We present here an excellent summary of Sri Ramana’s teachings by Sri Sadhu Om, a direct disciple of Sri Bhagavan and a close associate of Sri Muruganar, Bhagavan’s foremost disciple. We also present a video recording with Michael James in which he complements and elaborates on this summary. Michael had spent many years with Sri Sadhu Om and had thoroughly studied all the original works of Sri Ramana. In this video, Michael explains the logic as well as the technique of self-enquiry, so devotees can get started on this direct path.

1. The Goal

Bhagavan Sri Ramana has shown that the goal of all humanity is only to obtain perfect happiness (paripurna sukham). There is no one who does not desire happiness. Through all their efforts, are not all living beings (jivas) seeking only for happiness? Therefore, there is no one who will not desire the goal shown by Sri Bhagavan. For this very reason, the teachings of Sri Ramana do not belong to any particular religion but instead shine as a common and open path which gives refuge to all living beings. That is why people of every country and every religion in the world accept the teachings of Sri Ramana and follow them with great love.

What is happiness? It is only because people do not know the correct answer to this question, that they put forth their efforts in so many different directions in order to obtain happiness. Happiness is truly nothing but self (atman). The very nature of self is happiness. We are in truth self itself; hence our nature is happiness itself. Yet, since people do not know that they are truly self and since they think themselves to be the body, they suffer unnecessarily, as if they had lost happiness. To regain our happiness which appears to be lost, it is sufficient if we know ourself – our true nature – which appears to be forgotten.

Some people ask, “Is it not selfishness if we try to obtain happiness for ourselves?” Because the correct meaning of the word ‘self’ is not known, this question rises even in the minds of good people. The word ‘self’ (swayam) means only self (atman). It is only because we do not know ourself to be the unlimited and undivided self and because we view ourself through the limited outlook ‘This body alone is I’, that the word ‘selfishness’ is understood by us to denote a base quality. But in the experience of an Atma-jnani, one who knows ‘I am truly the one self who shines equally in all living beings’, does not the word ‘selfishness’ or self-interest (swaya-nalam, literally self-benefit) denote the interest or benefit of all living beings? Only when self-knowledge (atma-jnana) dawns will the truth be known that self alone is the reality of all living beings. And only when we thus know ourself to be self, can we do real good to all the living beings in all the worlds. We cannot experience true love towards all beings in the world merely by vocally preaching, “Love thy neighbour as thy self”. It is only when we experience through self-knowledge that all beings are ‘I’, the first person singular, that we will attain otherless love (ananya priyam) towards all beings. Such self attainment (atma-siddhi) alone is the main root which enables peace, love and happiness to thrive in the world. Therefore self- enquiry, the medicine which destroys the evil of ego, is the immediate and principal need of the world. Only the true Atman-jnani can do real good to the world! The mere existence of a Jnani, one who knows self, is sufficient to ensure the welfare of the whole world. Thus, is it not clear that if the whole world is to obtain happiness, the correct goal of all people should only be to know self?

Only through self-knowledge can people attain true and perfect happiness. It is wrong to ignore this fact and to try to achieve happiness by enjoying worldly objects through the five senses, because happiness does not come from those objects. Even when some iotas of pleasure are experienced from such objects, it is only because the mind is then dipping in self, its activities (vrittis) being momentarily lulled. Whenever the things that we like are obtained and whenever evil befalls the things that we dislike, the mind becomes introverted and, by thus dipping in self, experience the happiness of self alone. Because people do not know this truth, they wrongly think that happiness is obtained by them from worldly objects, and hence they work day and night seeking those objects, taking that to be the sole goal of their life. This indeed is ignorance, otherwise called maya.

The happiness acquired by seeking and amassing worldly objects and by enjoying them through the five senses is very trivial and transient, is it not? Hence, the goal shown to us by Sri Ramana Bhagavan is to avoid being one who thus enjoys only such trivial happiness and instead to become one who enjoys perfect happiness.

2. The Path

For attaining this goal, Sri Bhagavan has charted out two paths, namely (1) self-enquiry (atma-vichara), that is , knowing oneself (one’s true nature) through the enquiry ‘Who am I ?”, and (2) self-surrender (atma-samarpanam), that is, restoring oneself (the ego) completely to God. The former is the path of knowledge (jnana-marga) and the latter is the path of love or devotion (bhakti-marga).

Self-enquiry: When we want to know a thing, we attend to that thing. Accordingly, if we want to know ourself, we should attend to ourself, the first person, the consciousness ‘I’.

However, are not all the researches that we see going on in the world concerned only with knowing the world and God, which are second and third person objects, instead of knowing oneself, the first person or subject? Man, the knowing entity who tries to know the world and God, does not yet correctly know who he himself is. We say ‘I am a man’. This is not a correct knowledge of ourself, but only ignorance. How? We feel ‘I am a man’ only because we wrongly think that we are the body, our possession. Knowing oneself through the enquiry ‘Who am I, the possessor?’ and thereby distinguishing oneself from the body, is alone the true discriminative knowledge. The feeling ‘I am the body’, which is the ego or ahankara, is a false knowledge of oneself. To know oneself as the unlimited and undivided self (akhanda atman) alone is Atma-jnana or true self-knowledge.

When consciousness rises from sleep, we know ourself in the form ‘I am the body’. But in sleep there is no knowledge of the body and world. The pure consciousness ‘I am’ alone exists in sleep. In the waking state this self-consciousness rises mixed with an adjunct (upadhi) as ‘I am’ the body; I am a man; I am so-and-so’. This is the ego (ahankara), the sense of individuality (jiva-bodha); this is bondage; this is the first thought. Only to this first thought, the man, do other thoughts – the knowledge of second and third persons rise. The more one attends to second and third persons, the more the thoughts will go on increasing. Instead, one should attend to the form of the ego, the first person feeling ‘I am so-and-so’, in order to know ‘Who am I?’ or ‘What is the truth/true nature/exact nature of my existence?’

