I want to spend a little time today talking about Ramana Maharshi’s method of Self-Enquiry, and what it has done for me personally. The ideas contained in this passage have profoundly changed me. If someone was to ask me to share with them the most powerful teachings I’ve ever came across, this passage would be toward the top of the list. This is an extremely direct method of finding out who or what you truly are, along with ridding your mind of everything else that’s unreal, leaving you with peace of mind. Maybe by sharing how I’ve used the method, it can help lend insights to some of you into how you can better understand yourselves. I’ll begin by simply quoting from his book on Self-Enquiry.
“Disciple: Master! What is the means to gain the state of eternal bliss, ever devoid of misery?
Master: Apart from the statement in the Veda that wherever there is body there is misery, this is also the direct experience of all people; therefore, one should enquire into one’s true nature which is ever bodiless, and one should remain as such. This is the means to gaining that state.
D: What is meant by saying that one should enquire into one’s true nature and understand it?
M: Experiences such as “I went; I came; I was; I did” come naturally to everyone. From these experiences, does it not appear that the consciousness “I” is the subject of those various acts? Enquiry into the true nature of that consciousness, and remaining as oneself is the way to understand, through enquiry, one’s true nature.
D: How is one to enquire: “Who am I?”
M: Actions such as ‘going’ and ‘coming’ belong only to the body. And so, when one says “I went, I came”, it amounts to saying that the body is “I”. But, can the body be said to be the consciousness “I”, since the body was not before it was born, is made up of the five elements, is non-existent in the state of deep sleep, and becomes a corpse when dead? Can this body which is inert like a log of wood be said to shine as “I” “I”? Therefore, the “I” consciousness which at first arises in respect of the body is referred to variously as self-conceit (tarbodham), egoity (ahankara), nescience (avidya), maya, impurity (mala), and individual soul (jiva) . Can we remain without enquiring into this? Is it not for our redemption through enquiry that all the scriptures declare that the destruction of “self-conceit” is release (mukti)? Therefore, making the corpse-body remain as a corpse, and not even uttering the word “I”, one should enquire keenly thus: “Now, what is it that rises as ‘I’”. Then, there would shine in the Heart a kind of wordless illumination of the form ‘I’ ‘I’. That is, there would shine of its own accord the pure consciousness which is unlimited and one, the limited and the many thoughts having disappeared. If one remains quiescent without abandoning that (experience), the egoity, the individual sense, of the form ‘I am the body’ will be totally destroyed, and at the end the final thought, viz. the ‘I’- form also will be quenched like the fire that burns camphor (*without leaving any sediment). The great sages and scriptures declare that this alone is release.
If you read my blog frequently, what Maharshi calls ‘I’ ‘I’, I called standing “above” my thoughts and emotions in my post Reflections On Spirtuality. I had no words for the experience. It’s an incredible place to focus your conscious attention, and few of us even know it’s there and always available to us.
So first of all, what is it? I can’t really describe it as it has no describable properties. What I can tell you is that when you find it, it’ll be self-evident to you. It’s clearly perceived when your mind is silent. It won’t be any kind of form, or a sound, or even a thought. The only words for it might be, “I AM”, or something to that effect. Christian scriptures speak of it when they say, “Be still and know that I am God.” This observer, this presence, this… YOU… is there. It’s not outside, nor is it inside. It never changes, despite everything going on around you. Within every moment and every experience, this ‘I AM’ is there. When you find it, you can place your attention there and just rest.
Does the world stop when you enter such a place? No. Do you have to be sitting idle, meditating, to enter such a place? No. Do you see some amazing vision of infinity when you come to this place? No. You’ll be exactly where you are, in the exact same circumstance you’re in. So wait, then what changes? Everything! Hahaha, I know it sounds absurd, but bear with me! I’m waiting for all of your puzzled looks!
Ok, so if I can’t describe it, how does one get there? If, everytime you have a thought, and you hear the word, “I”, such as, “I need to get a drink”, or “I’m so sick of this”, or “I need a vacation”, you ask, “Who or what is saying these things? Who is this ‘I’? Show yourself to me.” It may then respond, “I am the consciousness of the brain”, if you’re a materialist. Then you press further, “Who is it who thinks its this consciousness of this brain?” If you trace the thoughts and responses, and keep pressing, “Who is this? Who says that?”, it eventually comes down to a self-evident response of, “I AM” . It’s curt, to the point, and self-evident. It’s a weird feeling when you focus on this… focal point of attention. You’re looking outward with your eyes, seeing the bedroom or whatever it is you’re looking at, all the while, the attention is inward focused on this “I AM”, sorta “located” at the center of all conscious perception. There isn’t words for it. You ask, “What are you exactly?” The response? “I AM”. I can TRY to put it into words. It might go something along the lines of, “I AM the infinite observer, capable of observing any shape, form, time, emotion, anything, and I AM right NOW in your present moment, I AM”. Notice something. This happened when YOU traced your own thoughts of what “I” is. Do this method, and it will be self-evident.
