THE PRESENT WORK in prose consists of forty questions
with answers covering the entire range of spiritual
disciplines required for the gaining of release (moksha).
The questioner was Gambhiram Seshayya, one of the early
devotees of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. He was a Municipal
Overseer at Tiruvannamalai about 1900. Besides being
an ardent Ramabhakta (worshipper of Rama) he
was interested in the study and practice of Yoga. He
used to read Swami Vivekananda's lectures on the different
yogas as also an English translation of the Rama-gita.
For resolving the difficulties which he came across
while studying these books and in his spiritual practices,
he approached Bhagavan Sri Ramana from time to time.
Bhagavan, who was only twenty-one years old, was then
living in Virupaksha cave on Arunachala Hill. As he
was keeping silent at the time not because of any vow
taken but because he was not inclined to talk, he wrote
out his answers to Seshayya's questions on bits of paper.
These writings over the period 1900-02 were later copied
in a notebook by Seshayya. The material thus gathered
was published by Sri Ramanasramam under the little Vichara-sangraham
which literally means "A Compendium of Self-Enquiry."
A digest of the teaching contained in this work was
later printed in English bearing the title Self-Enquiry.
In that English version, the questions were omitted
and the substance of Bhagavan's teaching was given,
classifying it in twelve short chapters with appropriate
headings. The present English translation is of the
entire original text Vichara-sangraham as it
is in Tamil. The Vichara-sangraham has unique
value in the sense that it constitutes the first set
of instructions given by Bhagavan in his own handwriting.
A careful study of the instructions given by Bhagavan
here will reveal that they are based on his own plenary
experience as confirmed by the sacred texts which were
brought to his notice by the early devotees and which
he perused for the purpose of clearing the doubts that
arose in the minds of the devotees. In the course of
his instructions, Bhagavan makes use of such expressions
as, "the scriptures declare," "thus say
the sages," etc.; he also cites passages from texts
like the Bhagavad-gita and the Vivekachudamani
and once he mentions by name the Ribhu-gita.
But it is quite clear that these citations are offered
only as confirmations of the truth discovered by Bhagavan
himself in his own experience.
basic teaching is that of Advaita-Vedanta. The plenary
experience of the non-dual Self is the goal; enquiry
into the nature of the self is the means. When the mind
identifies the self with the not-self (the body, etc.),
there is bondage; when this wrong identification is
removed through the enquiry "Who am I?" there
is release. Thus, Self-enquiry is the direct path taught
by Bhagavan Ramana. The 'I'-experience is common to
all. Of all thoughts, the 'I'-thought is the first to
arise. What one has to do is to enquire into the source
of the 'I'-thought. This is the reverse process of what
ordinarily happens in the life of the mind. The mind
enquires into the constitution and source of everything
else which, on examination, will be found to be its
own projection; it does not reflect on itself and trace
itself to its source. Self-discovery can be achieved
by giving the mind an inward turn. This is not to be
confused with the introspection of which the psychologists
speak. Self-enquiry is not the mind's inspection of
its own contents; it is tracing the mind's first mode,
the 'I'-thought to its source which is the Self. When
there is proper and persistent enquiry, the 'I'-thought
also ceases and there is the wordless illumination of
the form 'I'-'I' which is the pure consciousness. This
is release, freedom from bondage. The method by which
this is accomplished, as has been shown, is enquiry
which, in Vedanta, is termed jnana, knowledge.
devotion (bhakti), meditation (dhyana),
and concentration (yoga) are identical therewith. As
Bhagavan makes it perfectly clear, not to forget the
plenary Self-experience is real devotion, mind-control,
knowledge, and all other austerities. In the language
of devotion, the final goal may be described as the
resolution of the mind in its source which is God, the
Self, in that of technical yoga, it may be described
as the dissolution of the mind in the Heart-lotus. These
are only different ways of expressing the same truth.
path of Self-enquiry is found difficult by those who
have not acquired the necessary competence for it. The
mind should first be rendered pure and one-pointed.
This is done through meditation, etc. So, the various
paths, in their secondary sense, are auxiliaries to
the direct path which is Self-enquiry. In this context,
Bhagavan refers to three grades of aspirants: the highest,
the medium, and the lowest. For the highest type of
aspirants, the path prescribed is Vedanta enquiry; through
this path, the mind becomes quiescent in the Self and
finally ceases to be, leaving the pure Self-experience
untarnished and resplendent. The path for the medium
is meditation on the Self; meditation consists in directing
a continuous flow of the mind towards the same object;
there are several modes of meditation; the best mode
is that which is of the form 'I am the Self'; this mode
eventually culminates in Self-realization. For the lowest
grade of aspirants, the discipline that is useful is
breath-control which in turn results in mind control.
Bhagavan explains the difference between jnana-yoga
(path of knowledge) and dhyana-yoga (path of
meditation) thus: jnana is like subduing a self-willed
bull by coaxing it with the help of a sheaf of green
grass, while dhyana is like controlling it by using
force. Just as there are eight limbs for dhyana-yoga,
there are eight for jnana-yoga. The limbs of the latter
are more proximate to the final stage than those of
the former. For instance, while the pranayama
of technical yoga consists in regulating and restraining
breath, the pranayama that is a limb of jnana relates
to rejecting the name-and-form world which is non-real
and realizing the Real which is Existence-Consciousness-Bliss.
Realization of the Self can be gained in this very life.
In fact, Self-realization is not something which is
to be gained afresh. We are already the Self; the Self
alone is. It is ignorance that makes us imagine that
we have not realized the Self. When this ignorance is
removed through Self-knowledge, we realize our eternal
Self-nature. One who has gained this realization is
called a jivan-mukta (liberated while living). To others,
he may appear to continue to tenant a body. For the
benefit of those others it is stated that the body will
continue so long as the residue of the prarabdha-karma
(that karma of the past which has begun to fructify
in the shape of the present body) lasts, and that when
the momentum is spent the body will fall and the jivan-mukta
will become a videha-mukta. But from the standpoint
of the absolute truth, there is no difference in mukti.
What needs to be understood is that mukti or
release is the inalienable nature of the Self.
This, in substance, is Bhagavan Sri Ramana's teaching
in the Vichara-sangraham.
University Of Madras
T. M. P. Mahadevan
November 15, 1965.
TO THE EIGHTH EDITION
EARLIEST EDITION of this work in Question-Answer form,
I have come across, is dated 1930, published by A. Shivalinga
Mudaliyar and V. Subrahmanya Achari and printed at Saravana
Bava Press, Madras. This bears a foreword by Muruganar
which is dated June 16th, 1930. It is mentioned in the
foreword that it was Natanananda that edited the work
in Question-Answer form. In his preface, Natanananda
observes that the work contains the teachings given
in writing by Bhagavan Ramana to Gambhiram Seshayya
in the years 1901-1902. It is in the Question-Answer
form that this work is included in the Collected
Works in Tamil, in its early editions, published
by the Asramam. In the third edition published in 1940,
as well as in subsequent editions, the Self-Enquiry
appears in the form of a digest. In the footnote that
occurs at the end of the Publisher's Note, it is stated
that the manuscript copy given by Gambhiram Seshayya's
brother was edited by Shivaprakasam Pillai, and was
put into Question-Answer form by Natanananda.
T. M. P. Mahadevan
January 18, 1971.
Sri Ramanasramam, Tiruvannamalai, India.