Nothing Existed Except the Eyes of the Maharshi
by N.R. Krishnamurti Aiyer. Oct. 29, 2001
Who Are You? An Interview With Papaji by
Jeff Greenwald. Oct. 24, 2001
An Interview with Byron Katie by Sunny
Massad. Oct. 23, 2001
An Interview with Douglas Harding by Kriben
Pillay. Oct. 21, 2001
The Nectar of Immortality by Sri Nisargadatta
Maharaj. Oct. 18, 2001
The Power of the Presence Part Two by David
Godman. Oct. 15, 2001
The Quintessence of My Teaching by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. Oct. 3, 2001
Interview With David Godman. Sept. 28, 2001
The Power of the Presence Part One by David
Godman. Sept. 28, 2001
Nothing Ever Happened Volume 1 by
David Godman. Sept. 23, 2001
Collision with the Infinite by Suzanne
Segal. Sept. 22, 2001
Lilly of the Valley, the Bright and Morning
Star by Charlie Hopkins. August 9, 2001
email address is editor
IS a meditation technique for attaining enlightenment
which is associated with Sri
Sanskrit name for it, atma-vicara,
really means self-investigation, self-examination, self-reflection,
or looking within, but self-inquiry has become
the standard translation. As we'll show below, this
can be misleading. Self-enquiry is the British
spelling; self-inquiry is American.
is an ancient technique that dates back at least to
the Upanisads. For example, the Katha
Ramana Maharshi wrote his famous booklet Self-Enquiry
when he was in his early twenties.
||The primeval one who is hard to perceive,
wrapped in mystery, hidden in the cave,
residing within the impenetrable depth
Regarding him as god, an insight
gained by inner contemplation,
both sorrow and joy the wise abandon.1
Katha Upanisad, 2.12. From Patrick Olivelle,
tr., The Early Upanisads (Oxford University Press:
New York, 1998), 385.
is a pretty good summary of Ramana Maharshi's method,
although it's written in veiled language. The "primeval
one" in this verse is Brahman (the Self) and the
"cave" is the heart center, so the meaning
is: concentrate inwardly (on the feeling of me)
until the innermost self is discerned in the heart and
recognized as God. A similar reference occurs in the
Maitri Upanisad 6.34.
Maharshi was aware of the method's long history, for
he himself pointed out that self-inquiry is described
in book six of the Bhagavad
He is quoted to this effect in Sri Sadhu Om, The Path
of Sri Ramana Vol. 1 (Sri Ramana Kshetra: Tiruvannamalai,1997),
Little by little, he should come to rest,
With the intellect firmly held.
His mind having been established in the Self,
He should not think of anything.
Whenever the unsteady mind,
Moving to and fro, wanders away,
He should restrain it
And control it in the Self.
Bhagavad Gita 6.2526. From Winthrop Sargeant,
tr., The Bhagavad Gita (State University of New
York Press: New York, 1994) 29697.
to Do It
best description we've seen of self-inquiry was written
by David Godman. It appears in two of his books, both
of which we recommend highly. Here is what David wrote:
was Sri Ramana's basic thesis that the individual
self is nothing more than a thought or an idea.
He said that this thought, which he called 'I'-thought,
originates from a place called the Heart-centre,
which he located on the right side of the chest
in the human body. From there the 'I'-thought
rises up to the brain and identifies itself with
the body: 'I am this body.' It then creates the
illusion that there is a mind or an individual
self which inhabits the body and which controls
all its thoughts and actions. The 'I'-thought
accomplishes this by identifying itself with all
the thoughts and perceptions that go on in the
body. For example, 'I' (that is the 'I'-thought)
am doing this, 'I' am thinking this, 'I' am feeling
happy, etc. Thus, the idea that one is an individual
person is generated and sustained by the 'I'-thought
and by its habit of constantly attaching itself
to all the thoughts that arise. Sri Ramana maintained
that one could reverse this process by depriving
the 'I'-thought of all the thoughts and perceptions
that it normally identifies with. Sri Ramana taught
that this 'I'-thought is actually an unreal entity,
and that it only appears to exist when it identifies
itself with other thoughts. He said that if one
can break the connection between the 'I'-thought
and the thoughts it identifies with, then the
'I'-thought itself will subside and finally disappear.
Sri Ramana suggested that this could be done by
holding onto the 'I'-thought, that is, the inner
feeling of 'I' or 'I am' and excluding all other
thoughts. As an aid to keeping one's attention
on this inner feeling of 'I', he recommended that
one should constantly question oneself 'Who am
I?' or 'Where does this "I" come from?'
