Ramana Maharshi

Sri Ramana Maharshi

1879–1950

Sri Ramana Maharshi was probably the most famous sage of the twentieth century both in India and the rest of the world.

He was renowned for his saintly life, for being fully realized, and for the powerful transmissions that often occurred to visitors in his presence. At age 16 he realized spontaneously and ran away to Arunachala, one of India's traditional holy sites, where he stayed for the rest of his life. So many people came to see him there that an ashram was built around him. Many of his close devotees were regarded by their peers as self-realized.

His Main Teaching

Ramana Maharshi as a young man

Ramana Maharshi always said that his most important teaching was done in silence. He meant that when people were in his physical presence, in his sannidhi, their minds were affected. In some cases the effects was astonishingly strong.

Hundreds of people have described these phenomena in books and articles. For examples, see here and here. For longer accounts, see David Godman's The Power of the Presence.

His Second-Most Important Teaching

His second-most important teaching was a practice called vichara in Sanskrit. The customary English translation is "self-enquiry."

Self-enquiry as taught by Sri Ramana is the continuous effort to focus attention as keenly as possible on the I-thought in order to recognize the I-thought's source, the Self.

When this is done, awareness intensifies and thoughts diminish. The practice must be performed continuously for long periods in order to achieve results.

Sri Ramana often used the word "enquire" in the sense of "observe closely." For example, in verse 23 of Ulladu Narpadu he wrote, "With a keen mind enquire from where this 'I' emerges."

Self-enquiry does not mean asking questions except as an occasional device for reminding ourselves to refocus attention when it wanders.

Self-enquiry does not mean focusing on the physical heart or on any other part of the body or on any object whatsoever.

For more information, see our page on self-enquiry.

Who Am I?

Madurai
Sri Ramana was born near Madurai in Tamil Nadu, India.

Sri Ramana summarized his method in a pamphlet called "Who Am I?" which was for years his most widely disseminated writing. The title has probably contributed to the widespread but mistaken impression that the method consists of questions.

Actually, the main significance of the title is that the method is a technique for finding the answer.

Sri Ramana didn't intend the question to be mysterious. Early editions of the pamphlet began with the sentence "Who am I?" The next sentence supplied the answer: "Consciousness [arivu] itself is I."[1]

1. See Michael James, Nan Yar, and David Godman, Who Am I?.

Biography

Ramana Maharshi as a young man

He was born on December 30, 1879 in a village called Tirucculi about 30 miles south of Madurai in southern India. His middle-class parents named him Venkateshwara, although a few years later he enrolled in school under the name Venkataraman. His family were Iyers, members of the Tamil Brahmin caste. His father died when he was twelve, and he went to live with his uncle in Madurai where he attended American Mission High School.

At age 16, he became spontaneously self-realized. Six weeks later he ran away to the holy hill of Arunachala where he would remain for the rest of his life. When he arrived he threw away all his property including the thread which marked him as a Brahmin. For several years he stopped talking and spent many hours each day in samadhi. When he began speaking again, people came to ask him questions and he soon acquired a reputation as a sage. In 1907, when he was 28, one of his early devotees named him Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, Divine Eminent Ramana the Great Seer, and the name stuck. Eventually he became world-famous and an ashram was built around him. He died of cancer in 1950 at the age of 70.

His Self-Realization

At age 16, he heard somebody mention "Arunachala." Although he didn't know what the word meant (it's the name of a holy hill associated with the god Shiva) he became greatly excited. At about the same time he came across a copy of Sekkilar's Periyapuranam, a book that describes the lives of Shaivite saints, and became fascinated by it. In the middle of 1896, at age 16, he was suddenly overcome by the feeling that he was about to die. He lay down on the floor, made his body stiff, and held his breath. "My body is dead now," he said to himself, "but I am still alive." In a flood of spiritual awareness he realized he was the Self.

Book Recommendations

Hundreds of books have been written about Ramana Maharshi. In our opinion the best single book for people who want to get a true understanding of Sri Ramana's teachings is Be As You Are edited by David Godman. As a second book we suggest Talks With Sri Ramana Maharshi which you can download for free.

We also highly recommend Living By the Words of Bhagavan and Annamalai Swami: Final Talks, both edited by David Godman, and Path of Sri Ramana Part One by Sadhu Om which you can download for free.

Two other documents are of special importance although they may not be to the average reader's taste. Ulladu Narpadu, a poem of 42 verses, is regarded by many as Sri Ramana's most significant work. Guru Vachaka Kovai, a collection of 1254 verses composed by one of Sri Ramana's closest disciples, Sri Muruganar, and checked for accuracy by Sri Ramana, is probably the most detailed statement of Sri Ramana's teachings. It is available in three different translations.

