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The Technique of Self-Enquiry

Step-by-step detailed instructions for Self-enquiry written by one of Sri Ramana Maharshi’s direct disciples.

Ramana Maharshi photo lm_09

By N.R. Narayana Aiyer

Rising in the morning at about 4 a.m. have a wash or bath and prostrating before the photo of your Guru or of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, pray to him to guide you in meditation.

Step l. Facing north or east sit in a comfortable position and with eyes closed watch the movements of your breath for a few minutes and observe where the breath rises and sinks in the chest inside. This is the HEART and should be held as the seat for meditation.

Step 2. With closed eyes and with the mental eye or the mind centred in the Heart repeat ‘Who am I?’ in your own language without stopping, for at least fifteen minutes, gradually increasing the period to one hour. You must on no account get up till the fixed period is over. See that the japa is continuous. Do the same in the evening for the same period.

Step 3. After a few months when well established in the second step, with closed eyes after a quick exhalation restrain the breath outside without inhaling (external kumbhaka) as long as possible without strain, repeating ‘Who am I?’ all the while and inhale. Keep the mental eye fixed on the Heart always. Do this five times in the morning and five times in the evening gradually increasing it to twenty times or more with a minute’s rest, i.e., normal breathing after five such kumbhakas.

When thoughts interrupt you as they will, do not go away with the thought but immediately put the question “To whom has the thought come?”. The answer will be “To me”. Then question “Who am I?”. Keep on repeating “Who am I?” with the method aforesaid, i.e., with the mind fixed on the Heart and with external kumbhaka. Do not be discouraged by the number of thoughts that come, but kill them all as they appear by the above method. In all the practices herein mentioned the vital part of the practice is the fixing of the mind on the Heart which is located as mentioned previously.

You should, after each sitting, try to look back on your meditation to see if thoughts hindered you less or more and try to find the cause of it. In most cases it may be traced to the kind of food taken. Eggs, meat and vegetables like onions, garlic, radish, etc., and sleep-inducing drinks should be avoided totally. Pure cow’s milk for the night food is very helpful for night meditation. Doing japa of “Who am I?” daily, prior to going to sleep in the bed, makes you do it automatically even while asleep and it is conducive to good meditation in the morning. One desirous of early morning meditation should be satisfied with a half meal for the night.

(Breath restraint or the pause between complete exhalation and inhalation is called ‘external Kumbhaka’).

Step 4. When well established in the last step, try to dive into the Heart during external kumbhaka (vide verse 28, 29 Truth Revealed and the annotations : Appendix A). Slowly exhale and watch the exhalation movement in the chest. With the sinking movement in the chest dive into the Heart with the mental articulation of “Who am I?”. Imagine you are diving into a well to search for something dropped in it. With the breath restrained outside, keep searching for the source of the ego in the Heart with the mental eye just as you would for any small thing in a dark room, feeling for it on the floor with your fingers. Throw out the remaining breath in the lungs and again do the search, all the while repeating “Who am I?” meaning wherefrom does the ‘I’ arise. Ordinarily 20 to 30 seconds of external kumbhaka is ample; but those used to pranayama can restrain breath longer, but it should be without strain.

You will find this sort of fixing the mind on the Heart with external kumbhaka gives you concentration. Any external noise at this juncture in the early stages will cause you sudden bodily shock. This is a proof of your concentration.

This practice after some time may be developed to make the mind do the search without any mental articulation, so that there will be vocal silence and the quest is made with mental vritti only.

The fourth step is the essential practice of the Maha Yoga as it eradicates several minor vasanas which were initially clamorous and obstructed meditation. It also causes attenuation of the mind. One has to spend several years in the practice of this step to derive its full benefits. Even while practising subsequent steps, when the mind is much agitated for any reason, a few minutes practice of this step will restore tranquillity.

Mental Stillness

With the progress of the sadhana, a time will come when you will find it hard to practise Self-enquiry on account of the mind having got attenuated probably after about ten years or less. It is at this stage you should take to the practice of “stillness of mind”.

Step 5. As you throw out the breath simply say once “Be still” and during external kumbhaka try to remain thought-free, with the mind fixed on the Heart and avoid any mental articulation during the breath restraint.

Step 6. When sufficiently well established in the previous step try to remain thought-free normally, i.e., without breath restraint and without any mental articulation.

At this stage you have to be careful not to fall asleep, for in the waking state when there are no thoughts you are likely to slip into sleep. Awareness is kept up by the mind being fixed on the Heart. Real Atma Vichara begins only here, i.e., when you are fixed on the Heart and are off the mental waves. Remaining in this state results in the extinction of mind and the annihilation of vasanas. (Steps 4 to 6 correspond to Tanumanasi, the 3rd bhumika of Jnana Yoga.)

Step 7. When well established in Step 6, cultivate remaining thought-free normally with mind supportless (niralamba), i.e., mind not fixed on the Heart nor abiding anywhere whatsoever.

Deep quiescence for a prolonged period eventually results in the experience of Pure Awareness, leading to the goal.

One can distinguish fits of samadhi from sleep. In samadhi one’s head remains erect and one is vaguely aware of external noises. There is also awareness with calmness of mind: not so in the case of sleep.

(N.B.:— The above technique, though graduated, closely follows Sri Bhagavan’s [Ramana Maharshi’s] teachings, viz., (1) the mind must be fixed in the Heart with kevala kumbhaka, and (2) the introverted mind should search for the source of the ego and abide there.)


Text copyright © Sri Ramanasramam, Tiruvannamalai

N.R. Narayana Aiyer was a direct disciple of Sri Ramana Maharshi.

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This page was published on January 17, 2019 and last revised on February 12, 2019.


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