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Ramana’s Metaphor of Shaving with a Mirror

Book learning and memorization of scriptures are of no use.

Photo by Chiara Samugheo

First version

By ‘Vishnu’ (R. Narayana Iyer)

ONCE A FEW VERY LEARNED Sanskrit scholars were sitting in the Old Hall discussing portions of the Upanishads and other scriptural texts with Bhagavan [Sri Ramana Maharshi]. Bhagavan was giving them proper explanations and it was a sight to remember and adore!

Mountain Path, Jan. 1966

At the same time, I felt genuinely in my heart, ‘Oh, how great these people are and how fortunate they are to be so learned and to have such deep understanding and be able to discuss with our Bhagavan. Compared with them, what am I, a zero in scriptural learning?’ I felt miserable. After the pundits had taken leave Bhagavan turned to me and said: “What?”, looking into my eyes and studying my thoughts. Then, without even giving me an opportunity to explain, he continued: “This is only the husk! All this book learning and capacity to repeat the scriptures by memory is absolutely no use. To know the Truth, you need not undergo all this torture of learning. Not by reading do you get the Truth. BE QUIET, that is Truth. BE STILL, that is God.”

Then very graciously he turned to me again and there was an immediate change in his tone and attitude. He asked me: “Do you shave yourself?” Bewildered by this sudden change, I answered, trembling, that I did.

“Ah, for shaving you use a mirror, don’t you? You look into the mirror and then shave your face; you don’t shave the image in the mirror. Similarly all the scriptures are meant only to show you the Way to Realization. They are meant for practice and attainment. Mere book learning and discussions are comparable to a man shaving the image in the mirror.” From that day onwards the sense of inferiority that I had been feeling vanished once for all.

Second Version

By C.K. Anavema Reddy

There is a small piece of conversation from the life of Sri Bhagavan which, as far as I am aware, has not been recorded. Though brief, it has remained very vivid in my memory. It was in 1940 that one day, one of the devotees sitting in the hall raised the topic regarding the utility of reading books on religion and philosophy. In reply Sri Bhagavan said:

Mountain Path, Jan. 1972

“You wake up in the morning and look into the mirror and the mirror shows you that you have a growth and that you have to get rid of it. You may go on looking into any number of mirrors; every mirror will tell you the same, but no mirror can ever shave you. You have to shave yourself. Instead of wasting time looking into mirror after mirror it is best to start shaving after having looked into the first mirror and known the truth.

“So also all the books will tell you the same truth, perhaps in slightly different ways. Instead of wasting time reading book after book why not realise for yourself what was obvious from the very first book.”

Text copyright © Sri Ramanasramam. Photo by Chiara Samugheo.

R. Narayana Iyer was a direct disciple of Sri Ramana Maharshi.


Sri Ramana Maharshi said, “As for reading books on Vedanta, you may go on reading any number of them. They can only tell you, ‘Realise the Self within you’. The Self cannot be found in books. You have to find it out for yourself, in yourself.”

Day by Day With Bhagavan by A. Devarja Mudaliar

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This page was published on January 17, 2019 and last revised on July 13, 2019.


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