He said that if one can keep one's attention on
this inner feeling of 'I', and if one can exclude
all other thoughts, then the 'I'-thought will
start to subside into the Heart-centre.
according to Sri Ramana, is as much as the devotee
can do by himself. When the devotee has freed
his mind of all thoughts except the 'I'-thought,
the power of the Self pulls the 'I'-thought back
into the Heart-centre and eventually destroys
it so completely that it never rises again. This
is the moment of Self-realization. When this happens,
the mind and the indvidual self (both of which
Sri Ramama equated with the 'I'-thought) are destroyed
forever. Only the Atman or the Self then remains.4
David Godman, Living By the Words of Bhagavan, (Sri
Annamali Swami Ashram Trust: Tiruvannamalai, 1995), 24-25.
The same text appears in another book by the same author,
No MindI Am the Self.
key sentence in David Godman's description, quoted in
the previous section, is this one:
[Ramana Maharshi] said that if one can keep one's attention
on this inner feeling of 'I', and if one can exclude
all other thoughts, then the 'I'-thought will start
to subside into the Heart-centre."
this sentence suggests, self-inquiry is basically about
keeping the attention fixed on the I-thought
that is, on the feeling of me.
word inquiry leads many people to think, wrongly,
that the technique has more to do with asking questions
than with focusing attention. Since the technique does
involve questions, the misunderstanding is natural.
of these questions, "Who Am I?", is the name
of Ramana Maharshi's first written work. He meant to
suggest that self-inquiry reveals the answer to this
question, not that a seeker should ask the question
over and over.
also involves a second question, "To whom does
this thought arise?" Ramana Maharshi advised meditators
to ask this question whenever their concentration is
interrupted by a thought, because the answer causes
the attention to return to the feeling of me
where it belongs.
Maharshi summed up his technique as follows:
is essential in any sadhana [practice] is to try
to bring back the running mind and fix it on one thing
only. Why then should it not be brought back and fixed
in Self-attention? That alone is Self-enquiry (atma-vicara).
That is all that is to be done!5
Sri Sadhu Om, The Path of Sri Ramana Vol. 1 (Sri
Ramana Kshetra: Tiruvannamalai,1997), 77.
Maharshi often said that yoga and self-enquiry are two
methods of controlling the mind, which he compared to
an agitated bull. Yoga attempts to drive the bull with
a stick, while self-enquiry coaxes it with green grass.
See, for example, Self-Enquiry,
important technical terms are used with self-inquiry:
I-thought and heart center. Neither is
wholly original with Ramana Maharshi.
term I-thought is the false notion that the mind
(rather than the Self) is the seer or doer. (We refer
to it in this article as the feeling of me because,
well, that's what it feels like.) The term goes back
at least as far as Sankara, the founder
Vedanta. He used several Sanskrit expressions
for this idea: ahamdhi, ahampratyaya,
ahamkriya, and ahamkara.6
See Segaku Mayeda, tr., A Thousand Teachings: The Upadesasahasri
of Sankara, State University of New
York Press: New York, 1992), 40.
to Sankara, "awareness of one's own
Atman [i.e., the Self] is established at the
time of the cessation of the 'I'-notion."7
This awareness and cessation are exactly what self-inquiry
is designed to accomplish.
Ibid., verse 200, p. 193.
second technical term, heart center, is a translation
of the Sanskrit hridayam. According
to Ramana Maharshi, this is where the Self is located.
The I-thought rises from this location and, at the end
of the process of self-inquiry, sinks back into it,
causing self-realization. This idea goes back to the
earliest Upanisads, where Brahman is found in
the "cave of the heart".
Maharshi sometimes described the heart center as an
actual object located in the right side of the chest,
but at other times he said this was an oversimplification
for people who couldn't understand the truth. According
to H.W.L Poonja,
Ramana Maharshi told him:
I speak of the 'I' rising from the right side of the body,
from a location on the right side of the chest, the information
is for those people who still think that they are the
body. To these people I say that the Heart is located
there. But it is really not quite correct to say that
the 'I' rises from and merges in the Heart on the right
side of the chest. The Heart is another name for the Reality
and it is neither inside nor outside the body; there can
be no in or out for it, since it alone is. I do not mean
by 'Heart' any physiological organ or any plexus or anything
David Godman, Nothing Ever Happened Vol. 1 (Avadhuta
Foundation: Boulder, 1998), 143.
Quotation About Self-Inquiry
If I go on rejecting thoughts can I call it Vichara?
It may be a stepping stone. But really Vichara
begins when you cling to your Self and are already off
the mental movement, the thought-waves."9
K, Sat-Darshana Bashya and Talks With Maharshi
(Sri Ramanasramam: Tiruvannamalai, 1993), ix.
Reading on the Web
Sri Ramana Maharshi wrote several booklets and poems
to describe the method of self-inquiry. These include
Am I?, Self-Enquiry,
Verses on Reality.
main reference page on Ramana Maharshi is here.
A second prominent teacher of self-inquiry in modern
times was H.W.L. Poonja.
A third famous guru, Nisargadatta
Maharaj, became self-realized through self-inquiry
although he did not ordinarily refer to it by that name
in his teaching.
most important source of information about self-inquiry
on the Internet is the website of the Sri
This page was published on August 5, 2001 and
last revised on September 5, 2001.