The Self-Enquiry Method of Ramana Maharshi
Bringing the Mind Back to the Self
That Is All That Is to Be Done
About the Question “Who Am I?” in Hridaya Meditation
Ramana Maharshi terms Self-Enquiry as “the most sacred of sacred.” Indeed, it is a revolutionary method in spirituality. Ramana explains the reason this practice is unique: “What is essential in any sadhana [spiritual practice] is to try to bring back the running mind and fix it on one thing only. Why then should it not be brought back and fixed in Self-attention (To this feeling of ‘I’)? That alone is Self-Enquiry (atma vichara). That is all that is to be done!”
Self-Enquiry is the awareness of Awareness itself. It leads us beyond duality because the object of meditation (the “I”) is ultimately revealed as the Subject itself (transpersonal Consciousness). However, in order to let the question “Who am I?” bring us closer to our Real Nature, or to truly ask “Who am I?” in an efficient way, a certain understanding and spiritual maturity is necessary.
The Self-Enquiry Method of Ramana Maharshi: There Is No Rational Answer
First of all, we must understand that we cannot answer such a question rationally or intellectually. When we state “I understand, I know who I am,” we are actually conceptualizing that which is ineffable.
Asking “the question” while we are centered in the head can stimulate the mind and can make this process of inquiring nothing but mental imagery. When we abandon any striving in order to mentally know the answer to the question (when we simply accept an answer like “I don’t know”), we are in a state of complete Open Attention.
The Difference between Jnana and Intellectual Knowledge
Rational knowledge is characterized by duality, is sequential, and is always partial. But, when we relate to the Spiritual Heart, to our true “I,” this knowledge should be of another kind—total and complete—and this is only possible if our ego (with its personality, mind, feelings, etc.) does not intervene.
All the searching for who we really are gives rise to a sacred wonder or astonishment because it escapes any sort of understanding. Then, because of the attitude of surrender, we have the feeling that all our limits dissolve into the infinite and our energies are reorchestrated. All the energies converge towards the Ultimate Subject, towards the Spiritual Heart (which brings beauty, love, and freedom). Therefore, we should ask the essential question “Who am I?” without expecting a rational answer. Rather, we inquire from a state of surrender to wonderment, to a mystical intuition about who we really are.
From Thinking to Pure Existence
In this way, we give up the usual approaches to knowledge, because we realize that the mind cannot contain the mystery of the answer. Therefore, the emphasis shifts from a preoccupation with finding out who we are (which, when first starting Self-Enquiry, is done in accordance with our usual mentality, with the rational mind) to the Pure Presence of the Spiritual Heart.
Loving the Question
We can love, admire, and embrace this question-intuition in regards to our existence. Consequently, it will slowly cease to have a rational, objective, conscious character. As it is an answer impossible to formulate, we will free ourselves of the snare of conceptualization and be able to access the totality that Spiritual Heart Consciousness awakens in us.
The Art of Maintaining the Question in the Heart
The question “Who am I?” should be repeated with sincerity as often as possible. But, we must not ask it of the mind. If we do, we will just receive superficial answers connected to that which we already know about ourselves and our memories of the past.
Moreover, to live under the mark of “the question” by savoring the state of mystery which it stirs in the Spiritual Heart, but not allowing it to be touched or tinged by any conceptualization, we learn another way of existing. In this new attitude, the intuition of our Ultimate Reality dominates and we are in a state of perpetual surrender and expectancy, in an unconditional openness to the ineffable mystery of the pure “I am.”
Becoming Aware of How the Question Organically Awakens in Us
The question “Who am I?” exists in a latent state in each one of us, creating harmony in our entire being. This harmony itself brings the recognition of our divine existence. What remains is just a feeling of profound recognition that originates from the untold depths of our being.
The Answer Precedes “the Question”
It is said that the question “Who am I?” spontaneously arises when the answer-intuition of our Real Nature is already suggested.
Neutrality and Surrender
In Ramana Maharshi’s Self-Enquiry method, the question “Who am I?” has a very special quality because it is an interrogation which makes the mind enter a state of void. If we have wisdom and adequately train the mind, not superimposing anything on this void (no concepts, no attributes), the Reality of the Spiritual Heart, atman, emerges.
Harmony Brought by Surrender
The Spiritual Heart, being the Ultimate Subject, cannot be known by means of methods or systems. When we truly understand this a kind of surrender comes about in our being and it penetrates us. All of our inner energies, which were previously mobilized by thoughts, desires, and our personality in general, enter into a peace-bringing equilibrium.
The Question and “Neti, Neti”
Trying to reveal “The Ineffable” with the help of the question “Who am I?” is not a meditation on a specific object. The Spiritual Heart, atman, is not, as we have clearly stated before, an object. In such a meditation, we remain lucid, without interpreting, without judging—simply following the intimate feeling of existence. This feeling is not unknown but is usually ignored because of our identifications with the body, mind, etc.
It follows that any time the mind tends to hold on to a concept in the desire to explain and make objective the ineffable experience of the Supreme Self, it is necessary to remember the famous Vedantic negation “Neti, Neti” (“not this, nor that”).
The path of Self-Enquiry is an elimination of all that is known, because, for the moment, the direct knowledge of the Supreme Self’s true nature is missing. Only by eliminating what is known (our thoughts, perceptions, and emotions) will it be possible to reveal the Ultimate “I,” the Eternal Present. Thus, we immerse ourselves in an awareness that becomes increasingly intimate and profound.
This question itself is born from Stillness and it is also fed from the silence that we sometimes create in our mind and in our being. Thus, because of silence, a spontaneous inward awareness of who we are naturally appears.