WHEN PEOPLE CAME to Ramana Maharshi’s ashram during his lifetime, a short pamphlet called Who Am I? was the first thing they were given to read. It was always available and the price was only half an anna so even the poorest visitors could afford it.
The pamphlet explains how to do Self-Enquiry. It’s very short. My copy has 16 pages.
The first draft was written by one of Ramana’s earliest devotees in 1901 or 1902 when Ramana was about 21 years old. The devotee asked Ramana questions and wrote down his answers. The pamphlet grew longer over the years as material was added, but originally the first question was:
Who am I?
Ramana’s first answer was:
Arivu alone is I.
Arivu means ‘consciousness’ or ‘knowledge’ in Tamil, Ramana’s native language.
If book learning could make you Self-realized, after reading that answer you would be Self-realized. But of course it can’t. This pamphlet isn’t meant for book learning. It’s a how-to manual for obtaining experience. It’s a set of instructions for finding the “place” that Ramana calls the Heart or Self and keeping the mind there until it dissolves forever. As Ramana explains in the pamphlet:
Enquiry consists in retaining the mind in the Self.
“Retaining the mind in the Self.” That’s a practice. This booklet explains how to do it.
At the time when these conversations took place, Ramana hadn’t yet read many books about traditional Indian philosophy and religion, so his answers were based mainly on his experience and expressed mostly in his own vocabulary. As a result some people think this pamphlet has a more concrete, experiential flavor than Ramana’s later works, although the devotee muddied that flavor a bit by adding ideas of his own that he had learned from books.
According to Major Chadwick, one of Ramana’s direct disciples, this short pamphlet is the only text a person requires in order to become Self-realized.
Who Am I? was revised and reprinted over the years so there are several variants. Most editions consist of questions and answers, reflecting the original conversations between the devotee and Ramana in 1901, but there is also an essay version that was written by Ramana himself around 1927. Ramana didn’t write very much, so this is significant.
The essay version is the most authoritative because it’s the only one written by Ramana himself, and it’s the one we primarily recommend. Michael James’s translation is the best. It’s the first link below.
Here’s a photograph of the first page of Who Am I? in Ramana’s handwriting. You can see all the pages in the Aradhana 1993 issue of The Mountain Path:
Photo: Sri Ramanasramam catalog number asr_18.
By Sri Ramana Maharshi
It should be noted that the text of this book can be downloaded free.
This is an art-book version of Who Am I?, Ramana’s main handbook of Self-enquiry. It combines the text with “digitally remastered” photos of Ramana. Editions are available in English, Spanish, Russian, and German.
This might make a nice gift for somebody who loves Ramana.
We haven’t seen this book so we can’t offer an opinion about it, but it gets good reviews on Amazon. Sagar, an Amazon reviewer, wrote:
“Finally a book which combines this amazing teaching from Sri Ramana with some of the best photographs. For me the photos are the best part, as they allow the presence of Sri Ramana to really come through. What’s also nice is that they put only 1 question and answer on each page next to the photo, which again allows a deep absorption of the teaching. I really don’t have a criticism of the book, although it’s a bit delicate, as it is a softcover book. I would have preferred a hardback, but still the book is a real treasure!”
This page was published on May 16, 2017 and last revised on January 18, 2019.