Why is this so powerful? What good does this do anybody? The key is realizing that this is the real you. You’re not your body, you’re not your emotions, you’re not your thoughts, you are this I AM. When you identify with this, after all kinds of questioning, asking, “Who thinks this thought?” “Who is it who feels this way?” “Who is it who wonders about this topic?”, you trace things back, and again and again you’ll come to this ‘root’, this ‘I AM’. Everything else changes. Thoughts come and go. Feelings come and go. Forms come and go. All experience is fleeting, but this ‘I AM’ never goes anywhere. It’s the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Now here’s the key, so listen up! Make this your focal point of observation, if that makes sense. Root yourself there, and watch all the things in your life, all the thoughts, all the emotions, all the comings and goings, and realize, “A ha! I am none of these things! These things come and go, but I AM something that never goes. I never change.” And now you’ve got it! If that clicked in your head, I want to dance around you in circles like those little children do on the playground. How wonderful this realization!
When I “got” this realization, my mind, which in many respects was a cesspool, was flushed like a clogged up toilet. Then you want to run around and tell everyone, “My burdens washed away!”, but people look at you crazy like, “What drug’s this guy on?”
Here’s real examples from my own life, and how this changed me.
There was a time, not too long ago, where I felt like I was a bit awkward. That wherever I’d go, I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t particularly trying to fit in, but it often would get frustrating to me, never encountering people who thought about the things I thought about, or had the same hobbies I had, or liked the same things I did. Then I used Maharshi’s method, and I said, “Who is it who feels this awkwardness? Who is it who feels this feeling of not fitting in?”, and from the ‘I AM’ vantage point, I watched such feelings; from this static point, the feelings came, and they went. Ah ha! They’re illusions! They’re imposters! I was mistakenly identifying with them. Thoughts have happened, but I’m not such thoughts. Feelings of enjoying some activity have happened, but I’m not such feelings, and activities have happened but I am not the activities. These things change, but I don’t change. And here’s the key point. Now that I no longer identified with any of these things, all of this was shaken loose from me, the whole cycle ended, and I feel comfortable and happy around everyone, country bumpkins to brilliant physicists, Republicans to Democrats, men, women, old, young, some stray dog wagging its tail at me while I’m out for a walk, it’s all the same to me friend!
How about another example. At the university, I didn’t start until I was 27, and didn’t graduate until I was nearly 36 or so. I was always an older student, who I felt had already been out there fighting in the real world, built a business, and done these things. Some of the students’ personalities came across to me as childish, though I didn’t dislike that. I just felt out of place. It’s like they all had ADD or something. I just felt like tapping many of them on the shoulder and saying, “Calm down.” When I was nearing my graduation, I was nearly twice the age of some of the students. I felt that I was old and that I didn’t relate to these younger students anymore. “I don’t understand them” was a common thought. Social media, the obsessions with phones and tech stuff, getting offended and wanting to ban everyone, I didn’t get it. But wait. Let’s go back to Maharshi’s method. When those thoughts and feelings arise, you ask yourself, “Who is it who feels old? Who is it who feels and thinks these things about not understanding these younger students?” Ooooohhh. Guess what? From the ‘I AM’ point, such things come, and such things go. ‘I AM’ never changes, so what’s this talk about getting old? Those feelings I was having were illusions! I AM not old, nor AM I something that emotionally relates to anything, young, old, or even alien. “I” don’t even relate to a flow of time. All of those things are things that change.
This changed the entire dynamic with students. For whatever reason, the background feelings within the ‘I AM’ focal point is love, peace, and joy. It’s your true nature, as Maharshi says. And that’s how I became toward all the students! When I sat at the ‘I AM’ place, this flowed out of me. All of the false “I” notions which were separating me from the students, making me feel some dualistic antagonism toward them died. No more separation. You, me, we’re here, let’s enjoy our time together. And then things go so well and you think, “Why didn’t I do this before?” But when you’re in delusion, in stupidity, in ridiculousness, you can’t see such simple truths. If you read my last post, ‘How It All Works‘, where I spoke of my model of reality, I was now at the point of surrender. The False ‘I’ was dead, and now, I AM. If you read my other post, ‘Reflections on Spirtuality‘, this same dynamic Christ-consciousness. Remember that diagram I shared?
I went from this…
It’s NOT a place of inactivity. It’s not an attempt to escape the world. It’s not running from anything. It’s some sort of flow. I don’t get why the flow is happening, but it is, and I AM is there in every “frame” of this movie we’re living, and always will be there.
