it to wander away
and get lost in the mazes of thought created by itself. All other
disciplines such as breath-control and meditation on the forms of God
should be regarded as auxiliary practices. They are useful in so far as
they help the mind to become quiescent and one-pointed.
For the mind that has gained skill in concentration, Self-enquiry
becomes comparatively easy. It is by ceaseless enquiry that the
thoughts are destroyed and the Self realized - the plenary Reality in
which there is not even the 'I' thought, the experience which is
referred to as "Silence".
This, in substance, is Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi's teaching in Nan
Yar (Who am I?).
T. M. P. MAHADEVAN
University of Madras
June 30, 1982
Om Namo Bhagavathe Sri Ramanaya
Who Am I? - (Nan Yar?)
As all living beings desire to be happy always, without misery, as in
the case of everyone there is observed supreme love for one's self, and
as happiness alone is the cause for love, in order to gain that
happiness which is one's nature and which is experienced in the state
of deep sleep where there is no mind, one should know one's self. For
that, the path of knowledge, the inquiry of the form "Who am I?", is
the principal means.
1 . Who am I ?
The gross body which is composed of the seven humours (dhatus), I am
not; the five cognitive sense organs, viz. the senses of hearing,
touch, sight, taste, and smell, which apprehend their respective
objects, viz. sound, touch, colour, taste, and odour, I am not; the
five cognitive sense-organs, viz. the organs of speech, locomotion,
grasping, excretion, and procreation, which have as their respective
functions speaking, moving, grasping, excreting, and enjoying, I am
not; the five vital airs, prana, etc., which perform respectively the
five functions of in-breathing, etc., I am not; even the mind which
thinks, I am not; the nescience too, which is endowed only with the
residual impressions of objects, and in which there are no objects and
no functioning's, I am not.
2. If I am none of these, then who am I?
After negating all of the above-mentioned as 'not this', 'not this',
that Awareness which alone remains - that I am.
3. What is the nature of Awareness?
The nature of Awareness is existence-consciousness-bliss
4. When will the realization of the Self be gained?
When the world which is what-is-seen has been removed, there will be
realization of the Self which is the seer.
5. Will there not be realization of the Self even while the world is
there (taken as real)?
There will not be.
The seer and the object seen are like the rope and the snake. Just as
the knowledge of the rope which is the substrate will not arise unless
the false knowledge of the illusory serpent goes, so the realization of
the Self which is the substrate will not be gained unless the belief
that the world is real is removed.
7. When will the world which is the object seen be removed?
When the mind, which is the cause of all cognition's and of all
actions, becomes quiescent, the world will disappear.
8. What is the nature of the mind?
What is called 'mind' is a wondrous power residing in the Self. It
causes all thoughts to arise. Apart from thoughts, there is no such
thing as mind. Therefore, thought is the nature of mind. Apart from
thoughts, there is no independent entity called the world. In deep
sleep there are no thoughts, and there is no world. In the states of
waking and dream, there are thoughts, and there is a world also. Just
as the spider emits the thread (of the web) out of itself and again
withdraws it into itself, likewise the mind projects the world out of
itself and again resolves it into itself. When the mind comes out of
the Self, the world appears. Therefore, when the world appears (to be
real), the Self does not appear; and when the Self appears (shines) the
world does not appear. When one persistently inquires into the nature
of the mind, the mind will end leaving the Self (as the residue). What
is referred to as the Self is the Atman. The mind always exists only in
dependence on something gross; it cannot stay alone. It is the mind
that is called the subtle body or the soul (jiva).
9. What is the path of inquiry for understanding the nature of the mind?
That which rises as 'I' in this body is the mind. If one inquires as to
where in the body the thought 'I' rises first, one would discover that
it rises in the heart. That is the place of the mind's origin. Even if
one thinks constantly 'I' 'I', one will be led to that place. 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.
10. How will the mind become quiescent?
By the inquiry 'Who am I?'. The thought 'who am I?' will destroy all
other thoughts, and like the stick used for stirring the burning pyre,
it will itself in the end get destroyed. Then, there will arise
11. What is the means for constantly holding on to the thought 'Who am
When other thoughts arise, one should not pursue them, but should
inquire: 'To whom do they arise?' It does not matter how many thoughts
arise. As each thought arises, one should inquire with diligence, "To
whom has this thought arisen?". The answer that would emerge would be
"To me". Thereupon 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 it in the Heart is what is called "inwardness"
(antar-mukha). Letting the mind go out of the Heart is known as
"externalisation" (bahir-mukha). Thus, when the mind stays in the
Heart, the 'I' which is the source of all thoughts will go, and the
Self which ever exists will shine. Whatever one does, one should do
without the egoity "I". If one acts in that way, all will appear as of
the nature of Siva (God).
