The life of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi is a stunning example of a life lived in service to truth. More than this, there is the self inquiry method of Sri Ramana Maharshi. A teaching that has profoundly impacted this world. So much so that we have not yet seen the crest of the wave. The introduction of this teaching to the wider world has created a kind of spiritual shock wave. A wave that will continue into the future. Similar to the teaching of the Buddha.
What is the Self Inquiry Method of Sri Ramana?
The primary teaching offered constantly by Sri Ramana is commonly known as the self inquiry method of Sri Ramana Maharshi.
This is essentially a method of inquiring directly into the actual (as opposed to assumed) nature of the sense of self. Direct perception, or experiential knowledge, of the essential nature of the Self, is known as Moksha, liberation.
This simple method is not unique to Sri Ramana. Indeed there are texts that are at least 3500 years old that speak of self inquiry. Yet, what is remarkable is that Bhagavan Ramana revealed this method purely from his own experience. Without any knowledge of the texts that speak of this practice.
Also remarkable is the degree of directness and simplicity with which Sri Ramana presented this method. He effortlessly integrated and adapted this teaching to fit the lives, current spiritual practices, and interests of anyone who came to him.
The self inquiry method of Sri Ramana Maharshi Is quite straight forward. Firstly, becoming curious about the nature of that which is aware of your thoughts, perceptions etc. Whatever it is that is aware of the content of your experience, is what you refer to as ‘I’.
Then notice the quality of your attention. Notice when your attention becomes wrapped up in a mental image. You imagine yourself washing dishes, maybe feeling resentful of doing so. Or, you imagine yourself walking in a park feeling free while sitting at your desk, bored at work. You are mentally repeating an argument you had with your spouse 2 weeks ago.
In any of these scenarios, the sense of yourself (that which is aware of the images, feelings, perceptions) is identified with the images that appear and disappear. Thus, we can say we are ‘lost’ in ‘projections’ of ourselves, in our minds.
Thus, noticing this, we are instructed to ‘surrender’, or let go of the limited story of ourselves. Finally, in doing so, we may experientially come to rest in awareness of our true Self.
Believing that the images and the accompanying feelings define ‘us’ we are limited. Essentially unaware of the essence of our being. Of who we ‘truly’ are when divested of the belief in the limited, mental version of ourselves.
The basic teaching of Bhagavan Ramana is to acknowledge the essential, not the imagined nature of your own Self. The self inquiry method of Ramana Maharshi, described above, is the primary method he offered to facilitate this.
However, to more mature seekers another, even simpler method exists. The method of ‘surrender’. Mature spiritual seekers are those who have practised. And as a result have tasted, at least for some moments, the nature of the Self.
Once this pointer becomes experiential, a certain trust begins to blossom. Experience becomes unshakeable faith. This faith can be named love. Love of the essence of being.
When this love is born in the heart of the meditator it becomes (relatively) easier to let go. It can even become a spontaneous response to the tendency to fall into thoughts and identification. In this sense, whenever the practitioner notices the distraction, there is also an intense longing to return to the peace and stillness of self awareness. This outweighs any interest in following a nonsensical thought. Then emotional interest in keeping the thought alive is spontaneously let go of.
A Few Comments on Surrender from Sri Ramana
Questioner : Surrender is impossible.
Ramana : Yes, complete surrender is impossible in the beginning. Partial surrender is certainly possible for all. In course of time that will lead to complete surrender.
Q : Partial surrender – well – can it undo destiny?
R : Oh, yes! It can.
Q : How I can gain that peace of mind?
R : Through devotion and surrender.
Q: How is Grace to be obtained?
R : Similar to obtaining the Self.
Q : Practically, how is it to be done for us?
R : By self-surrender.
Q : Can Sri Bhagavan help us to realise the Truth?
R : Help is always there.
Q : I do not feel the ever-present help.
R : Surrender and you will find it.
The Path of the House Holder
There are many examples in the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi of the adaptability of his message. Firstly, it is clear that Sri Ramana saw no contradiction between having a job and family, and spiritual practice. It is also apparent that he did not especially value the renunciates path above that of the householder.
