Ramana Maharishi’s benevolent gaze was said to trigger awareness of the higher Self within the earnest seeker, drawing the aspirant into an inner state of reality beyond the mind, and putting him on the path of Self-inquiry. This intense state of awareness of the Self, in which he found himself after a near-death experience at the age of 16 and which prompted his journey to Arunachala in Tiruvannamalai, is at the heart of Ramana’s message to the modern world.
In his seminal work, ‘Who Am I’, Ramana talks about the path of inquiry which is essential to understand the nature of mind. In a style reminiscent of Shankara, he talks about the ‘i’ which arises in the physical sheath — this is the mind. He then exhorts the seeker to inquire as to where this notion of ‘i’ first arises. This inquiry is critical, Ramana says, because the thought ‘i’ is the first thought that arises in the mind. Without this first personal pronoun, so to say, no other thought can arise. This is real tapas, to stick with the thought, ‘Who am I?’
Thoughts will arise incessantly, but if one focuses on the inquiry, “…as to whom have these thoughts occurred”, the answer would also naturally arise, “…to me”. Then if one keeps the focus on ‘Who am I’, the mind will show the way to its source, and the mind will become still and lapse back into the hridayam, the heart, not the physical heart but the heart of Self. Constant practice of this one thought will help the mind abide at its source.
When the mind finds its womb-source, the ‘I’ thought, the root thought of the mind will be erased and with that erasure, the state of the Self will emerge. This state of silence will be more eloquent than words, much like Ramana’s own state of being. This taking back of the mind through inquiry into the Self, is the real jnana, true knowledge, for the Maharshi. Everything else — whether knowing the thoughts of others or knowing the past, present and future, and knowing events beforehand — for Ramana, are temporary states, where the mind has not yet subsided permanently in the Self, and is still active at a subtle level.
This path of inquiry, Vichara, Ramana stated, alone could destroy the mind as we know it, its restlessness and its continual thought-process. But like Shankara, Ramana Maharshi was aware that a vast majority of people may find this path to liberation arduous, and so in the Upadesha Undiyar/ Saram — Essence of Spiritual Instructions — he talks of selfless, as other valid means of attaining this state of the Self. Ramana believed that on these paths, the Grace of the guru and a nishkama bhava, a selfless approach to life were prerequisites. But all such seekers too will also finally be led on to this path of jnana-vichara.
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