Be As You Are

In our opinion this superb collection of extracts from Ramana Maharshi's writings and dialogues is the best single-volume introduction to his teachings. This is the book we recommend to people who want to read about Sri Ramana for the first time.

The editor, David Godman, is probably the foremost living expert on Sri Ramana's teachings. David has gone through dozens of books by and about Sri Ramana and collected passages which most clearly state various points of his teaching. These extracts are organized thematically into chapters with higher teachings first and less important ones last.

David has also provided informative introductions to each chapter and to the book as a whole as well as a glossary and notes.

Where to Buy

AbeBooks

Amazon

 

Be as You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi

Published by Penguin

272 pages

ISBN-10: 0140190627

ISSBN-13: 978-0140190625

Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi

For serious students of Ramana Maharshi there are two Bibles, one written in prose and the other in verse. This one is prose. (The verse Bible is Guru Vachaka Kovai.) It contains 724 pages of conversations that occurred from 1935 to 1939 between Sri Ramana and his visitors who traveled to south India from all over the world to ask for advice from the man whom many regard as the greatest realized teacher of the twentieth century. The text consists not of transcripts, as one might expect, but summaries and paraphrases recorded mostly from memory by the compiler. The reason for this strange format is that the compiler was prohibited by ashram rules from writing in the hall where Sri Ramana spoke. As a result the book's prose is unnatural but nonetheless lucid, direct, literate, and pleasant to read.

Where to Buy

Amazon

AbeBooks

Sri Ramanashramam

Free PDF edition

 

Talks With Sri Ramana Maharshi

Published by Sri Ramanasramam

724 pages

ISBN-10: 8188018074

ISSBN-13: 978-8188018079

Living by the Words of Bhagavan

This book is an autobiography of Annamalai Swami who became Self-realized after many years of effort and close association with his guru, Ramana Maharshi. It paints an unusually intimate portrait of the Maharshi based on Annamalai Swami's ten years of interactions with him, first as his personal attendant and then as supervisor of building projects at Sri Ramanasraman. The book is sober and free of the cloying sentimentality that mars many memoirs of this type. This is not a hagiography; Annamalai's Maharshi is a surprising figure who does quirky and even incomprehensible things. The final section of the book contains transcripts of conversations that Annamalai Swami held with seekers in the 1980s. Annamalai Swami worked hard for many years to realize the Self, making his advice especially useful to seekers for whom Self-realization does not come easily. We think this is a wonderful book, one of the best about Sri Ramana, and we recommend it very highly.

Where to Buy

Amazon

AHAM

Avadhuta

David Godman

InnerQuest

Sri Ramanashramam

 

Living by the Words of Bhagavan

Published by Sri Annamalai Swami Ashram Trust

Hardcover

367 pages

(No ISBN number)

Annamalai Swami: Final Talks

This small book is one of a half dozen that we recommend most strongly to people who want to practice self-enquiry in order to realize. It contains transcripts of talks that Annamalai Swami held with seekers during the last six months of his life. His advice about how to practice Self-enquiry is unusually valuable because he worked for a long time to become Self-realized. Annamalai Swami spent nearly ten years with Ramana Maharshi, first as his personal attendant and later as construction manager at Sri Ramana's ashram.

Where to Buy

AbeBooks

Amazon

AHAM

Avadhuta

David Godman

InnerQuest

Sri Ramanashramam

 

Annamalai Swami: Final Talks

Published by Annamalai Swami Ashram and AHAM (2000)

99 or 162 pages

ISBN-10: 0971137181 and 1888599170

ISSBN-13: 978-1888599176

Path of Sri Ramana Part One

The definitive version of Ramana Maharshi's teachings is contained in his writings such as Ulladu Narpadu and Sri Muruganar's Guru Vachaka Kovai. Unfortunately, his works aren't easy to read. Most of them are written in a terse, classical style of Tamil poetry which is not easily understood even by many educated Tamils. In order to understand him, most of us must therefore rely on translations and commentaries. This book is one of the best of that kind because it was written by a skilled Tamil poet who was Sri Muruganar's literary executor and a close disciple of Ramana's. It contains 145 pages of exact instructions for practicing self-inquiry plus literal English translations of several of Ramana's works. In this volume, part one of the work, the author covers Jnana Marga (self-enquiry); part two deals with Bhakti Marga (surrender).

Where to Buy

Free PDF edition

Amazon

AHAM

Avadhuta

David Godman

InnerQuest

Sri Ramanashramam

 

Path of Sri Ramana Part One

Published by Sri Ramana Kshetra

171 pages

(No ISBN number)

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This page was published on January 6, 2000 and last revised on April 2, 2014.