How about more examples. Guilt! Oh there’s a big one. This isn’t something I’ve personally dealt with much, but I’ve met some who feel very badly about how they were as a mother, or how they were as a father, or how they were as a husband. I should have been better to my niece. I should’ve spent more time with my daughter, I should’ve done this, I should’ve done that. Let’s bring out Maharshi. Who is it who feels these things? Who is it who feels they should’ve been better to so and so? Who is it who feels they should’ve made more time to whomever? Trace it out. Is that the unchanging? Is that the ‘I AM’? No. I AM doesn’t feel one way today, then badly tomorrow, and then feel better upon acts of retribution. More illusions. More false I’s, more comings and goings. It’s not you. This new identification with ‘I AM’ is the real meaning behind, “My sins have been washed away.” But then you think, “What are you saying? Should I not feel guilty about anything I do!?” Who is that “I” who should or shouldn’t feel guilt and other things? Is that the ‘I AM’? No. You’re not feelings which change based on what happens. Another false I. Root yourself in ‘I AM’, who I often call the Holy Spirit, and the natural flow of things will be love, peace, and joy, for you, and for those you encounter. They may still be mad about what happened, but you won’t be, and you won’t be angry at yourself, and this new nature which will flow out of you will give you the best chance to mend things.
How about the reverse, such as deep-seated angers, or those seeking revenge? Somebody did you wrong and you’re going to get back at them. You’re no pushover. You’ll show them! Once again, let’s break out Maharshi. Who is it who feels these desires for revenge? Are they the unchanging ‘I AM’? No. ‘I AM’ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and is always love, peace, and joy, which becomes you when you make it your focal point. But what about all this revenge nonsense? It’s not the ‘I AM’. The real you isn’t seeking revenge. The body is generating feelings of anger, based on memories in its brain, and you’re focusing attention on these feelings, instead of letting it pass. You identify with these thoughts and feelings, and that energizes them, keeping it all in existence. I’ve known some who play these mental loops of misery like tape-recorders, just on and on, the same old, same old. My ex-girlfriend, blah blah blah. My parents and what they did to me as a child, blah blah blah. My ex-boss and how he fired me unjustly, blah blah blah. “I am so angry.” You give these past event importance, like that helps you or something. But you know what you’re failing to realize? Did that ex-girlfriend hold the keys to your happiness? Did your childhood permanently break you? Is that job the only chance you had to live a good life? There’s a belief in your mind that they do, but in reality they do not.
As long as you feel something “outside” is your only ticket to peace and happiness, and that’s been taken away from you, you will always be frustrated and angry. The more things you think your happiness depends on in this life, the more you’re setting yourself up to fail. The world did you wrong! “How unfair it all is! Someone’s life is so much better than my own, how come!” But who says these things, and are they true? Who is it who feels this way? Search it out. The real you is not these thoughts. If you do the self-enquiry, and think about it, you’ll realize this to be the case. Become self-aware of these false I’s and their false promises, their frustrations, and their ignorance. Is it the ‘I AM’? No. Those things all came and went, like everything in the world, but I AM is still here. Root yourself in the I AM and forgiveness will automatically be your nature. Why? Because loving is your new nature, and joy now is unconditional. Nobody can steal anything from you, so what’s there to be angry about?
This is why I’ve largely stopped worrying about politics. I’m aware of stupid things going on, but it doesn’t bother me. The world of ever-shifting forms isn’t my source of happiness, so there’s no reason to get upset at what Donald Trump is doing, or Hillary Clinton, or the news casters on TV, or what have you. Just more passing forms and events. The reason people get so nasty to one another is because they think their happiness depends on some state of the world. They believe some change in public policy will change the world in that direction, and if all goes according to plan, they will have conditions more conducive to their happiness. But oh to those who take away that perceived chance at happiness! How dare you! People will fight for what they believe will make them happy. What else do you think this is all about?
I saw a video of Alex Jones the other day, the big conspiracy theorist of the internet, coming into a restaurant and he starts yelling at this group of people at another table because they’re on the “left”. “You bunch of F–ing LIBTARDS! I’M NOT GOING TO LET YOU RUIN THIS COUNTRY”, and those on the opposing end are sitting there with smug faces, throwing equally nasty insults at him, “So when are you going to give birth, Alex?”
This is what happens when people think someone “out there” holds their happiness, when it’s really within them. “I’m not happy with things, I’m not content, and IT’S BECAUSE OF YOU! YOU’RE RUINING EVERYTHING!” We could fast-forward to some amazing future in the year 3500, a world filled with comforts and entertainment far beyond what we can imagine, and I can still imagine this same dynamic going on. “I WON’T LET YOU RUIN THIS WORLD”, and they’re fighting over something we’d perceive as very trivial. They live in perfect health, immortal bodies, with super brains which store all human knowledge, but still, it’s not enough. I could see some peasant farmer in ancient Egypt looking at our lives now and thinking, “What in the world do you have to complain about?” But as you can see, did improved conditions fix things entirely? Is it ever enough? You start blaming others and external situations for your own lack of self-perception, and it never ends.
Like I said before, learning this was like flushing the toilet-bowl which was my mind. All the crap, it just flushed away and I was left with clarity, flesh clean water. When the clean water pours in and the stench leaves, and you’re made new, you don’t want any more crap in your bowl. I’ve been let down by so many things in life, but when I found that when I locked in on this Holy Spirit, this eternal I AM, I want everything else that’s false to flush away.