Sri Ramana’s fundamental teaching is that the Jnani must investigate about the characteristics of the true self (a method called atma-vichara, or self-inquiry.) The book is composed as a guide to building a system of self-inquiry.
The book has 21 chapters. These chapters are divided into six parts.
The initial part examines the self as Sri Ramana refers thereto. This isn’t the individual self that one is usually referring to in the common speech.
Part II is labeled as “Inquiry and Surrender” and three out of the four chapters, within here, explain the process of self-inquiry.
Three chapters may appear like a lot, but this exercise is the core of jnana yoga. These parts describe how self-inquiry is performed and what it’s deemed to achieve. They also contrast the exercise with others that carry a similarity to Atma-Vichara. Processes include chanting “Who am I?” as a mantra, as well as, Neti-Neti — an exercise in opposition in which one recognizes all the things that aren’t the self (e.g. “I am not my body.” “I am not this thought,” etc.)
Part III is about Gurus and the passage of teachings. It takes on such questions as: is a Guru necessary, and what constitutes a Guru (i.e. must it be a living human? Can it be a book?)
The second chapter in this part is concerning sat-sang, which means “sitting with the guru,” but refers to a variety of transference that runs from being together.
Part IV is on meditation and yoga. Sri Ramana distinguishes self-inquiry from meditation, though they seem to be the same exercises. He explains Dharana (concentration) and mantras in these chapters as well. One addition that may seem irrelevant to the general theme is in chapter 12, which is about the four-stage model of life called the Ashramas (student, householder, hermit, ascetic.)
The section on yoga is about the eight limbs of yoga described by Patanjali. It also portrays their relevance to the practice of Jnana yogi. It should be noted that Ramana diminishes the importance of these methods to the jnana yogi (a.k.a. Jnani)except for pranayama (breathing exercises.)
Part V explains samadhi, siddhi (supernatural psychic abilities) that some yogis credit them to be attainable. Along with thatother difficulties and phenoms that could be experienced while one’s practice of self-inquiry. Although superpowers sound cool, Sri Ramana (as well as Patanjali) cautioned upon the pursuit of these powers as they become diversions from achieving self-realization.
That last five chapters are scribed under the title of “Theory.” These chapters deal with the “meaning of life” kind of philosophical subjects. Much of these parts consist of Ramana informing the interviewer to stop over-intellectualizing about complex philosophical topics and begin questioning oneself who is examining the question (in other words, get behind self-inquiry and overlook obscured and excessive contemplating.) At any rate, the questions include: was the universe created, and – if so – how? is reincarnation real? what is the nature of God? is karma real? is free will real? etc. They are captivating questions, and Ramana offers a few entertaining ideas but decreases the value of philosophizing.
Venkatraman Iyer was Born on 30th December 1879, in Tiruchuli, Tamil Nadu, India. This Indian sage was famously known by the name Bhagwan Shri Ramana Maharshi. In the year 1895, he grew attraction for the holy hill Arunachala. In 1896, at the ripe age of 16, he had his near-death experience. This was the experience in which he became aware of a “current” or “force” passing through him. He recognized this force as the true “I” or “self”, which he later identified with Ishwara or the personal God, i.e. Shiva.
This evolved in a state that he later described as “the state of mind of Ishwara or the Jnani”. He spent a major part of his life on the holy mountain Arunachala, in Tiruvannamalai. Here he became a sanyasi and spent the rest of his life. He attracted devotees from far and wide. They regarded him as an avatar and came to him for darshan. In the later years, an ashram grew around the place where he used to sit in Samadhi. Here visitors received Upadesa or spiritual instructions.
In the early days of yoga, before there was modern day Yoga (Power and Yin) — or even Before Hatha Yoga or Raja Yoga, there were three paths to yoga. Bhakti yoga was devout yoga, the yoga of the apostles who pursued the path through devotion. Karma yoga was the yoga of life: practiced by doing altruistic deeds. Jnana yoga is considered as the most arduous Yoga. It was the path of knowledge, and it required intensive investigation and – precisely– introspective investigation of the Jnani’s own mind. Sri Ramana Maharshi was one of the most renowned Jnana yogis of contemporary times (he lived from 1879 to 1950).
Excerpts from the book:
The conversations which comprise this chapter mostly deal with Sri Ramana’s views on the theoretical background of self enquiry.
Q: What is the nature of the mind?
A: The mind is nothing other than the `I’-thought. The mind and the ego are one and the same. The other mental faculties such as the intellect and the memory are only this. Mind [manas], intellect [buddhi], the storehouse of mental tendencies [chittam], and ego [ahamkara]; all these are only the one mind itself. This is like different names being given to a man according to his different functions. The individual soul [jiva] is nothing but this soul or ego.