It is also worth noting that whenever asked, he would discourage householders from taking renunciate vows. Thus we can see, Bhagavan Ramana was truly only interested and only taught the means of direct recognition of the Self. No initiation, external commitment, mantra or any particular kind of vow or external renunciation was needed.
Indeed, with Ramana these things were not even possible. He refused to offer any kind of formal initiation. Sri Ramana always encouraged those who came to him for advice to follow what was natural and true in their lives.
He would offer the basic instruction. If asked, he would clarify doubts and confusion. He would help refine the understanding of his students. However when it came to life advice and guidance he would point people towards themselves. Presumably, preferring to trust the innate wisdom of the Self as it manifests in each being. And wanting his followers to learn the same.
Household, Renunciate? These are Only Thoughts
“WHEN ASKED: ‘HOW DOES A GRIHASTHA (householder) fare in the scheme of Moksha (liberation)?’ Bhagavan said, ‘Why do you think you are a grihastha? If you go out as a sannyasi (ascetic), a similar thought that you are a sannyasi will haunt you. Whether you continue in the household or renounce it and go to the forest, your mind goes with you. The ego is the source of all thought. It creates the body and the world and makes you think you are a grihastha.
If you renounce the world it will only substitute the thought sannyasi for grihastha, and the environments of the forest for those of the household. But the mental obstacles will still be there. They even increase in the new surroundings. There is no help in a change of environment. The obstacle is the mind. It must be got over whether at home or in the forest. If you can do it in the forest, why not at home? Therefore, why change your environment? Your efforts can be made even now – in whatever environment you are now. The environment will never change according to your desire’.
Your Life Does Not Interfere With Your Spiritual Practice
Why should your occupation or duties in life interfere with your spiritual effort? For instance, there is a difference between your activities at home and in the office. In your office activities you are detached, and so long as you do your duty you do not care what happens, or whether it results in gain or loss to the employer. But your duties at home are performed with attachment and you are all the time anxious as to whether they will bring advantage or disadvantage to you and your family. It is possible to perform all the activities of life with detachment and regard only the Self as real.
Wrong it is to suppose that if one is fixed in the Self, one’s duties in life will not be performed properly. It is like an actor. He dresses, acts and even feels the part he is playing, but he knows that he is really not that character but someone else in real life. In the same way, why should the body-consciousness or the feeling ‘I am the body’ disturb you once you know for certain that you are not the body but the Self. Nothing that the body does should shake you from abidance in the Self. Such abidance will never interfere with the proper and effective discharge of whatever duties the body has, any more than the actor’s being aware of his real status in life interferes with his acting a part on the stage.”
Why is the Self Inquiry Method of Sri Ramana Maharshi so Important Today?
The message of Sri Ramana Maharshi is truly timeless. There is almost no reference in his teaching to any kind of system or cultural context. It also requires no belief in a deity and no reading of a particular text. Indeed the underlying assumptions of the practice are simple. They can be logically understood with a few moments reflection on one’s own experience.
There is a simple, direct focus on the most essential aspect of any spiritual journey. Namely, forget about what you are not, remember what you truly are.
This makes his message not only relevant in any time, any culture etc. But as even Sri Ramana himself showed through his guidance, this message is the essence of all of the practices. Thus it can be incorporated and bring depth to Hatha Yoga, Christian prayer, the chanting of mantras or basically any other form of spiritual practice.
A Stand Alone Practice, Compatible With Any Moment of Life
Another important point is that this is a form of spiritual practice that stands alone. It does not require special or complicated breathing techniques. No visualizations are required. Even external distractions like sounds, even conversations, can easily be incorporated into the practice.
One need only allow one’s attention to rest in intimacy with the source of actions, words, perceptions. This is of course easier said than done. Yet with practice, this attitude can be learned.
Therefore, this practice is perhaps one of the most relevant forms of practice for our modern age. Because as little as 20 minutes of formal practice can lead to an experiential understanding of the practice. Then, you just have to revisit the attitude as often as possible throughout the day.