12. Are there no other means for making the mind quiescent?
Other than inquiry, there are no adequate means. If through other means
it is sought to control the mind, the mind will appear to be
controlled, but will again go forth. Through the control of breath
also, the mind will become quiescent; but it will be quiescent only so
long as the breath remains controlled, and when the breath resumes the
mind also will again start moving and will wander as impelled by
residual impressions. The source is the same for both mind and breath.
Thought, indeed, is the nature of the mind. The thought "I" is the
first thought of the mind; and that is egoity. It is from that whence
egoity originates that breath also originates. Therefore, when the mind
becomes quiescent, the breath is controlled, and when the breath is
controlled the mind becomes quiescent. But in deep sleep, although the
mind becomes quiescent, the breath does not stop. This is because of
the will of God, so that the body may be preserved and other people may
not be under the impression that it is dead. In the state of waking and
in samadhi, when the mind becomes quiescent the breath is controlled.
Breath is the gross form of mind. Till the time of death, the mind
keeps breath in the body; and when the body dies the mind takes the
breath along with it. Therefore, the exercise of breath-control is only
an aid for rendering the mind quiescent (manonigraha); it will not
destroy the mind (manonasa). Like the practice of breath-control.
meditation on the forms of God, repetition of mantras, restriction on
food, etc., are but aids for rendering the mind quiescent.
Through meditation on the forms of God and through repetition of
mantras, the mind becomes one-pointed. The mind will always be
wandering. Just as when a chain is given to an elephant to hold in its
trunk it will go along grasping the chain and nothing else, so also
when the mind is occupied with a name or form it will grasp that alone.
When the mind expands in the form of countless thoughts, each thought
becomes weak; but as thoughts get resolved the mind becomes one-pointed
and strong; for such a mind Self-inquiry will become easy. Of all the
restrictive rules, that relating to the taking of sattvic food in
moderate quantities is the best; by observing this rule, the sattvic
quality of mind will increase, and that will be helpful to Self-inquiry.
13. The residual impressions (thoughts) of objects appear wending like
the waves of an ocean. When will all of them get destroyed?
As the meditation on the Self rises higher and higher, the thoughts
will get destroyed.
14. Is it possible for the residual impressions of objects that come
from beginningless time, as it were, to be resolved, and for one to
remain as the pure Self?
Without yielding to the doubt "Is it possible, or not?", one should
persistently hold on to the meditation on the Self. Even if one be a
great sinner, one should not worry and weep "O! I am a sinner, how can
I be saved?"; one should completely renounce the thought "I am a
sinner"; and concentrate keenly on meditation on the Self; then, one
would surely succeed. There are not two minds - one good and the other
evil; the mind is only one. It is the residual impressions that are of
two kinds - auspicious and inauspicious. When the mind is under the
influence of auspicious impressions it is called good; and when it is
under the influence of inauspicious impressions it is regarded as evil.
The mind should not be allowed to wander towards worldly objects and
what concerns other people. However bad other people may be, one should
bear no hatred for them. Both desire and hatred should be eschewed. All
that one gives to others one gives to one's self. If this truth is
understood who will not give to others? When one's self arises all
arises; when one's self becomes quiescent all becomes quiescent. To the
extent we behave with humility, to that extent there will result good.
If the mind is rendered quiescent, one may live anywhere.
15. How long should inquiry be practised?
As long as there are impressions of objects in the mind, so long the
inquiry "Who am I?" is required. As thoughts arise they should be
destroyed then and there in the very place of their origin, through
inquiry. If one resorts to contemplation of the Self unintermittently,
until the Self is gained, that alone would do. As long as there are
enemies within the fortress, they will continue to sally forth; if they
are destroyed as they emerge, the fortress will fall into our hands.
16. What is the nature of the Self?
What exists in truth is the Self alone. The world, the individual soul,
and God are appearances in it. like silver in mother-of-pearl, these
three appear at the same time, and disappear at the same time. The Self
is that where there is absolutely no "I" thought. That is called
"Silence". The Self itself is the world; the Self itself is "I"; the
Self itself is God; all is Siva, the Self.
17. Is not everything the work of God?
Without desire, resolve, or effort, the sun rises; and in its mere
presence, the sun-stone emits fire, the lotus blooms, water evaporates;
people perform their various functions and then rest. Just as in the
presence of the magnet the needle moves, it is by virtue of the mere
presence of God that the souls governed by the three (cosmic) functions
or the fivefold divine activity perform their actions and then rest, in
accordance with their respective karmas. God has no resolve; no karma
attaches itself to Him. That is like worldly actions not affecting the
sun, or like the merits and demerits of the other four elements not
affecting all pervading space.
18. Of the devotees, who is the greatest?
He who gives himself up to the Self that is God is the most excellent
devotee. Giving one's self up to God means remaining constantly in the
Self without giving room for the rise of any thoughts other than that
of the Self. Whatever burdens are thrown on God, He bears them. Since
the supreme power of God makes all things move, why should we, without
submitting ourselves to it, constantly worry ourselves with thoughts as
to what should be done and how, and what should not be done and how
not? We know that the train carries all loads, so after getting on it
why should we carry our small luggage on our head to our discomfort,
instead of putting it down in the train and feeling at ease?
19. What is non-attachment?
As thoughts arise, destroying them utterly without any residue in the
very place of their origin is non-attachment. Just as the pearl-diver
ties a stone to his waist, sinks to the bottom of the sea and there
takes the pearls, so each one of us should be endowed with
non-attachment, dive within oneself and obtain the Self-Pearl.
20. Is it not possible for God and the Guru to effect the release of a
God and the Guru will only show the way to release; they will not by
themselves take the soul to the state of release. In truth, God and the
Guru are not different. Just as the prey which has fallen into the jaws
of a tiger has no escape, so those who have come within the ambit of
the Guru's gracious look will be saved by the Guru and will not get
lost; yet, each one should by his own effort pursue the path shown by
God or Guru and gain release. One can know oneself only with one's own
eye of knowledge, and not with somebody else's. Does he who is Rama
require the help of a mirror to know that he is Rama?
21. Is it necessary for one who longs for release to inquire into the
nature of categories (tattvas)?
Just as one who wants to throw away garbage has no need to analyse it
and see what it is, so one who wants to know the Self has no need to
count the number of categories or inquire into their characteristics;
what he has to do is to reject altogether the categories that hide the
Self. The world should be considered like a dream.
22. Is there no difference between waking and dream?
Waking is long and a dream short; other than this there is no
difference. Just as waking happenings seem real while awake. so do
those in a dream while dreaming. In dream the mind takes on another
body. In both waking and dream states thoughts. names and forms occur
23. Is it any use reading books for those who long for release?
All the texts say that in order to gain release one should render the
mind quiescent; therefore their conclusive teaching is that the mind
should be rendered quiescent; once this has been understood there is no
need for endless reading. In order to quieten the mind one has only to
inquire within oneself what one's Self is; how could this search be
done in books? One should know one's Self with one's own eye of wisdom.
The Self is within the five sheaths; but books are outside them. Since
the Self has to be inquired into by discarding the five sheaths, it is
futile to search for it in books. There will come a time when one will
have to forget all that one has learned.
24. What is happiness?
Happiness is the very nature of the Self; happiness and the Self are
not different. There is no happiness in any object of the world. We
imagine through our ignorance that we derive happiness from objects.
When the mind goes out, it experiences misery. In truth, when its
desires are fulfilled, it returns to its own place and enjoys the
happiness that is the Self. Similarly, in the states of sleep, samadhi
and fainting, and when the object desired is obtained or the object
disliked is removed, the mind becomes inward-turned, and enjoys pure
Self-Happiness. Thus the mind moves without rest alternately going out
of the Self and returning to it. Under the tree the shade is pleasant;
out in the open the heat is scorching. A person who has been going
about in the sun feels cool when he reaches the shade. Someone who
keeps on going from the shade into the sun and then back into the shade
is a fool. A wise man stays permanently in the shade. Similarly, the
mind of the one who knows the truth does not leave Brahman. The mind of
the ignorant, on the contrary, revolves in the world, feeling
miserable, and for a little time returns to Brahman to experience
happiness. In fact, what is called the world is only thought. When the
world disappears, i.e. when there is no thought, the mind experiences
happiness; and when the world appears, it goes through misery.
25. What is wisdom-insight (jnana-drsti)?
Remaining quiet is what is called wisdom-insight. To remain quiet is to
resolve the mind in the Self. Telepathy, knowing past, present and
future happenings and clairvoyance do not constitute wisdom-insight.
26. What is the relation between desirelessness and wisdom?
Desirelessness is wisdom. The two are not different; they are the same.
Desirelessness is refraining from turning the mind towards any object.
Wisdom means the appearance of no object. In other words, not seeking
what is other than the Self is detachment or desirelessness; not
leaving the Self is wisdom.
27. What is the difference between inquiry and meditation?
Inquiry consists in retaining the mind in the Self. Meditation consists
in thinking that one's self is Brahman, existence-consciousness-bliss.
28. What is release?
Inquiring into the nature of one's self that is in bondage, and
realising one's true nature is release.