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Copyright 2001 Realization.org.



Ramana Maharshi's First Person Is Really a Place

Something got lost when one of the great sage's teachings was translated from Tamil into English


I'VE ALWAYS BEEN puzzled by Sri Ramana Maharshi's dictum that the second and third persons rise up only after the first. He said this often. For example:

The second and the third persons do not appear except to the first person. Therefore they arise only after the first person appears, so all three persons seem to arise and sink together. Trace, then, the ultimate cause of "I" or personality.1

On an intellectual level, the meaning is clear. These three persons are terms from grammar; the first person is I, the second is you; the third is he, she, or they. So he's saying that we imagine other people who are separate from us only after we imagine ourselves.

But even though I understood the idea, I felt that I was missing the point, because the saying rang no bell of recognition in me; it provoked no luminous aha! that's how it is.

Thanks to a footnote in a book called The Path of Sri Ramana, Part One by Sri Sadhu Om, I just discovered why the saying went over my head. It turns out that something got lost in translation.

Sadhu Om points out that Ramana Maharshi expressed this idea in Tamil, his native language, not English. In Tamil, these grammatical categories aren't called persons; they are called places. What the Maharshi actually said, literally, was that the second place and third place arise after the first place.

Now, this makes sense to me. When the ego illusion arises in me -- when I think of myself -- what am I really thinking? I'm thinking of here. I'm thinking of inside my body. Everything on this side of that geographical line is me; everything on the other side is you or them.

Ego requires the bifurcation of space; it only exists when the world is cut up into here and there. I can see this happen. And seeing it happen brings the day closer when it happens no more.

1. Be As You Are, edited by David Godman, page 50; taken from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, article 26. Back to text.

Copyright 2000 Elena Gutierrez.

Elena Gutierrez is a frequent contributor to Realization.org.


Ramana Maharshi
Our main reference page on the great sage of Arunachala with an overview, biography, links to articles and other sites, and book recommendations.



by Sadhu Om

The definitive version of Ramana's teachings is contained in his writings such as Forty Verses on Reality. Unfortunately, most of his works are written in a terse, classical style of Tamil poetry which is not easily understood even by many educated Tamils. In order to understand his method of self-enquiry, most of us must therefore rely on translations and commentaries. This book is possibly the best of that kind because it was written by a skilled Tamil poet who was also a close disciple of Ramana's. It contains 145 pages of exact instructions for practicing self-enquiry, 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).



This page was published on May 11, 2000 and
last revised on August 6, 2001.

Copyright 2001 Realization.org. All rights reserved.