New!  Join us for friendly live discussion in our Discord server. Try it

‘I’ and ‘I–I’, a Reader’s Query

What did Sri Ramana Maharshi mean when he used the terms ‘I–I’ and sphurana?
Sri Ramana Maharshi

By David Godman

SOMETIME LAST YEAR (this was written in the early 1980s) I received a letter from Professor James E. Royster of Cleveland State University, USA, which contained the following interesting question:

My reason for writing is to raise a question with you that has long puzzled me. I have been reading Ramana Maharshi for about twenty years and frequently find him using the expression ‘I–I’ but I’m not clear on his meaning. Why ‘I–I’ rather than simply ‘I’? I can think of many possible meanings but I am not at all sure what Ramana intended. Is it to suggest that the sense of separate self (or self-consciousness) arises only in relationship to another sense of separate self? Or that the individual atman is derived from (“subtracted” from) the Absolute Atman, Brahman Nirguna? Does ‘I–I’ refer to the ego or the Universal Self? My guesses and interpretations go on and on. If you can shed some light on this issue I will be most appreciative. Perhaps there has been an article in The Mountain Path or elsewhere that takes up this question.

This question has not, to my knowledge, been discussed in any great detail in either The Mountain Path or any other ashram publication. I therefore sent the following detailed reply to the professor. Since I suspect that some devotees may disagree with some of my conclusions, I should say in advance that this is not intended to be a definitive explanation. It merely reflects my own views.

Reprinted from

BHAGAVAN never used the term ‘I–I’ to denote the mind, the ego or the individual self, nor did he intend it, as Professor Royster speculates, to indicate that there is any relationship between the individual ‘I’ and the Self. On the contrary, Bhagavan makes it clear on many occasions that ‘I–I’ is an experience not of the ego but of the Self. Verse thirty of Ulladu Narpadu is quite emphatic about this:

Questioning ‘Who am I?’ within one’s mind, when one reaches the Heart, the individual ‘I’ sinks crestfallen, and at once reality manifests itself as ‘I–I’. Though it reveals itself thus, it is not the ego ‘I’ but the perfect being, the Self Absolute.1

Verses nineteen and twenty of Upadesa Undiyar describe the same process in almost identical terms:

19. ‘Whence does the ‘I’ arise?’ Seek this within. The ‘I’ then vanishes. This is the pursuit of wisdom.

20. Where the ‘I’ vanished, there appears an ‘I–I’ by itself. This is the infinite.2

An earlier version of this article appeared in The Mountain Path, Aradhana 1991.
Mountain Path, Jan. 1966

Although Bhagavan is here clearly equating the experience of ‘I–I’ with the experience of the Self, one should be wary of jumping to the conclusion that he is saying in these three verses that the ‘I–I’ experience occurs after the final realisation of the Self. Why? Because on many other occasions Bhagavan told devotees that the ‘I–I’ experience was merely a prelude to realisation and not the realisation itself. I shall return to the question of whether the ‘I–I’ experience can be equated with Self-realisation later in this article, but first I feel that it would be more profitable to examine some of the quotations in which Bhagavan gave detailed descriptions of the ‘I–I’.

Bhagavan frequently used the Sanskrit phrase aham sphurana to indicate the ‘I–I’ consciousness or experience. Aham means ‘I’ and sphurana can be translated as ‘radiation, emanation, or pulsation’. When he explained what this term meant, he indicated that it is an impermanent experience of the Self in which the mind has been temporarily transcended. This distinction between the temporary experience of the ‘I–I’ and the permanent state of Self-realisation that follows it is well brought out in the question-and-answer version of Vichara Sangraham (Self-Enquiry):

Therefore, leaving the corpse-like body as an actual corpse and remaining without even uttering the word ‘I’ by mouth, if one now keenly enquires, ‘What is it that rises as ‘I’? then in the Heart a certain soundless sphurana, ‘I–I’, will shine forth of its own accord. It is an awareness that is single and undivided, the thoughts which are many and divided having disappeared. If one remains still without leaving it, even the sphurana – having completely annihilated the sense of the individuality, the form of the ego, ‘I am the body’ – will itself in the end subside, just like the flame that catches the camphor. This alone is said to be liberation by great ones and scriptures.3

This answer can be taken to be an amplification of and a commentary on the three verses already quoted, for the same sequence of events is described, but at greater length: after the source of the ‘I’-thought is sought for, the ‘I’-thought subsides, disappears and is replaced by the aham sphurana. What this longer quotation makes clear is that even this sphurana of ‘I–I’ has to subside before the final and permanent stage of Self-realisation is attained.

Bhagavan’s use of the word sphurana in this quotation once puzzled Devaraja Mudaliar. He therefore asked Bhagavan about it and received a detailed, illuminating answer:

Devaraja Mudaliar

Devaraja Mudaliar

I have always had doubt about what exactly the word sphurana means [in question three of Vichara Sangraham]. So I asked Bhagavan and he said, ‘It means… ‘Which shines or illuminates’’.’ I asked, ‘Is it not a sound we hear?’ Bhagavan said, ‘Yes, we may say it is a sound we feel or become aware of’. He also referred to the dictionary and said, ‘The word means “throbbing”, “springing on the memory”, “flashing across the mind”. Thus both sound and light may be implied in the word sphurana. Everything has come from light and sound.’ I asked Bhagavan what it is that ‘shines’, whether it is the ego or the Self. He said that it was neither the one nor the other, but something in between the two, that it is something that is a combination of the ‘I’ (Self) and the ‘I’-thought (ego) and that the Self is without even this sphurana.4

Another more philosophical explanation of the aham sphurana and ‘I–I’ can be found in one of the later answers of Vichara Sangraham:

D: It was stated [in your previous answer] that Brahman is manifest as the Self in the form of ‘I–I’ in the Heart. To facilitate an understanding of this statement, can it be still further explained?

M: Is it not within the experience of all that during deep sleep, swoon etc., there is no knowledge whatsoever, that is, neither Self-knowledge nor other knowledge. Afterwards, when there is experience of the form ‘I have woken up from sleep’ or ‘I have recovered from swoon’ – is that not a mode of specific knowledge that has arisen from the aforementioned state? This specific knowledge is called vijnana. This vijnana becomes manifest only as pertaining either to the Self or the not-Self, and not by itself. When it pertains to the Self it is called true knowledge, knowledge in the form of that mental mode whose object is the Self or knowledge which has for its content the impartite [Self], and when it relates to the not-Self it is called ignorance. The state of this vijnana when it pertains to the Self and is manifest in the form of the Self is said to be the aham sphurana. This sphurana cannot remain independently, leaving the Reality. It is this sphurana that serves as the mark for the direct experience of the Real. Yet this by itself cannot constitute the state of being the Real. That, depending on which this manifestation takes place, is the basic Reality, which is also called prajnana [pure consciousness]. The Vedantic text ‘prajnanam brahma’ [Brahman is pure consciousness] teaches the same truth.5

This is a most interesting answer because it can also serve as a commentary on the first half of one of Bhagavan’s most famous verses. In Sri Ramana Gita, chapter two, verse two, Bhagavan states that, ‘In the interior of the heart-cave Brahman alone shines in the form of Atman with direct immediacy as I, as I.’6

Although this Ramana Gita verse, and particularly its second half, has been extensively discussed in the Ramana literature, no commentators, so far as I am aware, have mentioned Bhagavan’s own written explanation in Vichara Sangraham of the ‘I–I’ shining in the Heart.

At this point in the discussion an interesting phenomenon needs to be commented on. In his writings7 Bhagavan has made several relatively brief statements in which he equates the ‘I–I’ experience with the Self. At first sight they appear to be descriptions of the state of Self-realisation, but when they are read in conjunction with the long explanations of the ‘I–I’ that can be found elsewhere in his writings8 and in his verbal comments, it is possible to see in these verses a description of the impermanent aham sphurana rather than the permanent state of realisation. This is an unusual interpretation, but I believe it to be a sustainable one. However, I would not go so far as to say that it is the only legitimate way of interpreting these verses.

In the previous quotation from Vichara Sangraham the ‘I–I’ is defined as being a clear knowledge (vijnana) of the Self in which the mind, still existing, clings tightly to its source and is permeated by emanations of ‘I’-ness radiating from the Self.

Ganapati Muni may have had this particular answer in mind when he wrote to Bhagavan and asked the following question: ‘Is abidance in vijnana a means for gradually attaining the perfect, or is it not? If it is not certainly a means for that, then for what purpose is it?’

In his reply Bhagavan repeated the relevant parts of the answer from Vichara Sangraham but he also added some remarks on how self-enquiry leads to aham sphurana and how abidance in aham sphurana, or ‘I–I’, leads to Self-realisation:

The ‘I’-thought which rises in this manner [by catching hold of something] appears in the form of the three gunas, and of these three the rajas and tamas aspects cling to and identify with the body. The remaining one, which is pure sattva, is alone the natural characteristic of the mind, and this stands clinging to the reality. However, in the pure sattvic state, the ‘I’-thought is no longer really a thought, it is the Heart itself… The state in which the pure sattva mind shines clinging to the Self is called aham sphurana…The source to which this sphurana clings alone is called the reality or pure consciousness… When the mind, having pure sattva as its characteristic, remains attending to the aham sphurana, which is the sign of the forthcoming direct experience of the Self, the downward-facing Heart becomes upward-facing and remains in the form of That. This aforesaid attention to the source of the aham sphurana alone is the path. When thus attended to, Self, the reality, alone will remain shining in the centre of the Heart as I-am-I.9

Bhagavan and Ganapati Muni at Skandashram

Bhagavan and Ganapati Muni at Skandashram

The quotations given so far should make it clear what Bhagavan was referring to when he spoke of the ‘I–I’ experience, but they fail to address one of Professor Royster’s principal questions: why does Bhagavan use the term ‘I–I’ rather than ‘I’? The term ‘I’ is clearly inadequate and confusing since it denotes either the Self or the ego rather than the aham sphurana which is, as Bhagavan says, ‘neither the one nor the other’. A. R. Natarajan in his commentary on Sri Ramana Gita suggests that ‘to denote the continuous nature of the throb of consciousness, Ramana repeats the words as “I–I”.’10 This is certainly plausible. An alternative explanation, suggested by Sadhu Om,11 can be derived from the rules of Tamil grammar. In simple Tamil sentences the present tense of the verb ‘to be’ is usually omitted. Thus, the expression ‘nan-nan’ (‘I–I’ in Tamil) would generally be taken to mean ‘I am I’ by a Tamilian. This interpretation would make ‘I–I’ an emphatic statement of Self-awareness akin to the biblical ‘I am that I am’ which Bhagavan occasionally said summarised the whole of Vedanta. Bhagavan himself has said that he used the term ‘I–I’ to denote the import of the word ‘I’. This explanation appears in both Upadesa Undiyar (verse 21) and in the talks that precede Sat Darshana Bhashya.12

Whichever explanation one chooses, either these or others, one should avoid those which postulate that the experience is called ‘I–I’ because it radiates in discrete pulses, for Bhagavan was quite emphatic that the experience was continuous and unbroken. For example, in the essay version of Vichara Sangraham he wrote: ‘Underlying the unceasing flow of varied thoughts there arises the continuous unbroken awareness, silent and spontaneous, as ‘I–I’ in the Heart.’13

I would like now to address more fully the question of whether the ‘I–I’ experience, as defined by Bhagavan, is present after realisation takes place. Most devotees who are familiar with Bhagavan’s teachings would have no hesitation in asserting that this is so. If pressed to provide evidence to support their point of view, they would probably quote the verses from Ulladu Narpadu and Upadesa Undiyar that I have already cited, and probably add verse twenty of Upadesa Saram. They would be quite justified in doing so, for it is possible to translate and interpret all these verses in such a way that their meaning would be that the ‘I–I’ experience is a consequence and not a precursor of Self-realisation. To see how this is so, one must look at the verbs in these verses and examine what they mean in their original languages. For the sake of convenience I will give the verses again with the relevant verbs printed in italics.

Questioning ‘Who am I?’ within one’s mind, when one reaches the Heart the individual ‘I’ sinks crestfallen, and at once reality manifests itself as ‘I–I’. Though it reveals itself thus, it is not the ego ‘I’, but the perfect being, the Self Absolute.14

Whence does this ‘I’ arise? Seek this within. This ‘I’ then vanishes. This is the pursuit of wisdom. Where the ‘I’ vanished, there appears an ‘I–I’ by itself. This is the infinite [poornam].15

Where this ‘I’ vanished and merged in its source, there appears spontaneously and continuously an ‘I–I’. This is the Heart, the infinite Supreme Being.16

The third translation has been taken from The Maharishi’s Way, a translation of Upadesa Saram by D. S. Sastri, 1989 ed., p. 38. Quotes one and two are from the sources cited earlier in the article.

The first two italicised verbs, ‘sinks crest-fallen’ and ‘vanishes’ are translations of the Tamil phrase talai-sayndidum, which literally means, ‘will bow its head’. In ordinary usage it means ‘will humble itself’, ‘sinks crest-fallen’, or ‘will bow its head in shame’. However, in colloquial usage it can also mean ‘will die’. If this colloquial usage is preferred, both verses will have as their meaning that the ‘I–I’ will only manifest after the death of the individual ‘I’. Sadhu Om in his translations has preferred the colloquial usage ‘will die’, but other translators have opted for variations on ‘sinks crest-fallen’. This may seem like pointless pedantry, but a crucial distinction is at stake: if the verb chosen indicates a permanent extinction of the ego, then the ‘I–I’ arises as a consequence of Self-realisation; but if the chosen verb indicates that the ‘I’ had only temporarily subsided (e.g. ‘vanished’, ‘merged’, ‘disappeared’, etc.) then Bhagavan is indicating that the ‘I–I’ manifests before realisation. It is of course possible to have it both ways and say that the ‘I–I’ is experienced both before and after realisation. Adherents of this school of thought would probably say that the Upadesa Undiyar and Ulladu Narpadu verses describe the post-realisation ‘I–I’ experience whereas the Vichara Sangraham quotations refer to the aham sphurana experience which precedes it.

The third italicised phrase, ‘where the ‘I’ vanished’, is a translation of the Tamil word ‘ondru’ which means ‘where it merges’ or ‘where it becomes one with’. Since the union referred to in this verse can be dissolved by the re-emergence of the ‘I’, the term ondru does not imply a permanent extinction of the ‘I’. However, those who support the thesis that the ‘I–I’ manifests after the permanent eradication of the ‘I’ would probably point to Bhagavan’s Sanskrit translation of this verse. In it he uses the word nasa (for the fourth italicised verb, ‘vanished and merged’) where the word ondru is used in the Tamil original. This has been variously translated as ‘destroyed’, ‘annihilated’, and ‘perished’, all terms which indicate a permanent destruction of the ‘I’. It is quite permissible though to translate nasa as ‘disappear’ or ‘vanish’, and indeed several translators have done so.17 In addition to D. M. Sastri, two other published authors have translated nasa in verse twenty of Upadesa Saram as ‘vanished’: Swami Atmananda in Light on Religious Practices, p. 29 and Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha in Upadesa Sara of Maharshi Ramana, p. 11. Since one should select a meaning that is consonant with the idea expressed in the original Tamil, I feel that ‘vanish’ or ‘disappear’ is preferable. The implications of words such as ‘destroy’ or ‘perish’ are not present in the original text.

Lakshmana Sarma

Lakshmana Sarma

There are two other translations that can add a little evidence to this debate. In the 1920s Lakshmana Sarma translated Ulladu Narpadu into Sanskrit under Bhagavan’s supervision. He had to recast each verse several times in order to satisfy Bhagavan that his translation was completely accurate. When verse thirty was translated, Lakshmana Sarma translated talai-sayndidum as ‘bows its head in shame’ and received Bhagavan’s imprimatur on it.18 Many years later, Major Chadwick translated Upadesa Saram into English and had his manuscript corrected by Bhagavan. In this version Bhagavan approved of the word ‘disappears’ as a translation of the Sanskrit word nasa in verse twenty.19

To sum up this linguistic excursion: the verses on ‘I–I’ that Bhagavan wrote are open to two interpretations. They can be taken either to mean that the ‘I–I’ is experienced as a consequence of realisation or as a precursor to it. My own view, and I would stress that it is only a personal opinion, is that the evidence points to it being a precursor only. In justification of this view I would say that:

  1. In his lengthy explanations of the ‘I–I’ Bhagavan always speaks of it as a temporary experience;
  2. In a long conversation with S. S. Cohen that will appear later, Bhagavan twice states that the ‘I–I’ consciousness is different from the sahaja nirvikalpa samadhi state, that is, the natural state of the jnani;
  3. Bhagavan’s Tamil and Sanskrit verses on this subject can all be interpreted in such a way that they support this view.

I should like now to raise an interesting question, and, if possible answer it. If the ‘I–I’ or aham sphurana experience occurs immediately before realisation, and not after it, is there any evidence to show that Bhagavan himself went through such an experience on the day of his own realisation? I think there is, although it is somewhat flimsy. I will begin by quoting one other verse that Bhagavan wrote:

Therefore on diving deep upon the quest
‘Who am ‘I’ and from whence?’
thoughts disappear
And consciousness of Self then flashes forth
As the ‘I–I’ within the cavity
Of every seeker’s Heart…20

If one adds this to the previous similar quotations I have already cited, there are now four written accounts by Bhagavan that have in common an almost identical theme; as a result of self-enquiry, the ‘I’-thought subsides, disappears and is replaced by the ‘I–I’ ‘flashing forth’ in the Heart. What authority does Bhagavan have for saying this? I would answer by making the novel suggestion that these writings are autobiographical in nature and that Bhagavan is recording what happened to him on his enlightenment day in 1896. I would support this view by comparing the introductory comments from Vichara Sangraham, answer three, to the well-known account of the death experience which has been printed in many ashram books.

Therefore, leaving the corpse-like body as an actual corpse, and remaining without even uttering the word ‘I’ by mouth, if one keenly enquires, ‘What is it that rises as ‘I’?…21

I lay with my limbs stretched out still as though rigor mortishad set in and imitated a corpse so as to give greater reality to the enquiry. I held my breath and kept my lips tightly closed so that no sound could escape, so that neither the word ‘I’ nor any other word could be uttered. ‘Well then,’ I said to myself, ‘this body is dead…But with the death of the body, am I dead? Is the body ‘I’?

The second quote is from Ramana Maharishi and the Path of Self Knowledge, ch. 2. In an alternative version22 Bhagavan asks himself, just prior to his Self-realisation, ‘What was this “I”? Is it the body? Who called himself the “I”?’ This version, in which such a definite act of self-enquiry takes place, is even closer to the Vichara Sangraham version.

The similarities cannot be ignored. Indeed, since the preamble to the Vichara Sangraham answer is so close to the published accounts of his death experience, it is possible that the remainder of the answer (cited in full earlier in this article) is also autobiographical. If this whole answer is merely a thinly-disguised account of Bhagavan’s own Self-realisation, then one can say that he experienced the aham sphurana as a consequence of his enquiry, and that the aham sphurana finally subsided, leaving the full, permanent and sphurana-less experience of the Self. No hint of this can be found in B. V. Narasimhaswami’s account of the death experience, but in Krishna Bhikshu’s Telugu biography Bhagavan takes up the story of what happened after he had begun his enquiry into the nature of the ‘I’.

Now the body is inert, devoid of consciousness, while I am full of awareness. Therefore death is for the inert body. This ‘I’ is indestructible awareness. The knowledge that remains when the body gives up its affairs and when there are no sensory workings is not sensory knowledge. This aham sphurana is direct knowledge, Self-experience, self-effulgent and not imaginary.23

In 1945 Bhagavan confirmed that he had experienced the aham sphurana on the day of his realisation. In a conversation with Swami Rishikeshananda in November that year he remarked: ‘In the vision of death I experienced at Madurai, all my senses were numbed, but my aham sphurana was clearly evident to me…’24 In neither Krishna Bhikshu’s nor Anantha Murthy’s account does Bhagavan go on to say that the aham sphurana subsided, leaving the full and permanent state of Self-realisation. However, since he on many other occasions asserted that the aham sphurana was a temporary experience and that it must subside and disappear before realisation can take place, it is reasonable to infer that he did in fact experience the sequence of events described in Vichara Sangraham, answer three, on the day of his own realisation.

There is one other point that can be mentioned in passing. Though Bhagavan rarely talked about it, there appears, occasionally, to be a cosmological aspect to this usage of the term aham sphurana. On one occasion he said, ‘The Supreme Being is unmanifest and the first sign of manifestation is aham sphurana’.25 In what may be an amplification of this unusual statement, Bhagavan once told Devaraja Mudaliar:

‘… both sound and light may be implied in the word sphurana. Everything has come from light and sound.’… Explaining how the Self is mere light and how it is both the word or sound and also that out of which word or sound originally came, Bhagavan said, ‘Man has three bodies, the gross, the one made of the five elements, the sukshma or subtle one made of manas [mind] and prana, and the jiva. Similarly, even Iswara has three bodies. All the manifest universe is his gross body, light and sound are his subtle body, and the Self is his jiva.’)26

According to this explanation the aham sphurana can be viewed as the subtle body of Iswara, the source or springboard from which the material world springs or evolves. However, this is somewhat fanciful, being sharply at variance with Bhagavan’s mainstream ideas on creation.

As a conclusion, it will be appropriate to include an extract from Guru Ramana. In one of his conversations with Bhagavan, S. S. Cohen asked several questions about the nature of the ‘I–I’. In his answers, Bhagavan made several interesting comments, many of which are not recorded elsewhere in the Ramana literature.

Mr C: Vivekachudamani speaks of the ‘I–I’ consciousness as eternally shining in the Heart, but no one is aware of it.

Bhagavan: Yes, all men without exception have it, in whatever state they may be – the waking, dreaming and dreamless sleep – and whether they are conscious of it or not.

C: In the ‘Talks’ section of Sat Darshana Bhashya, the ‘I–I’ is referred to as the Absolute Consciousness, yet Bhagavan once told me that any realisation before Sahaja Nirvikalpa is intellectual.

B: Yes, the ‘I–I’ consciousness is the Absolute. Though it comes before Sahaja, there is in it as in Sahaja itself the subtle intellect; the difference being that in the latter [Sahaja] the sense of forms disappear, which is not the case in the former.

S.S. Cohen

S.S. Cohen

When Bhagavan mentioned that the subtle intellect remains in the sahaja state, he was referring to the vijnanamayakosa, or ‘the sheath of pure intellect’. He would occasionally say that the jnani keeps in contact with the world via this sheath although such statements do not sit well with his assertion that the jnani has no mind.27

This answer suggests an interesting distinction between the ‘I–I’ consciousness and kevala nirvikalpa samadhi, both of which, according to Bhagavan, are temporary experiences of the Self. Nirvikalpa means ‘no differences’, so in kevala nirvikalpa samadhi no names or forms are perceived. However, on the basis of this answer, one can say that forms are still perceived during the ‘I–I’ experience.

In his writings Bhagavan has said that self-enquiry leads to the experience of aham sphurana, and that abidance in the aham sphurana leads on to a full realisation of the sahaja nirvikalpa state. He was less positive about kevala nirvikalpa samadhi, often saying that it was a temporary state, and that the mind would eventually re-emerge from it. He generally tried to discourage devotees from trying to reach this state since he regarded it as something akin to an unproductive detour.28 One can infer from Bhagavan’s remarks and writings that self-enquiry, properly undertaken, bypasses this kevala nirvikalpa state completely and reaches the sahaja state via the alternate route of the aham sphurana experience. Mr. Cohen received confirmation of this as he continued his conversation with Bhagavan:

C: Bhagavan, you said yesterday that there exists in the human body a hole as small as a pinpoint, from which consciousness always bubbles out to the body. Is it open or shut?

B: It is always shut, being the knot of ignorance which ties the body to consciousness. When the mind drops away in the temporary Kevala Nirvikalpa it opens but shuts again. In Sahaja it remains always open.

C: How is it during the experience of ‘I–I’ consciousness?

B: This consciousness is the key which opens it permanently.

This opening process may be the same one that was described by Bhagavan in his letter to Ganapati Muni, which I quoted earlier. Part of it read: ‘When the mind having pure sattva as its characteristic remains attending to the aham sphurana, which is the sign of the forthcoming direct experience of the Self, the downward-facing Heart becomes upward-facing and remains in the form of That.’ If ‘the Heart becomes upward-facing’ is the equivalent of this small consciousness-emitting hole opening, then this is another instance of Bhagavan saying that abidance in the aham sphurana is the way to make the Heart open permanently.

When the Heart is permanently open, the world, which was previously assumed to be external, is experienced not as separate names and forms, but as one’s own Self, as the immanent Brahman. In nirvikalpa samadhi, according to Bhagavan, the Heart temporarily opens to admit the mind, but then closes again. Thus the nirvikalpa experience of the Self is both limited (in so far as it is temporary) and ‘internal’. Because the Heart remains closed, the sahaja experience of the world being Brahman is absent. There is merely an internal awareness of one’s real nature that lasts as long as the duration of the samadhi. As mentioned before, in the aham sphurana experience, external awareness is retained, but names and forms continue to be perceived as names and forms until the ‘I’ finally dies in the Heart.

One final point needs to be stressed. In Ulladu Narpadu, Upadesa Undiyar and Vichara Sangraham Bhagavan makes the point that it is self-enquiry that leads to aham sphurana. Nowhere is it mentioned in these texts that other methods lead to this state. This point is made again in the concluding section of Mr. Cohen’s talk with Bhagavan:

C: How to reach that Centre where what you call the ultimate consciousness – the ‘I–I’ – arises? Is it by simply thinking ‘Who am I?’

B: Yes, it will take you up. You must do it with a calm mind – mental calmness is essential.

C: How does that consciousness manifest when that Centre – the Heart – is reached? Will I recognise it?

B: Certainly, as pure consciousness, free from all thought. It is pure unbroken awareness of your own Self, rather of Being – there is no mistaking it when pure.

C: Is the vibratory movement of the Centre felt simultaneously with the experience of Pure Consciousness, or before, or after it?

B: They are both one and the same. But sphurana can be felt in a subtle way even when meditation has sufficiently established and deepened, and the ultimate consciousness is very near, or during a sudden fright or great shock, when the mind comes to a standstill. It draws attention to itself, so that the meditator’s mind, rendered sensitive by calmness, may become aware of it, gravitate toward it, and finally plunge into it, the Self.

C: Is the ‘I–I’ consciousness Self-realisation?

B: It is a prelude to it: when it becomes permanent Sahaja it is Self-realisation, Liberation.29


Note 1. Truth Revealed, v. 30, 1982 ed. [Return to text]

Note 2. Upadesa Saram translated by B. V. Narasimhaswami. Though this is entitled Upadesa Saram, it is actually a translation of Upadesa Undiyar, the original Tamil text. Upadesa Saram is Bhagavan’s own Sanskrit rendering of his original Tamil verses. [Return to text]

Note 3. Question three of Vichara Sangraham, translated by Sadhu Om, and taken from page 98 of The Mountain Path, 1982. The word order has been slightly changed in this version. [Return to text]

Note 4. Day by Day with Bhagavan, 23rd April, 1945. [Return to text]

Note 5. Vichara Sangraham, question and answer no. 32. Part of the translation has been taken from the booklet Self-Enquiry and part from The Mountain Path, 1982, p. 98. [Return to text]

Note 6. Sri Ramana Gita, 6th ed. [Return to text]

Note 7. Upadesa Undiyar, vv. 19 and 20, Ulladu Narpadu, v. 30, and Sri Ramana Gita, ch. 2, v. 2. [Return to text]

Note 8. Vichara Sangraham, answers 3 and 30. [Return to text]

Note 9. ‘Sri Bhagavan’s Letter to Ganapati Muni,’ The Mountain Path, 1982, pp. 95–101. [Return to text]

Note 10. Sri Ramana Gita by A. R. Natarajan, p. 20. [Return to text]

Note 11. Upadesa Undiyar, p. 20. [Return to text]

Note 12. Sat Darshana Bhashya, 7th ed. p. iii. [Return to text]

Note 13. Vichara Sangraham, essay version, ch. 1. [Return to text]

Note 14. Ulladu Narpadu, verse 30. [Return to text]

Note 15. Upadesa Undiyar, verses 19 and 20. [Return to text]

Note 16. Upadesa Saram, verse 20. This translation has been taken from  The Maharishi’s Way, a translation of Upadesa Saram by D. S. Sastri, 1989 ed., p. 38. [Return to text]

Note 17. In addition to D. M. Sastri, two other published authors have translated  nasa in verse twenty of Upadesa Saram as ‘vanished’: Swami Atmananda in  Light on Religious Practices, p. 29 and Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha in Upadesa Sara of Maharshi Ramana, p. 11. [Return to text]

Note 18. Revelation by ‘Who’, 1980 ed., v. 35. [Return to text]

Note 19. The Poems of Sri Ramana Maharshi, by Major Chadwick, 3rd ed., p. 1. [Return to text]

Note 20. Atma Vidya Kirtanam, v. 2, taken from Collected Works. [Return to text]

Note 21. Vichara Sangraham, answer 3. [Return to text]

Note 22. The Mountain Path, 1982, p. 68. [Return to text]

Note 23. Ramana Leela, 7th ed., pp. 20–21. [Return to text]

Note 24. The Life and Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi by T. S. Anantha Murthy, 1972, ed., pp. 6–7. [Return to text]

Note 25. Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 518. [Return to text]

Note 26. Day by Day with Bhagavan, 24th March, 1945. These remarks are part of Bhagavan’s explanation of the word sphurana in question three of Vichara Sangraham. [Return to text]

Note 27. See Guru Ramana, 7th ed., pp. 100–101 for further details. [Return to text]

Note 28. See, for example, Talks with Sri Ramana Maharishi, no. 54 in which Bhagavan notes that one can get stuck in nirvikalpa samadhi for years without making any progress. [Return to text]

Note 29. Guru Ramana, 1974 ed. pp. 81–83. [Return to text]

Copyright David Godman 1991, 2003, 2019. Reprinted from Used by permission. An earlier version of this article appeared in The Mountain Path, Aradhana 1991.

David Godman (b. 1953) has written many books about Sri Ramana Maharshi, his disciples, and related subjects. He was the librarian at Sri Ramanasramam for eight years.

Related pages on this site

Related pages on other sites

Recommended Books

David Godman, Be As You Are

Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi

Edited by David Godman

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.


See it on Amazon.

The Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi

By Sri Ramana Maharshi
Edited by Arthur Osborne

This book is the best available anthology of Ramana’s writings, and it’s indispensable for people who want to understand his teachings. Published by his ashram, it contains almost everything he wrote including instruction manuals, poems, and translations of classic works.

There are other Ramana anthologies produced by editors and publishers who know next to nothing about Ramana. Get this one instead.

See it on Amazon.

David Godman, The Power of the Presence, Part One

The Power of the Presence, Part One

Edited by David Godman

In this book, eight people who knew Ramana Maharshi tell in their own words how their lives were transformed by him. David Godman compiled the accounts by searching through piles of old documents, some previously unpublished, others translated into English for the first time here. His sensitive editing allows the distinctive voice of each person to come through. The book includes testimony by Rangan, Sivaprakasam Pillai, Akhilandamma, Sadhu Natanananda, N.R. Krishnamurti Aiyer, Chalam and Souris, and Swami Madhavatirtha.


See it on Amazon.

This page was published on July 9, 2019 and last revised on July 9, 2019.


comments powered by Disqus