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Instructions for Self-enquiry by Muruganar

By Muruganar

Translated by Sadhu Om and Michael James

The following text is Part One, Section 69, of Guru Vachaka Kovai.


Giving up the attitude of outwardly enquiring more and more, “Who are you? Who is he?”, it is best to always inwardly enquire with great interest about oneself, “Who am I?”


If one attends to the centre of oneself with a keen mind to know “Who am I?”, the identification ‘I am the body’ will die and the Reality will shine forth as ‘I-I’. Then all the illusory differences, which are like the blueness seen in the sky, will disappear.


All doubts and questions pertaining to duality and otherness will be destroyed by the question “Who am I?” This question, “Who is this ‘I’ who doubts and asks about other things?”, will itself turn out to be the Brahmashtra, and will destroy the appearance of all otherness, which is nothing other than dark ignorance.

Michael James: The Brahmashtra is the greatest and most powerful Divine Weapon.


By destroying the mischievous and frisky ego through the enquiry, “Who is this ‘I’ who sees the outside world through the deceitful senses?”, to remain permanently in Mei-Jnana-Para-Nishta is truly the means for one to attain Liberation.

Michael James: Mei-Jnana-Para-Nishta means the supreme abidance as the true knowledge.


The individual who enquires into his real nature, “Who am I?”, will die as the ‘I’-less Self.

Sadhu Om: This is like saying, “The river will die as the ocean”; i.e. the ego will die through enquiry, and That which will survive its death is the ‘I’-less Self.


Restraining the mind from going outside [through the senses], and fixing it always in its Source, Self, which is known as the Heart, so that the vain ‘I’-thought will not rise again, is the Atma-Vichara [Self-enquiry].

Sadhu Om: Refer to Who am I? where it is said, “… Always keeping the mind fixed in Self — that alone is Atma-Vichara …”


To know the Supreme Thing, which shines in the heart as Existence-Consciousness, it is useless to search for It [as God] outside with great enthusiasm, instead of slowly and steadily attending to It [as It is] by remaining in solitude. [To search for It outside is] just like trying to dive within the water with a naked lamp in one’s hand, in order to find a person who has drowned in a flood.

Michael James: A naked lamp will be extinguished on coming into contact with the water and will therefore not help one to find the missing person. Similarly, if one’s attention is towards second and third persons, it will not help one to find the Supreme Thing, which is the Reality of the first person.

Refer also to Sri Arunachala Ashtakam verse 4, where searching for God outside while ignoring Arunachala, who shines as Existence-Consciousness (i.e. Self) is likened to taking a lamp to search for darkness.


Self, which shines within the five sheaths, should be attended to within the Heart. Instead of doing so, to enquire for It in the scriptures is only scriptural enquiry — how can it be Self-enquiry?

Sadhu Om: Refer to Who am I? where it is said, “…Self is within the five sheaths; but the scriptures are outside the five sheaths. Therefore seeking Self in the scriptures when It is to be found within by negating the five sheaths, is futile…”


When mano-laya is gained by restraining the breath, one should keenly enquire, using such a peaceful mind which is now condensed from the scattered five [sense-knowledges] into the one ‘I’-consciousness, and know that Sat-Chit which is not the body.

Michael James: See also verse 516.

Sadhu Om: Mano-laya is a state in which the mind knows no objects, and it is of two kinds — sleep and kevala-nirvikalpa-samadhi. In sleep the mind gets no light from Self, and in kevala-nirvikalpa-samadhi, though the mind gets light form Self, it remains merely as the ‘I’-thought, and the vasanas are neither allowed to function, nor are they destroyed. When one wakes up from either kind of mano-laya, the vasanas start functioning as before, and so no progress is made in laya, however long one may remain in it. Therefore it is said that it is not sufficient to stop with mano-laya, even if it is kevala-nirvikalpa-samadhi.

Laya results because the mind is restrained from dwelling upon external sense-objects, but though the mind is not wandering and is therefore peaceful in this state, one cannot progress further.

Whenever the mind wakes up from laya, it will be quiet and peaceful [i.e. it will not be wandering towards objects], and therefore one should make use of such a peaceful mind by directing it towards Self-attention;’ because only through Self-attention can mano-nasha [i.e. destruction of the mind] be attained.

This verse clearly shows what Sri Bhagavan meant in Upadesa Undiyar verse 14, where He wrote that the mind which has been stilled by breath-control will be destroyed if it is engaged in “the one path” [“vazhi” in Tamil, “eka chintana” in Sanskrit]. This “one path” is nothing other than Self-enquiry, as this verse makes clear, and so we can certainly conclude that all the other interpretations which are recorded in some other books are not correct.


Those who take to the pure path of Self-enquiry are never derailed because, like the sun, this supremely direct path itself reveals to them its own unchallengeable clarity and uniqueness.

Sri Muruganar: Unlike karma, bhakti, yoga, etc., which, critically analysed, have to yield to the other paths, changing their course and bending a bit, Self-enquiry never has to yield and change its course, because of the uniqueness of Self. Hence Sri Bhagavan calls the path of Self-enquiry the pure path and the direct one. Besides, since one has to take to at least a little Self-attention in order to reach the final Goal, even though one may have been advancing through some other path, this path is called the supreme path by Sri Bhagavan.

Since this path is compared to the sun, we should take Self to be the sun, and Self-enquiry to be its ray.

Reprinted from Guru Vachaka Kovai. Click here to read it online for free or click the picture to buy it.
Guru Vachaka Kovai


Since death is nothing but pramada, those who want to conquer death should always ward off pramada; and since this alone is essential, there is no rule prescribing a time or place to enquire into Self.

Michael James: Pramada means inadvertence, i.e. giving up on the way what has been undertaken; here pramada denotes slackness in Self-attention.

Like death, pramada may happen at any time or in any place, and therefore Self-attention should be vigilantly maintained at all times and in all places.


Since time, place, etc., which seem to exist, cannot have a real existence of their own apart from the undivided and perfect Brahman, none of them can be unsuitable for practicing Self-enquiry.

Sadhu Om: The Tamil word for ‘unsuitable’ [vilakku] can also mean ‘target’, and so the following alternative meaning can also be taken: “…nothing bound by them [i.e. time, place, etc.] should be taken as a target for meditation”.

While taking this alternative meaning, “time, place etc., which seem to exist,” should be understood to mean this whole universe of names and forms [which are all second and third persons]. Hence we are told in this verse that we should not take as objects of meditation any second or third person such as: (a) a place for the heart on the right-hand side of the chest; (b) any chakra or centre in the body; (c) any name or form of a God or Goddess; (d) any divine light or sound; etc. Refer also to verse 184, where the same idea is expressed.


One’s unceasing effort to turn the mind — which is always extroverted due to the force of habit [cultivated in past births] — towards Self by the Self-enquiry “Who am I?” is [the significance of] the great war being fought between devas and asuras [which is described in the Puranas].

Sadhu Om: In India many stories are recorded in books known as the Puranas, which tell of the wars being fought between devas [gods] and asuras [demons]. These wars should not be regarded as mere myths or events that happened only in the distant past, they are going on even today. They are the constant battle which is always being fought in the life of a sadhaka between his liking to attend only to Self and the habitual outward-going tendencies of his mind.


Whenever a thought arises, instead of trying even a little either to follow it up or to fulfil it, it would be better to first enquire, “To whom did this thought arise?”

Sadhu Om: The ideas expressed in verses 397, 398 and 399 are also expressed in prose in Who am I?


When one thus inwardly enquires, “Is it not to me that this thought has arisen — then who am I?”, the mind will return to subside in its Source, and the already risen thought will also vanish.


When one daily practices in this manner, since the impurities are being removed from the mind, it will become purer and purer to such an extent that the practice will become so easy that the mind will reach the Heart as soon as the enquiry is commenced.


Just as the creatures which come out of the bushes to save their lives, being unable to bear with the heat of the wild forest-fire, are surely burnt to death, so all the vasanas hiding in the Heart will be destroyed, being unable to stand before the growing and blazing fire of the strength of Self-enquiry.


The thought “Who am I?”, after destroying all other thoughts, will itself finally die just like the stick which is used to stir the funeral pyre, and then the supreme Silence will prevail for ever.

Sadhu Om: Refer also to Who am I?


When the delusion which has veiled Self, the Light of Consciousness of unlimited Bliss [Sat-Chit-Ananda], is destroyed by the clear enquiry “Who am I?”, one’s own Nature will shine forth gloriously as the Atmakasha [i.e. Space of Self].


Just as an iron ball which is heated in fire will itself shine as fire, when the impure jiva is burnt in the fire of Self-enquiry, it will itself shine as Self.


By enquiring, “Who am I, the deluded one who suffers so much?”, the delusion will be dissolved, the Reality will be attained, Jnana will dawn, Mouna will flow forth and the Bliss of Peace will prevail.


It is only due to the delusion which is caused by not learning the Truth of Self that jivas are suffering. Therefore, always take to the practice of Jnana — the inward enquiry “Who am I that is suffering?”


By contact with the philosopher’s stone — proper and unceasing enquiry — the ghostly jiva will lose the rust of mental impurities and will be turned into the supreme Shiva.

Sri Muruganar and Michael James: Since enquiry is described as the philosopher’s stone and the mental impurities are described as mental rust, the jiva should be taken to be the base material and Shiva to be the gold.


If the son of God, the jiva who has forgotten his real Nature [i.e. Self], eagerly enquires within, “Who am I that is lamenting over the miseries of life?’, he will realise his greatness, namely that he is truly One with his Father — Self.

Michael James: This verse was given according to the doctrines of Christianity.


Text copyright © Michael James.

Muruganar (1890–1973) was a poet and direct disciple of Sri Ramana Maharshi.

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This page was published on May 9, 2017 and last revised on January 12, 2018.


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