Q: How shall we discover the nature of the mind, that is, its ultimate cause, or the noumenon of which it is a manifestation?
A: Arranging thoughts in the order of value, the `I’-thought is the all-important thought. Personality-idea or thought is also the root or the stem of all other thoughts, since each idea or thought arises only as someone’s thought and is not known to exist independently of the ego. The ego therefore exhibits thought activity. The second and the third persons [he, you, that, etc.] do not appear except to the first person [I]. Therefore they arise only after the first person appears, so all the three persons seem to rise and sink together. Trace, then, the ultimate cause of `I’ or personality. From where does this `I’ arise? Seek for it within; it then vanishes. This is the pursuit of wisdom. When the mind unceasingly investigates its own nature, it transpires that there is no such thing as mind. This is the direct path for all. The mind is merely thoughts. Of all thoughts the thought `I’ is the root. Therefore the mind is only the thought `I’. The birth of the `I’-thought is one’s own birth, its death is the person’s death. After the `I’-thought has arisen, the wrong identity with the body arises. Get rid of the `I’-thought. So long as `I’ is alive there is grief. When `I’ ceases to exist there is no grief.
Q: Yes, but when I take to the `I’-thought, other thoughts arise and disturb me.
A: See whose thoughts they are. They will vanish. They have their root in the single `I’-thought. Hold it and they will disappear.
Q: How can any enquiry initiated by the ego reveal its own unreality?
A: The ego’s phenomenal existence is transcended when you dive into the source from where the `I’-thought rises.
Q: But is not the aham-vritti only one of the three forms in which the ego manifests itself. Yoga Vasishtha and other ancient texts describe the ego as having a threefold form.
A: It is so. The ego is described as having three bodies, the gross, the subtle and the causal, but that is only for the purpose of analytical exposition. If the method of enquiry were to depend on the ego’s form, you may take it that any enquiry would become altogether impossible, because the forms the ego may assume are legion. Therefore, for the purposes of self-enquiry you have to proceed on the basis that the ego has but one form, namely that of aham-vritti.
Q: But it may prove inadequate for realising jnana.
A: Self-enquiry by following the clue of aham-vritti is just like the dog tracing his master by his scent. The master may be at some distant unknown place, but that does not stand in the way of the dog tracing him. The master’s scent is an infallible clue for the animal, and nothing else, such as the dress he wears, or his build and stature, etc., counts. To that scent the dog holds on undistractedly while searching for him, and finally it succeeds in tracing him.
Q: The question still remains why the quest for the source of aham-vritti, as distinguished from other vrittis [modifications of the mind], should be considered the direct means to Self-realization.
A: Although the concept of `I’-ness or `I am’-ness is by usage known as aham-vritti it is not really a vritti [modification] like other vrittis of the mind. Because unlike the other vrittis which have no essential interrelation, the aham-vritti is equally and essentially related to each and every vritti of the mind. Without the aham-vritti there can be no other vritti, but the aham-vritti can subsist by itself without depending on any other vritti of the mind. The aham-vritti is therefore fundamentally different from other vrittis. So then, the search for the source of the aham-vritti is not merely the search for the basis of one of the forms of the ego but the very source itself from which arises the `I am’-ness. In other words, the quest for and the realization of the source of the ego in the form of aham-vritti necessarily implies the transcendence of the ego in every one of its possible forms.
Q: Conceding that the aham-vritti essentially comprises all the forms of the ego, why should that vritti alone be chosen as the means for self-enquiry?
A: Because it is the one irreducible datum of your experience and because seeking its source is the only practicable course you can adopt to realize the Self. The ego is said to have a causal body [the state of the `I’ during sleep], but how can you make it the subject of your investigation? When the ego adopts that form, you are immersed in the darkness of sleep.
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Reviews of the book:
Be As You Are
by Ramana Maharshi, David Godman (Editor)
Ramana Maharshi was one of the most significant spiritual teachers to emerge from India during the first half of the century, and remains widely admired. This recent collection of conversations between him and the many seekers who came to his ashram for guidance contains the essence of his teaching. His concern throughout his long life of imparting his experience to others was to convince his listeners that self-realisation – or enlightenment – is not an alien or mysterious state, but the natural condition of man. This state can be easily discovered by undertaking the self-investigation clearly described in these talks. The lucid instructions to each section provide further illumination of this greater seer’s message.
This review was taken from Goodreads.com