This book has deepened my spirituality so significantly that I want to do a review. Ramana Maharshi is an Indian sage (1879 – 1950). At age sixteen, he ran away from school and home, and went to the sacred mountain of Arunachala, staying there for the rest of his life.
He wrote very little. This book is a compilation of this dialogues, with the editor David Godman’s introduction at the beginning of each chapter.
The main point of his teaching is that the only thing that ever exists is the one Consciousness. Individuality is only an illusion. Identification with the illusionary self is the cause of suffering.
He uses several words to mean this one Consciousness: Self, sat-chit-ananda (Sanskrit for being-consciousness-bliss), Heart (not the physical heart but the center), and God. So we need to be careful when he says “Self”. It’s not the Higher Self — it includes all Higher Selves. In his view, there is no difference between the Source (Brahman) and the Higher Self/soul (Atman).
For Ramana Maharshi, there is no creator and the creatures. This is the purest form of nondualism. Only one Consciousness being aware of itself.
Although on the surface his theory is different from my idea of how the Higher Selves and souls came to be from the Source, I actually agree with him. That story of creation is a layer of illusion, or what I call virtual reality simulation game.
Even though Ramana Maharshi is often categorized as an Advaita (Sanskrit of nondualism and indicates a branch of Hindu teaching) teacher, this book explains the difference:
Advaita teaches “I am Brahman” whereas Ramana Maharshi maintains “I am”. The idea of “I am Brahman (or the Source or God)” is nice, it’s only a notion that is thought or believed. It implies there is “I” and “Brahman”. “I am” is a knowing. For Sri Ramana, there is no subject and object, the seer and the seen.
The “I” cannot become aware of the Self — I can only be the Self.
Self-enquiry is essentially a process of removing the illusions so you find what you already know. You are already the Self. There is nothing that is not the Self. But we all have so much gunk caused by the five senses and our conventional thinking that the truth may not be obvious.
When you release thoughts and be silent, you realize the truth, he says. And by silent, he doesn’t mean just shutting up your mouth. It’s a complete silence of the mind. It’s the stillness or non-doing.
I guess this is a tough idea for many. We are taught to think. We are taught not-thinking is ignorant and lazy. And here Sri Ramana says ignorance is holding onto the illusions and we are wiser when we release thoughts.
So what good do we achieve when we realize the truth of “I am”?
Well, none. Achievement is an illusion. We just realize all our problems are illusions and therefore be free from them. Ramana Maharshi says self-realization is bliss — the Self is bliss.
Now here is how I interpret his teaching with what I know about modern science. We are all made of atoms. The atom is like 99% space with tiny subatomic particles flying around as possibilities. In our everyday life, we recognize there is a distinct difference between my body and the space around me, and my body and your body. But really, the difference is only relative. My body is relatively denser than the space around me, but no significant difference.
Energy continues beyond what we recognize as individual objects and life forms. Individuality is only supported by our five senses, which only registers energetic information in a gross, inaccurate way.
We are all one. One taking localized forms temporarily.
Accepting a layer of illusion
For those of you who think his teaching is too far off and impractical, Ramana Maharshi also modifies his teaching and says it is okay to assume some individuality.
So it’s okay to pray. When you know there is only one Consciousness — in other words, when you know you are God — there is no point of praying. I agree with him, but at the same time, I find comfort in praying. So at least for now, accepting this layer of illusion that there is God and me works for me.
Needless to say, when we realize our individuality is an illusion, then reincarnation is an illusion as well. So those of you who really grasp his teaching of nonduality (not just understanding it on the intellectual level, but really know it and live in bliss) don’t need my Akashic Record Reading. You are free already and you know it.
Also, I personally find it interesting that he discourages renunciation even though he himself abandoned his worldly life and led a very austere life. It is said his only personal possession was his loincloth. To his visitors, however, he explained self-enquiry alone is sufficient for self-realization.
So I guess I don’t need to move to India
This is the best book on spirituality I know. I don’t think you need to know anything else about spirituality. Read it, be silent, and realize.