DURING HIS LIFETIME, which ended in 1950, Ramana Maharshi
was probably the most famous sage in India.
was one of the few persons about whom everyone could
agree, "This man is truly realized; he is a living
saint." Small children who lived near his ashram
used to stare silently at him for hours; kings and queens
came to him for darshan; the Shankaracharya of
South India (one of the four primates of Hinduism) once
told a visitor that he knew of only two yogis in India
with the highest attainments, and Ramana was one of
taught a form of jñana yoga called self-enquiry.
He called it the "direct path" because its
practitioner attempts from the beginning to experience
the final stage common to all other paths.
The English term "self-enquiry" is the traditional
translation of the Sanskrit word vicara. Unfortunately,
it doesn't convey the meaning of the original word very
well. Vicara actually means examination, reflection,
or looking within.
Vicara had been a main component of jñana
yoga for many centuries. However, Ramana's version
of it is distinctive. In traditional vicara,
practitioners develop an intellectual understanding
of Advaita Vedanta and then remind themselves constantly
that their thoughts, feelings, impulses, etc., are different
from their true selves. This constant reminder of difference
is formulated as neti neti, "not this, not
In Ramana's version of vicara, the practitioner
maintains constant attention on the feeling of "I."
This gradually pulls the practioner into the true Self.
No intellectual understanding is required.
Thus traditional vichara is negative; Ramana's method
is positive. Traditional vichara has an intellectual
component; Ramana's method does not.
In his first written work, presented here under the
English title Self-Enquiry, Ramana gave instructions
for practicing his version of vicara. He wrote
it in Tamil between 1900 and 1902, when he was between
21 and 23 years old.
details about the history of this work are contained
in the Translator's Introduction on the next page.
marked by asterisks (*) below the text are by the translator;
notes without asterisks to the right of the text are
is a reprint of T.M.P. Mahadevan's translation which
appears in The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi,
Sixth Revised Edition, published in 1996 by V.S.
Ramanan, President, Board of Trustees, Sri Ramanasramam,
also published this translation by itself as a booklet
called Self-Enquiry: Vicharasangraham of Bhagavan
Sri Ramana Maharshi. We have taken the Translator's
Introduction from the tenth edition (1994 reprint) of
Ramanasramam holds the copyrights on these publications,
and has generously given us permission to reprint this
terms self-inquiry and self-enquiry mean the same thing.
Both spellings are acceptable.
June 9, 2000