“If other thoughts (which are second and third persons) rise, one should, without attempting to complete them, enquire ‘To whom did they rise?’ What does it matter however many thought rise? The means to set aside thought-attention and to regain self-attention is as follows: 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); then, since no one is there to attend to it, the thought which had risen will also subside. By repeatedly practising thus, the power of the mind to abide in its source increases. The mind will subside only by means of the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ To make the mind subside, there is no adequate means other than enquiry (vichara). If made to subside by other means such as breath-control (pranayama), meditation upon a form of God (murti-dhyana) or repetition of sacred words (mantra-japa), the mind will remain as if subsided, but will rise again. As long as there are tendencies towards sense-objects (vishaya-vasanas) in the mind, so long is the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ necessary. When /As self-attention (swarupa-dhyana) becomes more and more intense, all those tendencies will be destroyed. If one resorts/clings to uninterrupted self-remembrance (swarupa-smaranai) until one attains self, that alone will be sufficient. Even if one goes on thinking ‘I, I’, it will lead to that source. Always keeping the mind (our power of attention) fixed in self (in the feeling ‘I’) alone is called ‘self-enquiry’ (atma-vichara). Knowing one’s own real nature (swarupa) by enquiry ‘Who am I who am in bondage?’ alone is liberation (mukti), thus says Sri Bhagavan.

The ‘I’-thought (aham-vritti) which started to scrutinize ‘What is this first person feeling I?’ will destroy all other thoughts and, like the stick used for stirring the funeral pyre, will itself finally be destroyed. That is, from the mixed consciousness ‘I am so-and-so’, which is the root of all thoughts, only the adjunct-feeling ‘so-and-so’ will slip away (since its existence is false), and self, the knowledge ‘I am’, which is the true consciousness of one’s existence, alone will remain shining.

This state in which we thus shine by our own light, freed from the adjunct of individuality (jivopadhi), is extolled in different religions by various names such as Jivanmukti, Moksha, Parinirvana, the supreme abode (paramapadam), the kingdom of god and so on. This state of the destruction of the ego, the form of the individual consciousness (jiva-bodha-rupa), is itself the state of immortality. Let us now see how this rooting out of the ego also takes place through self-surrender, the path of devotion (bhakti-marga).

Self-surrender: Self-surrender should be understood to mean surrendering (or to be more accurate, restoring) the ego to God. In truth, self-enquiry and self-surrender are not two but one and the same, both in result- the annihilation of the ego- and in practice! The path of self-surrender or devotion is meant for those who believe in God. When this ‘I’ or individual soul and the world are truly the possessions of God, to claim the body as ‘I’ and ‘mine’ is the great sin of stealing what belongs to God. If this attachment to the body (dehabhimana) is surrendered to God, the state of egolessness will attained. This state devoid of ‘I’-ness (ahankara) and ‘mine’-ness (mamakarra) is the state of self.

Though on superficial observation it may appear as if there is a difference between the practice of self-enquiry and that of self-surrender, namely that an aspirant practising self-enquiry attends to self while a devotee practising self-surrender attends to God, it will be clear to one who truly engages in practice (sadhana) that both are one and the same, not only in their result – namely to be established in self through the destruction of the ego – but also in practice. How? A devotee who has begun the sadhana of surrendering himself to God should thereafter refrain from again seizing the body either as ‘I’ or as ‘mine’. If he again takes the body as ‘I’ or ‘mine’, he is committing the sin of dattapaharam, that is, taking back what has already been offered to God. Therefore, trying to avoid taking back what has been offered is the correct method of practising self-surrender. Now how does he do this? To prevent the false first person – the feeling ‘I am the body’- from rising again, does he not try to remain with a very vigilant attention fixed on the rising of that first person? Thus, the same self-attention which is going on in an enquirer (atma-vichara) is also going on in true devotee (bhakta)!

Moreover, if one wants to surrender oneself to God, it is first of all necessary for one to know the ‘self’ which is to be surrendered. For unless one knows who this so-called ‘self’ is, how is one to surrender it? If a soldier does not know what is meant by the word ‘gun’, when he is asked to surrender his gun he will surrender only his pen. This is exactly what happens in the case of many aspirants on the path of devotion. Though they know that they should surrender themselves to God, they do not know how to do so because they have no clear knowledge as to who they are and what exactly they are to surrender. Since they do not know what the ‘I’ is which is to be surrendered, they are only able to surrender whatever they take as ‘mine’. That is, since they do not know the nature of themself, the possessor, they can do nothing more than surrender their possessions. Therefore, if their surrender is to become complete, they must try at least little by little to enquire and find out who they are, for then only will they be able to surrender themselves perfectly. Since the nature of the ego – the individual ‘self’ which is to be surrendered – is such that it will subside and disappear when it is attended to (being found to be truly non-existent), the self-enquiry done by an earnest devotee will automatically result in self-surrender.

Thus self-enquiry – in which the mind gives up attending to second and third persons and attends instead to its own source – itself turns out to be the correct self-surrender! ‘Remaining firmly in self-abidance (atmanishtha), without giving even the least room to the rising of any thought other than the thought of self (atma-chintana), is surrendering oneself to God’, says Sri Bhagavan in Who am I?. Even a devotee’s seeking God outside himself is only a second person attention. Since God shines as the reality of the first person, attending to the first person alone is the correct God-attention and the true path of devotion!

by Sri Sadhu Om
© Michael James - reproduced with permission
Video recording with Michael James: