Edited by David Godman
Our rating: ★★★★★ 5 out of 5
Published by Arkana (Penguin Books)
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.
The essence of Sri Ramana’s teachings is conveyed in his frequent assertions that there is a single immanent reality, directly experienced by everyone, which is simultaneously the source, the substance and the real nature of everything that exists. He gave it number of different names, each one signifying a different aspect of the same indivisible reality. The following classification includes all of his more common synonyms and explains the implications of the various terms used.
This is the term that he used the most frequently. He defined it by saying that the real Self or real ‘I’ is, contrary to perceptible experience, not an experience of individuality but a non-personal, all-inclusive awareness. It is not to be confused with the individual self which he said was essentially non-existent, being a fabrication of the mind which obscures the true experience of the real Self. He maintained that the real Self is always present and always experienced but he emphasized that one is only consciously aware of it as it really is when the self- limiting tendencies of the mind have ceased. Permanent and continuous Self- awareness is known as Self-realisation.
This is a Sanskrit term which translates as being-consciousness-bliss. Sri Ramana taught that the Self is pure being, a subjective awareness of ‘I am’ which is completely devoid of the feeling ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that’. There are no subjects or objects in the Self, there is only an awareness of being. Because this awareness is conscious it is also known as consciousness. The direct experience of this consciousness is, according to Sri Ramana, a state of unbroken happiness and so the term ananda or bliss is also used to describe it. These three aspects, being, consciousness and bliss, are experienced as a unitary whole and not as separate attributes of the Self. They are inseparable in the same way that wetness, transparency and liquidity are inseparable properties of water.
Sri Ramana maintained that the universe is sustained by the power of the Self.
Since theists normally attribute this power to God he often used the word God as a synonym for the Self. He also used the words Brahman, the supreme being of Hinduism, and Siva, a Hindu name for God, in the same way. Sri Ramana’s God is not a personal God, he is the formless being which sustains the universe. He is not the creator of the universe, the universe is merely a manifestation of his inherent power; he is inseparable from it, but he is not affected by its appearance or its disappearance.
Sri Ramana frequently used the Sanskrit word hridayam when he was talking about the Self. It is usually translated as ‘the Heart’ but a more literal translation would be ‘this is the centre’. In using this particular term he was not implying that there was a particular location or centre for the Self, he was merely indicating that the Self was the source from which all appearances manifested.
The experience of the Self is sometimes called jnana or knowledge. This term should not be taken to mean that there is a person who has knowledge of the Self, because in the state of Self-awareness there is no localised knower and there is nothing that is separate from the Self that can be known. True knowledge, or jnana, is not an object of experience, nor is it an understanding of a state which is different and apart from the subject knower; it is a direct and knowing awareness of the one reality in which subjects and objects have ceased to exist. One who is established in this state is known as a jnani.
Hindu philosophy postulates three alternating levels of relative consciousness – waking, dream and deep sleep. Sri Ramana stated that the Self was the underlying reality which supported the appearance of the other three temporary states.
Because of this he sometimes called the Self turiya avastha or the fourth state. He also occasionally used the word turiyatita, meaning ‘transcending the fourth’, to indicate that there are not really four states but only one real transcendental state,
Three other terms for the Self are worth noting. Sri Ramana often emphasized that the Self was one’s real and natural state of being, and for this reason, he occasionally employed the terms sahaja sthiti, meaning the natural state, and swarupa, meaning real form or real nature. He also used the word ‘silence’ to indicate that the Self was a silent thought-free state of undisturbed peace and total stillness.
Q: What is reality?
A: Reality must be always real. It is not with forms and names. That which underlies these is the reality. It underlies limitations, being itself limitless. It is not bound. It underlies unrealities, itself being real. Reality is that which is. It is as it is. It transcends speech. It is beyond the expressions ‘existence, non-existence’, etc.
The reality which is the mere consciousness that remains when ignorance is destroyed along with knowledge of objects, alone is the Self [atma]. In that Brahma-swarupa [real form of Brahman], which is abundant Self-awareness, there is not the least ignorance.
The reality which shines fully, without misery and without a body, not only when the world is known but also when the world is not known, is your real form [nija-swarupa].
