(This article is based on Ramana Maharishi’s teachings on “Who am I”. Texts within quotations are reproduced verbatim from the book.

1. Who am I?

I am not organs of perception, I am not organs of action, I am not mind, and I am neither knowledgeable nor agnostical. I am not all this.

(Upaniṣads say ‘neti neti” which means not this, not this. The Self is that which cannot be negated. Let us take an example. Today we see an apple; tomorrow also the apple is there and after four or five days also the apple will be there. But what will happen to the apple after 15 days or a month? It would have decayed and will not be of any use. All objects that exist today, will not exist after sometime. Only Self is beyond time factor. Hence Upaniṣad-s describe Self only by negation.)

2. If everything is negated, then who am I?

I am awareness, also known as consciousness.

3. What is awareness?

In spiritual parlance (psychology), awareness is called consciousness. Consciousness is explained as an alert cognitive state in which you are aware of yourself and your situation, and having knowledge of. Purest form of consciousness is Self. Impure consciousness is our mind; mind because the purest form of consciousness is polluted by various thought processes that are generated in the mind).

4. When the Self will be realized?

There are two aspects. One is the universe (Prakṛti) that is seen and another is Self, which is the seer (witnessing). Unless the seen is dissolved, seer cannot be realised. As long as we identify objects as they are, Self cannot be realized, as this is duality. The world that appears before us is māyā, illusion, which plays two roles. One, it hides (concealing) the original nature of Self and the other is it projects the universe as real (illusion). Often cited example is rope appearing as snake. Due to fear (related to mind) we see a piece of rope as snake. In this case, two things happen. The original nature of the rope is hidden and the same rope is wrongly projected as snake.

(seen is what we see with the help of our biological eyes. We see a tree and know it as a tree. We see an elephant and know it as an elephant. When we see these objects, we identity them by their shapes and forms.)

5. When this illusionary world can be dispensed with?

Illusionary world can be removed only if the mind along with all its cognition and actions are subdued.

(Mind is the only factor towards the path of Self-realization)

6. What is mind then?

The power of Self in the form thought processes is called mind. Mind and thought processes are not different. Therefore mind is not a separate entity like organs of action and cognition. Mind is full of thoughts. The purity of the mind is based on both the quantity and quality of thought processes. That is why mind is called subtle and forms part of antaḥkaraṇa (mind, intellect and ego). Apart from thoughts, there is nothing called mind. When the mind is subjugated, there is only Self and when the mind is active, the world appears. In active state there are too many thoughts and in dream state, though we do not have too many thoughts, still we have thoughts that appear as dreams. But in deep sleep state, we do not have any thoughts. These are the stages in the path of realizing the Self.

7. What is awareness then?

The purest of awareness is Sat-cit-ānanda (existence-consciousness-bliss). The state of realisation of Sat-cit-ānanda by negations is the purest form of awareness. Awareness is consciousness. When we exist, we become aware of so many things around us. Awareness under normal conditions work closely with the mind. With subjugated mind, awareness will not be there. When the mind is subdued, we become unconscious (that part of the mind wherein psychic activity takes place of which the person is unaware) and this is the purest form of consciousness, also known as no-awareness state. This we experience in deep sleep state and also during meditations. Our consciousness or awareness can be purified by effectively using our breath.

8. What are the steps to understand the mind?

How the mind arises? It arises from “I”. Only after the appearance of “I” (first person), you and we (second person and third person) arise. Without “I”, mind cannot think of you and we. Therefore, mind can be understood only through “I”.

9. How can mind become quiescent?

By constantly inquiring within “Who am I”, the mind can be quietened. The very thought of “Who am I”, destroys all other thought processes in the mind and the mind is quietened. When the mind is quietened, we get answer for the question “Who am I”. This is Self-realization.

10. How to constantly hold on to the thought of “Who am I”?

“When other thoughts arise, one should not pursue them, but should inquire: ‘To whom do they arise?’ It does not matter how many thoughts arise. As each thought arises, one should inquire with diligence, “To whom has this thought arisen?” The answer that would emerge would be “To me”. Thereupon if one inquires “Who am I?” The mind will go back to its source; and the thought that arose will become quiescent. With repeated practice in this manner, the mind will develop the skill to stay in its source. When the mind that is subtle goes out through the brain and the sense organs, the gross names and forms appear; when it stays in the heart, the names and forms disappear.”

Externalisation of the mind leads to thought process and internationalisation of the mind leads to realisation of the Self. When the mind is associated with external objects, then power of “I” in the form of ego arises. As long as “I” is in our mind, ego also co-exists along with the mind. When ego is dissolved, “I” is not there. If “I” is dissolved, who is the doer then? Is it not the Self?

11. Are there no other means for making the mind quiescent?

“Other than inquiry, there are no adequate means. If through other means it is sought to control the mind, the mind will appear to be controlled, but will again go forth. Through the control of breath also, the mind will become quiescent; but it will be quiescent only so long as the breath remains controlled, and when the breath resumes, (controlling breath means slowing down of breath) the mind also will again start moving and will wander as impelled by residual impressions. The source is the same for both mind and breath. Thought, indeed, is the nature of the mind. The thought “I” is the first thought of the mind; and that is egoism. It is from there, ego and breath originate. Therefore, when the mind becomes quiescent, the breath is controlled, and when the breath is controlled the mind becomes quiescent. But in deep sleep, although the mind becomes quiescent, the breath does not stop. This is because of the will of God, so that the body may be preserved and other people may not be under the impression that it is dead. In the state of waking and in samādhi, when the mind becomes quiescent the breath is controlled. Breath is the gross form of mind. Till the time of death, the mind keeps breath in the body; and when the body dies the mind takes the breath along with it. Therefore, the exercise of breath-control is only an aid for rendering the mind quiescent. It will not destroy the mind (known as manonāśa). Like the practice of breath-control, meditation on the forms of God, repetition of mantras also quieten the mind.”

