The Whirl of “I”
Aham Vritti—The Pure “I Am”
Translated as the “I”-feeling or the “pure ‘I am’-feeling,” “I”-sense, or “I”-thought, aham vritti represents the irreducible element of any human knowledge, experience, perception, etc.
According to the Great Sage Ramana Maharshi, Aham Vritti Has the Following Essential Characteristics:
- It originates from a place called the Heart Center, an object of meditation located on the right side of the chest in the human body.
- The “I”-feeling is the very source of the personality, the irreducible starting point of all experiences.
- It has the tendency to identify and attach itself to different experiences. This very identification “solidifies” the ego-consciousness.
- Tracing it back to its source is a way to reveal atman (the Supreme Self). Atman is the immortal and immutable aspect of mortal existence. It is the substratum of every object in creation, including humanity. The Self cannot be seen, cannot be perceived, cannot be reached, cannot be grasped, because It is the seer, the observer, the indweller of all embodied beings, and the doer of everything. In other words, the Self reveals itself only to itself. No finite act of cognition is involved. It is the supreme revelation. In this way, the Self becomes the subject, the object, and the means of the experience.
Who Am I?
Ramana recommended an important approach to Self-Enquiry (atma vichara—fixing the mind on Self-attention, asking “Who am I?”) known as the “Method of Bringing Aham Vritti Back to its Source.” This method consists of investigating the nature and the source of the “I”-feeling as the best way to realize our Divine Nature. The “I”-feeling, as we perceive it now is, of course, not the eternal Supreme Self. But, Ramana realized that it is the most direct bridge between jivatman (our individual consciousness) and atman.
Depriving the “I”-feeling of all the thoughts, emotions, sensations, and perceptions that it normally identifies with, it comes back to its source, the Spiritual Heart. Ramana taught that even the “I”-feeling is actually an unreal entity. Its existence is maintained by the constant identification with thoughts, sensations, perceptions, etc.—each experience that the “I”-feeling identifies with reinforces it. If we can break the connection between the “I”-feeling and the thoughts it identifies with, then the “I”-feeling itself will subside and finally disappear. This can be done by detaching from different thoughts, sensations, etc. and remaining aware of the “I”-feeling—that is, the inner feeling of “I” or “I am”—and excluding all other thoughts. Ramana said that if we can keep our attention on this inner “I”-feeling, excluding all other thoughts, then the “I”-feeling will start to reside in the Heart Center.