The radiance of consciousness-bliss, in the form of one awareness shining equally within and without, is the supreme and blissful primal reality. Its form is silence and it is declared by jnanis to be the final and unobstructable state of true knowledge [jnana].
Know that jnana alone is non-attachment; jnana alone is purity; jnana is the attainment of God; jnana which is devoid of forgetfulness of Self alone is immortality; jnana alone is everything.
Q: What is this awareness and how can one obtain and cultivate it?
A: You are awareness. Awareness is another name for you.
Since you are awareness there is no need to attain or cultivate it. All that you have to do is to give up being aware of other things, that is of the not-Self. If one gives up being aware of them then pure awareness alone remains, and that is the Self.
Q: If the Self is itself aware, why am I not aware of it even now?
A: There is no duality. Your present knowledge is due to the ego and is only relative. Relative knowledge requires a subject and an object, whereas the awareness of the Self is absolute and requires no object.
Remembrance also is similarly relative, requiring an object to be remembered and a subject to remember. When there is no duality, who is to remember whom? The Self is ever-present. Each one wants to know the Self. What kind of help does one require to know oneself? People want to see the Self as something new. But it is eternal and remains the same all along. They desire to see it as a blazing light etc. How can it be so? It is not light, not darkness. It is only as it is. It cannot be defined. The best definition is ‘I am that I am’. The srutis [scriptures] speak of the Self as being the size of one’s thumb, the tip of the hair, an electric spark, vast, subtler than the subtlest, etc. They have no foundation in fact. It is only being, but different from the real and the unreal; it is knowledge, but different from knowledge and ignorance. How can it be defined at all? It is simply being.
Q: When a man realises the Self, what will he see?
A: There is no seeing. Seeing is only being. The state of Self-realisation, as we call it, is not attaining something new or reaching some goal which is far away, but simply being that which you always are and which you always have been. All that is needed is that you give up your realisation of the not-true as true. All of us are regarding as real that which is not real. We have only to give up this practice on our part. Then we shall realise the Self as the Self; in other words, ‘Be the Self. At one stage you will laugh at yourself for trying to discover the Self which is so self-evident. So, what can we say to this question?
That stage transcends the seer and the seen. There is no seer there to see anything. The seer who is seeing all this now ceases to exist and the Self alone remains.
Q: How to know this by direct experience?
A: If we talk of knowing the Self, there must be two selves, one a knowing self, another the self which is known, and the process of knowing. The state we call realisation is simply being oneself, not knowing anything or becoming anything. If one has realised, one is that which alone is and which alone has always been. One cannot describe that state. One can only be that. Of course, we loosely talk of Self-realisation, for want of a better term. How to ‘realise’ or make real that which alone is real?
Q: You sometimes say the Self is silence. Why is this?
A: For those who live in Self as the beauty devoid of thought, there is nothing which should be thought of. That which should be adhered to is only the experience of silence, because in that supreme state nothing exists to be attained other than oneself.
Q: What is mouna [silence]?
A: That state which transcends speech and thought is mouna. That which is, is mouna. How can mouna be explained in words?
Sages say that the state in which the thought ‘I’ [the ego] does not rise even in the least, alone is Self [swarupa] which is silence [mouna]. That silent Self alone is God; Self alone is the jiva [individual soul]. Self alone is this ancient world.
All other knowledges are only petty and trivial knowledges; the experience of silence alone is the real and perfect knowledge. Know that the many objective differences are not real but are mere superimpositions on Self, which is the form of true knowledge.
Q: As the bodies and the selves animating them are everywhere actually observed to be innumerable how can it be said that the Self is only one?
A: If the idea ‘I am the body’ is accepted, the selves are multiple. The state in which this idea vanishes is the Self since in that state there are no other objects. It is for this reason that the Self is regarded as one only.
Since the body itself does not exist in the natural outlook of the real Self, but only in the extroverted outlook of the mind which is deluded by the power of illusion, to call Self, the space of consciousness, dehi [the possessor of the body] is wrong.
The world does not exist without the body, the body never exists without the mind, the mind never exists without consciousness and consciousness never exists without the reality.
For the wise one who has known Self by diving within himself, there is nothing other than Self to be known. Why?
Because since the ego which identifies the form of a body as ‘I’ has perished, he [the wise one] is the formless existence-consciousness.
The jnani [one who has realised the Self] knows he is the Self and that nothing, neither his body nor anything else, exists but the Self. To such a one what difference could the presence or absence of a body make?
It is false to speak of realisation. What is there to realise? The real is as it is always. We are not creating anything new or achieving something which we did not have before. The illustration given in books is this. We dig a well and create a huge pit. The space in the pit or well has not been created by us. We have just removed the earth which was filling the space there. The space was there then and is also there now. Similarly we have simply to throw out all the age-long samskaras [innate tendencies] which are inside us. When all of them have been given up, the Self will shine alone.
Q: But how to do this and attain liberation?
A: Liberation is our very nature. We are that. The very fact that we wish for liberation shows that freedom from all bondage is our real nature. It is not to be freshly acquired. All that is necessary is to get rid of the false notion that we are bound. When we achieve that, there will be no desire or thought of any sort. So long as one desires liberation, so long, you may take it, one is in bondage.
Q: For one who has realized his Self, it is said that he will not have the three states of wakefulness, dream and deep sleep. Is that a fact?
A: What makes you say that they do not have the three states? In saying ‘I had a dream; I was in deep sleep; I am awake’, you must admit that you were there in all the three states. That makes it clear that you were there all the time. If you remain as you are now, you are in the wakeful state; this becomes hidden in the dream state; and the dream state disappears when you are in deep sleep.
You were there then, you are there now, and you are there at all times. The three states come and go, but you are always there. It is like a cinema. The screen is always there but several types of pictures appear on the screen and then disappear. Nothing sticks to the screen, it remains a screen.
Similarly, you remain your own Self in all the three states. If you know that, the three states will not trouble you, just as the pictures which appear on the screen do not stick to it. On the screen, you sometimes see a huge ocean with endless waves; that disappears. Another time, you see fire spreading all around; that too disappears. The screen is there on both occasions. Did the screen get wet with the water or did it get burned by the fire? Nothing affected the screen. In the same way, the things that happen during the wakeful, dream and sleep states do not affect you at all; you remain your own Self.
Q: Does that mean that, although people have all three states, wakefulness, dream and deep sleep, these do not affect them?
A: Yes, that is it. All these states come and go. The Self is not bothered; it has only one state.
Q: Does that mean that such a person will be in this world merely as a witness?
A: That is so; for this very thing, Vidyaranya, in the tenth chapter of the Panchadasi, gives as example the light that is kept on the stage of a theatre. When a drama is being played, the light is there, which illuminates, without any distinction, all the actors, whether they be kings or servants or dancers, and also all the audience. That light will be there before the drama begins, during the performance and also after the performance is over. Similarly, the light within, that is, the Self, gives light to the ego, the intellect, the memory and the mind without itself being subject to processes of growth and decay. Although during deep sleep and other states there is no feeling of the ego, that Self remains attributeless, and continues to shine of itself.
Actually, the idea of the Self being the witness is only in the mind; it is not the absolute truth of the Self. Witnessing is relative to objects witnessed. Both the witness and his object are mental creations.
Q: How are the three states of consciousness inferior in degree of reality to the fourth [turiya]? What is the actual relation between these three states and the fourth?
A: There is only one state, that of consciousness or awareness or existence. The three states of waking, dream and sleep cannot be real. They simply come and go. The real will always exist. The ‘I’ or existence that alone persists in all the three states is real. The other three are not real and so it is not possible to say they have such and such a degree of reality. We may roughly put it like this.
Existence or consciousness is the only reality. Consciousness plus waking, we call waking.
Consciousness plus sleep, we call sleep. Consciousness plus dream, we call dream. Consciousness is the screen on which all the pictures come and go. The screen is real, the pictures are mere shadows on it. Because by long habit we have been regarding these three states as real, we call the state of mere awareness or consciousness the fourth. There is however no fourth state, but only one state.
There is no difference between dream and the waking state except that the dream is short and the waking long. Both are the result of the mind. Because the waking state is long, we imagine that it is our real state. But, as a matter of fact, our real state is turiya or the fourth state which is always as it is and knows nothing of the three states of waking, dream or sleep. Because we call these three avasthas [states] we call the fourth state also turiya avastha. But is it not an avastha, but the real and natural state of the Self. When this is realised, we know it is not a turiya or fourth state, for a fourth state is only relative, but turiyatita, the transcendent state.
