‘Who am I?’ The physical body, composed of the seven dhatus, is not ‘I’. The five sense organs… and the five types of perception known through the senses… are not ‘I’. The five parts of the body which act… and their functions… are not ‘I’. The five vital airs such as prana, which perform the five vital functions such as respiration, are not ‘I’. Even the mind that thinks is not ‘I’. In the state of deep sleep vishaya vasanas remain. Devoid of sensory knowledge and activity, even this [state] is not ‘I’. After negating all of the above as ‘not I, not I’, the knowledge that alone remains is itself ‘I’. The nature of knowledge is sat-chit-ananda [being-consciousness-bliss].
Vasanas is a key word in Who am I? It can be defined as, ‘the impressions of anything remaining unconsciously in the mind; the present consciousness of past perceptions; knowledge derived from memory; latent tendencies formed by former actions, thoughts and speech.’ It is usually rendered in English as ‘latent tendencies’. Vishaya vasanas are those latent mental tendencies that impel one to indulge in knowledge or perceptions derived from the five senses. In a broader context it may also include indulging in any mental activity such as daydreaming or fantasising, where the content of the thoughts is derived from past habits or desires.
The seven dhatus are chyle, blood, flesh, fat, marrow, bone and semen. The five sense organs are the ears, skin, eyes, tongue and nose, and the five types of perception or knowledge, called vishayas, are sound, touch, sight, taste and smell. The five parts of the body that act are the mouth, the legs, the hands, the anus, and the genitals and their functions are speaking, walking, giving, excreting and enjoying. All the items on these lists are included in the original text. I have relegated them to this explanatory note to facilitate easy reading.
The five vital airs (prana vayus) are not listed in the original text. They are responsible for maintaining the health of the body. They convert inhaled air and ingested food into the energy required for the healthy and harmonious functioning of the body.
Question: When I start the enquiry numerous thoughts come in the way and obstruct me. When I eliminate one, another appears in its place. It seems there is no end.
Bhagavan: I am not telling you to grapple with the thoughts. There will be no end if you do it that way. Here lies the secret: there is the ‘I’, the source of all thoughts, and we have to catch it and see from where it arises. This is absolutely necessary. As a dog traces his master by following the track of his smell, you have to follow the inner development of the ‘I’ to reach its source, which is the [true] soul.
Question: From this I understand that one can reach the source by one’s own effort.
Bhagavan: It is by the grace of God that you come to desire to know yourself. This desire to know yourself is itself a clear sign of the Atman’s grace. So, there is grace already working as the source of your effort. Grace is not an external quality of the Self but its very nature. It abides in your Heart, pulling you inward into itself. The only task you must do is turn your attention inward and search the source of ‘I’. This is the only personal effort we have to put in. That is why [one can say that] where there is no grace, there is no desire at all for the quest for the Self.
Question: Is there no need for a Guru then?
Bhagavan: When it is necessary the Self itself will take the form of an external Guru and initiate you into the process. He will push you in and hand you over to the inner Guru who is already there. Finally, the Atman, which abides in the Heart, embraces you there.
Question: Now, may I know sir, what is the distinguishing feature of this method?
Bhagavan: The sense of ‘I’ is always present in us. So, it is relatively easy to find the Self through this ‘I’, which is an emanation of the Self. Further, if, before the ‘I’ ramifies into many forms, we put our attention via this method on the parent-form of the ‘I’, this makes for the direct dissolution of the ‘I’ in its source. Otherwise, if you begin the enquiry when the ‘I’ has already taken many forms, you will be swept away by its illusive power and never reach its source.
Question: The Self is nameless and formless. How then can we find it by the questioning of this ‘I’ that has a name and a form?
Bhagavan: The false ‘I’ or ego stands between the soul and the body, and connects them. Now, soul is conscious while the body is inert. The false ‘I’ binds them together. So, it is also called the knot between matter and spirit [chit-jada-granthi]. From this we see that it has its feet in the Self and its head in the body. Therefore, by enquiring into the origin of the ego, we can easily proceed and reach the formless Self.
Q. What is the purport of teaching that one should meditate, through the ‘I am He’ thought, on the truth that one is not different from the self-luminous Reality that shines like a flame?
M: (a) The purport of teaching that one should cultivate the idea that one is not different from the self-luminous Reality is this: Scripture defines meditation in these words, ‘In the middle of the eight petalled Heart lotus which is of the nature of all, and which is referred to as Kailasa, Vaikunta, and Paramapada, there is the Reality which is of the size of the thumb, which is dazzling like lightning and which shines like a flame. By meditating on it, a person gains immortality.’ From this we should know that by such meditation one avoids the defects of (1) the thought of difference, of the form ‘I am different, and that is different’, (2) the meditation on what is limited, (3) the idea that the Real is limited, and (4) that it is confined to one place.
(b) The purport of teaching that one should meditate with the ‘I am He’ (sahaham, Soham) thought is this: sah is the supreme Self, aham is the Self that is manifest as ‘I’. The jiva which is the Sivalinga resides in the Heart-lotus which is its seat situated in the body which is the city of Brahman; the mind which is of the nature of egoity, goes outward identifying itself with the body, etc. Now, the mind should be resolved in the Heart, i.e., the I-sense that is placed in the body, etc., should be got rid of; when one thus enquires ‘Who am I?’, remaining undisturbed, in that state, the Self-nature becomes manifest in a subtle manner as ‘I-I’; that Self-nature is all and yet none, and is manifest as the supreme Self everywhere without the distinction of inner and outer; that shines like a flame, as was stated above, signifying the truth ‘I am Brahman’. If, without meditating on that as being identical with oneself, one imagines it to be different, ignorance will not leave. Hence, the identity-meditation is prescribed. If one meditates for a long time, without disturbance, on the Self ceaselessly, with the ‘I am He’ thought which is the technique of reflection on the Self, the darkness of ignorance which is in the Heart and all the impediments which are but the effects of ignorance will be removed, and the plenary wisdom will be gained.7 Thus, realizing the Reality in the Heart-cave which is in the city (of Brahman), viz. the body, is the same as realizing the all-perfect God. In the city with nine gates, which is the body, the wise one resides at ease.8 The body is the temple; the jiva is God (Siva). If one worships him with the ‘I am He’ thought, one will gain release. The body which consists of the five sheaths is the cave, the Supreme that resides there is the Lord of the cave. Thus the scriptures declare. Since the Self is the reality of all the gods, the meditation on the Self which is oneself is the greatest of all meditations. All other meditations are included in this. It is for gaining this that the other meditations are prescribed. So, if this is gained, the others are not necessary. Knowing one’s Self is knowing God. Without knowing one’s Self that meditates, imagining that there is a deity which is different and meditating on it, is compared by the great ones to the act of measuring with one’s foot one’s own shadow, and to the search for a trivial conch after throwing away a priceless gem that is already in one’s possession.
Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi is widely acknowledged as being one of the outstanding Indian Gurus of modern times. In 1896, while he was still a sixteen-year-old schoolboy, he realised the Self during a dramatic death experience that lasted about twenty minutes. Since he had had no previous exposure to spiritual thought or practice, he initially found the experience rather perplexing.
His fame and his attractive power did not derive from any miracles he performed. He exhibited no special powers and poured scorn on those who did. Nor did his fame derive to any great extent from his teachings. It is true that he extolled the virtues of a hitherto little-known spiritual practice, but it is also true that most other aspects of his teachings had been taught by generations of Gurus before him. What caught the minds and the hearts of his visitors was the impression of saintliness that one immediately felt in his presence. He led a simple austere life; he gave equal respect and consideration to all devotees who approached him for help; and, perhaps most importantly, he effortlessly radiated a power which was perceived by all those who were near him as a feeling of peace or well-being. In Bhagavan’s presence, awareness of being an individual person was often replaced by a full awareness of the immanent Self.
Bhagavan made no attempt to generate this energy, nor did he make any conscious effort to transform the people around him. The transmission of the power was spontaneous, effortless and continuous. If transformations took place because of it, they came about because of the receiver’s state of mind, not through any of Bhagavan’s decisions, desires or actions.
Bhagavan was fully aware of these radiations and he frequently said that the transmission of this energy was the most important and the most direct part of his teachings. The verbal and written teachings he gave out and the various meditation techniques he endorsed were all, he said, only for those who were unable to remain attuned to the flow of grace that was constantly emanating from him.
(more details here)