{What is mantra? Mantra is explained as (मननात् त्रायते इति मन्त्रः॥) mananāt trāyate iti mantraḥ || This means that a mantra is meant to protect the mind. Manana does not simply mean mind; it also means thinking, reflection, meditation, thought, intelligence and understanding; trāyate (trāyamāṇa)means protection; iti mantraḥ means this is mantra. Now let us try to understand this. Mantras should be understood, analyzed and should be meditated upon in the mind to protect the mind from stimulations of sensory organs. If this is practiced, mind becomes tranquil. Mantra is not meant to be recited by sitting in a place using a japa mālā. You have to meditate using the mantra. Over a period of time, mantra will get absorbed into your mind, which is seated an inch above ājñācakra. This is called absorption of mantra into your mind and the subtle vibrations of mantra not only purify your mind, but also your intellect, ego and consciousness. As you know mind, intellect, consciousness and ego are known as antaḥkaraṇa and is explained as an internal organ, the seat of thought and feeling; the mind and the thinking faculty; conscience and soul. Look at this antaḥkaraṇa and everything is related to internal faculties. One has to learn to work on antaḥkaraṇa with the mantra in order to derive complete benefits of the mantra. There is no use in counting the number of repetitions and instead one has to use the mantra to conquer the mind.}

12. Thoughts arise in the mind likes waves in the ocean. How to destroy these thoughts?

When the intensity of inquiry of the Self within increases, thought processes automatically wane away. In other words, when the quality of the meditation increases, all other thought processes are destroyed and when there are no thought processes, our consciousness becomes pure and the purest consciousness is the Self.

13. How long this enquiry should be practised?

As long as the impressions in the mind remain. An example is quoted. “As long as there are enemies within the fort, they will continue to sally forth; if they are destroyed as they emerge, the fort will fall into our hands.” In other words, we have to continue this enquiry “Who am I” till such time, all thought processes are destroyed.

14. What is the nature of the Self?

Self is nothing but Truth (सत्यं ज्ञनं अनन्तं ब्रह्म॥ satyaṁ jñanaṁ anantaṁ brahma || - truth, knowledge and infinity) The world, the individual soul, and God are appearances in it. These three appear at the same time, and disappear at the same time. The Self is that where there is absolutely no “I” thought. That is called “silence”. The Self itself is the world; the Self itself is “I”; the Self itself is God; all is Siva, the Self. Hence Self alone is called omnipresent.

15. Is not everything, the work of God?

Without desire, resolve, or effort, the sun rises. In its mere presence, the lotus blooms, water evaporates; people perform their various functions and then rest. Just as in the presence of the magnet the needle moves, it is by virtue of the mere presence of God that the souls governed by the three (cosmic) functions (creation, sustenance and dissolution) or the fivefold divine activity (sṛṣṭi, sthiti, saṁhāra, tirodhāna and anugraha) perform their actions and then rest, in accordance with their respective karmas. God has no resolve; no karma attaches itself to Him. That is like worldly actions not affecting the sun, or like the merits and demerits of the other four elements not affecting all pervading space.

16. What is non-attachment?

As thoughts arise, destroying them completely without any residue in the very place of their origin is non-attachment. An example is cited. A pearl diver goes into the deep sea to get the pearls. Even though, he knows that he is bringing out costly pears, he is not concerned about what he brings out or its value. He just does his duty.

17. Is it not possible for God and the Guru to effect the release of a soul?

God and the Guru will only show the way to release; they will not by themselves take the soul to the state of release. Each one should by his own effort pursue the path shown by God or Guru and attain Self-realization. One can know oneself only with his own eye of knowledge, and not through others eyes (Because of this, spiritual experience varies from person to person. It will never be the same). Shiva does not require a mirror know Him.

18. Are books of any use who seek liberation?

All the texts say that to realize the Sef, one should render the mind quiescent; therefore their conclusive teachings is that the mind should be rendered quiescent; once this has been understood, there is no need for endless reading. If one continues to read, it will lead to confusions. In order to quieten the mind one has to only inquire within oneself what one’s Self is; how could this search be done in books? One should know one’s Self with one’s own eye of wisdom. The Self is within the five sheaths; but books are outside them. Since the Self has to be inquired into by discarding the five sheaths, it is futile to search for it in books. There will be a time when one will have to forget all that one has learned. This is called “unlearning”. When one has realized the Self it means that realization has been preceded by his unlearning.

19. What is the difference between inquiry and meditation?

Inquiry consists in retaining the mind in the Self. Meditation consists in thinking that one’s self is Brahman, existence-consciousness-bliss.

20. What is realization?

Inquiring into the nature of one’s self that is in bondage (māyā), and realising one’s true nature is realization.