Q: But why should these three states come and go on the real state or the screen of the Self?
A: Who puts this question? Does the Self say these states come and go? It is the seer who says these come and go. The seer and the seen together constitute the mind. See if there is such a thing as the mind. Then, the mind merges in the Self, and there is neither the seer nor the seen. So the real answer to your question is, ‘They neither come nor go.’ The Self alone remains as it ever is. The three states owe their existence to non-enquiry and enquiry puts an end to them. However much one may explain, the fact will not become clear till one attains Self-realisation and wonders how one was blind to the self-evident and only existence so long.
Q: What is the difference between the mind and the Self?
A: There is no difference. The mind turned inwards is the Self; turned outwards, it becomes the ego and all the world. Cotton made into various clothes we call by various names. Gold made into various ornaments, we call by various names. But all the clothes are cotton and all the ornaments gold. The one is real, the many are mere names and forms.
But the mind does not exist apart from the Self, that is, it has no independent existence. The Self exists without the mind, never the mind without the Self.
Q: Brahman is said to be sat-chit-ananda. What does that mean?
A: Yes. That is so. That which is, is only sat. That is called Brahman. The lustre of sat is chit and its nature is ananda. These are not different from sat. All the three together are known as sat- chit-ananda.
Q: As the Self is existence [sat] and consciousness [chit] what is the reason for describing it as different from the existent and the non-existent, the sentient and the insentient?
A: Although the Self is real, as it comprises everything, it does not give room for questions involving duality about its reality or unreality. Therefore it is said to be different from the real and the unreal. Similarly, even though it is consciousness, since there is nothing for it to know or to make itself known to, it is said to be different from the sentient and the insentient.
Sat-chit-ananda is said to indicate that the supreme is not asat [different from being], not achit [different from consciousness] and not an anananda [different from happiness]. Because we are in the phenomenal world we speak of the Self as sat-chit-ananda.
Q: In what sense is happiness or bliss [ananda] our real nature?
A: Perfect bliss is Brahman. Perfect peace is of the Self. That alone exists and is consciousness.
That which is called happiness is only the nature of Self; Self is not other than perfect happiness.
That which is called happiness alone exists. Knowing that fact and abiding in the state of Self, enjoy bliss eternally.
If a man thinks that his happiness is due to external causes and his possessions, it is reasonable to conclude that his happiness must increase with the increase of possessions and diminish in proportion to their diminution. Therefore if he is devoid of possessions, his happiness should be nil.
What is the real experience of man? Does it conform to this view? In deep sleep man is devoid of possessions, including his own body. Instead of being unhappy he is quite happy. Everyone desires to sleep soundly. The conclusion is that happiness is inherent in man and is not due to external causes. One must realise the Self in order to open the store of unalloyed happiness.
Q: Sri Bhagavan speaks of the Heart as the seat of consciousness and as identical with the Self.
What does the Heart exactly signify?
A: Call it by any name, God, Self, the Heart or the seat of consciousness, it is all the same. The point to be grasped is this, that Heart means the very core of one’s being, the centre, without which there is nothing whatever. The Heart is not physical, it is spiritual. Hridayam equals hrit plus ayam; it means ‘this is the centre’. It is that from which thoughts arise, on which they subsist and where they are resolved. The thoughts are the content of the mind and they shape the universe. The Heart is the centre of all. That from which beings come into existence is said to be Brahman in the Upanishads. That is the Heart. Brahman is the Heart.
Q: How to realise the Heart?
A: There is no one who even for a moment fails to experience the Self. For no one admits that he ever stands apart from the Self. He is the Self. The Self is the Heart.
The Heart is the centre from which everything springs. Because you see the world, the body and so on, it is said that there is a centre for these, which is called the Heart. When you are in the Heart, the Heart is known to be neither the centre nor the circumference. There is nothing else apart from it.
The consciousness which is the real existence and which does not go out to know those things which are other than Self, alone is the Heart. Since the truth of Self is known only to that consciousness, which is devoid of activity, that consciousness which always remains attending to Self alone is the shining of clear knowledge.
This page was published on September 27, 2001 and last revised on April 27, 2017.